Tuned In Journal: Of genres and subgenres

Thursday, March 13, 2008

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There are days when I feel like I missed the golden age of television and the golden days to be a TV critic. No, not back in the Ed Sullivan era. I'm thinking of the '80s when "Hill Street Blues" revolutionized TV storytelling, making it more realistic by offering continuing stories that more accurately reflect real life.

Back in the '80s, with only three broadcast networks and little incursion from cable, prime-time shows brought viewers together under a big tent. You knew that the morning after a big miniseries debut, everyone would be talking about it.

Now the TV universe is fragmented and there is no big tent. But there is an upside: Hundreds of little tents. While the feeling of societal togetherness may be gone, the diversity of TV programming offers a greater sense of place for more viewers.

Early targeted efforts were to different interest categories. Love to cook? Food Network is your channel. A fan of science fiction? Sci Fi Channel is the place to be.

Even those categories are broad compared to some of the smaller niches. The second wave is, perhaps, more related to a viewers' personal heritage or identity, networks such as Shalom TV, a Jewish channel, and Here!, a network for gay viewers available on Comcast as a premium video on demand channel.

Here! isn't alone. Logo, owned by cable behometh MTV Networks, also targets gay viewers on digital cable, but Here! offers more original scripted programming.

"I think it speaks premium," said Here! founder and CEO Paul Colichman in a phone interview Tuesday. "When people think of HBO, they don't think of cheap reality shows. We are being sold as 'premium' along with HBO and Showtime. We need to deliver something that looks and feels premium to consumers. In our minds, that is story-form content."

Here! makes an even bigger programming push in the coming weeks with these debuts:

"The Ben and Dave Show" (tomorrow): A deejay (Ben Harvey) and a comic (Dave Rubin) talk pop culture, gay culture and politics. The show began as a video podcast and segments from the podcast have been edited together to create this series. It's sort of like the old Howard Stern show on E!, but 2/3 less raunchy and 1/3 more gay.

"Cover Guy" (March 21): A Canadian reality show import that searches for a new male model.

"Paradise Falls" (April 11): A scripted, half-hour Canadian drama import begins its third season stateside.

"Shelter" (April 18): Not to be confused with the horror film of the same name that starts shooting in Pittsburgh soon, this "Shelter," about gay surfers in California, generated largely positive reviews in its theatrical run at gay film festivals. Brad Rowe ("Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss") stars.

"Kiss Me Deadly" (May 2): Robert Gant ("Queer as Folk") plays a gay action hero, starring alongside Shannen Doherty ("Beverly Hills, 90210").

On Comcast, Here! is a subscription video on demand service offering 40 hours of programming per month with 10 hours of programming refreshed every Friday (the premiere dates above are all Fridays).


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