The Watcher - New wack city

Neophyte network doesn't dazzle

If you ever find yourself channel surfing in search of African-American-oriented TV, prepare to be disappointed — there ain't much black on the boob tube. The only station broadcasting black faces on a daily basis is Black Entertainment Television, and it's been showing the same low-quality, music video-centric programs for more than 20 years. This year, however, a new basic cable channel — TV One — opened for business and joined the movement to add more color to the airwaves. But unlike BET, which caters to Generation Y and under, TV One touts itself as the network for African-American adults. Sadly, its programming isn't much better than the crap we've been watching for the last two decades.

Granted, TV One's lackluster roster of shows is typical for a startup station; for the most part, all new cable net's suck for a year or two. (Remember how little comedy was on Comedy Central when it premiered?) But, if your aim is to draw eyes away from a rival network with deeper pockets, you don't have the luxury of crawling too long before you start sprinting. For now, the network's programming lineup consists of forgettable reruns and a handful of undeveloped original shows.

Old crap: TV One appears to acquire old programs based on three criteria: They must be black, wholesome and cheap — not necessarily good. As a result, it's managed to cull together a motley crew of favorites like "Good Times" and "227," and banished turds like "Between Brothers" and "City of Angels." In a perfect world, "Good Times" and "227" would be great additions to any channel's lineup, but they're already widely syndicated, so the show's fans can easily catch them on free TV. "Brothers," on the other hand, was a critical and ratings disaster when it originally aired and got canceled after only a few episodes. Why not let it rest in peace? "Angels," though birthed by hit man Steven Bochco, was always just the stereotypical "black hospital show" and not exactly what you'd call "must-see TV."

For many fledgling cable networks, reruns of old TV shows and movies can provide the backbone of a programming schedule. In its early years, Cartoon Network primarily ran classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and TBS continues to package old movies with new shows like "Dinner and a Movie." Wouldn't it be fun to watch Jimmie "J.J." Walker host an episode of "Good Times"? Alas, we'll never know since TV One presents reruns in a bland manner, complete with a cheesy announcer and dated graphics.

Original crap: TV One's smattering of new shows include poorly produced fare like "Gospel Challenge," "The Tom Joyner Sky Show" and "Cowboys of Color International Rodeo."

"Gospel Challenge" is supposed to be the "American Idol" of religious music, but it nixes Paula, Randy and Simon in lieu of a fake live studio audience, an applause track and talent competing via homemade videotape. "The Tom Joyner Sky Show," the televised version of the monthly concert hosted by syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner, isn't much better. While it does feature legends such as Chaka Khan and Al Green, bad camera work makes the show look like a flea market bootleg. And when a sweaty Joyner gyrates alongside musical acts on stage, it's not entertaining — it's disturbing. "Cowboys of Color," a rodeo show featuring black ropers and riders, is interesting enough for a special or two, but it's not worth watching every week.

Creating fresh new programs is always tricky and expensive. For most cable net's, it takes years of trial, error and ingenuity to come up with a "Behind the Music" or "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." And if TV One's original shows are any indication, the channel is a few years away from scoring a hit.

TV One is operating according to standard cable industry practices. But to give folks a reason to watch, it's going have to go off script.