Hand-Picked Gore Producer Plans Network: ‘TV Should Be Gray, Not Black and White’

Wednesday, Aug. 13

It’s easy to see why Al Gore latched onto Steve Rosenbaum, the 42-year-old president of documentary production company Camera Planet, for the TV network he’s developing. When Mr. Rosenbaum starts talking, he sounds like the sort of Starbucks-powered pitch man you found shilling “killer apps” in Silicon Valley five years ago.

“Imagine you were on the earth when the pencil was invented,” said Mr. Rosenbaum on a recent evening. “And imagine the world pre-pencil and post-pencil. Digital video is a pencil. People always say it’s like a Xerox machine-not even close. It’s a fundamental creative tool that didn’t exist a few years ago and that exists today. It’s a big fucking deal.”

If Mr. Rosenbaum’s spiel on the power of handheld cameras had a late-period dot-com flavor to it, he was speaking Mr. Gore’s language; it was just the sort of thing to win over the technophile former Vice President. Mr. Rosenbaum is now a consultant to the incipient network that Mr. Gore is building with the entrepreneur and Democratic fund-raiser Joel Hyatt. Mr. Rosenbaum’s vision is this: He believes regular people wielding digital cameras-the kind you pick up at Circuit City for $1,000-can supply great utopian television that does things like build community, foster dialogue and upend old-school media-a People’s Republic of Tubedom, in which the video viewpoints of average schlubs, packaged by producers, can tear down the battlement walls of television, topple the statue of, oh, say Fox News chief Roger Ailes and sing a Whitmanian Video Song of Themselves.

Mr. Rosenbaum calls it an “open-source framework.”

So far, Mr. Rosenbaum’s ideas have had limited traction on the cable dial, but he had a successful MTV video-diary program called Unfiltered in the late 90’s, which piqued Mr. Gore’s interest. It got him a meeting and then a gig edifying Mr. Gore and his people on new ways to produce television. Mr. Rosenbaum told NYTV that some aspect of his “user video” concept would play into Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt’s network. Whether it will be the operating paradigm of the entire channel was a little unclear. But Mr. Rosenbaum understood that his ideas had been received with enthusiasm by the cable distributors with whom the Gore-Hyatt team have met.

From Mr. Rosenbaum’s meetings with Mr. Gore and his people-he declined to say how many meetings, phone calls or e-mails he’d exchanged with Mr. Gore personally, but did say he met with him face-to-face “more than once”-Mr. Rosenbaum has gleaned that the group is “not looking to replicate another format with a different spin on it.” In other words, it won’t be Fox News for Democrats, with The Franken Factor on at 8. Mr. Rosenbaum said it would focus on “ideas and issues”; he even dubbed it “The Issues Network.” He said much of it was still on the drawing board. But he also said the network would be directed at audiences the group considers alienated by everything on TV short of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer , and who need a reason to turn it on again.

“I think the audience is people who feel they’re underserved by the current offerings of information and ideas on television,” said Mr. Rosenbaum. “I do think the challenge from a marketing perspective is inviting people back to television who’ve fundamentally decided that it’s a sideshow, who have taken it out of their idea diet because it’s not satiating.”

These people, he said, currently get their ideas from “Sunday-morning chat shows and NPR.”

“I’m absolutely confident that this is going to happen,” he said of The Issues Network.

Tonight, Daily Show host Jon Stewart invites Hillary Rodham Clinton to be part of his “idea diet” …. [Comedy Central, 45, 7 p.m.]

Thursday, Aug. 14

When Steve Rosenbaum was tapped by Mr. Gore’s people in the fall of 2002, he was asked: “Do you believe that all the ways to tell stories in current affairs and issues programming are currently on the air, or are there some iterations that haven’t made their way off the blocks yet?”

Certainly that must be what Les Moonves is asking the Jackass producers when they meet at Television City.

Mr. Gore was a fan of Unfiltered , in which random teens wrung their personal angst into D.V. cams and sent their video diaries to the network to be edited and aired.

