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  • It all started with the Butter-Melt Channel that showed up ten months into the writers’ strike. Pats of butter ever so slowly dissolving into thick slices of fresh hot toast or crusts of warm baguette. Slabs of butter on hunks of grilled Kobe beef. Butter on ears of corn and on stacks of pancakes. In slow motion, then, for the late evening hours, melting over bare skin or into pubic thatches. The Butter-Melt Channel was a bold move for American reality programming, a genre previously undone by the hyper-reality of live-in shows and cable network news. Butter was the answer to a nation looking for reality without an edge.

    Butter played on for a couple of good years. There was butter on steaming broccoli and on black pudding, butter on Moroccan leather seat covers, butter melting all over nipples and toes. Then the freshness wore thin and greedy producers let down their guard. Ideas not good enough for the first years began to dampen the mood of a butter-loving public. Butter was inserted into ready-teller machines, poured over newlyweds, dollops of butter where it would have been far better for butter not to go.

    We remember how the genre was revived by the debut of the Ice-Melt Channel. Ice, our planet’s most abundant mineral, proved a versatile subject. From blue Arctic ice fields to shimmering transparent slivers in backlit highballs, melting ice enthralled a butter-weary world. Ice sculptures crying in the sunlight. Ice brassieres for fashion queens. Glaciers slipping down granite escarpments and icebergs the size of Phuket calving into the Antarctic. Melting on TV for hours and days. An enormous ice obelisk, hundreds of tons in weight, an exact replica of Ramses’ at Luxor (or perhaps its mate in the Place de la Concorde) was established on the summer solstice in Central Park where the great pylon melted for weeks. Ice was such a success it was no surprise that crass imitations would follow.

    We suffered through the Paint-Dry Channel, the Water-Boil Channel, and finally, the ill-fated Hair-Grow Channel, which portended a dénouement for the entire field of unhurried reality programming. That is until last year when we welcomed Erosion TV. High-definition cameras located in every major ecological subsystem of the planet offered viewers a wide choice of programming: the Northwest face of Half Dome; a mineralized outcropping in Danakil Depression; an Indian Ocean coral atoll; boulders in the mists of Victoria Falls; a boreal forest floor on Sakhalin; frozen sand dunes in the Kalahari. Stay with a favorite (I’ve been watching an island off the coast of Scotland for more than a year) or channel-hop around the world.

    Erosion TV now offers thirty-seven channels, with new shows focusing on urban erosion (cast-iron oxidizing, terracotta defoliating, granite and marble wearing under foot) and mechanical decay (abandoned factories, rusting bridges and foundries). The sky is literally the limit for Erosion TV, the popularity of which has prompted the early cancellation of the Cloud-Formation Channel on Star TV and Fox’s dismal retro Chocolate-Melt Channel. It all started with the Butter-Melt Channel and now there’s no churning back.

    Photo Credit: Comedy Nose on Flickr:
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