Al Gore TV: Liberal, Raunchy, And Sued By Minnesota Public Radio

February 23rd, 2006 2:22 PM

Ex-ABCer Josh Gerstein reports in the New York Sun on the struggles of Al Gore's cable channel, named Current TV. We not only learn it's not widespread enough to be studied for ratings, but that it has an unsurprising liberal bias, a potentially Tipper-shocking appetite for raunch, and a legal problem: those greedheads at Minnesota Public Radio are taking them to court over the "Current" name. First, Gerstein's report on the liberal bias:

The network's staff is clearly wary about the channel being perceived as political. Mr. Gore is not an on-air presence. According to a question-and-answer posting on the channel's Web site, it is "absolutely not" a requirement that videos present a Democratic Party viewpoint.

Despite the caveats, on balance the on-air segments do tilt left. Cartoon "pods" mock Mr. Bush and other administration figures. A commissioned video exploring military recruiting in high schools used hidden cameras to capture a uniformed recruiter giving a pitch that was portrayed as misleading. Anti-war "counter-recruitment" activists were featured, but the video showed no young people explaining the benefits of military service.

A "pod" about the violent expulsion of Jewish settlers from the Amona outpost in the West Bank showed Israeli police clubbing and baton charging recalcitrant settlers, but did little to explain why Israel's government took the action.

Ms. Ling said submissions are vetted for accuracy, but that the network doesn't try to obscure a contributor's viewpoint. "Sometimes that voice is not the unbiased voice and we will set it up that way," she said, adding that opposing views are always solicited on controversial topics.

In a classic step toward audience-building, Current also has a segment called "Hooking Up" talking to women about their sexual adventures:

To capture the elusive eyeballs of the iPod generation, Mr. Gore's channel has also been experimenting with some raunchy fare. In a segment titled "Hooking Up," women loosened up by tequila suck on lollipops as they muse about their sex lives. There's no nudity, but there are graphic discussions of "fingering" and under what conditions they will "put out." Another recent segment included a photo of sex toys.

That kind of material might alarm Mr. Gore's wife, Tipper, who once led a crusade against explicit song lyrics, but the former vice president has apparently taken it in stride.

The Manhattan-based director of the "Hooking Up" videos, Bradley Glenn, said Mr. Gore seemed to be a fan when the two met in New York last October. "He said, 'Oh yeah. The girls with the lollipops,'" Mr. Glenn said.

Current TV liked the video Mr. Glenn sent in so much that the network commissioned five more "Hooking Up" segments, which evoke HBO's "Taxicab Confessions." "So far it's been a great relationship," he said. "It is giving an opportunity to someone like me and my team, who are really just starting out."

Near the bottom of the article, Gerstein notes Gore's network (operated by Joel Hyatt, the filthy rich, yet failed Democratic Senate candidate from Ohio) has been sued over the word "current" by those supposedly nonprofit-oriented folks in public radio, as well as a broadband company:

The network also has hit legal snags relating to its name. The Sun has learned that Current TV is facing a trademark lawsuit brought by Minnesota Public Radio, which uses the phrase "The Current" to describe some of its programming. Mr. Gore's venture has yet to file a formal response to the suit, which is in its preliminary stages in federal court in St. Paul.

Earlier last year, a Maryland-based company that offers broadband Internet service over power lines, Current Communications Group LLC, sought to block Mr. Gore's venture from launching, at least under the Current TV name. A federal judge in Ohio rejected the request for an injunction and found little likelihood of confusion or competition between the firms. The lawsuit remains pending.