Outside of the reclaimed medium of animation, there has been little place for intelligent
, satirical criticism
of the North American status quo
in the media
, especially on prime-time television
. Some of you however (if you hadn't already given up on the barren wasteland
by that point) may recall an exception to this truth during a heady couple of years in the mid-'90s. The show was called TV Nation
and it thrived in the most inhospitable of all possible environments, packing in anti-corporate
sentiment between obligatory commercial break
s, criticizing its sponsor
s, relentlessly attacking television news conventions
(but thoroughly unfudged
) polls of average American
s and strangest of all, soundly trouncing all network
competition in the twenty-five to fifty-four-year-old audience demographic
every time a new episode aired.
That's the thing - almost anything of quality remains in obscurity until years after it disappears, yet in its brief flare of subversive-yet-populist representation this show had ten million weekly viewers. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series in 1994 and thousands of fans would mass when the show made stopovers in various US cities to cheer a lawyer in a seven-foot-tall chicken costume as he, in the persona of the show's mascot Crackers the Corporate Crime-Fighting Chicken, would serve notice to deadbeat corporations and companies utilizing unfair labour practices or reneging on worker benefits.
Seventeen episodes later, this show was history. Its producer Michael Moore, a man most well-known for bringing us Roger & Me, the highest-grossing documentary film of all time, went on to publish his book Downsize This! and release subsequent films Canadian Bacon and The Big One. The fate of TV Nation, seemingly withdrawn at the pinnacle of its popularity (granted, after having been shuffled between networks for fear of being too controversial) was unexplained but seemingly clear cut. The no-punches-pulled show must finally have offended one too many suits and been vengefully shut down - so common sense dictated.
This book clears up that misconception. Adventures in a TV Nation guides the reader through the entire TV Nation phenomenon, from its unintentional inception as a fund-raiser for Canadian Bacon to the decision to cease production at its highest point for fear of losing its edge before its largest audience ever. Kathleen Glynn, the producer of TV Nation, takes us behind the scenes of the show with Michael Moore, sharing information about the almost-accidental process by which it was created by Moore and approved by a series of oblivious network executives (one chapter name is "Who let this show on the air?"), segments which were never aired (such as the genuine and untampered consistently negative results of a lie detector operating on an array of news broadcasts) and a fascinating account of the only time the censor directly changed a TV Nation segment (manipulating a three-way comparison of the health care systems of three countries - Canada, the US and Cuba - to portray Canada's as best overall as opposed to the show's initial findings of Cuba's in that position.)
This book is not a funny book in the same fashion that the show was an outrageous and hilarious peek into the stranger-than-fiction world of our neighbours to the south but is rather a repository of everything that you might have missed in the original airings (due to television's quick-cut and ephemeral nature).
To someone unacquainted with the original series, this book is curious at best. But to those who believe that television is capable of conveying more than conservative values, sensationalist drivel and an endless tirade of advertisements an acquaintance with Michael Moore's works is highly endorsed - as well as his movies. The entire run of TV Nation is available on videocassette and his current work, a hybrid real-world sitcom entitled The Awful Truth can be found on the air and attracting similar attention as the kind which propelled and buoyed TV Nation into the rare ranks of those TV shows worth watching.
- review by, er, me, reprinted from the July 1999 issue of the Columbia Journal.