There are few things in this world that I honestly and truly love, and public access television is not one of them. It’s pretty darn entertaining, though, and once it’s turned on, I’m drawn like a moth to, well, not a flame, but a television broadcasting locally produced, no-budget edutainment programming. Moths love their edutainment programming. Look it up!
Anyway, I think I find public access fascinating because I don’t recall that we ever had it back when I was growing up in Bangor, Maine. Sure, there was that one channel that the cable company used to display notices of local happenings and video of the occasional city council meeting, but there was never anything you could actually call a show. Except for the way buff religious guy who stood in front of a brick wall reading the Bible. We had that guy, but that was about it. Here in Rhode Island, on the other hand, we have at least 4 or 5 channels devoted to public access, at least one of which is devoted solely to Spanish language programs, and another specifically for religious stuff. And every single one of them has something worth watching at some time or another.
Here are some of my favorite RI public access programs. I don’t know the titles of most of them, so I’ll just make up my own.
El cabrito espantosamente intenso del predicador (“The Frighteningly Intense Preacher Kid;” Thanks to Babel Fish for the translation there.) – This is a Spanish language religious show starring a small child – no older than 8 or 9 years old – spreading the Gospel through sermon and song at a vocal speed of approximately 38 million words a minute. This kid is a human dynamo, running back and forth across the stage, preaching and singing his little heart out. And intense! I have no idea what this kid is saying, but it’s pretty darn clear he believes it wholeheartedly. And you better, too, or else he’ll probably come to your house and subject you to his “Herve Villechaize, but religious and on crystal meth” act in person. And I don’t think you’ve got the stones to withstand that, Jefe.
“Caught” in Providence – This is the only one that I know the actual title of, if only because it’s sort of a Rhode Island institution. Essentially, it’s like a locally produced version of The People’s Court, except that it involves real cases and is taped in an actual courtroom. The defendants are all filed through one at a time while the judge hears their case. Most of the time, it’s just people with parking tickets who often plead “Guilty with an explanation” and try and get the judge to lower or completely toss out their fine (which he often does, especially if it’s a poor mom with her kids in tow or a cute female college student). Every now and again, though, you’ll get an actual hardened criminal with a severe attitude problem that’s there for some sort of pre-trial happening. And then the next person will be another person with a parking fine, only they’ll look really frightened. I shouldn’t laugh, but I always do.
Rhode Island Skank Dance Party – This is a show consisting of nothing but video footage shot at Providence-area dance clubs. It’s like a low-rent version of that old Emtpy-V show, The Grind, but without the host, lip-synced “live” performances or attractive people. Just a bunch of people dressed like they desperately want to get laid, bumping and grinding to endless, techno-ized versions of songs that were popular a year or two ago (which is when this was filmed, for all I know). The best part is watching people mug for the video camera. You get to see some really terrible dance moves, all manner of obscene gestures, and every now and then, drunk girls making out. Except that the drunk girls get mosaic-ed out of the picture; the gestures, everything from the finger to the wagging tongue between the “v” of fingers that is the universal symbol for cunnilingus, remain. The end result is perhaps the most entrancing show in television history. If you sit down to watch, you will not stop until the show ends. Somehow, it is impossible to tear yourself away. An entire channel of this would seriously impede my ability to lead my everyday life.
The Star Trek Show – A couple of people sitting in front of a wall with Star Trek posters on it, talking about all things Trek. You could make a lot of jokes about these people, and admittedly I have, but I also have to admire them in a way. They’re really into what is widely acknowledged as the geekiest of geek disciplines, they’ve probably dressed as a Borg for an occasion other than Halloween, and they may have even paid money to go to Klingon language camp. But they’re comfortable and secure enough with themselves that they don’t care who knows it, and are even willing to go on TV and proclaim their geekiness for all (or at least just the folks watching public access late Sunday nights) to see. That takes some cojones. Live long and prosper, guys.
The High School Video Project Show – Every now and again, they’ll randomly show a bunch of clips that local high school students made for some sort of class assignment. Like today, for instance, they showed a bunch of commercial parodies filmed by students at North Kingstown High School. As is to be expected, these things tend to range in quality from “surprisingly clever” to “so terrible they deserve to be studied,” but laid out end to end, they’re all surprisingly transfixing. Almost as big a threat to getting things done as Rhode Island Skank Dance Party, but with a bit less skank – though only a bit, as I was surprised by what they actually let teenage girls to wear to school now. I would’ve paid good money for girls to be allowed to wear impossibly tiny skirts to school back in the day! Yeesh.
The Priest Who Does Surprisingly Good Entertainment Interviews – This isn’t locally produced, but it airs on one of the religious public access channels, so I say it counts. I’ve only ever seen this once or twice, but I think it’s just a show where this youngish priest interviews famous people who just happen to be Catholic. On one episode I saw, he interviewed Bruce Campbell (which is what made me stop to watch). And truthfully, it was one of the best interviews with Campbell that I’ve seen. His entire career was covered in amazing detail, like he was on Inside the Catholic Studio or something, and you could tell that Father Whatshisname was a really big fan, or that he at least really did his homework. And I don’t think they ever talked about religion once. If this guy ever has a crisis of faith, he should totally get a job on E! and show those sniveling little celebrity sycophants how a real entertainment interview is done.
So there you go. We’re not talking about really high quality programming here, but it is pretty fun in it’s own, bizarre little way. The only way I could really think of to improve it would be to smush it all into one big supershow, starring a tiny Latino preacher boy in a Star Trek uniform shaking his booty out on the dance floor in order to pick up chicks and get an A in his video production class, while at the same time interviewing Bruce Campbell, who is trying to contest a parking ticket.
It’s so crazy, it just might work.