Politics & Policy

Mister RightNetwork

A new conservative TV network is about entertainment, not news.

A few days ago, the public saw the first glimpses of RightNetwork, described by its founders as an “independently-owned media company, launching on television, web and mobile in 2010” that aims to “entertain, engage, and enlighten Americans who are looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and worldview.”

While the title gave a hint of the network’s fundamentally conservative viewpoint, there’s been considerable buzz and discussion about what, precisely, the new company would be — a competitor to Fox News? An on-demand niche? The easygoing folks at True/Slant instantly denounced it as “media built specifically for teabaggers. It exists not to inform, or encourage critical thinking, but to reassure far-right, fringe ideologies. Quite simply: it’s propaganda.” (If only everyone could encourage critical thinking as well as those who insist upon calling the other side “Teabaggers.”) So what will viewers see on RightNetwork?

“The short videos you see on what we’re calling the ‘micro-site’ are just a taste of what’s in store,” says Kevin McFeeley, the network’s president and chief operating officer. “The goal is to launch the full site on the Fourth of July, full of original content, enhanced content, social media tools, all the bells and whistles.”

McFeeley said that RightNetwork’s mission is entertainment, not news, and thus the comparisons to Fox News don’t fit. “News is what Fox News does really well. Our aim is to be programming that is more complementary or supplementary to what they’re doing. . . . We’ve been struck by the surveys and reports that indicate the number of young people get their news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, entertainment shows that clearly have a point of view. There’s an appetite on this side to do something in the realm of entertainment.”

McFeeley said that the network plans to grow to include user-generated content. He also noted that while the buzz was welcome, it was important to remember that at this stage, RightNetwork is “a work in progress. . . . The strategy is still in development, and that’s partially an art and partially a science. We’re going to have some scripted programming, some unscripted programming.”

There was a bit of controversy about initial erroneous reports that media giant Comcast was an investor in RightNetwork. This probably stemmed from a misinterpretation of the news that Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor and owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, was personally investing in the project.

McFeeley emphasized, “Comcast is not an investor, and we do not have a carriage agreement with them. We are interested in carriage agreements with companies like that.” He said that he couldn’t yet give complete answers on whether RightNetwork’s programming would reach viewers as a channel or on-demand option, as the burgeoning company is currently primarily focused on the launch of the full website.

On the “microsite,” there’s a short video entitled “Right Anthem” that, for its first half at least, is indistinguishable from a commercial for a cellular-phone company or national bank. The on-screen graphics inform us, “There’s a new place for new conversation, and new opportunity, for all that’s right. A place for open minds, big hearts, and living out loud.” There is nothing particularly political or controversial until the line “inspired by the wisdom of past generations,” and an image of Ronald Reagan pops up after Washington and Lincoln; eventually, the screen declares “it’s a great big party,” with rapid-fire images of Newt Gingrich, Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, Herman Cain, John Ratzenberger, and Tim Pawlenty.

The second video, featuring Grammer listing “things that just aren’t right,” is perhaps the most enticing. Grammer’s survey includes the predictable (“big government,” “higher taxes”) to the offbeat (“grown-man tickle-fights,” “Shamwow,” “freezing government spending at the largest deficits in history”).

The company’s nominee in the reality-series genre is Running — which follows “six rookie candidates [as they] make the run for their political lives.” The preview features some amusing snippets of candidates trying to find the time for the basics of campaigning while balancing day jobs and child care. While the candidates may be rookies, they’re not all unknowns; one is Clint Didier, a former Washington Redskins tight end who is running as a Republican for Senate in Washington State, seeking to knock off incumbent Democrat Patty Murray.

Evan Sayet’s Right to Laugh, the program most comparable to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, appears to feature stand-up comedians with conservative sensibilities. The segments that are available have a bit more of an edge than one might expect, with one comedian joking about fending off “cougar attacks” in Boy Scouts and another espousing a staunch anti-abortion, pro-murder philosophy: “I think it’s wrong to kill a fetus. Teenagers I’m not so sure about. . . . With an unborn baby, you don’t know if you’ve got the next Einstein or the next Hitler. You have to give it some time, give it a chance! Give it until it’s 18! Then you can sit down and have that talk with them: ‘You know son, you quit school, you still don’t have a job. . . . We’re going to abort you.’”

Finally, there’s Politics and Poker, in which media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart reveals — over a hand of cards — that his “entire business model is built upon how horrible a president Barack Obama is.” (Perhaps we could have done without the players’ reenactment of Eric Massa’s tickle-fight.)

Will RightNetwork succeed? Well, if cultural tastes relate to voting patterns, there would seem to be a vastly underserved audience out there waiting for something like RightNetwork. Other established media entities seem to be faltering; some weeknights the networks offer only one non-rerun in prime time, and Red Eye, the irreverent Fox News Channel chat show that airs at 3 a.m., has beaten CNN’s prime-time offerings some weeks.

But with most new media entities, the decisive factor is whether they can stay on the air long enough to develop a base of regular viewers. RightNetwork will rise and fall on its ability to find an audience, but also on how deep its investors’ pockets are and how patient they’re willing to be.

– Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.

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