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We remember the April Fool’s editions of college newspapers, and the “funny fake news” industry they birthed (not to be confused with the “deadly-serious fake news” industry). We also examine a solemn anniversary on Bainbridge; Bill Nye as the least-cool co-chair of the March for Science; a save-the-salmon video game; and the usual cornucopia of weekend events.
Seattle loses a major community institution this week, quietly.
SCAN TV (Seattle Community Access Network), the nonprofit that’s operated the city’s public access cable channel for more than a decade, closes up shop. SCAN declined to bid on another contract to run the channel, after penny pinching city bureaucrats slashed the funding for its operation.
The Seattle Community College District’s SCCtv agreed to take over the channel at the vastly reduced funding level. The new iteration of the access channel, renamed Seattle Community Media, starts Friday. For the first few weeks, as SCM gets its technical infrastructure together, programming will be limited to rerun episodes of shows supplied by existing SCAN citizen producers.
With the change comes the closing of the access studio on N. 98th Street east of Aurora. Starting in 1983 (when Group W Cable opened it as a condition of its city cable contract), the Northwest Access and Production Center’s modest 30-by-40-foot main studio hosted an astounding array of artisanal TV. Citizens signed up for time slots, took training classes on the gear, and created all-volunteer productions, some quite elaborate.
That room was known as the “big studio.” There was also the “small studio,” a walk-in closet with one camera and a control console; producers strove to stretch that room’s capabilities, even producing musical variety shows (albeit starring very small combos).
SCM will reinstall the SCAN equipment on the North Seattle Community College campus, just a few blocks east of the old site. This means producers will still be able to make multi-camera, studio-based TV shows, as well as single camcorder, field-based video footage.
But nothing on the new SCM channel will be cablecast live.
That means (1) no call-in segments, and (2) no in-studio surprises. In-studio mistakes, yes, but no surprises.
At the access channel’s peak of popularity in the mid 1990s, a Seattle Times feature story described its panoply of programming.
There was music of every conceivable genre, including some of the earliest footage of Soundgarden and other future “Seattle scene” stars (and should-have-been stars).
There were ethnic cultural programs ranging from Chinese to Somali.
There were single-issue discussion and monologue shows advocating everything from gun rights to alternative medicine.
There were preachers of every theological stripe, including UFO religions and atheism.
There was the Rev. Bruce Howard, a music teacher who created (and successively re-created) his own spiritual discipline, evolving from fire and brimstone to (relatively) happy folk singing. (No, I don’t know whatever happened to him.)
There was Philip Craft’s Political Playhouse, in which the sometimes naked host offered up interviews and comedy skits expressing his flavor of radicalism (politicians = bad, marijuana = good). Craft later moved to L.A. and helped make a low budget film based on his experiences, Anarchy TV.
Another lefty political show, Deface the Nation, had a vegan cooking spinoff series called All You Can Stomach.
There was the drag queen cooking show Queen’s Kitchen and its sequel Love, Laverne (a live sitcom).
There were other home brewed comedy ventures such as Bend My Ear Seattle (with hosts Chardmo and Johnny 99 and house band Hot Dog Water), The Make Josh Famous Half-Hour of Garbage, and Gavin’s Hawse (with Gavin Guss, later of the neo-pop band Tube Top and now a solo singer-songwriter).
There was Richard Lee’s Kurt Cobain Was Murdered, in which the steadily crazier looking and sounding Lee reiterated, week after week for years, his specious conspiracy theories. Lee eventually ran for mayor in 2001, showing up at a debate with a beard and in a dress.
There was deadpan comic MC Spud Goodman, one of the two access stars who graduated to “real” TV, hosting bizarre skits and local bands for four years on channels 22 and 13.
There was the other later-made-it-big guy, serious public affairs interviewer C.R. Douglas, who took his insightful chats with local political leaders to the city-owned Seattle Channel (retiring earlier this year).
And there was the call-in show Bong Hit Championships (did what it said on the tin).
In 1999, the access channel had already begun to fade from public awareness. That’s when the city engineered the creation of SCAN, and put the new nonprofit group charge of the channel.
