The Ultimate Cable Channels

I have a new favorite cable channel. No, it's not the Speed Channel, which is for auto, boating, and aviation enthusiasts. Nor is it the Do It Yourself Network which, contrary to what you're thinking, isn't about masturbation. It's Channel 76 on my cable system and it broadcasts an image of an oscilloscope 24 hours a day. Seven days a week. Three hundred sixty-five days a year. Now this is a channel with a stable programming philosophy.

It's not pretty. The industrial strength oscilloscope sits on a table and the camera isn't even pointed directly at it, it's as if someone placed the camera down for a minute and left it like that. For years. The waveform on the oscilloscope screen changes a bit, as they're wont to do, but not dramatically. The great thing is there are no commercials, no breaks for station identification, and none of those incessant, obnoxious promos for other programs which give away the only two half-funny jokes you'll see if you accidentally watch the show. With the Oscilloscope Channel, what you see now is what you'll see later. It is its own coming attraction.

I have to admit, I haven't watched it for more than three hours at a stretch so there might be some other programming I'm not aware of. They might switch to a volt-ohm meter on weekday evenings between 7:00 and 8:00 and a Geiger counter for "Radiation Roundup" Saturdays at 9:00. Eight o'clock central time. But I don't think so. I've tuned in at many different hours of the day and the only thing that changes is that occasionally it looks like someone bumped the table and the camera shifted to an even odder angle. Yoko Ono couldn't have created a better cable channel.

I'm not certain what the channel's function is. It might be the equivalent of the Playboy Channel for techies. Then again, it might be NASA reading my brain waves and showing them to the world. Now before you graciously offer me your aluminum foil helmet so I can start wearing it around the house, this isn't as far fetched as you might think. Well, not if you believe a recent report in the Washington Times. They claim NASA scientists, frustrated with not being able to develop a follow-up as delicious as Tang, have started working on a device that will detect the brain-wave patterns of people walking through airport security checkpoints, analyze it, feed the data into a computer, and show it on cable Channel 76. Just kidding. Actually they hope it will "detect passengers who potentially might pose a threat." You know, like John Ashcroft.

The Waveform Channel, as I've taken to calling it, is as riveting, informative, and entertaining as most other channels. Best of all, you don't have to worry about missing your favorite show, canceling your plans just to find out tonight's episode is a rerun, or spending countless frustrating hours trying to figure out how to tape a program with your VCR. With the Waveform Channel, your favorite show is always on.

This is narrowcasting at its best. Narrowcasting, in case you've been too busy watching BFN (the Bass Fishing Network) to pay attention, is the concept that we as humans have limited interests and are only able to process small bits of information at a time. It's de-evolution in action. In the beginning, there was network television, which broadcast a wide range of shows. It begat UHF channels, which were aimed at a smaller segment of the population, namely those who were capable of remembering that channel 64 actually existed and knew how to find it. UHF begat cable, with channels devoted exclusively to topics like music and news. As more cable channels were created, the range of interest got narrower and narrower, until now there are channels devoted to soap operas, shopping, golf, travel, obnoxious chefs who say "Bam!" all the time, history, sports, and the ultimate hybrid, ESPN Classic, which combines history and sports. Can the Fast Food Channel, Seafaring Disasters We Wish Yanni Was On Network, and Cat Channel be far behind?

Don't be surprised if you see that last one soon. Right now a program called "Meow TV" is being shopped around in hopes of being picked up for the fall. It will feature bouncing balls, squirrels, birds, and pieces of string being pulled across the floor. See, Meow TV isn't about cats, it's for cats.

The show is being produced by Meow Mix, the cat food company dedicated to implanting nasty, insidious commercial jingles into our brains. The CEO, who not so coincidentally is the show's producer, says 22 percent of pet owners watch TV shows they know their pets will enjoy. When confronted with a choice between new episodes of Masterpiece Theater and a rerun of A&E's "Biography" of Mr. Ed, pet owners will overwhelmingly choose the latter. Of course so would most everyone, but we're not concerned with non-pet owners right now. Since there are 85 million cats in the country, that means "Meow TV" could conceivably pull an audience of nearly 19 million viewing cats. This is nothing to sneeze at. Well, not unless you're allergic to cats. That viewership would have made it the number one TV show last week, more than doubling the number of people who watched the actual top show. And quadrupling the number of awake ones.

If "Meow TV" takes off you can expect to see a number of, uh, copy cats popping up, like the Canine News Network, Fish!, and Discovery Wings, which is an actual cable channel about aviation that will make the switch to "All Birds All The Time." Just so long as they don't get rid of Channel 76. I hear they might be getting a new Tektronix TDS224 four-channel real-time 100-MHz digital oscilloscope for the new fall season, and I wouldn't want to miss that.

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