Why We Watch TV Revisited
January 9, 2003 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Why We Watch TV Revisited Sure cable is great, but what should we watch? Given the proliferation of "dumb" mass-market network TV shows (Joe Millionaire being the latest abomination), it's a relief to still find interesting/entertaining niche programming, albeit relegated to hinterland TV channels/time slots. Here are 4 Indie TV Programs worth considering (if you are lucky to have a cable company that airs them): C-Span Booknotes ; History International World Conflict ; NYMetro Strictly Personal ; WNET Theater Talk - Other suggestions ?
posted by Voyageman (44 comments total)
Austin City Limits is always good for an unusual line up. Last week they featured an hour long concert of Beck, with the Flaming Lips as his back up band.

Also, not all mainstream fodder is necessarily bad. There are even a couple sitcoms that make me laugh harder than anything on a niche/indie channel ever has...
posted by jonson at 1:39 PM on January 9, 2003

And he's out there clicking the remote, scaling the channels and wondering who on earth actually watches Farscape while I pause on TNN and wonder who could possibly be riveted by a line-dancing competition.

oh, but TNN has ST:TNG. suweet. and i guess i'm one of those mainstream viewers, watching things like 'forensic files', 'headliners and legends', 'seinfeld reruns', 'simpsons' and 'the real world'. and bill o'reilly, even though i can't stand the guy and disagree with almost anything he has to say.
posted by poopy at 1:47 PM on January 9, 2003

If you have Dish Network or DirecTV (and skew a bit left) you may enjoy Worldlink TV. Lots of documentaries and world music shows, with no commercials. Mosaic, a clip show of news reports from various Mid East stations, is fascinating (some of the state run broadcasts are quite chilling).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:48 PM on January 9, 2003

So many things on BBC America I can't begin to list them all here.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:06 PM on January 9, 2003

Obligatory link to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:11 PM on January 9, 2003

What the heck exactly is an "Indie" program, and how do you count the ones you picked as such? So the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS [WNET, NY Metro], C-SPAN) or the History/Discovery Conglomerate don't count as "corporate" broadcasters? Sure they aren't the "big three" (now four) networks, but they pull in a lot of media buy. PBS sold more in marketing than all others combined (how much do you think they made on the Tickle-Me Elmo?) and Discovery/History even put out a friggin' Croc Hunter Movie for crissakes. Why don't you just read a book or something if you don't want to feed the man? Sorry, I'm just a little confused by that term maybe.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:12 PM on January 9, 2003

We have cameras.
posted by NortonDC at 5:48 PM CST on November 20

How long until we just watch ourselves.

I blame BoB Saget for starting all this. But if I had, well, I would may be rich too.

But these shows have to have little expenses in production costs compared to a sitcom or TV show.

Side note; being home sick, sucks, as daytime tv is all adds, info commercials even cable the Discovery channel early mornings.

Notice these same ones at the store in an ile with a video kiosks. So you get out to get away from tv and go to the store to see it there too, buy a video and wham it appears in the movie too, the adds.

Hmm teh tv conspiracy. Boob tube for sure. But where did all the old sitcoms go that made the boob tube-fun? Nick at Night.

It is all like the song that just came on, Money, that 's what I want...Money...
posted by thomcatspike at 2:16 PM on January 9, 2003

notice in an isle, whoops
posted by thomcatspike at 2:18 PM on January 9, 2003

Wouldn't that be an aisle?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:20 PM on January 9, 2003

I *heart* Alias.
posted by widdershins at 2:21 PM on January 9, 2003

since I moved in October, I've been completely TV free, only a laptop with a DVD player. It's the most liberating feeling I've ever had (sad huh)
posted by jonah at 2:21 PM on January 9, 2003

FSTV and your local cable provider's access channel are about all I'd say are indie today, without going to C-Band (where you will see truly indie stuff... like the "show" where the TV broadcast van technician is stupid and leaves the link up while he cues/reviews his tapes :-). Even TVO seems more and more "corporate" (heh...) by the minute.