One reason was to remove Comcast AT&T (which, through mergers, wound up with most of Seattle’s cable subscriptions, which would soon after be sold to Comcast) from the responsibility to enforce limits on the channel’s “free speech” policies.
Producers were forbidden from airing commercials or soliciting money on the air. Otherwise, pretty much any content was permitted. Officially, programming wasn’t supposed to violate federal “obscenity” guidelines.
But with a no-prescreening policy in effect, some producers dared to sneak stuff past. Michael Aviaz’s Mike Hunt TV and T.J. Williamson’s Fulfilling Your Fantasies included uncensored excerpts from hardcore porn videos. Aviaz’s show ran off and on for nine years, getting kicked off for good in 2006. Williamson stopped submitting X-rated shows, but continued to program non-controversial travelogue videos under the name Adventure TV.
One of the ’90s access stars, monologuist-painter Shannon (Goddess Kring) Kringen, is still on the channel today (though no longer prancing naked on camera).
So are a trio of long-running musical shows, Music Inner City, D’Maurice & Armageddon, and Blues To Dos.
This week’s final SCAN schedule includes much the same range of fare the access channel had in its heyday, albeit without some of the edgier fare.
There’s even a madcap comedy-variety show, The VonHummer Hour.
It’s imported from Portland.
The ultimate question should not be, “How could the city defund SCAN?”
It should rather be, “Why was so little done to defend it?”
One reason: In a 200-channel cable TV landscape, this one little unadvertised analog channel lost what local prominence it had.
Another reason: With YouTube and podcasts and video blog posts, a scheduled cable channel is a relatively inconvenient way to distribute and view indie video. And the ol’ WWW in general is a handier way to disseminate niche-audience messages and entertainments (albeit a harder place to find them).
Still, there’s something very invigorating, even democratizing, about people making their own TV and making it available to the whole community to view in real time.
With the right support, SCM could bring that spirit back.
UPDATE: Seattle Community Media has now taken over the channel. The schedule of programs is the same as the final SCAN schedule. The only difference so far is the promos between programs. One of them is a sped-up video of a short drive from the old SCAN building to the NSCC campus, where a small staff stands in wait to proclaim “Welcome to Seattle Community Media.”
It’s a few days late, but CBS.com has finally posted the Letterman segment with author Bill McKibben. (Fast forward to the last 10 minutes of the video.)
Since I am probably the only McKibben reader who continues to own and use a TV set, I got to see this segment on its original air date. He forcefully argues that not only do we have to act to save the planet, but that we can.
The Tribune Co.-owned broadcast TV station formerly known as KTZZ is holding an all-day Looney Tunes Marathon today, and another (with a whole different set of cartoons) this Sunday.
So far, the only commercials in it are for the station’s new brand identity, “Joe.TV.” You may have seen the many billboards and street posters for it. No more MyNetwork TV. Instead, its evening schedule relies on reruns of The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Entourage, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, plus the existing 9 p.m. newscast produced by sister station KCPQ. The rest of the station’s schedule will be mostly forgettable judge shows and infomercials.
And, no, classic Warner Bros. cartoons will not be on the station after the second marathon on Sunday.
MISCmedia is dedicated today to two of TV’s most enduring actors, Bonanza/Trapper John star Pernell Roberts and All My Children legend James Mitchell. The latter’s death was officially announced by “longtime partner Albert Wolsky.”
Yes, Palmer Cortland was gay.
What, you thought he was having sex with Opal all those years?
Robin Williams was on the next-to-last Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. Williams had also been on the next-to-last Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It’s a tribute to O’Brien’s and Williams’s media-historicism that neither felt the need to announce this symmetry.
Then next on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, we learned how to get kids into more book-reading, thanks to the cast of the stage musical Fela.
My take on the whole two-week minicrisis that was the Late Night Wars? Leno should never have been offered five hours a week of network prime time. That immediately lowered NBC to the status of a secondary network along the lines of The CW, and made Leno’s own schtick seem as tired and overworked as, well, it is.
No, the Leno prim etime show should have been a weekly or twice-weekly franchise. Like Dateline or Deal Or No Deal, it could have become a programming backstop the network could plug into any troublesome timeslot. Now we’ll never know how that strategy could have worked. And we’re not likely to get comedy-variety back in prime time for some time.
