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Dark Lord Viacom

Fifty-seven channels and nothing on? Get ready for “maxipurposing.”



The television industry as you know it will be forever altered next week, and yet a conspiracy of silence amongst mainstream TV writers has managed to keep the impending broadcast revolution completely secret. Just as the U.S. news media placates the people by not reporting what’s really going on in the Middle East, the Television Critics of America (of which I am not a member, luckily for you) have kept you ignorant of a big, evil change around the corner. You want the truth about Afghanistan, you go to foreign news sources; you want the truth about television, you come to The Only TV Column That MattersTM.

Beginning Monday, April 1, global media monster Viacom Inc. begins the process of merging all of its entertainment outlets into a single delivery package. What’s the big deal? For those not in the know, Viacom owns broadcast networks CBS and UPN; cable nets Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TNN, BET, Noggin, TV Land, Showtime, The Movie Channel and Sundance Channel; and music channels MTV (and offshoots MTV2, MTVX and MTV Spanish), VH1 (ditto VH1 Classics, VH1 Soul and VH1 Country) and Country Music Television. Also, film studio Paramount Pictures and video/DVD outlet Paramount Home Entertainment, not to mention rental giant Blockbuster Video, are Viacom properties along with the 180-station Infinity Broadcasting radio company, book publisher Simon & Schuster and 900,000-billboard advertising concern Viacom Outdoor Group. There’s more, but you probably get the idea: Viacom is one big fuggin’ octopus.

Though disconcerting, all of the above is public knowledge. Here’s the covert “big deal”: Some Thursday when you plunk down on the couch to watch, say, that fascinating Def Leppard Behind the Music on VH1 again, all you’ll be seeing is 24 hours of Survivor reruns from CBS, not one-armed drummers and mullets. Why? Because designated-by-Viacom Behind the Music day is now the second Tuesday of the month. Don’t bother flipping to another channel owned by the Big V—every last one is showing the same Survivor mega-marathon. Tomorrow: All Baby Bob, all day.

No, it’s not a new suburb of Hell, just because-we-can conglomerate abuse taken to its previously unthinkable extreme. Viacom has decided that programming one multi-signal channel will be far easier (and, of course, cheaper) than maintaining a dozen, hence the forthcoming one-signal-fits-all daily TV feed. It’s been dubbed “maxipurposing,” running company-controlled broadcast and cable shows in 24-hour block cycles. Initially, non-cable/satellite-dish subscribers may even feel as if they’re getting a sweet deal ... at least until they hit the wall in the 18th hour of SpongeBob SquarePants day.

The warning signs began popping up recently, with Viacom (and other media corporations) “repurposing” shows back and forth between its broadcast networks: UPN gets handed down weekly repeats of CBS’ Amazing Race, and long-canceled CBS dog Wolf Lake begins its second life on UPN next Wednesday. Other media corporations have been repurposing shows between nets for months (The WB’s Charmed to TNT, ABC’s Alias to ABC Family, etc.), but Viacom is the first to do so with crap programming that no one actually watches—balls, or foreknowledge of an absolute media monopoly? You’ll have your answer when the Viacom plan is fully implemented by mid-April. Thanks to mass ad-saturation from the octopus’ radio and billboard campaigns, you’ll even be brainwashed into thinking it’s a great idea.

As I said before, the mainstream news media won’t be reporting this, because they all have corporate owners who can’t wait to jump on this scheme themselves. ABC, NBC, Fox, The WB, their cable counterparts and parent conglomerates are all watering at the mouth to get in on it mostly because of Viacom’s insidious/ingenious Pay It Forward├é┬« option: Say you want to watch an episode of MTV’s hilarious The Osbournes, but just can’t wait 14 days for Viacom to rotate it in. Simply enter a major credit-card number using your TV’s remote and viola! BattleBots/Robot Wars (combined to cut redundancy costs) day is interrupted for 30 blissful minutes of Ozzy’s addled antics!

Man, I’ll be maxed-out halfway through Baby Bob day.