New York The fall TV season is about to begin. The push is on from the broadcast networks to tempt you into watching what they spent the past year pounding into shape.
At a moment when the networks would like nothing more than to make a splash - another "Lost" or "Desperate Housewives" would be nice - the biggest news in TV is the escalating instances of mutiny by viewers.
Watching what the networks set before them is fine. But more and more viewers want to cook as well as dine, which makes the TV story of the year the story of a Web site: YouTube.
Officially launched in December, this video-sharing service already plays more than 100 million clips per day with more than 65,000 video uploads added to its mammoth inventory. And those rates are skyrocketing.
Where does it end? "As more people capture special moments on video," its Web site declares, "YouTube is empowering them to become the broadcasters of tomorrow."
YouTube (slogan: "Broadcast Yourself") isn't the Internet's only video-sharing service. But it's the reigning brand, the talked-about phenomenon and a mighty good example of the multiple roles now greeting yesterday's couch potato. These are get-up-and-do-something roles as artist, journalist, pundit, self-promoter, exhibitionist, prankster, weirdo and wag.
Now you, too, can be a TV producer and a TV programmer. Scheduling? That's in your hands on the receiving end, because clips are on demand, arranged in categories or searchable by various "tags." And you can be a distributor: E-mail any clip to your friends.
Ratings? Instant. Every clip appears with a running count of viewings, as well as how many viewers deemed it "a favorite." Not that anything is canceled for not being a hit. Unlike a network constricted by its two or three hours of prime time per night, the capacity of YouTube would appear to be boundless.
So what can you see? Make no mistake, a 10-second video aptly titled "Bunny the Dog Rubs Her Butt Against the Ground" isn't the stupidest, skeeziest or even briefest clip available. Nor is "Cockroach-Controlled Mobile Robot" the most whimsical. Or two pairs of fingers dancing to the tune of "Get Down Tonight" the most charming.
Meanwhile, broadcast images are being plucked off the air and granted an on-demand afterlife. The impromptu back rub that President Bush gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G-8 Summit last month? It's right here, for screening anytime. So is co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck having a hissy fit on ABC's "The View."
The most persuasive evidence that YouTube is rewriting TV rules emerged last month when "Nobody's Watching," a sitcom pilot pronounced dead after failing to find a broadcast home, found a warm reception on YouTube (where it logged a half-million viewings). With that sort of cyberspace validation, it was resurrected by NBC as a prospect for the 2006-07 schedule.