C-SPAN at 25
Suppose you’re the producer of a new TV series, and you’re looking for a boffo opening scene to grip the attention of viewers and critics. What’s the chance you would choose to start with a characteristically wooden oration by Al Gore on communication between American voters and their elected representatives?
In fact, that very scene, of a young Rep. Gore (D-Tenn.) flickering across a few million TV screens 25 years ago today, launched one of the most innovative and successful ideas in television history: the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN.
In its first quarter-century, the Congress-and-policy network has turned into a daily staple for tens of millions of viewers, giving 85 percent of American homes the kind of access to Congress that used to be reserved for a small clique of Washington insiders. It has grown from a few hours of broadcasting from the House floor each day to three 24-hour channels — with a fourth channel ready to start up instantly if the Supreme Court ever agrees to let the cameras in — and 10 Web sites. C-SPAN has been copied around the world, and it has brought world politics to the United States. Millions of Americans tune in now to watch Prime Minister Tony Blair face his weekly grilling in the British Parliament.
None of this involves government money. C-SPAN is funded by cable viewers, taking about 5 cents of each subscriber’s monthly bill to meet its $40 million budget.
Lamb is probably my favorite journalist. I’ve watched hundreds of hours of him interviewing political figures and still have no clue what his policy views are.