The miracle that is public access television
November 17, 2008 11:08 PM   Subscribe

In 1984, the Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act (along with legislation dating back to the 70s) forced cable companies to create public access television. Thanks to this foresighted policy, we can all now enjoy programming that might never have existed otherwise. Case in point: Los Angeles's Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show. Many more examples inside (some videos NSFW). posted by Astro Zombie (24 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
These are great, but you forgot the greatest public access show ever,
Mystery Science Theater 3000!
posted by dirigibleman at 11:24 PM on November 17, 2008

MST3K actually debuted on UHF (KTMA in Minneapolis), rather than public access, unless they shot a pilot episode for public access that I am unaware of.

Not to diminish the awesomeness of MST3K.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:28 PM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to volunteer for my local access channel back in high school. Among the good memories:
Shooting the local festival concerts in Kansas heat / torrential downpour.

Finding a good shot of the band/crowd during said shoot and having the director tell me it was a nice shot.

Showing up one day to shoot the "Psychic Lady" show, man that was creepy as hell.

Watching something I shot on TV, only to notice how I managed to shoot a shaky shot on a $1000 tripod.

Witnessing an octogenarian edit her show using an Amiga computer.

And most of all, having the director yell at us for screwing around.
posted by hellojed at 11:29 PM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't forget TV Party: The TV show that's a party!
posted by chillmost at 11:38 PM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Painting and exercising is all well and good, but it's no "Let's paint, exercise, cook and play chess." I love that guy.
posted by one_bean at 11:44 PM on November 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

That SPAM eating contest was something else. Don't forget your Pepto-Bismol.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:07 AM on November 18, 2008

Aw Jeez, Jerry Jer, AKA the Tampon Man. Sometimes I would come home late from work while living in CT and flip through the channels, only to find this guy. My reaction today is pretty much unchanged: What the fuck?

There was also some strange religious guy with really straight long dark hair that would go on and on about how everything was satanic. I think he was an old hippie that got some bad acid or something.

No Robyn Bird?

There was a documentary made in 2004 about cable access shows called Access Nation. I've never seen it but here is the trailer.

In my comment above, I link to an interesting documentary about TV Party, which was on in NYC . There were a lot of cool guests on (Blondie, Talking Heads, Jean-Michel Basquiat) just chilling out, drinking, getting stoned and just making asses of themselves.
posted by chillmost at 4:20 AM on November 18, 2008

When I was in high school, I dated a guy (friend of a friend, from another school) who wrestled on Rhode Island Public Access. I feel like a winner!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:36 AM on November 18, 2008

We filmed this music video at Portland cable access.
posted by snofoam at 4:42 AM on November 18, 2008

Without cable access there would be no Poolside Chat. Which... would be a tragedy!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:02 AM on November 18, 2008

For full-circle media crossover, Channel 4's early 90 series Manhattan Cable rebroadcast public access highlights as late-night UK entertainment, for profit!. Thanks to the internet, you can now watch this pre-youtube randomness collage online for free again!
posted by davemee at 5:07 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love public access cable because it's a viscerally convincing demonstration of how much work goes into watchable TV.
posted by DU at 5:21 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hello, I'm Laurie Pike. Welcome to Manhattan Cable! Tonight we will be showing Filthy the Dog, Mr Sphincter and Lharaaji playing the santoor.

I don't think I ever missed an episode, just too great for words! Nice one davemee, I shall be pointing my eyes at your link tonight.
posted by asok at 5:32 AM on November 18, 2008

It's worth mentioning that phone companies have been pushing hard to enter the cable TV market, demanding the ability to sidestep local franchise requirements by just getting national or statewide approvals. This eliminates the ability of local governments to negotiate cable access facilities for their citizens when franchise agreements are set or renewed. If this model spreads, local public access will disappear, because the cable companies themselves will quickly follow suit. Most of them see local access requirements as a waste of their time. The FAQ at Save Access has more.
posted by mediareport at 6:00 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

