November 4, 1997 4:20 PM PST

Tech TV show for newbies

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As technology gets more and more complicated, media outlets from print to the Web are racing to stay on top of all the latest developments. For technology "newbies"--that is, most people--sometimes that coverage already is too advanced.

It is just that audience that many media companies are trying to reach with television shows about technology. Using the "boob tube" to explain high-tech concepts is a way of adding sugar to make the medicine go down.

The latest entry into this low-tech approach to delivering high-tech information is Digital Duo, a new show that debuts on some public television stations this fall.

The program stars two well-known technology columnists, Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and Stephen Manes of the New York Times. The show's producers are billing the two as the "Siskel and Ebert" of technology programming, and are calling the show a "Car Talk for computers," referring to the popular, straight-talking car information program on National Public Radio.

Producers say the weekly half-hour show will offer insightful but lighthearted information and advice about computers, aimed at more casual users. In the irreverent style of its film-critic counterparts, the two hosts sometimes disagree, and both offer strong opinions.

"I can't think of two other journalists who would dare to test a computer by pouring water on it and running it over with a car," said executive producer Dennis Allen in a statement. "Digital Duo deals with technology as it really exists, warts and all, not the gee-whiz way advertisers would like us to see it."

Indeed, the fact that Digital Duo will be shown on public television sets it apart from the dozens of television shows now devoted to technology. Public television is not ad-supported, which means the two journalists don't face any potential conflicts of interest--similar to Consumer Reports in the print world. A corporate sponsor has not yet been tapped for the program.

Otherwise, Digital Duo is entering a field that is already crowded, and getting more so. CNET: The Computer Network (publisher of NEWS.COM) produces four shows for television, and technology media giant Ziff-Davis is expected to launch ZDTV, a cable channel devoted to technology, early next year. Another Ziff-Davis venture, The Site, produced for MSNBC, was canceled in September because it failed to build a substantial audience, despite its prime-time slot. (See related story)

But Digital Duo's hosts say their program is more accessible than its competitors.

"The computer industry talks to itself in jargon," Mossberg said in a statement. "We talk to Digital Duo viewers in plain English."

Four premiere episodes of the show--which will review hardware, software, and services for the home and office as well as offering tips, recommendations, and rants and raves--will air in various public television markets starting November 8.

 

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