Can Shalom TV find the viewers it craves?
Shalom TV CEO Rabbi Mark Golub
Watching Shalom TV—”the nation’s first full-time Jewish television network,” exclaims its website, “featuring Tovah Feldshuh, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, and so much more!”—I quickly concluded that its public-access aesthetic and hamish sensibility must be for a very specific subset of Jews: religious lovers of schmaltz who haven’t watched TV since it went color.
Who else would tune in to Passages, an illuminating series on the Torah, or Dimensions of the Daf, an original Talmud study show (and great band name)? The tzitzit- and ankle-skimming skirt-wearing crowd, the ones you’d think would be Shalom TV’s target audience, were packing my neighborhood movie theater on a recent Saturday night, too busy watching Borat to pay attention to Shalom TV’s hokey lineup.
It’s just as well. Although Shalom TV, a three-month-old New Jersey-based video-on-demand network currently offered to digital cable customers in southeastern Pennsylvania, northeastern Delaware, and the Poconos—previously unrecognized hotbeds of Jewish activity—claims to be “devoted to the panorama of Jewish life,” its programming seems aimed neither at the religious nor the secular, but rather at a UJA/Chabad SuperJew hybrid lifeform who is tuning in to television for the first time, just to watch B’nai B’rith: 160 Years, Avalon, and televised PowerPoint presentations on Israel. In other words: Shalom TV is geared toward an audience that doesn’t exist.
“It’s like C-SPAN for Jews!” my husband exclaimed as I slogged through a poorly lit hour of “Interviews at Makor,” on which Shalom TV CEO Rabbi Mark Golub interviewed the movers and shakers of last January’s New York Jewish Film Festival. Only with its shoddy production value, aggressive timelessness, and roster of dead-weight “personalities,” Shalom TV makes C-SPAN look like the new Michael Bay.
I’ll give it this: Shalom TV is not that much worse than other on-demand niche programming, which runs the gamut from All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku on the Anime Network to Bikini Body Basics on Exercise TV. Like those goyishe channels, Shalom refreshes its lineup of shows every month, with regulars as anchors, and all are available for subscribers to watch at any time of day. In the mood for cranky New York Daily News columnist Sidney Zion‘s public affairs show at 2 a.m.? It’s on. Can’t start your day without coffee and a little March of the Living? Just press play.
It’s an uncomfortable mix of new technology and outdated, repurposed content that makes the old-fashioned networks look cutting-edge. Or, as Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee rejoiced on a This Week in God segment lampooning Shalom TV, “Finally! A TV network run by Jews!”
|Shots from Shalom TV’s roster of children’s shows: Rambam: The Story of Maimonides, Mr. Bookstein’s Store, and Agent Emes|
Still, if you’re pulling for Golub and crew, who hope to help solve the “modern-day crisis in North American Jewry” through television you can pause, here are a few notes to improve the endeavor:
1. Airing 92nd Street Y lectures? Good idea. Airing an Anita Diamant lecture from 2003? Not as good, especially when you consider that the Y actually simulcasts these lectures to Jewish communities across the country. That means they’re aired live. In Ohio. Point being: Shalom TV should at least give the impression that it cares about being current.
2. Not all Jews are old. Sure, Shalom TV does offer a roster of young children’s programming, but if you’re between the ages of six and 96, there’s not much on. And whatever is on is hosted by an old man, likely with an old man beard and just as likely debating another old man with an old man beard.
3. The Israel Day Parade. We all know it. We all love it. But until the parade features a giant Tevye balloon crashing through an eruv, we’ve got nothing on Macy’s. NNTA. (No Need To Air.)
4. Golub shouldn’t be on camera. I’m sure the guy’s one of the great television minds of our time (he created the first Russian-language channel for Russian Jews living in the United States), but he’s not so great on television. Conducting a series of interviews at Makor, Golub’s go-to “question” for his guests was: “You must have gotten a kick out of that?” (To his credit, no interviewee denied said kick.)
5. Most essential: Don’t pretend to be mainstream, or, as you say, “devoted to the panorama of Jewish life.” You’re a niche network, and Jews aren’t exactly a niche audience. Instead, do the best damn parsha show and you might just get the black-hat demo. Be the premiere network of the GA, and you just might get my parents. Hire those Borat fans in the tight, long skirts to host an Ortho-style show, and you just might get the Ramaz crowd.
In its current form, there is no reason to watch Shalom TV, or to press your cable provider to carry it, or to think its programming might discourage intermarriage. The shows look, feel, and sound cheap, and even if the network’s existence appeals to your “go Jews!” worldview—apparently 94 percent of polled Jews indicated an interest in Jewish TV—you deserve better.
Growing up Jake Fuchs thought of his father as a screenwriter. At 12, he discovered otherwise.