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What Would Seinfeld Watch?

September 27, 2011 By:
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A program featuring Orthodox comedian Yisrael Campbell

Did The Jewish Channel heed the shofar as a clarion call to start the new year with a blast in Philadelphia?

So it is written -- it's right there, in the contract with Comcast -- that the national cable network known as TJC has just been wired locally for sound and sights, serving the region's Comcast digital subscribers.

Must-see Jewish TV? There's religious programming, news, entertainment programming -- even a program for those who want to make their own marble rye.

No indication whether Seinfeld is a subscriber; but, given his track record of illegal wiring -- the character, not the actual person --it's doubtful.

Wait a minute, just wait a minute, cautions Steve Weiss, TJC's director of original programming and new media. Unlike the Chinese restaurant caper, Seinfeld can order what he wants -- without delay. "He'd certainly watch Srugim, which is like a Jewish Friends," with its focus on the Orthodox dating scene in Israel where America's pal Joey has been translated into Yossele.

And given the comedian's wry nature, Seinfeld "certainly would be interested in our program on kosher Jewish delis."

Anything about kasha for George?

Maybe, maybe not, but TJC has a four-year history of feeding its audiences of some 45,000 subscribers nationwide Jewish food for thought, with its provocative programming that argues for the Jewish soul.

It is available nationwide through seven different providers.

Locally, it's also available over Verizon in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. Inarguably, such a network would have a hard time finding a spot on broadcast TV. "No Jewish TV network could exist as an over-the-air channel," says Weiss, contending that "the demographics just don't exist."

But as a video on-demand service? Now you're talking -- or, in this case, seeing what the network has to offer.

Jewish audiences are craving quality TV that speaks to their issues and concerns, maintains Weiss, who's had his finger on the Jewish pulse in the past as a well-respected blogger and as a founder of the Protocols and CampusJ sites, now defunct.

If the mission is to propel a Jewish cable network forward, Philadelphia can provide prime-time primacy for the nation's seventh largest Jewish community in the United States.

And, as Yenta might say -- if she were wired in Anatevka -- it's a perfect match. So agrees Jeff Alexander, a spokesman for Comcast in Philadelphia, who notes that the media conglomerate "is constantly looking to give our customers access to more choice and flexibility. This applies as much to our ethnic and international offerings as to any other segment of our product and services lineup."

How to do it? With a block of programming, avers Weiss, that covers the wide world and the wisdom of the Jewish people, through such offerings as Modern Jewish Mom; Holy Dazed: High Holidays -- a fast-paced take on fasting and other holiday issues through the perspectives of celebrities; Rabbis Roundtable; The Salon ("Jewish women discuss!"), what Weiss considers a Jewish The View; and The Portion-- all portioned out with an agenda of other series as well as Israeli/ Jewish films.

Or as Weiss describes the movie mania, echoing Elie Singer, TJC's CEO: "It's like a Jewish film festival in your living room."

Couch latkes? Plenty of programs to spend time on this fall and winter and beyond, he contends.

Not that TJC is the only one in the area channeling Jewish series and films: Shalom TV set up shop in Philly -- also offered on Comcast -- a few years back.

Their channel, originally offered on a fee-based service, is now available for free. TJC costs $6.99 per month.

"The sandbox is big enough for all of us," allows Weiss. "Anybody can play."

Indeed, playtime is what Comcast is all about, adds spokesman Alexander. He notes that "in addition to offering the Jewish Channel as a subscription On Demand service and Shalom TV through the TV Networks' menu of On Demand, Comcast launched the Israeli Network (channel 652) over the past months to most of the Philadelphia area, including South Jersey," adding to the multitude of some 30 international channels that include Russian, Polish and Arabic outlets.

TJC as prophet of niche programming, maybe; but how do they turn a profit? "We don't expect it to be easy or cheap," concedes Weiss. "But we have projections for growth; with Philadelphia added, we expect a total of 70,000 subscribers in the coming months."

As for that one elusive subscriber? Maybe they would have a shot at Seinfeld as an add-on?

Must-see TJC? You know, kibitzes Weiss of the character not especially known for his Jewish profile, "he'd probably say it's too Jewish."

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