The Real Real World
By Mark Frauenfelder
You've probably never seen an episode of the best TV show in America. That's because you probably don't live in Bloomington or Indianapolis, Indiana, the only places where the cable-access show Rox is aired. To get an idea of what you're missing, think 20/20 - but instead of searching for corruption in Congress, Barbara Walters is singing with joy at the prospect of dumpster diving through student-housing garbage bins. And instead of hunting deadbeat dads, Hugh Downs has shaved his head, stabbed a rod of surgical steel through his septum, and is hunting for frogs with a pointed stick.
Produced and hosted since 1992 by Indiana University grads Bart Everson, Joe Nickell, Christy Paxson, and Terry Hornsby, Rox is a weekly celebration of the people and activities in and around Bloomington. In one show, the gang drove to Gary, Indiana, to flout an archaic anti-garlic-eating law. After chomping on some of the pungent bulbs while standing on the courthouse steps, they tried to get arrested. (The befuddled government employees wouldn't bite.) Another time, Everson explored his love for coffee in an episode about the heaven and hell of caffeine addiction.
Everson learned how to produce a TV show after being arrested for streaking across the university campus. His sentence: public service at a community access station. It was there that he learned all the cool, judiciously applied editing tricks that make Rox such a treat to watch.
Nickell knows that Rox's chances of being picked up by a network are slim. That's why he's put Rox on the Web, in the form of bite-size QuickTime clips and a mail-order page where you can buy videotapes of Rox episodes. The website, called the Rox Quarry (http://www.rox.com/quarry/), is where Nickell says he can reach a large audience and help foster a community.
Nickell and Paxson spend their days McJobbing so they can eat. (Everson, who earns slave wages as the show's full-time editor, is Rox's only paid employee.) But Nickell's certain he and his pals are on the right course. "We'd love to be the Grateful Dead of television," he exclaims. "They turned what could have been just another shot-in-the-dark band into a lifelong project by adhering to very strict principles of giving real quality and creating real community."
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