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News : City Paper


Author: Felix Gillette
Issue: 2001/12/07
Issue Volume: 21
No Static at All : DCTV Programming
Plastic flowers. Pulpits. Nonprofits. It's strictly clean and sober on DCTV.

By Felix Gillette
Dec. 7 - 13, 2001 (Vol. 21, #49)

Public-access proponents emphasize the multicultural, multiethnic nature of the programming. "Compared with network television, what you see on public-access channels these days is much more like what you see on the subway," says George C. Stoney, a professor of film at New York University (NYU) and the so-called godfather of public-access television. (In 1971, Stoney helped form the Alternate Media Center at NYU, which for years served as the focal point of the public-access television movement in the United States.) "Count the number of black faces," he says. "Count the number of programs done in a language other than English. Count the number of young people you see. It's a majority. The stuff may be junk. But what's my junk is somebody else's life."

What DCTV has instead is an endless procession of sober and maudlin people obsessed with what's wrong with D.C., and, occasionally, how it should be fixed.

The preponderance of programming -even though it's not produced by a single type of group or a single type of producer--has been community-affairs-oriented, "It's kind of like the conversations that you would overhear at a meeting."

During my DCTV binge, I'm thrown headfirst into a quagmire of maladies, such as lupus, that afflict District residents. On a show called Spirit and Truth, Kimory Orendoff, a DCTV staff member and prolific public-access producer, hosts a round-table discussion about the excess of absentee fathers in the District.

Orendoff, who comes from a single-parent household himself, begins by discussing the emotional difficulties of growing up without a father. Eventually Orendoff puts his two younger guests-- both of whom are black male teenagers-- on the spot: Do they have older role models to counsel them? What have they been told about drug abuse? Unprotected sex? Unwanted pregnancy? AIDS?

As I digest the 90-minute show, I'm not sure who's squirming more--me or the teenagers. But through it all, Orendoff remains serene. Perhaps most people don't want to engage District teenagers in frank conversations about sex and drug abuse. Orendoff does. And he uses DCTV to drag you along with him.

The message is clear: DCTV offers District residents the chance to make television production their hobby, but with a little hard work and some luck, it might become a full-time gig.