It's become more or less de rigueur to complain about the generally blah quality of television programming these days, and for every Newton Minow pointing a finger at the "vast wasteland", there's a whole trawler full of smaller fish with half-vast variations on the theme.

The critics and pundits, it seems to me, are missing the most important point, which is that television is about many things, programming being just one, and not an important one at that. Television out here in the old Teeming Milieu is, by design, an audience-delivery system; its primary purpose is to insure that at least X number of people get to watch commercials about Y. Anything else is gravy, preferably just like homemade but without all the hassle.

The purest form of television, therefore, is the shopping channel. It exists solely to parade products before you and get you to call 800-something for one of your very own. None of that tedious what-will-they-watch angst; just show 'em the goods. Snooty PBS types will sneer, but QVC and the Home Shopping Network manage to keep going without having to pass the hat, tap the Treasury, or grovel to Archer Daniels Midland, a trick public television has yet to figure out on its own.

But does anyone actually watch this stuff? TV Guide hasn't started carrying program listings for the shopping channels, but there are evidently enough people stopping in at any given moment to keep them going twenty-four hours a day, 364 days a year. (Both channels pull the plug on December 25; HSN used to stick a camera in front of a fireplace for the day and leave it there, which, while it sounds horrible, really isn't any worse than Friday night on ABC.) And America's celebrity obsession is flexible enough to include shopping-channel hosts. Some obsessions, of course, are more pronounced than others; recent threads on a particularly fixated Usenet newsgroup dealt with the inchoate delights of watching QVC host Kathy LeVine trying on size-ten shoes, a thrill inexplicably not mentioned anywhere on QVC's Web site.

The Vent

21 June 1996

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 Copyright © 1996 by Charles G. Hill