Former cable programming mogul and current DirecTV boss John Malone alleges local broadcast TV is fiscally doomed.
Paste counts down what it claims are the top 25 “live moments” on TV this past decade (other than 9/11). The list includes live-to-tape stuff from talk shows, but let’s not be picky here.
Some are obviously worthy of inclusion: Jon Stewart righteously punking Tucker Carlson on CNN, Election Night ’00, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. I might have replaced some of the list’s sports highlights to fit in Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” and Rachel Maddow’s polite demolition of Pat Buchanan.
The bad news, according to the Discovery Channel: A mega-earthquake could destroy Seattle and all within it at any time.
The good news: Discovery claims Seattle now has 10 million inhabitants. We’re a much bigger “market” than we all thought!
I never saw the early TV comedy pioneer perform his principal kidvid act, until best-of packages showed up on home video. His major work was a live local show that began in Detroit back in the medium’s dawning years, then bounced between stations in LA and NY. Only brief portions of these runs attained national syndication.
To those of us in the rest of America, Sales was principally known as a journeyman TV personality—a game show panelist, a talk show guest, an Ed Sullivan Show novelty act. Even without his puppets, his cream pies, and his running gags, he remained an always-welcome presence, an eternal icon of youth and wit and absurdity.
He also nurtured the early musical careers of his sons Hunt and Tony Sales. They went on to play on Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” and in David Bowie’s band Tin Machine.
…the Seafair Torchlight Parade drew thousands from the whole tri-county region to Fourth Avenue on July 25, to witness the usual sequence of drill teams, marching bands, floats, horses, big balloons, clowns, and politicians. This year’s grand marshalls were ex-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren and local radio legend Pat O’Day.
KIRO-TV’s parade telecast ended promptly at 10 p.m., so the station could air a rerun of one of CBS’s near-identical detective shows. The telecast ended before the Seafair Pirates came into camera range, which is exactly like cutting off the Thanksgiving Day Parade before Santa shows up.
Now, the station has posted video of the Pirates’ performance online, perhaps as a make-up offering to angry parade-telecast viewers.
LAST FRIDAY AND YESTERDAY, I began a recollection of Seattle during the fall of 1975.
Today we continue by examining the arts scene in those pre-Bicentennial months; a scene newly flush with public funding and a lively, participatory spirit.
A thriving theater/performance-art milieu was neatly divided into two casts, with only a few performers crossing over between the two. You had the Rep and ACT (and the new Intiman) mounting “real” dramas (usually stuffed with NYC actors) for well-dressed audiences and major donors.
Then you had the funkier, smaller troupes. Some of these outfits in the 1974-84-or-so period included the Bathhouse, the Skid Road Show, Ze Whiz Kidz, the Pioneer Square Theater, the Conservatory Theater Co., and the Group. One company from this scene, the Empty Space, survives today. Another, the One Reel Vaudeville Show, morphed into a thriving events-production company.
These troupes shared a broadly defined aesthetic, influenced by varying degrees of late-hippie boistrousness, gay-camp outrageousness, avant-theater experimentation, National Lampoon-esque irreverence, post-collegiate volunteer enthusiasm, and conceptual-art pretensions. They created energetic and spunky (if inconsistent) shows, to a core audience that was willing to sit out the lesser efforts in hopes of catching something unexpectedly smashing.
And it worked, as long as the core audience stayed loyal and as long as scraps of arts funding helped subsidize the affordable ticket prices. But as the Reagan era dragged on, the arts funding (at least to non-“major” producing organizations) dried up, the corporate donors stayed loyal to the big theaters, the expenses (especially rents) crept up, the old audiences started staying home nights, and many of the performers and directors drifted off to NYC or to real careers. The spirit of these old theaters lives on in today’s Theater Schmeater, Annex, and Union Garage.
Visual arts here were looking for a new way. The “Northwest School” painters had died, retired, or moved away. The Seattle Art Museum was still in its old Volunteer Park mini-palace and paid little attention to living local artists. The Center on Contemporary Art was still five years away.
