The one channel I really wish I watched more often, and by that logic I feel all the more bad about when they’re having a rough patch, is TechTV. It seems our favorite channel is having issues and issuing layoffs. It’s a damn shame, because while I can understand the problems they’re having (it only makes sense that the channel that covers the tech industry has issues once the tech industry goes into a slump) they really do need some help. They tried a 9.5 hour show called “Tech Live” to run during the day but it’s been cut to thirty minutes – since all the dot com people have to go get jobs now, no one watched the show. The Screen Savers has basically sucked since Kate Botello left it, and now I’m wondering about Extended Play since that show only turned around once she went to it.
I guess I’ve always suspected they were having problems – they’ve never really had the big advertisers. They tend to get ads for things of the “Call in the next ten minutes and we’ll double your order…” variety. They put on hours of shows about how to tweak your system and then they sneak in there an hour long infomercial for some prebuilt computer retailer. Plus, nearly every news story they used to do had to end with the commercial involvement the entity in the story had in the channel – of course now there’s less of that (can’t imagine why…)
Plus another problem is simply the target audience. Computer users (yours truly included) tend to be an exclusive lot – lots of know-it-alls. I had a friend who was a complete Microsoft Whore, and he thought everyone on TechTV was nuts for “jumbling the facts” regarding Microsoft and being too pro-Linux. Go to a Slashdot thread and you’ll see people who believe quite the opposite – the channel is too MS-centric. There’s just no pleasing the end users. I find myself watching the Call for Help show thinking the person who mans the helm is a moron with no idea what he’s talking about. That’s the other problem – nerds tend to quibble on even the smallest of details.
And now the big problem TechTV has is that of programming, or lack thereof. The Tech Live stunt was a good way to cover the fact that they didn’t have too much of it. They tend to run the same shows multiple times a day (which lots of networks do) but they simply don’t have enough of them and with the tech boom winding down it’s going to be harder to fill hours with shows about idiot web pages and yet another has-been music artist turning to MP3 (Willie Nelson). The hell of it is that when they want to, TechTV can make some of the best shows on TV. The show Big Thinkers is on par with most brainy PBS affairs, Extended Play is something I watch religiously, and John Dvorak’s Silicon Spin was great (thought it looks like it’s been cancelled now).
But what to do with all that excess time? Well lately on Friday nights TechTV has been trying different things. They air an occasional tech-related movie. They re-run a Nova special. This weekend, however, they’re starting a 14-episode rerun of the old show Max Headroom. Max Headroom was of course the pseudo-CGI characyer that, along with Cocaine, Regan and Nintendo, epitomized the 1980’s. Few people who watched his Cinemax shows and his Coca-Cola commercials realized that it was originally a British television show. Produced in 1984, it took place in the not-too-distant future (thought the “20 minutes into the future” line was obviously a bit pessimistic) where television channels were small governments, off-switches on television sets were illegal, and ratings were literally to kill for. When a network reporter got too close to the truth of an internal conspiracy to cover up Blipverts, 30 second commercials crammed into one second with the unfortunate side-effect of causing viewers to occasionally explode, the resultant chase causes him to suffer a concussion. With him in their clutches, the network gets an internal hacker to probe into his mind and re-create what it knows in a computer simulation – but the simulation (Max Headroom himself) gets loose and the rest is history.
ABC picked up the pilot and made 14 episodes, but cancelled the show and the 14th episode was never aired, prior to Bravo’s resurrection of the show in the early 90’s. Now it looks like TechTV is reviving the show, if for no other reason than to get some more viewers and fill some more time. I personally thought Max Headroom was great, disturbing and funny television, on the order of a less violent Robcop. I’ll be taping (and possibly downloading) the episodes this time around, and doing my best not to remember the New Coke ads.