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Archive for Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cartoon Network stumbles into reality

June 17, 2009

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Like a dog with a bone, I cling to certain notions. The History Channel should be in the business of broadcasting programs about History and not “MonsterQuest” (7 p.m. and 8 p.m.). Otherwise, it should have the honesty and decency to change its name to the This-Has-Nothing-To-Do-With-History Channel.

Likewise, I think the Cartoon Network should be in the business of showing cartoons. Otherwise, we’re on the road to nowhere.

My dedication to this proposition springs from something rather personal and formative. When I was a kid, my father worked in a factory for a company called American Can. They made cans. In America. Somewhere along the line, American Can became something called Primerica. What did they make? Money, I guess. Soon, they got out of the can business, and the factory where my father and 12,000 other people worked became (and remains) the biggest empty building in Jersey City, N.J., a city with more than its share of empty buildings.

Call me old-fashioned, but you should know what you’re getting when you turn on something called the Cartoon Network. But now they’re introducing live-action shows (the kind shown on every other network) — something called “CN Real.”

We begin with “The Othersiders” (7 p.m., Cartoon Network), a reality-adventure series about a group of kids who go to high school by day and explore the paranormal by night using fancy high-tech gear they have no reasonable way of affording. “Othersiders” is a carbon copy of “Ghost Hunters” (7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sci Fi) and a host of similar shows. The key difference is that the kids are very young, 13 to 16, and they speak in the energetic, irony-free nature of kids that age.

On “Survive This” (7:30 p.m., Cartoon Network), a gruff, gritty, macho mountain man takes a group of high-school kids and dumps them in the deep woods where they must learn to put aside their “drama” and adapt. Gee, where haven’t we seen that before?

I’m certain that suits and marketing types sold Cartoon Network on this and told them that they would find a whole new audience. “CN Real” is clearly aimed at kids who want to watch kids their own age doing “real” or “real-ish” things, unlike the scripted antics on “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” a Disney show that, coincidentally, often follows the logic of a cartoon.

Let’s hope the Cartoon Network leaves “reality” and returns to animation where it belongs. Otherwise, it may find a demographic but lose its soul.

• A moving and unlikely tale of friendship, reflection, reconciliation and exile, the documentary “The Queen and I” (7 p.m., HBO2) offers a profile of the deposed Iranian Queen Farah by an Iranian filmmaker who, as a teenager, joined the revolution that overthrew the Shah’s regime.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The top 18 compete on “So You Think You Can Dance” (7 p.m., Fox).

• After a 57-year nap, a space commander (Sigourney Weaver) must contend with mean, reptilian “Aliens” (7 p.m., AMC) in the 1986 sequel.

• Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal perform on “Great Performances: Chess in Concert” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings).

• “I Survived a Japanese Game Show” (8 p.m., ABC) returns.

• A crime scene floats away on “CSI: NY” (9 p.m., CBS).

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