San Antonio had an interesting scene about 16 years ago... The Hondo Show (UTSAers doing amateur Kung Fu, fast editing, and ridiculousness), The Worst Show (think a guy smoking a cigarette and reading a Mexican comic book and making wise-ass remarks), and The Out Crowd (some HS geeks sitting at a table at some restaurant). Still got some of around on my old VHS tapes.
posted by crapmatic at 6:01 AM on November 18, 2008

Oh god Manhattan Cable... it's like a bad acid flashback. Whatever happened to Laurie Pike?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:08 AM on November 18, 2008

I love public access cable because it's a viscerally convincing demonstration of how much work goes into watchable TV.
posted by DU at 5:21 AM on November 18

Yeah, but, y'know, I'd take a hundred episodes of The Other Side over one Law and Order, or All My Children, or Ugly Betty or, uhhh... I don't watch much tv any more, so its hard to come up with examples of slick, "watchable" tv... the previous ones are faves of various family members. Or five minutes of Mtv.
posted by Reverend John at 6:21 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ooh I used to have such a man-crush on Laurie Pike!
posted by schwa at 6:23 AM on November 18, 2008

The one thing I miss having DirectTV is cable access. When I lived in Richmond I once watched an entire 90-minute episode of two people (offscreen) playing slot hockey to Christmas music, because I was convinced there would be some sort of payoff at the end.


Our current favorite (which we keep up with via DVDs and the web) is Ghoul-A-G-Go.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:35 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

In Portland, I try to catch this guy when ever I can. Great stuff!
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 8:17 AM on November 18, 2008

I love how the internet has shown a flashlight into all these hidden corners of public access...and it's not just bad puppet shows I'm talking about. A life without shows like "Forbidden Transmission" is really just a life not worth living.
posted by Otis at 8:33 AM on November 18, 2008

In my junior year of high school (very early 90s) I attended a junior journalism conference in the Big City to receive an award for some editorial cartoons I'd drawn for our school paper. The conference was an all-day affair culminating in the awards ceremony, and so I had to attend a workshop or two. Not being interested in "AP Style And You" or "Byline Guidelines", I attended a workshop on public access television, solely because it had "television" in its title.

Upon returning home, I quickly wrote a note to my best friend and comic collaborator. The basic gist of the note went like this: "Did you know that the cable company is required by law to make a TV station accessible to everybody in town? THAT'S RIGHT, WE CAN MAKE OUR OWN TV SHOW AND THERE'S NOTHING THEY CAN DO TO STOP US MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA."

We eventually did, and it was fun, and our show kept getting rerun six years after the fact on more than one local access station and for a while, every time I went back home, I'd run into someone who said they'd seen the show recently. I'm not quite sure why our high-larious parody of the 1992 Vice-Presidential Debates would be going over well in 1997, but hey, we also included a bit of animation involving clay gladiators hacking each other's limbs off and stuff.

Public access television is one of the greatest inventions ever, in my opinion. For every boring half-hour of city council meetings or community calendar chargen screens, there's a gem of a show from someone who had the same brilliant stroke of enlightenment as I did:

"I can put on my own television show about anything and there's nothing anyone can do to stop me."

And that attitude -- a combination of the realization of freedom and "why not?" -- is what makes these shows special. Some of them may scare you, some may bore you to tears, and some may just be completely inexplicable (hello performance artists), but the most important thing is that no matter what show you're watching on that channel, you're watching someone achieve a dream that's clearly very important and dear to them.

Even if their dream involves wearing masquerade masks and lip-synching to kiddie cowboy songs behind a chroma-key background of psychedelia.
posted by Spatch at 10:22 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

"I portray Underdog through dance."
posted by cjorgensen at 6:09 PM on November 19, 2008

I don't live in Seattle. The closest I've ever been to stepping foot in Seattle was when I visited my grandparents in Spokane in the mid-80s and mid-90s. Still, I've been exposed--in more ways than one--to the sheer what-the-effness that is Goddess Kring, thanks to numerous BBS references from likewise perplexed Seattle residents.
posted by stannate at 11:25 PM on November 19, 2008

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