The proliferation of cable channels has seemingly offered dedicated locations for every age group, interest and niche — which might explain why TV has begun reaching out to the wackadoodle demographic.
Not to be confused with those drawn to hunting the paranormal and gh-gh-ghosts with infrared lenses (its own disturbing niche), the wackadoodle subspecies encompasses folks who gravitate toward conspiracy theories, end-of-the-world prophecies, alien abduction, and other beliefs generally associated with wearing tin-foil hats. And while one might assume this is a difficult group for advertisers to bank on, programmers appear more than content to scratch their (perhaps UFO- or government-induced) itches.
Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck is in a sense the poster child for such material. Even many who share Beck’s conservative political views risk feeling light-headed when he strays beyond them into his fringiest warblings — wild-eyed warnings about government internment camps, indoctrination of children and secret communist messages embedded in Rockefeller Center.
Still, that’s merely a white-headed tip of the iceberg, as wackadoodle shows keep popping up in places where you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find them.
Time Warner’s basic channel TruTV took an early lead in wackadoodle TV thanks to “Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura,” featuring the former wrestler-turned-Minnesota-governor in his latest guise, as a tireless campaigner against nefarious government and corporate schemes. Variety’s negative review of the show unleashed a deluge of wackadoodle invective, insisting it was another example of mainstream media shilling for The Man.
But History — having dispensed with the shackles of history as a niche — has also been an early adopter, yielding programs like the self-explanatory “Nostradamus Effect,” “Armageddon” and “Apocalypse Island” (no relation to “Temptation Island”), a special about Mayan predictions of cataclysmic events occurring in 2012.
Needless to say, these are not ideal vehicles for ads about long-range financial planning, except (as in the case of Beck’s show) for bottom-feeding sponsors like precious metals and “survival seeds” — the latter to be used to grow “crisis gardens” for use in the event of an apocalypse.
Wackadoodle TV doesn’t really worry about distinguishing between truth and fiction. In fact, it often seems to welcome the parallels between them, as in History’s obvious “2012” tie-in, or Syfy’s upcoming “Inside Secret Government Warehouses: Shocking Revelations,” a two-hour special transparently designed to promote the channel’s series “Warehouse 13.”
Lester Holt — the NBC newsman, who has clearly put his journalistic credibility in a blind trust — hosts the special, which comes from Peacock Prods., an offshoot of NBC News. Eschewing subtlety, the documentary frequently uses clips from “Warehouse 13” and movies — illustrating its section on Area 51, the secretive base in Nevada long rumored to house aliens, with footage from “Independence Day.”
“In the end, we can’t say for certain what’s below ground, or hidden behind closed doors,” Holt concludes ominously, which is a helluva thing to say after wasting two hours of everybody’s time. Nevertheless, he adds, there are secrets people don’t want us to know, as if that in itself is evidence of something extraordinary.
That such nonsense is provided by an adjunct of NBC News makes its own statement about news-division willingness to further entertainment objectives. Then again, when the unit was formed a few years ago, NBC News Prez Steve Capus said it underscored “how we are transforming from a news organization into a news and information organization” — even if some of that “information” winds up being more Weekly World News than “NBC Nightly News.”
One can only wonder where the wackadoodle road leads. “The Militia Hour of Power?” “This Week With Ted Kaczynski?” Paddy Chayefsky’s satiric vision in “Network” — with a TV landscape populated by raving mad-as-hell anchors, soothsayers and militant groups — appears to come a few steps closer by the day.
As for those who would insist they simply enjoy such programming for its kitsch-y charms without necessarily embracing the paranoid delusions, here’s a test adapted from the comedy stylings of Jeff Foxworthy: Try talking directly to the people inside your TV. If they specifically answer back, you might be a wackadoodle.