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A “Crucial” Rural Cable Subsidy Nobody Wants

Never underestimate Washington's ability to conjure up pressing
national problems that can be solved only by the heroic application of
taxpayers' dollars, funneled through expensive government programs. The
latest example (OK, maybe not the latest—something worse probably happened
three minutes ago) can be found in a new Government
Accountability Office
report on a bill passed by
Congress in 2000 authorizing $1.25 billion in
loan guarantees to help local communities finance satellite carriage of local
TV stations or to build cable systems.

Oh, it was a dire situation back then. Congress was rushing to protect
consumers in remote locales where broadcast reception is lousy and cable's
not available. Though in retrospect this sounds like a solution in search of a
complaint, the GAO itself warned at the time that the “financially and
technically risky” program could cost $365 million during its first five
years. Congress approved it anyway, at the urging of Montana's Sen. Conrad
and Virginia Reps.
Bob Goodlatte and Rich

“This bill is crucial for Americans in rural and smaller markets who
rely on their local television stations for news, politics, weather, sports and
emergency information,” Goodlatte pleaded on the House floor shortly before the bill was approved.

Now five years has passed, and GAO is still trying to kill the program
—but not because it's too expensive. The GAO's new report urges a
shutdown because not a single penny has been
loaned and only one application has been received. (It was turned down.)

It seems that the good old unsubsidized free market is bringing local
channels to the TV-deprived at a rapid pace. The latest numbers available show
that just 600,000 U.S. households couldn't get local stations via cable or
satellite as of September 2004. That's down from 2.9 million the year

Happily, administering the unspent funds and fielding nonexistent
requests has kept several bureaucrats occupied. The program has cost $1.2
million in salaries and overhead for staffers provided by the
Agriculture, Commerce and Treasury

And Goodlatte is not disappointed. The lawmaker believes the program
served its purpose, says an aide: “Satellite decided to provide more local
signals than they would have, had Congress not spoken on the issue.”

Brown Out

CNBC announced late Friday that
Tina Brown was giving up her talk show
Topic A With Tina
in order to work on a book about the legacy of
Princess Diana. But alarm bells had been ringing all week at
NBC Universal after the performance of the May
1 show. The former editor of Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and
magazines was able to attract just 4,000 souls in the 25-54 news demographic
that night. The total audience was 26,000, with 22,000 viewers 55 years and
older—which means the number of under-25s watching was essentially
zero. (Brown's season average is 75,000
viewers, with 22,000 in the 25-54 demo.) The guests on this
Topic A included documentary filmmaker
Simone Duarte and Kingdom of Heaven
director Sir Ridley Scott. The last episode of
the show will run on May 29.

'Deadwood' F-Tally Stalls

Deadwood fans and admirers of the
flamboyant use of the f-word were bereft last week: Jeff
went camping. That meant Kay's episode-by-episode tally of the
number of f-words used in HBO's Old West
cuss-a-thon was suspended, pending Kay's return from a trip to
Myrtle Beach, S.C., from his home outside
Scranton, Pa. (Or at least that's what we
gleaned from the West Virginia Surf Report,
the blog where he's listed as the proprietor and where the
Deadwood f-count can be found).

Disproving the widely held theory that Deadwood characters use the f-word so effing much that
no one could ever keep track, Kay is not content just to track each utterance;
he also crunches the numbers. Kay vowed to update the totals once he crawls out
of his tent, but here are a few intriguing numerical morsels he has uncovered
so far:

The f-word per-episode frequency has increased from the first season, when many folks were
agog at all the cursing. In its rookie year, Deadwood
achieved a 69.3 F's-per-episode rate; this season, it has improved
to 96.4 FPE. The F's per minute are up as well, of course—from 1.23 to
2.10. Indeed, the show recently reached the high-water mark so far in the FPM
category, rattling off 51 F's in the last 10 minutes of episode 19.

Yes, that's quite a gaudy score, perhaps unbeatable, but those
Deadwood boys need something to aim at other
than each other.