Last year's winner, Fox-29 (WFTC-TV), screwed up bigtime by cutting back its daily Simpsons diet and adding two portions of the lifeless, inexplicably popular Third Rock From the Sun. (We only wish Simpsons fans had staged the kind of protest that saved Cheers reruns from the KARE-11 chopping block years back.) In theory, the persistent Millionaire madness would peg KSTP-TV (Channel 5) as a likely successor, but the local Hubbard Broadcasting Group can't really take credit for Regis Philbin's easy rapport with our nation's tortured subgeniuses. Admittedly, then, this year's title is bestowed with politics in mind as much as programming. MTN's superbroad spectrum of locally produced cable-access fare sucks almost as often as it satisfies, but the point is that it's unpredictable, which is more than you can say for almost any station with a national network to follow. It's a nice bit of irony that the AOL-Time Warner juggernaut actually provides the pipes for stuff like Larry Leininger's American Atheist, Ahmed Abdelaal's Arab-focused BelAhdan, and Alan Shilepsky's Third Party Forum, as well as long-running cult faves such as The Spectator, Viva & Jerry's Country Videos, and Lemmy O' Live! With the digital revolution bringing DIY aesthetics back into the fore, here's hoping a new generation of would-be tube zealots takes this oddball nexus to another level.


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