Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A day in the life of basic cable

The day after President Bush was re-elected, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart speculated that half the nation had resoundingly declared that they don't really care for Will & Grace. Those same viewers probably weren't responsible for making Bravo's Queer Eye For The Straight Guy a smash, either. So where in the vast expanse of cable television do Red State people turn for entertainment?

Try the Outdoor Life Network, a 24/7 cycle of frugal productions that balance a love of the outdoors with an utter contempt for nature. While the pansies at The Nature Channel or Animal Planet are off observing the wild, the folks at OLN are doing something about it, whether blasting away with double-barreled shotguns or traversing land and sea in souped-up stock cars, "super boats," and all-terrain vehicles. In the documentary Super Size Me, director Morgan Spurlock indicted McDonald's by becoming its "perfect customer," eating all his meals at the fast-food chain every day for a month, and doing serious damage to his body in the process. By contrast, it only takes 12 hours of the Outdoor Life Network to reduce the uninitiated to drooling vegetables. Here's the schedule as it was from noon to midnight Eastern Standard Time, on Saturday, Nov. 13.


12 p.m.: Turkey Call.

Tired of driving for hours to reach the nation's rapidly dwindling wilderness areas in order to shoot wild turkeys? On this week's show, host Rob Keck goes to New Jersey, where "suburban gobblers" have proven highly adaptable to the modern world. Since the law prevents people from opening fire on the Interstate, two Wild Turkey Federation members, camouflaged in hooded fatigues like the Mujaheddin, stake out a local farm instead. Final score: Humans 2, Gobblers 0.

12:30 p.m.: Csonka Outdoors.

Former Miami Dolphins great Larry Csonka and his cooking sidekick Joe "Smokeejo" Barkoskie travel to lovely Cape Hatteras in North Carolina for a "cast and blast" trip. First, they blast: After gunning down a beautiful pintail duck, their tour guide laments, "I wish there were a lot more of them in the population, so we could shoot a few more." Later, the gang goes angling for bluefin tuna: When Csonka battles one of the monster fish, which can weigh between 150 and 500 pounds, he's asked whether it was harder to reel in the fish or go 17-0 and win the Super Bowl. Csonka demurs.


1 p.m.: Fly Fishing Masters.

With the stage nearly set for the Fly Fishing Championship—the prize: $50,000 or a lifetime supply of grub—four pairs compete in the pulse-quickening Western Regional Semi-Finals. All eyes are on the Rajeff brothers, who are heavy favorites to advance, but a "stupid cast" allows a pesky little trout to slip onto a line intended for a fish twice the size. Dadgum!


1:30 p.m.: Sport Fishing Magazine.


This week's edition offers the day's introduction to Captain Tred Barta, an outspoken, controversial Sport Fishing Magazine columnist who treats big-game fishermen like drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey treats recruits in Full Metal Jacket. Speeding off the Long Island coast, Barta and his friends angle for striped bass and fluke, which gives him plenty of opportunities to float a few of his patented catchphrases, such as "Come to Mama" and "This may be dinner, boys. I can smell the lemon and butter."

2 p.m.: RVtoday.

Wisecracking host Stew Oleson takes mobile-home enthusiasts on a trip to Julian, California, a former gold-mining town now steeped in historic kitsch. Visitors can tour the mines, sample one of the 300 apple pies churned out daily at "Mom's Diner," and go on a historic walk that could win them $50 in a monthly drawing. Also, RV cooking expert Joanna Lund fires up the electric skillet for a "hearty kielbasa dish" that incorporates store-bought coleslaw.


2:30 p.m.: ATV Magazine Television.

This week's episode broaches a question that haunts many ATV owners: How can you get that extra horsepower without breaking the decibel limits imposed by many state lawmakers, short of forming a militia and seceding from the Union? The show devotes a long segment to the latest in high-tech exhaust pipes. Host Carey Bohn also offers tips in getting kids into four-wheelers, which are not only great fun, but also "help build family togetherness."


3 p.m.: AMA Supermoto.

In front of a couple dozen fans packed into Nashville's Music City Motorplex, 24 "full-on adrenaline junkies" battle for motocross supremacy on a treacherous mix of dirt and asphalt. Thus begins OLN's riveting afternoon scheduling block of motorized vehicles driving around in circles. Before risking their necks for peanuts, the bikers are flanked by the glamorous "Umbrella Ladies," luscious Southern belles dressed in form-fitting yellow spandex with a racing strip down the curves. Gentlemen, start your engines!


4 p.m.: Super Boat International Grand Prix.

