The "RightNetwork" announced its arrival with a limited-preview website, touting a line-up of all-original programming designed to reflect "Pro-America, Pro-Business, Pro-Military sensibilities." And even though the start-up lacks a specified release date and may or may not have a national distributor, it has already generated the kind of controversy that befits any cable news channel.
The commotion was largely kicked up by a widely circulated promotional video starring "Cheers" and "Frasier" alumnus Kelsey Grammer as himself, sounding off on things he thinks are wrong with the world -- a list that covers everything from "big government" to "grape-flavored vodka."
It's certainly not the first public declaration of the beloved actor's political persuasion. In years past he has notably stated his disgust for some of his fellow Hollywood stars' anti-war views, voiced his support for Republican platforms and presidential candidates and played the part of Gen. George S. Patton in "An American Carol," a limited-release satirical film* that reworked the better-known "Christmas Carol" expressly to poke fun at America's modern political left.
RightNetwork's website also contains YouTube trailers for some of the network's flagship new programs, including "Running," a reality show about first-time congressional candidates gearing up to challenge incumbents in the 2010 midterm elections, and "Politics and Poker," which "mixes entertainers, pundits, cards and politics," and features a notable appearance from one Andrew Breitbart, the conservative Internet mogul behind the "Big" series of websites: Big Government, Big Hollywood, etc.
The RightNetwork Youtube Channel also features numerous videos of a RightNetwork spokesperson rallying crowds at tea party rallies across the nation, leading online outlets to dub it variously "HBO for Tea Partiers" and "The Tea Party TV Channel," and drawing the inevitable comparison to a Saturday Night Live** sketch from several weeks ago lampooning the premiere of a hypothetical "Sarah Palin Network."
Amid all the hoopla, RightNetwork is curiously letting its promotional materials speak for themselves. A call by AOL News to the number listed for the website's owners redirected us to an e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org. When asked for the person's name at the other end of the line, the response was "Sorry, gotta run."
A "look book" document posted briefly on the website before being inexplicably removed today features statements of support from Grammer and one Ed Snider, multimillionaire owner of the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers and chairman of the cable TV subsidiary Comcast-Spectacor, who says:
This is in keeping with the 77-year-old self-made media mogul's public support of unconstrained free markets, specifically the philosophy championed by "Atlas Shrugged" author Ayn Rand. In a memorable speech in 2007, Snider explained how he came to be such a fan of Rand, even going so far as to oversee the creation of the Ayn Rand Institute.We're creating a welcome place for millions and millions of Americans who've been looking for an entertainment channel and media network that reflects their point of view. RightNetwork will be the perfect platform to entertain, inform and connect with the American majority about what's right in the world.
Asked for comment on Snider's role in the new venture, a spokesperson for Comcast-Spectacor told AOL News: "Ed Snider is simply an investor in RightNetwork. His investment is separate and not affiliated with Comcast-Spectacor."
Snider's role in the new venture is of particular interest to media analysts, as he is an executive and senior member of Comcast-Spectacor's parent, Comcast Corp., the largest cable provider in the United States and the recent corporate suitor of NBC Universal.
Late last year, Comcast made a successful $6.5 billion cash bid for a controlling 51 percent stake of NBC Universal, then owned and operated predominantly by General Electric. The deal still requires the approval of the Federal Communications Commission in order to go forward. On Monday the FCC extended the deadline for public comment on the deal, but a favorable outcome for Comcast is still expected by early next year.
Then there's the fact that NBC Universal is the parent company of MSNBC, which has become inexorably associated with its outspoken left-wing commentators, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Is NBC's new would-be owner Comcast seeking to balance its portfolio by offering viewers an on-demand right-wing alternative to MSNBC in the form of RightNetwork?
That was the theory advanced by multiple left-leaning bloggers on Monday. And indeed, the documentation formerly hosted on the RightNetwork's website explicitly states that the network will be available "through partners including Comcast."
But as the story gained steam, Comcast vehemently denied that any such deal with RightNetwork had been struck. Politico quoted a Comcast official statement:
As such, it appears viewers on both sides of the aisle will have to wait and see just where and when RightNetwork will launch. No matter what happens, it's clear that it will already have the punditocracy's attention.The blog reports that Comcast is an investor in, or partner of the Right Network are inaccurate. We have no partnership with this venture and have no plans to launch or distribute the network. As we have done with hundreds of other content providers, we have met with the network's representatives.
*Interestingly enough, "An American Carol" was distributed by Vivendi, the company that owns the minority stake of NBC Universal, a 20 percent share that GE plans to purchase with the money from its own sale to Comcast
**Of course, SNL has for its duration been a product of NBC.