Vast PBS Wasteland

Monday, March 15th, 1999

Just exactly when did Public Television become this vast wasteland of self-help, where any psuedo-credentialed goofball with graying hair can show up and hustle his 13 Habits of Effective Morons or 12 Ways You Can be Wealthy Without Guilt or 10 Ways of Eating More Multicolored Fiber? And why must we be force-fed this pablum interspersed with interminable pledge breaks from GPTV’s generic annoying hucksters, or WPBA’s very un-generic, very annoying, creepy, big-haired, cloying, overmanicured-fingernails-on-the-blackboard Alicia Ames?
How did these nutcases overtake the formidable walls of the great grey Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Where have all the Great Performances and American Masters and breakthrough documentarians gone? Why has this sub-genre of programming, unworthy of the infomercial format, taken over stations we support with our donations? Where’s Steve and Norm, Julia Child and Fred Rogers, Martin Yan and Rick Steves? (I’ve found all of them annoying on individual occasions—but they tower over this pledge break junk.)
And by the way—we need no more Irish dancing. How about a decent night at the theatre, or rerun some Africa footage from "Nature", or maybe even force me to sit through endless rebroadcasts of "Antiques Roadshow"—just get these fake, dangerous book hucksters off our public airwaves.
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WGNX isn’t owned by Tribune Television Stations any more, so they’ve deep-fortysixed their call letters (trivia buffs: the WGN part stands for the "Worlds Greatest Newspaper"—the Chicago Tribune) and are now referring to themselves as "CBS Atlanta," which, yeah, I guess they are. The new owners, Meredith Broadcasting, are said to be planning to pour a ton of money into its news operation to make the station more of a contender in that silly marketplace we call Atlanta local television news. Think that’ll make you watch?
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"That 70s Show" had its "season finale" Sunday night, but "will be back with new episodes in the summer." What the heck does that mean? I’m sorry, but if you have a season finale, you’re required by television law to sit and wait quietly for the fall. That’s just the way it is. And you’d be even more confused if you saw "Days Like These," a current British sitcom that takes the exact word-for-word scripts from "That 70s Show," changes a few cultural references, and then throws the pages to a lookalike British cast of poorly-dressed 70s kids—and, well, it works, in a strange parallel-universe way.
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One of my favorite things to do these days is listen to newspeople choking on the phrase "Black College Spring Break" in lieu of the much more evocative "Freaknik." The purveyors of the website (they also have .org and .net) have no such compunctions—they’re busy selling the name and the idea of the party—the actual physical reality of what happens the third week of April doesn’t really make much difference to them.
I thought I’d check local media websites and see how they referred to this event—but WXIA, WAGA, and WGNX have no search engine. WSB borrows Access Atlanta’s search—and that’s where the only results came from: Access Atlanta has no problems with the "Freaknik" name, it seems.