"If the community desires it, it is up to the cable company to provide it," explains Virgil Reed of Time Warner. "Those demands are usually covered in each individual franchise's agreement with each community."
It's also important to note that "the FCC indemnifies the cable company from liability over content. We simply provide shelf space," says Reed.
Over the years that has given thousands of people the chance to create and produce their own television programs. In some cases these shows have gone on to "real" channels including, more recently, Indiana's Michael Essany on E! (albeit briefly), Chicago's Brendan Leonard on ABC Family and Cincinnati's own Nick Tolbert on BET (see "Midnight Drive," issue of May 23, 2002). Thousands more across America's cable systems toil on their programs, including Dayton's Darryl Bohannon and Cincinnati's Don Smith.
Each produces a cable access show that speaks to a diverse audience.
"I'm a community activist," Don Smith explains while on a break from his job at the Volunteers of America. His eponymously titled program runs on Time Warner Cincinnati's Media Bridges (channel 24) at 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. The San Diego native came to Cincinnati more than a dozen years ago and has since worked a variety of jobs while searching for his true calling. He feels he has finally found it.
Three years ago he started The Don Smith Show which aims to "reach everyone. We need to bring people together," he explains. To that end Smith features a variety of topics, including the medicating of children, how to best help parolees as well as a wide range of social and political issues. His interests even include Egyptology. "I can read hieroglyphics," he says. "We've done a few shows on (ancient Egypt)."
Smith seems well suited for the job of socially conscious talk show host: He holds a bachelor's degree in social justice from the University of Washington and a master's in public administration from the University of Cincinnati. His program is based on his own personal philosophy. As he explains it, "We live in two worlds -- reality and perception. If our perception is distorted, then our reality becomes illusion."
Smith hopes to expand to a national audience, and is currently trying to find the right door to knock on. "I just have to find the right people. I'm not worried about making the presentation," he says confidently. Until that meeting, he plans to keep developing his craft.
"As good as you can get, you can get better," Smith says.
Far across the cable access galaxy resides Darryl Bohannon and his program Harper's Bazzaroworld. Produced in Dayton it hosted by Bohannon's alter-ego Ms. Demure. The show runs on several Dayton cable systems as well as Time Warner Cincinnati's Media Bridges channel (24) in Cincinnati at 3 a.m. on Saturday overnight.
Though he is a transvestite Bohannon's show is not a cabaret of outrageousness, as one might expect. In the screener sent to CityBeat, Ms. Demure shows us how to put together a care package for fighting men and women overseas.
"I like current events," says Bohannon. "And what better way to reach people?"
After two seasons, Bohannon is most surprised by the fact that "on TV, in southwestern Ohio, there is a person of color (that is) a drag queen. It's unheard of." Though he's not trying to convert the masses he likes to think his audience "is interested in 'trans' on some level."
In certain ways he feels he is a pioneer. "I think gays now on TV are where blacks were in the 1960s. We have Will & Grace and Six Feet Under, which had a gay character. The closet is open."
His eventual goal is simple one, and a lot less socially earthshaking: "I'd like to bring back the comedy-variety program (like those in the '70s). I'm going to keep working hard at it."
After almost 20 years, cable access is alive and well, still producing programs that inform, entertain and some times puzzle. And that helps make this a great TV nation. ©