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Channels Worth Watching 

by Marty Demarest

VH1 vs. MTV -- Music videos may be one of the few worthwhile art forms to have emerged from the world of television. MTV established the genre and gave thousands of artists new ways in which to express themselves. Sadly, it's not a station that seems to care about music videos any more; it seems more interested in selling itself as a brand. VH1 features a good mix of videos, from a wide variety of styles and eras -- and it actually plays them.

C-SPAN vs. CNN vs. MSNBC -- First, let me just say that Fox News Channel isn't even in the contest. There's a fine line between a political commentator and an insufferable egomaniac. Fortunately for the other stations, Fox has a near monopoly on the latter. As for the remaining, legitimate news channels, MSNBC layers the most information onscreen, covers the widest variety of topics, offers more perspectives and features the best intercutting between talking heads. They also have sexier hosts, and I'll take anything to make today's current events go down more easily.

Premium Movie Channels -- HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and the Movie Channel are the heavy hitters. Almost all of them use mildly successful movies as their bread and butter, with "exclusive presentations" of more-successful films to round out their lineup. But only HBO has cultivated a thriving lineup of original series -- most of them refreshingly smart -- and regularly features some of the most incisive and devastating comedians. Margaret Cho is currently rocking the channel hard.

American Movie Classics vs. Turner Classic Movies -- This is actually one battle I hope nobody wins. Both channels are great, and there should be more on TV like them. Video stores mainly stock modern films -- many of dubious quality. These two channels are a welcome resource of great old movies, many of which are hard to find or half-forgotten. AMC undoubtedly messes with the film more -- adding some commercial breaks, and mildly irritating trivia scrolling across the bottom of letterboxed presentations. Yet they also show more recent classics. Still, TCM wins for all-around class.

Independent Film Channel vs. Sundance Channel -- Both channels screen low-budget, off-the-beaten-path films. The big difference is that the Sundance channel screens good ones regularly, while IFC proves that there are just as many mediocre and bad films in the independent film world as there are in the studio system.

Publication date: 03/11/04

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