The Surfies

Locally produced TV shows deserve to be honored for their intelligence, their wit, their impeccably bad taste. Don't touch that remote control!

A few years ago a small North Carolina cable company launched a bold experiment in television. For the first time in broadcast history, viewers were provided with around-the-clock coverage of...a fish tank. A fish tank, in point of fact, full of fish.

Though FishTV received little critical acclaim (none, actually), viewers were smitten. Weeks after its debut, when the cable company cut off the camera that filmed the aquarium and piped in the Science Fiction Channel instead, the calls came in.

"Where are the fish?" fans demanded.
"The fish are still alive," an operator explained patiently, "but they are no longer part of our programming grid."

Ugly George slipped fishlike through a similar grid. The premise of his show, which aired briefly on Manhattan's risque Channel J, was simple: Ugly George would traverse the city with a cameraman and ask women to take off their clothes. If a woman agreed, he and the cameraman would accompany her to an apartment (or an alley, if need be) and film the disrobing. About one in five women consented.

The programs would not seem to invite immediate comparison -- aside from the observation that fish are, technically, naked. But each stands as tribute to the quirky potentials of local programming.

Local teevee, in its native state, is a kind of anti-TV. It is awkward, hokey, funny without meaning to be. The exact opposite of the slickly packaged tonics with which the national networks tranquilize us daily. On local television, the hosts try too hard. Guests are charmingly petrified. People act human.

Maybe "mortal" is a better word, given that local teevee appears to be headed for the crapper. New FCC laws could put the kibosh on the smaller cable companies that produce and air many local shows. The use of fiber optics, promising an eventual viewing capacity of 500 channels, has heralded a glut of new, niche-marketed national networks (the Therapy Channel, the Golf Channel) that threaten to outdate local programming.

In the spirit of cultural preservation, then, New Times is proud to introduce the First (and Last) Annual Surfie Awards for excellence in local teevee programming. With the diligence our readers have come to expect, the paper has spared no expense in ferreting out the best South Florida has to offer.

As befits an accolade of such magnitude, the name -- not to mention its symbolic emblem -- was selected on the basis of numerous factors. First, it honors the hallowed practice of channel surfing. Second, Miami is surrounded on three sides by water. Third, no staffer could come up with a better name.

Nor could we envision a better venue for the surfies than our own humble metropolis, with its blossoming production industry, its chaotic patchwork of cable companies, and its always toxic stew of cultures.

We may not have Ugly George, but we do have an apparently inexhaustible supply of beach party shows devoted to the display of mammary glands in all their varied splendor. We don't have FishTV. But we do have a TV chef who has been indicted for murder (and who sometimes prepares seafood).

So there you have it.
The awards are based on a few simple criteria:
1. Was the show filmed and produced locally?
2. If we were channel surfing, would we stop to watch?
3. What variety of cheese does the show most pointedly evoke?
4. Did those affiliated with the show give us anything free?

(WARNING: Because most local programs air on cable, and because Dade is home to so many cable companies, and because some shows air only on selected cable systems, viewing times and channels vary wildly. Unless an airtime is specified, please check your local listings if you wish to tune in (and by golly you will!). And if all else fails, just call Miami Herald TV critic Hal Boedeker at 376-3652. He'll be happy to answer your questions. It's his job.

Without further ado...
Music Video Show
And the Surfie goes to...
VJ David

Ever since Mojo Nixon penned "Stuffin' Martha's Muffin," his seminal ode to MTV VJ Martha Quinn, the mass media have reserved a special place for VJs, men and women whose musings serve as the cream filling between music videos. Fortunately South Florida is blessed with a singular talent on this front. Host of his self-produced, self-directed, self-titled and self-inflicted show, VJ David is a long-haired, hyperkinetic Argentinian who speaks at an incomprehensible clip. His show consists of obscure Spanish-language videos introduced by pubescent spokesmodels, and David's own machine-gun monologues, trained on a studio audience of teenage girls. David also reads viewer mail, much of which comes from lovesick fans.

Cheese Factor:
Production Notes: The spokesmodels appear to be afraid of VJ David.
Quote-O-Matic: "Don't be timid, Claudia, step up here, closer."
Network Equivalent:
Shaun Cassidy

Fun Fact: MTV Latino, which airs mostly English-language videos, is based in Miami.

Airs: Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. (check listings for channel in your area)
How-to Program
And the Surfie goes to...
Sex Talk

Do you get a sore jaw during oral sex? Would you like to know more about female ejaculation? Are you baffled by anilingus? It's time to tune in to Sex Talk, a racy offering from Fort Lauderdale's Selkirk Cable. Host Judy Manulkin is eager to discuss your perversions with frightening, anatomical precision. Probative interviews with floating bordello operators, lingerie fashion shows, and a regular cast of frisky sexologists promise an action-packed hour for the whole family.

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