Kicking cable habit won't get easier soon

October 14, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd

THERE WAS A time when the announcement of a new 24-hour channel devoted to the martial arts would have inspired a vicious diatribe in this space about yet another dopey specialty network, but those days are long gone, my friend.

Look, I am a beaten man when it comes to this stuff.

On my puny basic cable system alone, you can watch channels devoted to animals, golf, hunting and fishing, fashion and beauty, NASCAR and Formula One racing, home and garden issues ("Whither the Azalea?"), country music, game shows, home shopping and home entertaining.

You can even watch a channel totally devoted to the weather, which, as insane as it sounds, I occasionally do.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of those who said the Weather Channel would never make it.

I used to say: Who's going to sit there and watch some caffeinated drama school washout drone on and on about a cold front sweeping down from Canada and a band of thunderstorms moving through the Mississippi Valley?

Who's going to get all hopped up about another Doppler radar map or another "Current Conditions" chart or the obligatory record low set in International Falls, Minn.?

This thing will never last, I used to say. The whole Weather Channel staff will be working at a Denny's within a year.

Naturally, this prediction turned out to be right on the money, as there are only about 50 million people tuned into the channel at any given moment.

In fact, I know a man, a good friend of mine, who will not leave the house - absolutely will not leave - without first clicking on the Weather Channel.

And it's not like this guy is flying to Houston and wants to know what the weather's like from here to there. This guy, if he goes as far as Arbutus, it's a big trip.

Still, the man has to check out the Weather Channel.

One day I said to him: "Look, you lead a largely empty, desultory life, we can both agree on that. A big day for you is going to the 7-Eleven to pick up a stale pack of White Owl cigars and one of those god-awful hot dogs that's been sitting under the heat lamp since the Cuban Missile Crisis. If the Weather Channel says it's going to rain, would you not go to the 7-Eleven?"

"No, I'd still go," he said.

"If the Weather Channel said it was going to snow, snow so hard that schoolchildren and small dogs would disappear in huge drifts and not be found again until the spring, would you not go get your White Owls?"

"No, I'd still go," he said.

"Then why," I asked him, "do you give a hoot what the Weather Channel says?"

He said he didn't know. He said it was probably some kind of psychological flaw, a sick compulsion to know what the weather is like in places like Akron, Ohio, and Sacramento, Calif., and Rochester, N.Y.

Anyway, the point is, this business of a new all-martial arts channel - two of them actually, which we'll get to in a moment - is not going to set me off as it did in the old days.

After all, why is a martial arts channel any weirder than, say, the Golf Channel? There's another channel I never thought I'd watch, and I watch it all the time.

What could be more boring than watching some second-rate European golf tournament from Prague, or a bunch of fat guys in loud polo shirts sitting around a studio talking about how to get rid of your slice?

Yet sometimes I find myself watching the Golf Channel for hours. Talk about an empty, desultory life.

Now, for all those people who lead empty, desultory lives and have an affinity for karate-chopping 2-by-4s and kick-boxing a younger brother until he cries, come two new 24-hour martial arts channels.

One will be called Blackbelt TV, the other the Martial Arts Channel (MAC), and both plan to debut this spring.

Both are apparently targeting the all-important male demo- graphic of 18- to 34-year-olds, es-pecially the ones who come home all beered up at 2:30 in the morning and start throwing kung-fu moves at each other until one dope or the other ends up in the emergency room.

Soon, to work off all these Jackie Chan fantasies, all they'll have to do is grab the remote.

Blackbelt TV plans to offer nearly 15,000 hours of popular martial arts films - your Enter the Dragon, your Karate Kid, that sort of thing - as well as the old David Carradine Kung Fu TV series.

Tony Cort, the head of the Martial Arts Channel, told me his channel will lean more toward original programming, your international karate championships, say, or your kick-boxing extravaganzas from the Far East, where windpipes are snapped and the ring flows red with blood early and often.

After a night out with the boys, is there a better way to unwind?

Aside from the Golf Channel, I mean.

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