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A Home on the Net for Niche Shows


Watching someone named Snackboy rant about random subjects from the comfort of his own bed may not be everyone's idea of prime-time entertainment, but in Cyberland, it's a hit.

The future of entertainment is online--at least that's what Internet-based networks like the Sync (, which produces "Snackboy," and Digital Entertainment Network ( want you to think. These fledgling enterprises are producing original programming for Generation Y--shows that can be viewed any time, anywhere, as long as you have a computer with a modem.

Headquartered far from Hollywood in Laurel, Md., the Sync's motto is "stuff you can't see on TV." Founded in 1997 by Carla Cole, 24, and boyfriend, Tom Edwards, 29, the network's most popular program, "CyberLove," now draws 10,000 to 15,000 viewers a week. The talk show features a core panel (including Cole) musing on such risque topics as voyeurism, piercings and the pleasure derived from kicks to the, well, you get the point.

" 'CyberLove' is all about the subjects that ordinary people discuss--love, sex and relationships--without scripts, Hollywood phoniness or censorship," Cole says. "We're willing to go there and do it honestly."

The favorite subjects of Terry McCrea (a.k.a. Snackboy) are dysfunctional families and bad jobs he's had over the years. McCrea, an actor, is currently selling mortgages to pay the rent. The fact that "Snackboy" is filmed with a suspended camera over his bed helps the viewer relax, he says.

"I think it's nice for the viewer to be able to cuddle up with Snackboy."

This is not your father's TV sitcom.

"The Internet allows for so much more personal expression than television. I'm sure it will become regulated and sell out soon, but now, anyone with a vision can go in and do anything they want," McCrea says. He produces "Snackboy" in Maryland, where he lives, but has also filmed the show from the floor of a room at the Astro Motel in Pasadena.

If the Sync's motto is "stuff you can't see on TV," DEN's motto might be "stuff you won't see on TV." The Santa Monica-based network, which was launched earlier this month, gears its programming toward niche communities.

David Neuman believes so strongly in the online medium that he left his position as head of Walt Disney Television to found DEN last year.

"The creative freedom we have cannot exist in any other medium because any other has limited shelf space," Neuman says. "Whatever your interest is, we have room for you. If you are an Asian teenager who cannot identify with anyone on television, come to DEN. If you are a Hispanic teenager who feels there are no characters on TV that reflect what is going on in your life, come to DEN. We are about serving virtual communities. We don't care if we are reaching three viewers or 10,000."

But DEN hopes its programming will provide something for everyone. "Concrete" tracks the lives of five in-line skaters, while "The Chang Gang" is kind of an Asian "X-Files." "Frat Ratz" is a takeoff on fraternity life, and "Tales From the Eastside" details life in the barrio, as lived out by a group of young Mexican Americans. "Redemption High" features high schoolers who solve problems by asking "What would Jesus do?," and "Punk Planet" chronicles the lives of a group of punk rockers in Southern California.

Neuman says the purpose of DEN's shows are not to shock. Most of the network's programs adhere to a PG-13 rating.

"We are not about breaking every rule just because you can. We want to provide narrow-cast programming for every community. When I got the 'South Park' Christmas card a few years ago, I thought it was brilliant. But I knew at Disney we couldn't have that product. Hopefully, at DEN we will be positioned to get the next 'South Park.' "


Booth Moore can be reached by e-mail at

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