The future of your TV? Two words. More narrowcasting. If you have basic cable — or one of the more eclectic satellite packages — you know about narrowcasting: channels dedicated to a small but enthusiastic segment of the viewing public. MLB Network for the baseball fans, Golf Channel for duffers. Shopping channels for the few remaining Americans who are eBay-challenged. Spike TV for manly men, Oxygen for girly girls, Chiller for horror fans from 9 to…well, 9 (sorry, Chiller, but Beauty and the Beast reruns don’t induce goose bumps in anyone old enough to grow hair in their armpits).
With ever-increasing technological capability (and the profit motive, don’t forget that), I think we’re going to see dozens of new specialty channels in the years ahead. Maybe hundreds. But will any of that stuff be worth watching? Before answering, consider the three great lessons history teaches us: Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it; most politicians are psychologically incapable of practicing what they preach; and when it comes to TV, the term ”creative development” is an oxymoron. Don’t worry — Uncle Stevie has peeked into his crystal ball (recently upgraded to HD) and has seen the following four channels coming to a cable or sat package near you.
THE ‘LAW & ORDER’ CHANNEL How can this not happen, given the fact that there must be something like 10,000 episodes of this series, in all its various incarnations, stored away? Since 1990, when the original debuted, L&O has sprouted like dandelions on a lawn. It’s only a matter of time before narrowcasting brings them all back to the same place. And admit it: If ever there was a show meant to serve as an advertising vehicle for bankruptcy counselors, NutriSystem, and hair plugs, Law & Order is it.
GLUTTONY TV Who can resist the sight of surprisingly thin young men and women snarking down dozens of hot dogs in three minutes? (The champs always eat with their palms, which is strangely gross.) And what, I ask you, is more American than overeating? On GTV you’d have shows like Whopper Challenge, Nine Yards of Loaded Pizza, Milk Shake Swimming Pool, and Vomitorium! On weekends, of course, there’d be alcohol-themed programs like I’ll Drink to That (set in various picturesque bars from Cheers in Boston to the Standard Bar in Los Angeles); dirty martinis all around. And for the kiddies? Uncle Stevie sees an animated cartoon called SpongeCake SquarePants. Yum! Least likely sponsor: the American Heart Association.
CITYSCAPE TV We’ve all seen live streaming videos on our computers, and those DVDs meant to soothe us into catatonia when we’re tense — crackling fires, pounding surf, stuff that’s the visual equivalent of a Yanni concert — but this would be a combination of the two, on the big screen and in high-def. It would have to be boring cities, though: Say a week of Utica, N.Y., or Lincoln, Neb. Imagine how calming it would be on those nights when you can’t sleep to tune in downtown Pawtucket, R.I., at 2 a.m. Nothing but blinkers…the occasional passing car…a stray dog lifting his leg on a hydrant…and soon…zzzzz. I see this as a commercial-free public service channel, like C-SPAN.
Last, and possibly best, the ultimate reality channel: TONTINE TV (not to be confused with the reality show that has drifted in and out of development over the last couple of years). As originally conceived over 300 years ago, a tontine was an investment scheme, but I see it as a supercontest. Tontine TV would pick two dozen newborn babies and put $250,000 for each one into a nice safe money market fund. Over the years, the seed money would grow to a staggering sum. Generations of avid TV viewers would watch as babies become children, then teenagers, young adults, and finally senior citizens. The last survivor gets all the dough, which by then might total a billion dollars. Makes Who Wants to be a Millionaire look like a candy store, doesn’t it? Imagine the excitement when we get down to the final three or four survivors! You could argue that the winner — who’s maybe 104 or so at that point, and not all that spiffy in the cognition department — wouldn’t enjoy the money much. Maybe not…but think of his or her inheritors! Sports cars all around! For me, this one can’t come too soon.
After all, I’m not getting any younger.