Of course, that's assuming FSTV is still running. As a Canadian, as of June, last year, I am censored from watching it anymore.
posted by shepd at 2:22 PM on January 9, 2003

Joe Millionaire is an abomination? I dunno, it's the first Fox show that I've thought is a decent concept. People shouldn't be marrying for money anyway.

And, uh, you totally forgot my favorite quality show, Charmed.
posted by gramcracker at 2:25 PM on January 9, 2003

You guys are missing it. You haven't lived till you have sat back with your teenage girls and snarked thru some of those reality dating shows. Hilarity always ensues.
posted by konolia at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2003

Ah, The Daily Show. Alias. 24. Ed. Everybody Loves Raymond. Even The Amazing Race or Survivor. And (gasp) I sometimes find myself laughing at "AFV" (fka "America's Funniest Home Videos").

Don't think much of TV snobs. What's inherently wrong with finding "Joe Millionaire" entertaining? We all need our mindless entertainment.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:27 PM on January 9, 2003

If you have Dish Network or DirecTV (and skew a bit left) you may enjoy Worldlink TV.

If you obtain DirecTV uh how do I say, free you can have all the time zones for your local channnels. With this feature you may watch the sitcoms at your leasure not theirs.

For example you watch a sitcom that comes on at 7pm in LA but watch it at 9pm in Dallas or a show that shows at 9pm in NY but watch it at 8pm in Dallas....plus the ads are different in each area of the country so they can be of interest, that rocks.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:30 PM on January 9, 2003

Thanks pollomacho, no wonder I felt like an island spelling aisle ; P
posted by thomcatspike at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2003

Don't think much of TV snobs.

true. and damn it all to hell but i'm a closet 'fear factor' freak.
posted by poopy at 2:34 PM on January 9, 2003

Pollomacho -Was simply using Oxford Dictionary definition :

"colloq. adj. (of a pop group or record label) independent, not belonging to one of the major companies. n. such a group or label"

No commercial/political/ideological hidden agenda, simply curious as to what other people watch in the spirit of non-major network, non-mainstream, non-mass market, possibly undiscovered, cable shows, eg, more WorldLinkTV than Alias.
posted by Voyageman at 2:35 PM on January 9, 2003

I'm not sure if it's an "indie" show, but reruns of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on SciFi sure do feel indie. In its almost ten years on the air, MST3k never lost that DIY, "let's do a TV show!" feeling. Plus it's still one of the smartest, funniest shows on TV, even though the Comedy Central episodes were better.
posted by Mr_Spook at 2:37 PM on January 9, 2003

Firefly was my favourite show of last year -- it was smart, it was funny, it had a great cast and excellent characterisation, it had a fresh and interesting style for a sci-f[ai], and it was, uh, shown in the wrong order and then cancelled.


Let's hope UPN or so pick it up.
posted by Freaky at 2:44 PM on January 9, 2003

Most of my TV watching these days seems to be CBC Newsworld. In particular, "Passionate Eye" and "Rough Cuts" has lots of interesting documentaries, and "Hot Type" for books and interviews with authors.

Daniel Richler had a great show on CBC Newsworld called "Big Life" a few years ago... I wish that was still on. Sort of a show about "alternative" cultures. "Twitch City" was another great CBC show from a few years back (the ever talented Don Mckellar wrote, directed, and starred), about a guy who doesn't leave his apartment.

Trailer Park Boys on Showcase is fun. It's documentary style (but not a documentary) about two guys who live in a trailer park. Each season starts with them having just gotten out of jail, and ends with them going back to jail.

I've cought a couple of episodes of "Foreign Objects", the new Ken Finkleman ("The Newsroom") show, and am intrigued by it so far. Never really liked his style of comedy, but I like this more dramatic series a lot.

I didn't set out to make a list of only Canadian shows, but when in comes to non-mainstream stuff, I guess all our government-funded media helps to get it out there.

And yes, I also watch totally mainstream shows, but the poster wasn't asking about that.
posted by Emanuel at 2:45 PM on January 9, 2003

My hidden gems on cable (because no one else in my circle of friends watches them) are "Junkyard Wars" (because it's like a cool way of teaching physics to people), "Robot Wars" (more science hidden in entertainment), and those forensic science shows on TLC/Discovery (like real life C.S.I.!).

