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Channels beyond the fringe

Animal Planet, Speedvision, Outdoor Life Network, and more provide shows tailored to the viewers

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YOU CAN’T SWING a dead cat these days without hitting another obscure cable channel. (For more on dead cats, see Animal Planet’s Emergency Vets.) Not to worry. As a service, EW gives you a handy guide to some of the more intriguing networks. One regret: We couldn’t include the Puppy Channel — all puppies all the time, and we’re not kidding. That puppy won’t launch until 1998.

SPEEDVISION (available in 10 million households) Description: Planes, cars, and boats going really, really fast. Highlights: When said planes, cars, and boats smash into each other and blow up. Lowlights: Everything in between.

GAME SHOW NETWORK (in 5 million households) Description: Reruns of classics (Card Sharks, Beat the Clock) plus originals (Jep!Jeopardy! for kids, due this fall). Highlight: Hearing the polyester-clad audience on Match Game titter over words like fanny. Lowlights: Clip jobs of current shows like Singled Out. Once on MTV is more than enough, thanks.

HOME & GARDEN TV (in 28 million households) Description: Nonstop Martha Stewart and Bob Vila — minus Martha or Bob. Highlight: Spencer Christian’s Wine Cellar, hosted by the Good Morning America meteorologist. Is this why weathermen are always so jolly? Lowlight: Having to look at all the stuff you can’t afford.

ANIMAL PLANET (in 22 million households) Description: Clips of cute creatures (e.g., kittens), menacing mammals (slow-mo grizzlies), and fictional fur balls (the Muppets). Highlight: The reality show called Emergency Vets — a four-legged ER. Lowlight: A saccharine, updated Lassie. Go home and stay there, please.

RECOVERY NETWORK (in 15 million households) Description: Inspirational television for reformed users and abusers. Highlight: On Bottoms, recovering addicts take a cheeky look at hitting the nadir of their existence. Features self-proclaimed ”cheesy dramatizations of actual events.” Lowlight: Slightly dirty feeling that comes with eavesdropping on other people’s tales of hitting the aforementioned bottom.

OUTDOOR LIFE NETWORK (10 million subscribers) Description: Nature documentaries coexist with programs about outdoor activities like surfing and quail hunting. Highlight: Off to Nowhere, a cute series featuring Grade B celebs (e.g., David Alan Grier) dropped off in exotic locations (e.g., Borneo). Lowlight: Probably the only place to see a close-up of a spelunker’s nasty leg laceration.

THE INDEPENDENT FILM CHANNEL (in 9 million households) Description: Movies, documentaries, and specials for the art-house crowd. Highlight: Split Screen, host-producer John Pierson’s magazine show celebrating film geekdom, profiles established and esoteric indie legends. Lowlight: Host Alec Baldwin’s earnest ”I’m listening” pose on the otherwise entertaining interview show Raw Footage.

PLAYBOY TV (in 20 million households) Description: No articles to pretend to read — just pure boob tube. Highlight: Night Calls, a live chat show hosted by two surprisingly deadpan babes who stroke each other’s thighs and talk to sexually frustrated phoners. Lowlight: Naughty Amateur Home Video, in which Jane Q. Public bares way too much in, say, a kitchen or a gas station. The brainless hosts make you yearn for Bob Saget.