You've always had a hunch that you're funnier than Letterman, smarter than Oprah or a better cook than Emeril. Well, here's your chance to prove it, big talker: Whether you're a Wayne-and-Garth wannabe or an aspiring talking head, most local counties have at least one nonprofit public-access channel dedicated to programs produced by community members.
Staffers at local channels are usually happy to assist you in translating a germ of an idea into a full-blown show. They can help you learn skills to pull it together, as well as hook you up with volunteers to round out your crew. If you're willing to spend the cash, most also offer professional production services for hire.
Paul LeValley, executive director of Arlington Independent Media, says realistic expectations are the secret to making great TV. "Recording the history of the world may be a good idea, but it's not doable," he says. "Start out with shorter programs that feature local people and places." Budgets and time commitments depend on how elaborate you want to get.
Cable access has launched careers -- Michael Essany, host of his eponymous talk show on E!, started out drawing stars such as Kevin Bacon and Jewel to his local Valparaiso, Ind., show. It can also provide a few perks of minor celebrity-dom. Springfield resident Larz LaComa, whose long-running "Larz From Mars" features a wacky mix of local artists, musicians and businesses, says cable access has allowed him to spotlight otherwise obscure talents. "It's so rewarding to have the chance to put people on TV who wouldn't otherwise get that chance," says LaComa, whose show debuted on Comcast's Channel 69 from Arlington 18 years ago. The occasional fan recognizing him on the street doesn't hurt, either, he says.
Here's where to get your 15 minutes (or more) of fame:
ARLINGTON INDEPENDENT MEDIA. 2701-C Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-524-2388. www.arlingtonmedia.org. For $15 annually, Arlington County residents can join Channel 69. Attend one of the regular Monday night orientations to find out how to get on the air. To score a regularly scheduled show, you must complete at least eight hours of programming in a year's time.
COMMUNITY TELEVISION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S. 9475 Lottsford Rd., Suite 125, Largo. 301-773-0900. www.ctv76.com. After four mandatory classes ($80 each) covering the basics, you'll be entitled to use Channel 76's facilities -- studio, cameras and equipment -- free. The channel slots programs on a case-by-case basis, posting schedules on its Web site weekly.
DCTV. 901 Newton St. NE. 202-526-7007. www.onlinedctv.org. For $30, you can become a member of the District's Public Access Corp. Members who want to submit programming for Comcast channels 5 and 6, or Starpower channels 10 and 11, must take a free two-session primer class at the group's facilities, located near the Brookland Metro station. Use of most facilities and gear is free.
FAIRFAX COUNTY PUBLIC ACCESS. 2929 Eskridge Rd., Suite S, Fairfax. 703-573-1090. www.fcac.org. To get a show on local channels 10, 30 or 37, you must attend an orientation session, complete the basic certification coursework (free!) and submit a detailed proposal. You also must volunteer for three shows before becoming a producer in your own right. Annual membership is $52, and the use of studios and equipment is free to county residents. Fees are higher for out-of-county folk.
MONTGOMERY COMMUNITY TELEVISION. 7548 Standish Place, Rockville. 301-424-1730. www.mct-tv.org. Membership is $40 a year. This public-access organization -- broadcast on channels 19 and 21 -- offers classes ($110 to $125) on the basics. Pass the exam ($40) and the use of all facilities and gear is free. Sign up for a regular gig and you're guaranteed a weekly time slot in 13-week increments.