As anyone who watched Survivor knows, the term Reality TV is more than a little misleading. Think about it: A deep-pocketed production company carefully screen-tests hundreds of applicants, cherry-picks the most telegenic of the lot, inserts them into elaborately contrived situations in exotic locales, waves huge piles of cash under their noses, rolls the cameras--and somehow we're supposed to believe the proceedings have some attachment to "reality"? Puh-lease. Now, pay a visit to Minneapolis Telecommunications Network's Channel 17 (or 33, depending on your cable package). Since 1983, when MTN was created, the nonprofit public-access network has grown to a massive 18 channels and each has something to recommend it. For our money, Channel 17 is the best of the bunch, an intriguing witches' brew where you can stumble across anything: an interview with a bottom-of-the-barrel pro wrestler; a sober transvestite delivering a monologue on how to prepare mashed potatoes; or a thoughtful roundtable discussion among committed atheists. As you might guess, production values vary widely. Some of the shows, like the tremendously engaging InnerCityFishing, have grown in their time on MTN and now employ digital recording and editing equipment; others remain crude, marred by inferior sound quality and grainy video. Truth be told, MTN programs are sometimes mind-numbingly dull or appallingly wrong-headed. But by turns, they are also fascinating, absurd, amusing, and unpredictable. Just like reality. And in the year of Reality TV, resembling reality ought to count for something.


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