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Magic can happen when local TV stations fill time on Saturday nights. No offense to my Penny Dreadful, True Detective-loving colleagues, but high-profile drama has a wonderful foil in low-fi local journalism. Playing this role of antimatter to the mainstream are Scrapple.TV and the Woodshop Networks with their self-described “unprocessed television.”
At 11:30pm on Saturday, WMCN devotes a half hour to the underground projects of Marc Brodzik, founder of Woodshop Networks and provider of the titular woodshop turned art studio. One of the best recurring segments is The Scrapple Report with AP Ticker. The premise of a nightly skewering of the week’s news invites many comparisons, but The Scrapple Report goes beyond imitation. Unlike Stephen Colbert’s deadpan irony or Jon Stewart’s outraged calls to "stop the madness," AP Ticker delivers sly cynicism layered with condescension. Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update offers the best comparison. Thankfully, though, the report targets newsworthy stories and never relies on recurring caricatures to dress up a lack of content.
The Scrapple Report maintains good writing and production values, and there's plenty of rebellious, pirate TV spirit, but AP Ticker is the star. His age, white beard, and deep baritone remind me of Jim Gardner mixed with Santa Claus. He introduced himself one night by saying, “I’m AP Ticker, and this is my penance for a liberal arts degree;” I immediately fell in love. He even succeeds in ways the big name celebrities don’t. As funny as comedians like Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers, and John Oliver are, I could never imagine them hosting actual news programs. To me, they act like comedians impersonating news anchors. But I can imagine ABC or CBS hiring AP Ticker tomorrow for a legitimate news report. He carries the illusion of respectable journalism in ways other people can’t, and that makes the show much funnier.
Once The Scrapple Report ends, the show transitions to any number of projects from Woodshop Networks. Video essays cover everything from the Black Tuna Gang to the Divine Lorraine Hotel, while recurring figures like N. A. Poe and Jo Pincushion report on local events or conduct interviews.
Success rates vary and any series could be abandoned at any time, but certain constants remain. Marijuana legalization, Philadelphia politics, nerd culture, and dark humor link most of the content together — although a recent episode focused entirely on music, so who knows what they’ll do next. Or if they’ll go bankrupt before this article goes live.
Unpredictability is the point. The more money a TV network has, the fewer risks they take. Either they clone an established money maker (Law & Order, CSI), tap into an established media franchise (book, comic book, or fairy tale), or crank out another sitcom (don’t get me started). If Scrapple.TV promises one thing, though, it’s risk. Programs like Creepy Basement and Trippin' Balls with Brother JT flaunt their outsider status while waging Marc Brodzik’s war with "acceptable" broadcasting. I just hope everyone can watch a few episodes before Comcast and Amazon rule the world.
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