Aug. 1, 2005 — -- Al Gore, once known as the stuffiest man in Washington, isn't wearing a tie these days, and with his new TV network launching, he's clearly hoping to prove a point.
The former vice president now describes himself as a "recovering politician," and today he turns the page on the next chapter of his life with the launch of Current -- a cable and satellite TV network -- that he claims will reinvent TV by letting its viewers supply the content.
Gore might be advised to beware the hyperbole. He was widely lampooned for saying in 1999 that he "took the initiative in creating the Internet," and spent much of the following year, as he campaigned for the Oval Office, explaining that his words were taken out of context, and that he only meant that as a U.S. congressman, he vigorously promoted the Internet.
Even so, Gore's network is claiming to be nothing short of a multimedia revolution, and will turn to its viewers -- the channel will target 18-to-35-year-olds well versed in modern media -- to supply a lion's share of the content.
"Until now, the notion of viewer participation has been limited to sending a tape to 'America's Funniest Home Videos,' calling an interview show, taking part in an instant pole or voting someone off an island," Gore says. "We're creating a powerful new brand of television that doesn't treat audiences as merely viewers but collaborators."
At a time when millions of people have digital cameras and computers, participatory programming is going to take off, just like blogging, network staffers say. The network will initially be distributed on DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Comcast.
"Technology is, in effect, democratizing media," says Gotham Chopra, one of Current's producer-reporters and host of the network's "Current Soul" show.
"Only a few years ago, if you wanted to produce for a big network, you had to work there for 20 years before they'd trust you enough to put a camera in your hands. Now, the average person has the ability to create content."
Chopra, the son of self-help guru Deepak Chopra, is a former anchor for Channel One News and has produced specials for PBS. He'll be one of several reporters who will host a wide range of shows on everything from technology, fashion, music and videogames to pressing issues such as the environment, economics and politics.
Each half hour, the network will feature a "Google Current" report, which will track the topics that Internet users are searching for on the web.
With Gore serving as the chairman of Current's board of directors, it can be expected that the network will be perceived as leftward leaning, but Chopra says programming will be defined by viewer participation.
Current is reaching out to would-be contributors through its Web site, as well as organizing meet-ups in cities across the country and offering internships to campus producers.
"This might be revolutionary for TV as it existed, because it was always so expensive for individuals to get involved," says Chopra. "But think of how other media evolved.
"If you wanted to be a writer, all you needed was a pencil to get started," he says. "If you wanted to be a musician, you'd go out and buy a guitar. You might turn out to be John Lennon, or you might just be John Smith.
"TV was never like that, until now."