Off the shore of Orange Beach, Alabama—"the epitome of a perfect vacation spot"—more than 200,000 have gathered to witness boats hitting speeds in excess of 150 mph. With colorful names such as Simply Awesome, Extream Liquid Assets, The Hulk, and Wazzup, these "super boats" tear across the Gulf in front of fans who "thrive on horsepower and crave high speeds." Waiting at the Winner's Circle is Rachel, the bikini-clad Miss Grand Prix, who's enough to inspire any red-blooded male to reach for his throttle.


5 p.m.: Athens 2004: Paralympic Games.

Over four days in September, 4,000 paralympic athletes descended on Athens for a competition that filled many of the Olympic venues to capacity. In two frantic hours, OLN covers the opening and closing ceremonies and all the events in between. Unlike this year's Olympics, the Paralympics prompt little talk of security threats or the lazy, disgraceful prima donnas on the U.S. Men's Wheelchair Basketball Team. Instead, host Harry Smith introduces wall-to-wall inspirational stories, including the stories of a blind tandem cyclist (she rides in the back, obviously), two orphans rescued from a dungeon in Communist Russia, and the small delegations from Iraq and Afghanistan, who are newly liberated from their freedom-hating regimes.


7 p.m.: NASCAR Outdoors.

Stock-car champions past and present unite when current star Johnny Sauter visits the legendary Dave Marcis at Marcis' fishing camp in rural Wisconsin. Together, they go angling for the state's native muskie fish in the placid waters of Rib Lake. They say that only 1 in 10,000 casts snares the elusive muskie, but brash newcomer Sauter catches one immediately. He then taunts Marcis and other elderly bassmasters as he reels in double their takes of perch and walleye. Unimpressed by the latter fish, Sauter observes, "These guys need to take some steroids or something. They're too small."


7:30 p.m.: This Happened To Me!.

Stirring tales of courage and self-sacrifice are featured on this show, which re-enacts unlikely rescues from dual perspectives. In one, a hunter falls from a tree perch and breaks his back, paralyzing his body from the chest down. (Deer 1, Humans 0.) It takes him 15 hours to drag himself 100 yards to a remote Wisconsin road, where he tries to signal passersby with a glove on a stick. His rescuer calls 911, waits for emergency personnel to arrive, and humbly shrinks back into ordinary life. When the hunter seeks his savior for a reunion, they offer conflicting opinions over which one was the real hero.


8 p.m.: Professional Bull Riders World Finals.

The Outdoor Life Network goes indoors for Round 6 of the PBR Championship, in which cowboys risk their lives for a $1 million grand prize. The PBR's catchy motto, "What happens here, hurts here," says a lot about the daredevil riders: J.W. Hart, the "Cal Ripken" of the sport, competes with an excruciating leg fracture; the current leader has a tendon detached from a bone in his arm; and a bull tramples a Canadian cowboy who was substituting for an injured team member. As the Canadian writhes facedown in the dirt, the P.A. announcer beckons the crowd to join him in a prayer. Then it's back to more bone-crunching action!


9:30 p.m.: The Best And Worst Of Tred Barta.

Not even 4 a.m. is too early for Captain Tred Barta, OLN's resident badass, to start screaming dictatorially at his inexperienced shipmates. As he boasts in the opening credits, he's one of the world's best fishermen and hunters: "Over 70 big-game animals have fallen to my longbow." Before the first rod is even cast, Barta makes sure to suck all the fun out of recreational fishing by informing his underlings that he's willing to die for them, if necessary. But when the time comes, Barta cuts loose with the catchphrases. His favorite: "Eat my lunch, everybody!"


10 p.m.: Outside Magazine's Ultimate Top Ten.

Outside Magazine counts down the top 10 "adrenaline-pumping sports," starting with Downhill Mountain Biking, in which intrepid cyclists careen down mountain faces at speeds up to 70 mph. The other nine are considered even more dangerous: They include heli-skiing (in which helicopters drop skiers on untamed peaks), extreme kayaking ("like roller-coasters on water"), base-jumping (skydiving from cliffs), and surfing on 30-story tidal waves. Suggested drinking game: Take a shot every time the word "adrenaline" is uttered. The last person to fall into a coma wins.


10:30 p.m.: Countdown.

OLN continues its countdown of the 25 greatest stories of courage with five new segments, numbers 20 through 16. One deals with a cystic-fibrosis survivor who dreams of becoming a competitive fisherman. The other four are about foolhardy nuts who nearly died in their quest to conquer nature and/or defy the laws of physics. These include Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen; Bill Stone, a cave diver who rebounded from a friend's death by plunging one mile under those same uncharted waters; and Mike Harker, who invented a primitive hang-glider and leapt off the highest mountain in Germany. All of which raises the question: Can people be considered brave for needlessly thrusting themselves into the jaws of death?


11 p.m.: PBR World Finals (Rerun).

Even better the second time. And after 12 hours of OLN programming, including the throngs here and at Ocean Beach, there's still not a single black person in sight.


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