“He was interested in the mechanics of Unfiltered ,” said Mr. Rosenbaum, “and honestly, he was surprisingly facile on both the way in which Unfiltered worked and the changes in the last six years. It was a series of nuts-and-bolts conversations about user content and how it works and how it might work.”

It’s no shocker that Mr. Gore was jazzed by a guy who uses phrases like “idea diet.” In March of this year, Mr. Gore-who once gave a mammoth interview to Red Herring magazine and compared the American democratic system to “early Napster”-was invited by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs to join the company’s board of directors.

“Al is also an avid Mac user and does his own video editing in Final Cut Pro,” Mr. Jobs told reporters, affirming Mr. Gore’s geek credentials. Mr. Gore is also a senior advisor to Google, the search-engine company.

The network was a secret until June 18, when Time magazine ran an online story about Mr. Gore’s so-called “Democratic network” and his ambitions to be a media mogul. That characterization didn’t sit well with Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt-they were making the rounds of cable distributors, who wanted no part in an overtly ideological cable network. They tried to counter the story in The New York Times the following day, in an article in which neither Mr. Gore nor Mr. Hyatt spoke, and Mr. Rosenbaum was the man on the record: “It’s not a political network, it’s not an Al Gore network, it’s not a Democratic network,” he told The Times .

That was a little tough to swallow considering Mr. Gore once deemed Fox News “part and parcel of the Republican Party.” What was he working on then, that 24-hour Earthcam he used to talk about?

“I think that they realized that every time they talked about it publicly, it was coming up as ‘Al’s Democratic network,'” said Mr. Rosenbaum. “And he said, ‘All it’s doing is making distributors scared. I don’t need to do it. There’s no upside.’ He cares a lot about the vision.”

Tonight, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes has a vision, and it is Hannity & Colmes . [FNC, 46, 9 p.m.]

Friday, Aug. 15

Calls to Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt were not returned, but the reason Mr. Rosenbaum was talking-given permission to talk, he said-was to promote his latest user-created program, 7 Days in September , which takes footage from a handful of random New Yorkers who, prompted by newspaper ads placed by Mr. Rosenbaum, sent in their videotapes from the week of Sept. 11, 2001. The results, set to air on Sept. 4 on A&E, have not been seen on network or cable TV, and include the events of that day as captured by a postal worker in New Jersey and a couple of renegade video journalists, among others. It also includes some lively footage of an emotional shouting match captured in Union Square as the political implications of the attacks boiled over. “I imagine that video would find a home on this new network,” said Mr. Rosenbaum. He called the Union Square scene “a quintessential moment in user video.”

Steve Rosenbaum has been producing TV since the mid-1980’s, when he developed a program that became BROADCAST: New York , a sort of Evening Magazine for New York State. It won three Emmys. Later, Mr. Rosenbaum started Camera Planet, a company he launched with the idea of arming everyone on the globe with D.V. cams and producing lots of programs with it. He has produced programs for A&E, MSNBC and the Discovery Network.

Mr. Rosenbaum offered two examples of TV shows he concocted for “The Issues Network.” He described one as a point-counterpoint show-despite the 60 Minutes Clinton-Dole debacle-in which people record their rants on a hot-button subject and send in the tapes.

“The audience tells a story about something they think is important,” he said. “‘Recycling-why is recycling such an economic mess?'”

The other idea was “a Road Trip –style show in which people would go out across the country to explore an issue-poverty in America, city by city-and you’d literally get to know the storyteller.”

As in: What would happen if Carson Daly joined AmeriCorps?

All of Mr. Rosenbaum’s ideas seemed to have the MTV flair of Unfiltered -maybe because D.V. cams are for kids with time on their hands, not for, say, Andy Rooney. When Mr. Rosenbaum sought another comparison for his idea, he came up with … Teen People .

” Teen People is run by these street teams, and they use their audience for content and they use their audience for material. But it feels very much like a magazine-it doesn’t feel like public access, which is what everyone fears.”

