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Production Notes for a Broadband Spectacular

12/17/2000 7:00 PM Eastern

You should write a book about broadband," say my well-intentioned friends, who wouldn't buy or read such a tome. Worse yet, their heartfelt recommendations mean they still believe that print is the medium of the future.

After five-and-a-half years of jotting this column (today's episode being the finale), I thought it was clear that we're heading toward a future based around interactive, on-demand and downloaded digital media.

In other words, forget the book: let's make a video about this broadband transition. Maybe even a major motion picture, preferably one that is designed for digital cinema. Or at least, a Sci Fi Channel movie of the week.

Casting this epic will be easy: Jon Lovitz as Jerry Levin; Dennis Miller as Mitchell Kertzman. The role of Maggie Wilderotter will be played by Edie Falco, (the actress who portrays Carmela on The Sopranos). For Michael Armstrong, I'm debating between Patrick Stewart or Ben Kingsley, with the other actor playing most of the other aging cable or telco executives.

Steve Case is harder to cast: maybe a sullen Jeff Bridges, maybe Matt Damon. David Hyde-Pierce (Niles on Frasier) would be perfect as Excite@Home Corp.'s George Bell. We'll get Tom Selleck's younger brother to portray Brian Roberts and Jason Alexander as Paul Allen. The Dr. John Malone character will never appear on screen, but his off-screen voice will be performed by James Earl Jones.

There is some debate whether Albert Brooks or Danny De Vito will tackle my role as the bard of broadband.

We can build the sets from all the technology and spare parts left over after the Western Show and from the Star Trek
warehouse. It doesn't matter if they function, because no one really knows how this works anyway. But it sure looks impressive.

The storyline itself is no challenge. After all, the saga of broadband has been a combination of Long Day's Journey Into Night
and Major League, drawing on the humor of the former and the intellectual rigor of the latter. We'll also crib from the new Coen Brothers movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which itself is based on the Odyssey (Homer's epic poem, not the channel).

After all, like the heroic tale, the quest for broadband involves a dedicated troupe of misfits wandering around unfamiliar territory, seeking to overcome the wrath of the gods (judges, technocrats and Microsoft Corp., in our version). Our heroes merely seek to slay the false suitors who are claim they can proffer a better version of high-speed service at a reasonable price.

Of course, constant challenges are being hurled down from the broadband Olympus. As indicated by the streaming-media miasma at recent trade shows, there is no true and single path to our broadband Valhalla. Indeed, the skirmish for minds and affiliation pacts that is being waged by Liberate Technologies and the "Microsoft TV" platform is merely foreplay for a larger brouhaha.

At the Western Show in Los Angeles, we heard rebel forces whisper plans to seize momentum and force a showdown that will finally launch the interactive-TV era-and not just vendor promises of how great ITV is going to be.

Of course, these insurgents don't have a plan or financing.

Meanwhile, the streaming-media gearheads who reconvened in Santa Clara, Calif., last week present a "solution" that becomes less and less convincing. The recent demise of so many streaming-content packagers (Digital Entertainment Network, Pseudo, etc.) has not discouraged hopeful producers from creating even more material. More significantly, it has encouraged new media barons such as Real Networks and Microsoft to escalate their barrage of activities into this medium.

In other words, the best parts of this story are still ahead of us. That's just what a producer wants to hear: it means sequels, and maybe even a spin-off series. In fact, this broadband scenario is becoming so complex, we don't even know if we should categorize it as action-adventure, political drama or slapstick comedy.

That's one of the lessons learned from this trip along the information superhighway. There are many tales to be woven into the script from the sidetracks and byways. It's a digital version of that old Route 66
TV anthology series. That's it! We'll produce our streaming program from a classic Corvette.

When this I-Way Patrol column began, the information superhighway was oh-so- au courant.
Today it is littered with disasters. It's as if a truck full of Palm Beach County, Fla., chads overturned, burying the broadband business under the countless bits of hyperbole about what digital media will deliver. Yet it offers no clear winners.

Our interactive scenario is based on a sweeping docudrama, populated by dreamers and geeks; streamers, programmers and plumbers; the digital descendants of those pole-climbers who created an earlier industry.

I think we've got a hit on our hands.

I-Way Patrol's Gary Arlen (U.S. Curmudgeon, Ret.) is moseying down the infobahn and will be "Always On" in Broadband Week starting in January. He's always wanted to direct.

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