The one show on regular TV in my area (CBC) that is really heads and shoulders above everything is the award-winning "Street Cents". It's supposed to be a show for kids but it's also entertaining for adults. It's commercial-free and teaches kids to be smart (non-)consumers.
posted by grum@work at 2:54 PM on January 9, 2003

"Strictly Personal"? Are you serious? How is people acting out their Nerve ads -- and acting them out badly -- somehow "better" than Joe Millionaire? What else are you going to champion -- "To Live and Date in New York" and "E-Love"? Gimme a break. Me, I'd rather watch Cheaters.
posted by maura at 2:58 PM on January 9, 2003

I keep seeing ads for a program called "Brilliant but Canceled" on some channel called Trio....???
posted by ParisParamus at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2003

Maura, I hope you're joking re: Cheaters; That's the only show mentioned on this page that makes me feel acute embarassment owning a television. I've never watched more than the thirty seconds I caught the first time, but it just seems so horrific & full of human misery. Finding entertainment therein reminds me of finding entertainment at poking an injured creature with a stick, or crowds gathering to mock people in stockades. I would have hoped we'd evolved beyond all that.
posted by jonson at 3:17 PM on January 9, 2003

> (gasp) I sometimes find myself laughing at "AFV" (fka "America's Funniest Home Videos").

How could you not? AFV is still one of the funniest shows on TV if you rate by the number of times per hour you laugh out loud at what you're seeing. Nothing can compare to it in that respect. And they say laughter is good for your health. Doctors should be prescribing that show.
posted by Eyegore at 3:26 PM on January 9, 2003

Hack is deliciously dark.
posted by rushmc at 5:29 PM on January 9, 2003

Sift through enough crap on the networks and you'll find a few quality shows like Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO. This show makes me really uncomfortable, but can be outrageously funny.

Tony Shalhoub is funny as an obsessive/compulsive detective in Monk on the USA Network.

I get an occasional chuckle from the dumb hospital comedy Scrubs on NBC.

And even The Fox Network produces King of the Hill. (Which I suspect they are using to take the edge off of many Americans current disdain for all things Texan.)
posted by laptop_lizard at 6:04 PM on January 9, 2003

It's a damned shame that there's so little on that is, at the same time, consistently good, willing to change and experiment, and supported by a network. It's the nature of the medium that this should be true.

That said, here are some shows that are worth watching: Pardon the Interruption, BookNotes, Junkyard Wars.

The jury is still out on: Trading Spaces, Hack, Monk, The Amazing Race.

Still worth watching, but getting a little stale: The Daily Show, The Simpsons, The West Wing.

Worth watching, but I don't want people to know I watch them: King of the Hill, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Hardball.
posted by Hildago at 6:23 PM on January 9, 2003

"Worth watching, but I don't want people to know I watch them..."

Oh, we're going down that path, eh?

OK, I love Ground Force on BBCAmerica, and I lust heartily after Charlie Dimmock.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:25 PM on January 9, 2003

i stand by Farscape (despite the earlier comments,) i also endorse Monster Garage, John Doe, The Dead Zone, Alias, 24, not to mention Mail Call and Conquest (on the History Channel). That 70's Show still amuses me as does Andy Richter, and for good all around information the Screen Savers and Freshgear on TechTV can't be beat.

Yay for TiVo.
posted by quin at 7:42 PM on January 9, 2003

Oh, and as far as guilty pleasures go, She Spies, South Park and Andromeda have to top my list
posted by quin at 7:48 PM on January 9, 2003

Will "Enterprise" be the last Star Trek?
posted by ParisParamus at 8:05 PM on January 9, 2003

No Buffy?? Oh, and what konolia said.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 9:17 PM on January 9, 2003

So the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS [WNET, NY Metro], C-SPAN) or the History/Discovery Conglomerate don't count as "corporate" broadcasters?

The CPB has nothing to do with MetroChannel, which is a commercial network owned by Rainbow Media. And C-SPAN really is indie--it's funded by a portion of all cable subscriber fees.

