Network Awesome is the kind of place where you can see this.
Back in the day, shit like that happened on TV all the freaking time. And it doesn’t anymore. That’s why Jason Forrest (AKA DJ Donna Summer) created Network Awesome, a website that posts 6 new ridiculous and/or awesome videos every day, pulled from whatever points in TV or film history seem most badass. And we haven’t even thanked him yet. I got to talk to Forrest via email about his attempt to better the world.
What is Network Awesome? How did it come about?
Network Awesome is a place for people to watch wonderful TV.
It’s something I developed after thinking about the state of TV and what a Network represents. In my research I came across the work of Fred Seibert. It turned out I had a loose connection to him so I pitched him a proto-version of the site. He said something like “you should just pirate this”. Then I reached out to Greg Sadetsky and told him about the idea and he was stoked to program it. 10 days later we had a working site. 5 days after that we turned it public and had 500+ viewers the first day, by the end of the month we hope to have 15,000.
It’s perfect that you ended up talking to Fred Seibert. It seems like your projects would have a lot in common.
He’s turned into something of a hero for us at Network Awesome. His ideas have been a massive inspiration for us, so much so that we plan on doing some sly homages to him this year.
That said, I think our formatting is in some ways a reaction against the first generation of “online channels”. We feel it’s time for an evolutionary step in how online TV is considered.
I’m curious what you meant earlier by “the state of TV”--do you just mean the disappearance of specific shows or something more pervasive?
TV is in a really weird state right now. On one hand it’s become the dominant form of culture with TV series like Mad Men or Breaking Bad retaining a level of quality that is unseen in current film. But paradoxically, the formatting of TV, the programs, news, and the multitude of digital cable channels has resulted in a dearth of content. There is an ocean of 24/7 information yet it’s hard to find much to be inspired by.
Network Awesome’s “about” page says “our wider intent is to show something about culture as a whole.” Could you say a bit about the philosophy behind your programming?
We are passionate about sharing what we think is interesting, entertaining and culturally relevant. It’s like with your friends- you say “Cool -- look at this!”
Every day we broadcast 6 shows. These can be almost anything, from a classic cartoon to the film Zabriske Point. We try to balance the more populist shows like The Muppet Show with less expected pieces like a documentary about German artist Joseph Beuys. But at the same time, it’s all very much just good TV in our eyes as there’s an ebb and flow between programs with a thread that we think is logical and balanced. We want the viewer to be pleasantly surprised.
A few years ago you said something about how hair metal bands were thinking about people like Bach and trying to emulate them. Do you see something similar happening in TV? Or is the populist stuff really a different thing from the high brow stuff?
Oh, I think it’s all the same! I think there’s just as much cultural value in an episode of Spiderman 1967 as there is in the Alan Lomax special!
I’m just amazed by how much interesting stuff there is out there! The complex web of associations and inspirations found in this programming can be found in almost every aspect of our current society. Listening to how shows like “What’s My Line?” dance around race issues in the early ’60s is amazing. Seeing the manifestations of “radical culture” appear in a kids show like HR Pufinstuf is amazing. Hearing an aged, worn Judy Garland sing “Over The Rainbow” is amazing. All these things and so much more just point to the vitality of the larger culture we live in every day; this grand archive of western civilization.
And it’s amazing that current TV covers so little of it.
Is there stuff out there that you haven’t found or would like to get more of? Maybe we can get some people mobilized and launching a million psychedelic cartoons on YouTube or something like that.
There’s so much out there, but there’s still so much that’s missing! We really, really want people to help send in interesting stuff! We’ll be adding features for people to submit videos more easily in the next week or so, but if anyone wants to help suggest programming -- or even get directly involved, they should email us! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
But it’s funny you mention the cartoon thing, as starting this Saturday we’re kicking off a new series exploring the work of innovative filmmakers and animators. The first show focuses on the wonderful Sally Cruikshank, then we have specials on Saul Bass, Guido Manuli, and many more!
You have a few programs that are kind of mash-ups -- “Talk Show”, “Variety Show”, etc. What’s the impetus for doing those and do they have an internal logic you’d want to say something about?
Yep, we have 3 original shows at the moment, but we’ll be adding more in the next weeks. The idea behind the shows was to focus on certain general ideas for organizing all this great content.
Talk Show focuses on incredible interviews. We’ve already featured Malcolm X, Syd Mead, Alan Lomax and Mitch Hedberg for a few.
Live Music Show- Great live music performances – sometimes we have a special theme like funk music, stadium rock, or the Yellow Magic Orchestra. Sometimes the episodes are more general with stuff like Neu! performing in front of a bubble machine or Iggy Pop on the Dinah Shore show. We have a lot of guest curators in the next weeks!
Variety Show - Clips from variety shows of the past mashed-up to form the mecha-godzilla of variety shows. Plate Spinners, Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Mummenschanz. It’s pure entertainment.
Got any personal favorite programming out of what you’ve put up so far?
I have a few real standouts for a variety of reasons, they are:
This is one of the first our Live Music Show’s to be guest curated. Debbie D from WFMU’s “Rock N Soul Ichiban” made this absolutely incredible feature on a semi-obscure 1964 live Soul TV show from Nashville called “The !!!! Beat!”. I’d never heard of a few of the acts, but I think I’m now in love with Barbara Lynn!
“What’s My Line?” Is a great example of a TV show that everybody might know of, but maybe they haven’t really seen it. Basically, it’s one of the most entertaining game shows ever, compelling on so many levels, and is also just funny as hell. The combination of celebrity and history makes it a must-watch for me every time it’s on. I hear a few of our fans are also painful addicted already! This episode couples together Salvador Dali, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walk Disney. Gulp!
Here’s an incredible documentary on the earliest days of Jungle from 1994 in London. This BBC doc looks into the bedroom studios of a lot of producers that became legendary like Shy FX, etc. The energy in this Doc is infectious and the DIY vibe is inspirational!
Network Awesome is here. Go get culturated.