Mr. Rosenbaum said right-wingers would get equal time on the Gore Network-it’s not a big-D Democratic network, he said, it’s a small-d democratic network.

“I’m anxious to see TV that is gray instead of black-and-white,” he said.

Gray? He may not have meant to say that. Beige? Chartreuse? Sapphire?

Tonight on MNN, Animal Rescue , featuring adoptable dogs and cats trying to out-cute one another for your love. Gosh! You don’t think Bill O’Reilly’s on this one, do you? He kind of looks like a puppy …. [MNN, 34, 8:30 p.m.]

Saturday, Aug. 16

“One of the things people misunderstand about participatory media-there’s this fear that it’s going to be local access,” said Mr. Rosenbaum.

Yes, he’s back for a fourth consecutive item! NYTV loves him!

“In fact, I had this conversation with one of the network creative guys the other day, and they said: ‘How do we know, if we invite people in, that they’ll do good work?’ Well, if they don’t, you don’t put it on the air.”

Mr. Rosenbaum said producers can package people and make scintillating programming. Unfiltered , after all, was heavily filtered by producers. He also pointed out that Fox News didn’t come out of the box with Mr. O’Reilly soaking up ratings-it took time to develop him from an Inside Edition hack into the king of cable news.

“Fox didn’t get sold like that,” he said. “The one advantage that Fox has-it evolved on the air. If you look at it two years ago, they did the same this network is doing: ‘Does the audience like this?'”

But if equal time for “The People” sounds edifying and even noble, is it entertaining ? Television is built on viewer expectations, and people expect some singing and dancing with their info-they tend to like Broadway Bill O’Reilly in a well-lit studio, not Stuttering John on a Webcam. (Well, maybe Stuttering John …. ) Mr. Rosenbaum compared user video to a blog for TV, but will couch-sitters respond to a network that literally asks them to respond by picking up a Sony Handycam? Mr. Rosenbaum said, “Build it and they will come.”

Is he sure this thing is going to work?

“In talking to the Gore folks, one of the things I said was: ‘There is a danger in taking a new idea and trying it writ large, with a lot of people expecting a lot from it …. You have to live through the three months where no one’s watching.'”

He could get his wish.

Tonight, on At Large with Geraldo Rivera , Mr. Rivera begs in public that Steve Rosenbaum and Al Gore will be his competition- forever ! [FNC, 46, 10 p.m.]

Sunday, Aug. 17

Hey! Where’s Steve Rosenbaum? We feel naked!

Before Fox’s American Juniors , there was the Little League World Series . Tonight, it’s the kids from the Saugus American Little League of Saugus, Mass., battling the li’l dudes from the Richland National Little League of Richland, Wash.

STEEEEEVE!!! Where are you? [ESPN, 28, 8 p.m.]

Monday, Aug. 18

Steve? Are you there?

Listen, we loved I Love the 80s , we really did. That Mo Rocca is a funny guy. But the I Love the 70s ? Stinkers. See Dazed and Confused and leave it at that. [VH1, 19, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, Aug. 19

Steve Rosenbaum? Can you hear us? Are you there?

Oh well, we’ve got Arnold. We’re like the rest of the press: We don’t have to think for the next 10 minutes, all we have to do is do what everybody else- Time , CNN, Fox, The Times , NBC-does: Just say Ahnold. Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold! Have we eaten up enough space yet? We haven’t thought for 15 minutes. Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold.

Gray Davis.

Arianna.

Ahnold .

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha ! What a culture.

George Will? Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold.

George Stephanopoulos? Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold Ahnold.

Andy Rooney? Don’t do it, Andy! “Who would have thought, when the United States Army was liberating Germany, that-“

Turn the channel! Fast!

Meanwhile, remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger camouflaged himself in the mud bog to hide from that creepy alien creature, then surprise-attacked him with a wire-trap? Yeah. That was in Predator , which he made in 1987. Bet we fooled you. [FX, 58, 12:01 a.m.]