"Today is, like, a real exciting day for us," a young man named Max Lugavere announced on the air yesterday morning, looking mighty pleased with himself. "It's the first hour of the first day of Current TV."
Lugavere was speaking of the new interactive cable TV channel and Web site, which was indeed launched yesterday by Board Chairman Al Gore & Co. And if the day's excitement was lost on you, like, don't sweat it. You may be demographically challenged -- the channel is forthrightly aimed at the 18-to-34 set -- or perhaps your household is one of the great majority in the Washington area in which Current TV is not a current attraction. (At the moment its local reach is limited to DirecTV customers.)
Hosted by a rigorously eclectic gaggle of hosts -- a couple of nascent video journalists, a former Miss USA trying to be funny, an amateurish, self-satisfied dude or two -- the channel is reaching out aggressively to its audience for video submissions via its Web site, www.current.tv. (Payments, we're told, will range up to $1,000 per piece.) "Empowering you to tell your stories," says host Justin Gunn, earnest as Gore on the stump. "That's how I stay current."
It's unfair to draw conclusions based on a single day's offerings, but yesterday Current TV played a little like "Today" or "Good Morning America" on a slow news day. (Of course the people were younger and the hip-hip quotient much higher.) Blandly uplifting segments -- "pods," in Current parlance -- on sex and dating in Iran, bridge-and-canyon skydivers and a pompous toad of a graphic artist glided harmlessly by, neither giving offense nor commanding full attention.
A report by contributor Adam Yamaguchi on depressed Japanese searching for "suicide partners" cried out for a fuller examination, but the idea was arresting. (People find each other online and carry out their grim mission together, perhaps lighting charcoal in a car with all the windows closed.) It gleamed when compared with a crummy, self-indulgent first-person saga from Gunn, whose number was among those hacked from Paris Hilton's cell phone, "and never mind how it got there."
The pods were punctuated by shorter pieces, prominent among them deep thoughts from Deepak Chopra, "who a lot of people think is one of the greatest modern thinkers in history." Chopra, father of Current TV producer, reporter and host Gotham Chopra, gave advice on such projects as starting a spiritual journey and coping with a toxic boss. Other quickie offerings included an assortment of hot new DVDs and lists of most-searched subjects from Google. This last, which sounded kind of intriguing at the outset, turned out to be merely the top 10 queries containing various words, among them "fight," "kill" ("To Kill a Mockingbird" was No. 1) and, perhaps inevitably, "current" (happily for all, "Current TV" came in third, "and we're just getting started!").
Where possible, there's a rather strenuous effort to keep the mood light, keep the party going. Shauntay Hinton, Miss USA 2002, is the resident party girl, dispensing ladylike jive talk as she introduces various spots and limp, self-conscious jokes. And here's Lugavere, sounding like a sophomore as he ponders the eternal question of whether or not to indulge in parachute jumping: "Don't tell my mom, but I've always been known to give more leniency to my hedonist side -- okay?"
So okay -- this was just the first day. And Current TV, like the morning news shows, is probably best sampled, not swallowed whole. It appears that the channel's success really will rest largely on the quality and number of contributions it draws from viewers. In a regularly repeated appeal yesterday, Lugavere and his best friend, Jason Silva, announced that they won their jobs only after submitting a video for Current TV consideration. So send yours in, Lugavere urged viewers. "And if we feel like it's relevant -- "
Silva broke in: "This is like the real deal."
That, of course, remains to be seen. But in a cable universe that's made room for oceans of empty mediocrity, this island just might have a future.