Meanwhile, for the record: I currently like and/or Replay and/or watch Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Angel, BBC World News, Buffy, Crank Yankers, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Daily Show, Enterprise, ER, Firefly, Insomniac, Keeping Up Appearances, Law & Order, The Practice, Seinfeld reruns, Sex and the City, Shipmates, Six Feet Under, the Sopranos, Trading Spaces, and whatever else I can't remember at the moment. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my TV.
posted by notclosed at 9:23 PM on January 9, 2003

I'm kind of surprised that in all of the TV threads I've seen, Good Eats on the Food Network is never mentioned. It's a funny blend of pop culture, science, cooking and the host looks like Thomas Dolby.

A good example is the last new episode. Alton, the host, raids a church casserole drive. He steals a couple of bites from each until a gang of bluehairs kidnap his dog and ransom it for three casseroles. This episode is even a little bit like the Buffy episode _Hush_, in that the voiceover Alton has 95% of the lines.

God, I sound like a blurb.

"Feel good hit of the thread!!!" --mathowie
posted by stavrogin at 9:54 PM on January 9, 2003

Yay!! Someone enjoys "Mail Call" other then myself. That seems to be the only show I'm addicted to. The only thing I dislike about it is that the History Channel seems to play it at such irregular times.

I hate sitcoms, but seem to love reality shows, with exceptions. Survivor is just stupid. All of the bachelor, bachlorette, etc. shows just seem pathetic. I have to admit that "The Mole" is the only reason I've ever had to record a show with a VCR. Good stuff. Great challenges, an array of strategies, and likable people. Same goes for "The Amazing Race".

Did anyone else catch the premiere of "The Surreal Life" this evening? As much as I hate to admit it, I found it pretty fun. The promos for future episodes will definitely keep me tuned in. Emanuel Lewis is on the prowl!

How I weep for the cancellation of "The Straight Dope" on A&E and "Austin Stories" on MTV!!!!!!!
posted by ttrendel at 10:07 PM on January 9, 2003

Dammit! I forgot about The Surreal Life premiering tonight. That's the only new TV show I've looked forward to. Even if it only has one-half of the Coreys. I hope the first episode reruns soon.
posted by stavrogin at 10:16 PM on January 9, 2003

Have no fear, stavrogin. The first episode replays on Sunday night, 7:00 EST. It's still fun, but it is basically the the introduction stage.
posted by ttrendel at 11:13 PM on January 9, 2003

Will "Enterprise" be the last Star Trek?
We can only hope. There's only so much reiteration of the same few story outlines the world can take, and no amount of decontamination gel and women in tight fitting clothes can make up for it now.

If you have one of those TV stats boxes, and you're still addicted to Star Trek, I implore you to download episodes rather than watch them on TV. Help make the pain stop!
posted by Freaky at 1:27 AM on January 10, 2003

Why do people find Joe Millionaire so appalling? Gosh, what a great idea for a show! And the execution of the first episode was fine. It's the essence of comedy in the classical sense: Portraying people as worse than they really are. I'm hooked on that show.

As for the question "what should we watch," the answer is simple: Buffy.
posted by Holden at 5:06 PM on January 10, 2003

I could list all the shows I watch regularly, but they've all been mentioned already (props to those who watch Ed, my most favorite). As for 'indie' shows, I used to watch Errol Morris's First Person documentary show and Taillights, both on Bravo and neither on anymore. First Person was just like a half hour Morris doc, so you can guess what that'd be like. Taillights was about this guy hitchhiking across the country and the people who gave him rides--also documentary but more rogue/guerrilla style. Anyone remember those?

Best television show on the air right now: Late Show with David Letterman.
no joke
posted by dogwalker at 7:16 PM on January 10, 2003

And even The Fox Network produces King of the Hill. (Which I suspect they are using to take the edge off of many Americans current disdain for all things Texan.)

The creator lived in Richardson Texas...

The area they are imitating is Arlington, Texas, the second largest suburb in the USA.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:59 PM on January 13, 2003

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