One of the links listed in the Internet Movie Database‘s “Hit List” today is to this article at Moving Image Source (a project of the Museum of Moving Image). The article, written by Leah Churner, is titled “Out of the Vast Wasteland” and is actually the first of a two-part discussion of public access cable television in New York City, specifically Manhattan. The second half can be found here. It’s a fascinating read.
Public access cable television is a subject I personally know nothing about by virtue of cable television being beyond the purview of my interests in broadcast television. According to the article, when Manhattan was wired for cable in 1971, public access was born as well. Channels C and D were the first, followed by Channel J in 1976. Only the latter allowed advertising, which led to adult entertainment programs with titles like The Ugly George Hour, Interludes After Midnight, Midnight Blue and The Robin Byrd Show (which is apparently still in production).
The article suggests that the heyday of public access cable in New York City came to in end in 1984 when it became obvious that no one was actually watching cable access channels. In 1991, Channel J was replaced by ESPN. But cable access in Manhattan is still around, as it is in many other cities all across the country (there are also government access and educational access channels). There’s a woman singing on my public access cable channel this very moment. But it seems the dream of public access leading to a bold new age of free speech never amounted to much, at least not in Manhattan.