Current TV: Currently a Waste of Time

Al Gore’s new television network, Current TV, hit the airwaves August 1, and it should be off the air by September 1. It claims to be the first national network created by, for and with an 18 – 34 year-old audience, and proudly boasts, “Current is about what’s going on.” But, from what I can tell, after watching the youth oriented channel for an hour and a half, what’s “going on” isn’t much!

The network airs short video essays (called “pods”) created by staff members and viewers who submit content via the web. The whole idea is to have young adults tell the stories of their generation. With audio and video equipment so inexpensive nowadays, the audience gets to take an active role in the broadcast by producing their own pieces and uploading them to the network’s website. What you get, in the end, is an audio/visual teacher’s nightmare: shaky pictures, weird camera angles and short stories without a point.

Here’s a little taste of what I had to endure for 90 minutes: a bizarre documentary about a couple and their emotional pregnancy; a story about people in Japan who want to commit suicide with others they meet over the Internet; a video titled “The Perfect Egg” that describes the unusual characteristics people desire in women who donate their eggs to ovum centers; a cultural piece featuring a man in Paris who jumps over fences, on trees, and off staircases, artwork and buildings; a segment on the history of skateboarding; and, a video-essay from a third-world country, which focuses on the tradition of cremation and literally answers the question, “how long does it take for the average human body to burn”.

Yes, all this and much more.

I’ve never seen a more mind-numbing television network than this one. Viewers could find more educational content on the back of a milk carton than they could by subjecting themselves to Current TV.

Forget about hearing the latest headlines on this television network. Instead, every 30 minutes a segment called “Google Current” gives viewers a list of the most popular Google searches on various topics. As to what you’re supposed to do with this information, I’m not sure.

In between “pods,” Current TV offered its audience little factoids. The ones I saw informed me of which lobbying group spent the most money in Washington, D.C., last year, which type of car was stolen the most often and on which day of the week most e-mails were sent.

It was at this point I literally had to ask myself, “Why am I watching this?” What’s even worse is that I’m a member of this network’s target audience!

As for the on-air talent, I felt embarrassed for them. One host (Shauntay Hinton) brought way too much personality to the table. Although Hinton, former Miss USA (2002), was raised in Mississippi, her on-camera demeanor, “street lingo” and attitude were straight out of Compton. Meanwhile, when host Johnny Bell took center stage, he threw around the following words and phrases with ease: “I’m stoked,” “that’s sick,” “sweet” and “chill out.” Granted, Bell was trying to use words he thought related to his audience, but this English major and surfer from northern California went overboard.

My 22-year-old brother watched alongside me as this debacle unfolded. As he put it, “It’s like watching the TV Guide Channel: short clips, useless information and a channel you only want to watch as a last resort.”

Luckily, Current TV is only available to some 20 million viewers across the country. That means – according to the numbers from Nielsen Media – this sorry station reaches less than 20% of all the households in America.

As for its political affiliation, there’s not enough substantial content on the network to classify it as liberal or conservative. What I can tell you is that Al Gore is Current TV’s chairman, David Neuman, who has ties to CNN, is the president of programming. Some of the hosts have been affiliated with PBS and ABC. And one host (Kinga Philipps) even appeared on the show “The West Wing.” While none of these facts automatically places the network into the liberal column, the potential to stray Left-ward certainly exists.

A good test for conservative film-makers and student journalists would be to submit their work to Current TV and see what happens. However, it should be noted that within the network’s “terms of use” it indicates that materials which are “unlawful, obscene, fraudulent, indecent or that defames, abuses, harasses, or threatens others, or is hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable…” are forbidden. So, I guess from a liberal point of view, stories and videos promoting “conservatism” would most likely be rejected.

Truth be told, the channel had a few bright spots. There was an inspirational story about a quadriplegic surfer and his determination to remain active. And, a motivational speaker named Deepak Chopra offered viewers advice on life and how to handle awkward situations. But, other than those five or six minutes, it was difficult to stay interested in the segments – I mean “pods.”

Although it’s a novel concept – combining the Internet, television, cheap video equipment and a youthful, energetic audience – Al Gore has a lot of work left if he’s going to make this interactive television venture successful. Personally, I think he’s got too much on his plate. My advice to Al would be, “Cut your losses. Sell the network, and focus on perfecting one thing at time, like your first invention – the Internet.”