For traditional-style painters and sculptors (and for those newfangled glass-art craftspeople), there were the Pioneer Square galleries, which were just getting started. For artists with bigger ambitions (or the right connections), a One Percent For Art program funnelled a piece of every local government construction project into big, vaguely modernistic, but preferably non-controversial works. (Though many of the biggest One Percent commissions went to California big names, or to cronies of the art bureaucrats awarding them.)
The music scene was in a creative slump. Everything on the club circuit was segregated into formulaic genres. There were all-white blues bands in Pioneer Square, top-40 cover bands (including White Heart, which became Heart) in the meatmarket clubs, soft-rock balladeers in the U District, and, in a couple of dance clubs, this new thing called disco. It was, then, a celebratory, participatory scene in which no costume was too outlandish, no dance move too flamboyant. It was gay lib meeting black power meeting repressed suburban kids’ dreams of glamour and thrills. And, on a good night, it was a lot more fun and freewheeling than its stuck-up grandson, techno, can even hope to be.
TOMORROW: Struggling with the post-Vietnam economy.
MISC. can’t help but wonder how all those Montlake English profs are taking the news about Ford buying up Volvo: “Oh my God! I’m driving a car from–gasp–a domestic automaker!”
MISC. UNPLUGGED, SORTA: Came home from the movies last Sun. evening to find a dead telephone and a dead modem. After clearing out the giant bookshelf I’d inconveniently placed in front of my phone jack, I replaced the cord with a shorter one I had lying around. The phone came to life. The modem could again detect dial tones and call out, but couldn’t receive any data–not from my normal ISP; not from any of the BBSs or alternate dialup numbers at my disposal. After several such attempts, the computer would no longer even recognize my modem as having been installed. After multiple talks with the Speakeasy tech-support crew and hours on hold (at full-rate daytime long distance) to the modem manufacturer, an operator at the latter asked if there’d been any lightning storms that day. There weren’t. So the only reasonable explanation: The phone co. must have sent an inadvertant power surge down my line, killing my cord and my modem. (There are two condo projects going up on my block; who knows what mischief might’ve been done while reconfiguring the underground wiring.)
Anyhow, I FedExed my beautiful regular modem to Boca Raton, FL for warranty repair. They’re shipping it back, however, via UPS Ground (the slowest ship in the shipping business).
All this week, I’ve been using the only other modem I’ve got, an ancient 2400-baud model from circa 1990. I can perform normal email and website-upload tasks with it, as long as I’m willing to wait umpteen minutes at a time. I can’t do anything involving a graphical-based Web browser, though, and even all-text Web research (using telnet software) is achingly cumbersome.
It’s been weird, to say the least, to be without full WWW access, my favorite time-waster and fast-food-for-thought source. I’ve felt like a tourist in my own home–no, more like a business traveler in my own home, since I’ve had to meet all my regular freelance and Website deadlines without my normal tools. With any luck, all should be restored by the end of next week.
In the meantime, I promptly received a piece of junk mail offering me a free 56K modem if I sign up for two months of Internet service from, you guessed it, US West. And, of course, they don’t have any Mac modems in their offer. (What was that slogan during last year’s strike? Oh yeah: “Life’s Bitter Here.”)
WALKING THE WALK: Here’s the final at-long-last result of our reader poll for a virtual Seattle women’s walk of fame, inspired by the parade of shoeprints surrounding the new Nordstrom store but more responsive to the gender which represents, among many other things, Nordstrom’s primary clientele.
This listing doesn’t include the women who did get on the Nordy’s shrine: The late UW Regent Mary Gates (whose contacts may have helped her kid Bill get that IBM contract that put MS-DOS, and hence Microsoft, on top of the cyber-world), KING-TV founder Dorothy Bullitt and her philanthropist daughters, and painter Gwen Knight. (When I first mentioned this topic in December, the sidewalk plaque honoring both Wright and hubby Jacob Lawrence was covered up by the store’s Santa booth.)
(Also, I’d previously, erroneously, listed the Wilson sisters of Heart fame as among those honored by Nordy’s. They’re not, alas.)
The results of my research and your suggestions for other unsung heroines, in no particular order:
(More about notable Washingtonians past and present at History Link.)
OUR CURRENT QUESTION at the fantabulous Misc. Talk forums and via email: What’s your favorite beautiful “ugly” building?