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Al Gore, Trying to Keep TV 'Current'

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Al Gore, Trying to Keep TV 'Current'

Al Gore, Trying to Keep TV 'Current'

Al Gore, Trying to Keep TV 'Current'

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Television critic Andrew Wallenstein reviews Al Gore's new television network, Current. The goal is to attract younger audiences, and to accept material from outside sources, with little pomp or formality.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Former Vice President Al Gore is back, but not in politics. He's chairman of a new cable channel called Current, which launches tonight in selected markets. Here's DAY TO DAY TV critic Andrew Wallenstein with a review.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN reporting:

So Al Gore's got himself a cable channel. Now you might be thinking, `Finally, FOX News Channel is getting a liberal counterpoint.' Well, it's not what the new channel Current is. For starters, there are no 30- or 60-minute programs. Instead, there's a lineup of mini-shows called `pods' that each last a few minutes long. Try thinking of it as early MTV when they just played videos, only without music in the videos.

But Current gets even stranger. A lot of these pods are produced not by the network, but the viewers. You yourself can just go to Current's Web site, upload a video you've taken with your own camera, and if the network likes it they'll put it on the air. Consider it a video blog. Here's an interesting example where a young filmmaker traveled to Iran to shed light on what youth culture is like over there.

(Soundbite of pod from Current)

Unidentified Woman #1: Premarital sex and abortion in Iran are illegal, and dating is not even allowed. But young people are finding ways to express themselves sexually without anybody else finding out. So I traveled to a couple of universities in Iran and found some students that were willing to speak out about sexuality, something that they would rarely do publicly.

WALLENSTEIN: This clip is like a lot on Current: newsy little riffs on just about any subject under the moon that might appeal to young adults. There's refreshingly little of the pomp and formality you get on network news. And yet, Current has a pretentiousness all its own. The channel is clearly very taken with itself for breaking the medium's traditional rules--maybe a little too taken with itself.

(Soundbite of Current promotional advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #2: I want to help create television that I want to watch from my point of view and in my voice. Change is here. I can create my own music. I can create my own clothes, car, film, advertising, community and, finally, my own TV network. It's not a large corporation; it's you with your little camera telling your story, and I think that's amazing.

WALLENSTEIN: Now that's a pretty heady promo--or should I say propaganda? You see, I'm not quite sure your average teen will buy Current's countercultural posturing. Is this channel really about power to the people? Or is it just a start-up business keeping its costs down with cheap programming?

The fact that Current is trying to engage young audiences in serious subjects like politics and war is admirable. It's also just not going to work. That's because it won't do what MTV does: avoid real issues and pander to the lowest common denominator. Gore's new channel is wonderfully high-minded, but inevitably low-rated.

BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the Hollywood Reporter.

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