Al Gore's Current TV Is Struggling

Andrew Wallenstein at The Hollywood Reporter suggests more than Al Gore's marriage is crumbling. Gore's cable channel Current TV is facing a dramatic makeover with an injection of MTV executives. Wallenstein tried to sugarcoat the inconvenient truths:

For all the brilliance he has displayed grasping the meteorological dynamics governing the globe, Gore has miscalculated those of a slightly less complex world: the TV business. The radical ambitions he brought to the environment didn't pan out the same way in cable; the television will not be revolutionized.

Gore tried to sell off Current to his Google pals for half a billion dollars, but that didn't take. So they're taking the content away from small-d democracy and toward the persistent formula of other youth-culture channels, loaded with young-skewing documentaries and "reality" TV:

For much of the past year, Current TV has been quietly undergoing an overhaul that will change just about everything but the struggling channel's name. Current declined comment for this story.

It's a revitalization project Gore & Co. embarked on after exhausting a more lucrative possibility: selling the channel. Current's founding partner, Joel Hyatt, spent much of 2009 shopping the network with a price tag that wildly overestimated the company's worth, confirmed sources at several conglomerates. Current even had extensive sale talks as far back as 2007 with Google, where Gore serves as a senior advisor.

Now the focus has shifted to fixing Current, perhaps with an eye toward a sale down the road. Last July, Hyatt was replaced as CEO by Mark Rosenthal, the former MTV Networks COO who is rebuilding the channel in the traditional mold Gore avowed to avoid, only to suffer the consequences.

Rosenthal has brought in a crew of colleagues from his MTVN days including an unlikely ringer: Brian Graden, the programming genius who masterminded hit series from "South Park" to "The Osbournes," before leaving last year. He's on retainer as a consultant.

Graden helped found the gay channel Logo and expressed joy last year at bringing documentaries to MTV with titles like "I'm Changing My Sex" and "I Work In the Sex Industry." So here's where the format change comes in:

Forget bite-sized clips created by anonymous viewers; the new Current will consist of full-length series from the usual suspects in unscripted production who are getting the word that Current is open for business....

Several senior MTVN colleagues were brought in as consultants to engineer the turnaround including Hank Close, formerly president of ad sales. Several more key full-time hires have been made as well.

But original programming is at the heart of any successful cable network, and for that he's turned to Graden, who's known for his knack for hits. Graden and Current make for an unusual combination. A network that has devoted significant time to serious topics ranging from AIDS in Africa to New Age spirituality is in the hands of Graden, who didn't exactly win Peabodys for shows often criticized for corrupting America's youth.

Graden did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The MTV infusion at Current is ironic considering the channel is essentially facing the same fundamental problem MTV confronted so successfully in the 1990s: a TV schedule comprised of multi-minute clips is far less advertising-friendly than the half-hours that ensure viewer tune-in isn't so erratic.

In other words, MTV "so successfully in the 1990s" dumped all the music videos in favor of "The Real World" ad infinitum, et cetera.

[HT: Dan Isett]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis