'Ranch Special' to air Labor Day

Don Imus is about to emerge from his media hibernation of the past few months, but it’s not the where you’d expect, or a channel most urbanites have ever heard of.

Tiny cabler RFD-TV, which bills itself as “rural America’s most important network,” has an hourlong special on tap for Labor Day focusing on the Imus Ranch in New Mexico and the program it runs to benefit kids with cancer and other debilitating diseases.

“The Imus Ranch Special” was taped last month over 10 days at Imus’ 4,000-acre spread near Ribera, N.M. Imus long tubthumped for the program that he and his wife, Deirdre, launched in 1999. It brings groups of 10 kids to the ranch several times a year to give them the experience of ranch life — complete with 6 a.m. wakeup calls to clean horse stalls — leading up to a rodeo at the end of the 10-day program.

RFD’s deal with Imus came about last year, after Imus began talking up the fledging channel on his radio show but before the shock jock found himself axed by CBS Radio and MSNBC for disparaging comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. RFD is like “The Andy Griffith Show” come to life as a 24-hour cabler. Its daytime sked is packed with live coverage of cattle auctions, horse shows, tractor conventions and the like; its primetime sked offers more horse shows, lots of country music fare, cooking shows and, more recently, a variety program hosted by Nashville Network veteran Ralph Emery. RFD has a subscriber base of about 30 million homes and growing as it gains more and more followers among city slickers who venture way, way up their cable and satellite TV dials.

Don and Deirdre Imus were open to RFD’s pitch to do an hourlong spec on the Imus Ranch program when the channel approached them last year, and to their credit, they didn’t back out even after controversy over the “nappy-headed hos” remark, said RFD prexy Patrick Gottsch. Needless to say, there’s no mention of those discouraging words that got Don Imus into so much trouble last spring in the “Imus Ranch” spesh, which Gottsch promises is three-hanky viewing as it chronicles how the kids overcome their fears and health limitations to become competent cowboys and cowgirls by end of the 10 days.

“These kids really show ‘true grit’ — that’s the only way to describe it,” Gottsch said. “Our special focuses on the kids and the ranch and what they do there. The other (controversy and Imus’ subsequent firing) wasn’t pertinent to the story we wanted to tell.”

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