Gore back with ‘reality’

He is the man who would be president, losing the 2000 election by a handful of votes and a truckload of controversy. And since his defeat, which left half of America feeling robbed, Al Gore faded into the background. Or did he?

With the launch last month of cable network Current, Gore is back in the spotlight. And given the ambitions of his new channel, he may be there for a very long time.

Gore’s desire was to create a cable network not affiliated with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. or Viacom, the two corporations that dominate much of commercial cable programming.

Disheartened by the lack of quality programming for socially aware young adults, Gore set out to make a channel not only for them, but by them. The idea was groundbreaking in its concept of viewer interaction.

Whereas popular cable networks like MTV allow viewers to vote for songs on shows like “Total Request Live,” Current allows viewers to actually dictate content. The channel runs audience-submitted video projects alongside its professionally-produced news segments. The result is a refreshing departure from sleek network news.

Each hour, the network screens short films about current topics like national news, world news, technology and entertainment. The content for the first few months is predominantly produced by the channel, since viewers have not yet seen the channel to contribute. But as interest grows, the channel hopes to balance its segments with those submitted by viewers.

A warning to students with conservative politics – this channel is not for you. Many segments take a clear liberal stance on issues like who goes to prison and the war in Iraq. The channel claims to be bipartisan, but has a clear loyalty to Gore’s Democratic party. Because Current is not touting itself as a news service, but rather a forum to present issues, it has no obligation to viewers to take a neutral stance.

Despite its successful launch, there is one main drawback to the channel. Its availability is an issue for many members of its 18-34 target age bracket, including most students at the College. The channel is available on DIRECTV, and on regular cable in major cities like New York and San Francisco. It is not, however, available on any basic cable in the New Jersey area.

Regardless of these shortcomings, the most important legacy of Current may be the precedent it is setting for television programming. As the “reality” of reality programming is devolving, Current takes a chip out of the fourth wall between programming and audience. The documentary-style segments may be a representation of one viewer’s opinion, but the fact that they are even given cable airtime is subtly revolutionary.

Current may not be there yet, but it has the potential to be television’s version of Pirate Radio – an alternative voice in an increasingly monopolized medium. The channel’s affiliation with Gore may seem to undermine its legitimacy, but only time will tell whether Current will become a people’s station or another format for corporate agenda.

No matter how viewer submissions and programming are handled in the coming months, when the media attention (The New York Times covered the channel’s launch in early August) increases viewer participation, Current has set a precedent for integrating the Internet and television. And if it maintains its independence from the media-giants, Current may set the stage for more interactive cable programming in the future.