Glee has leapt over the proverbial shark. Lone Star, fall's most critically acclaimed pilot, was canceled by Fox after two episodes. So, network TV's in the gutter. Basic cable is unnervingly highbrow (AMC) or wallowing in filth (MTV). The middle ground is literally in the middle — the channels we are blind to as a culture brainwashed by the media's marginalization of niche programming. Fight the power.
Here's a survey of some obscure cable networks you might never have heard of.
Halogen TV: The green-minded, public service-y, edgy channel aims at Gen Y. (Insight Channel 276, Time Warner Channel 120.)
Think PBS-style informational programming, plus frequent airings of Regenesis, a Canadian drama that probes biotech ethics. Sample plot: Intense, goateed scientist Carlos harvests an egg from a hard-boiled prostitute so its stem cells can be injected into a dying doc. As Carlos manipulates the wee egg, a sexy colleague quips, "One false move and that egg is toast." At moments like this, a viewer is happy that the throbbing music is louder than the dialogue.
MavTV: "TV Created by Men for Men" (or to be more accurate, TV Created by Men Stuck in Adolescence for Other Men Stuck in Adolescence). (Time Warner Channel 557, Dish Network Channel 361.)
So much to choose from: I Love This Bartender; Motorsports Hour; and Bikini Allstars, which goes behind the scenes at model shoots. But MavTV isn't all booze and broads. Okie Noodling II documents the strategies and legal ramifications of catching catfish barehanded in Oklahoma.
RFD: Aimed at rural America, RFD proves why most of us don't live in rural America. Namely because we couldn't cut it and would experience Death by Mule. (Time Warner Channel 555, Dish Network Channel 231, DirecTV Channel 345, RFDTV.com.)
A large block of programming is aimed at those interested in All Things Horsey. Quilt in a Day is akin to watching surgery, in that someone makes something look very easy yet insanely intimidating. Music lovers will enjoy Gospel Sampler and Big Joe's Polka Show, which is like MTV's defunct The Grind if it featured polka and your grandma.
Eternal Word Television Network: Your source for all Catholic rosary bead-based entertainment. (Insight Channel 275, Time Warner Channel 57 or 59, Dish Network Channel 261, DirecTV Channel 370, EWTN.com.)
Find saying the rosary at home alone tiresome? Has EWTN got programming for you. There's Rosary for Kids, which features an animated cherub to assist children in their prayers; Rosary for Life; The Holy Rosary with Mother Angelica; Holy Land Rosary (not to be confused with The Holy Rosary in the Holy Land); International Rosary, and The Holy Rosary in Stained Glass.
Three Angels Broadcasting: Every show promises to bring viewers closer to Jesus. (Dish Network Channel 9393, 3ABNTV.org.)
The diverse roster ranges from straightforward preaching to programs on missionary work, charity work, exercise, health, cooking, nature and good Christian fun for kids, courtesy of Grandma's House. For a change of pace, learn how the other half lives in The Antichrist Chronicles.
Trinity Broadcasting Network: Christianity surrounded by opulence and insane amounts of makeup. (Insight Channel 277, Time Warner Channel 43, 62 or 146, DirecTV Channel 372, TBN.org.)
The cornerstone of TBN is PTL, or Praise the Lord, which was Jim Bakker's show before he went to prison and got booted over to World Harvest TV (see below). PTL is Regis and Kelly if it were Bible-based, two hours long and much heavier on hair products. Billy Graham Classic Crusades will show you not only that Graham is a compelling speaker but that he used to be kind of hot.
World Harvest Television: What all TV would look like if the religious right ran the airwaves. (DirecTV Channel 367.)
Multiple-times-a-day showings of '60s series The Rifleman is as secular as this channel gets. See how far fallen evangelist Jim Bakker has tumbled on his new Jim Bakker Show, which is so poorly produced that you can't help but feel bad for him. American Religious Town Hall is like a cage match featuring white men in suits discussing the death penalty. It's pretty fun to pick your denomination and root for its representative, though; my money is on the Lutheran guy every time.
Fuel: If it flies, crashes, jumps, falls or is destructive in any way, Fuel wants to film it. (Time Warner Channel 255, Dish Network Channel 156, DirecTV Channel 618.)
If you're looking to watch people be stupid in new and creative ways, watch Fuel. The brilliantly named Thrillbillies is a Jackass for the redneck crowd; on one episode, they build a rickety track for motocross bikes that goes up sheds and along the tops of fences and then send people to ride it. It doesn't go well. Built to Shred also follows the "build dangerous stuff and then traverse it" model by building skate structures in weird places, such as in the middle of the woods.
Sportsman Channel: Loving nature by killing its inhabitants, eating them and hanging their heads on walls. (Time Warner Channel 257, Dish Network Channel 395, DirecTV Channel 605.)
One thing is true about all the shows on SPMN: Something is going to end up dead. The Experience with Weston and Jodi, which should win the Emmy for "Most American-ness Crammed Into Opening Credits Sequence," follows the duo as they kill things. On one episode of North American Safari, the host and his teen daughter kill things in Alaska. If you haven't seen a girl so self-tanned she doesn't need to wear hunter orange to drop a bear with one shot, you haven't watched SPMN.
American Auction Network: If soccer is considered a sport, then auctioning should be, too. (Dish Network Channel 219, DirecTV Channel 324, AANTV.com.)
THIS CHANNEL IS PROOF THAT EVERYTHING IS BETTER AND MORE EXCITING WHEN IT IS SHOUTED AND NO ONE USES PUNCTUATION AND THEY REPEAT THE SAME WORDS OVER AND OVER BECAUSE TIME IS LIMITED ACT NOW YOU NEED THIS GENUINE TANZANITE RING OR POSSIBLY SOME AMAZING ARTWORK. YOU NEED IT NOW SO CALL RIGHT NOW DO IT NOW. Oh, Wait Too Late now it's gone.