Summertime — the season of butt-kicking action flicks, fist-pumping rock-fests…and really bad TV. Or at least really bad network TV, where we’re forced to suffer through lame-o specials and eye-glazing reruns (even if they are new to you). n But the steamy months need not be a total wasteland. This is the time when smart clickers migrate to the dial’s outer reaches: cable, syndicated shows, and public TV. Therein lie some true gems, from classy to kitschy, from brainy to idiotic (in the best possible way). EW went traipsing into the wilds where most Nielsen families fear to tread to bring you the A list of Alternative TV. Perhaps you’ll stick around even after the new fall season.
FETISHISTS RUN AMOK!
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW (PBS, CHECK LOCAL LISTINGS)
The premise sounds downright plain even for PBS: Bring in that knickknack Granny left behind, and appraisers will tell you what it’s worth. But the traveling, seven-month-old show — which attracts thousands of heirloom-toting hopefuls wherever it goes — is as addictive as gambling. ”Every few minutes there’s a new object, another cliff-hanger,” says exec producer Aida Moreno. ”It’s like the home lottery.” From the slack-jawed guy whose garage-sale sword is valued at $35,000 to the crestfallen couple whose ”Tiffany” vase turns out to be junk, the allure of Roadshow is built on such could’ve-been-me tales of fortunes in the making. Pair that with a commercial-free history lesson on the Americana of bric-a-brac (what the hell’s a puzzle mug?), and you’ve got an hour as gripping as it is (dare we say it?) educational.
THE BASSMASTERS (TNN, Saturdays, 12:30-1 pm)
Suspense, as defined by Bassmasters, is hearing host-writer-producer Bob Cobb note with hushed excitement that a fisherman has just ”switched to a banana yellow floating worm!” The 12-year-old show is the big fish in the small pond of The Nashville Network’s noncountry weekend programming: ”We aim to please the armchair angler with the red-blooded American spirit of competition,” says Cobb, who crisscrosses the country for footage of fishing contests. But, as red-blooded as he is, Cobb chooses Canada as his favorite spot ”to land smallmouth bass — that’s pure pleasure.”
PERSONAL FX: THE COLLECTIBLES SHOW (FX, WEEKDAYS, NOON-1 PM)
A Massachusetts man gathers 300,000 marbles. A New Jersey woman amasses 10 million tea bags. No, these strange occurrences aren’t Ripley’s Believe It or Not entries; they’re merely what happens when real-life Americans take hobbies a little too seriously. Personal FX sends correspondents all over the country in search of supercollectors, while back at the studio regular folk have their stuff appraised by experts, possibly to sell on air. ”People think that museums take care of our history,” says host John Burke, ”but the real curators of America are sprinkled throughout this country.” Better hold on to that used dental floss collection.