Interactive TV Comes to Boston

The newest in television technology has come to the Boston area in the form of an interactive program that debuted September 27.

"Twenty-first Century Vaudeville" airs on Monday nights from 8-9 p.m. on WMFP Channel 62. Viewers call into the station and speak live over the television through animated characters, said Richard J. Washbourne, communication director at Telemorphix, the company broadcasting the show.

Viewers are also invited to send in home video movies to be broadcast to the general public, Washbourne said.

Representatives at WMFP expressed enthusiasm for the show.

"I thought the idea [for the program] was interesting and encouraged the station to broadcast it," said Erica R. Fodor of WMFP.


The show is hosted by an animated character, M. Jack Stickle, a failed computer engineer from Silicon Valley. Stickle guides the callers on the show.

Before going on the air, a caller goes through a short training session over the phone with professional actors in an "electronic green room."

Once on the air, callers can use the air time to read poetry, tell a story, or communicate with the audience as they wish.

Viewers who participate repeatedly may even be able to host the show for a night, without leaving home, Washbourne added.

A person can choose the character they want to represent them on the screen from an array of the station's characters or send in their own drawings.

The station will animate the drawings and allow the caller to become the character.

"Interactive television has so far been a lot of talk, or just button pushing," Washbourne said. "In order to truly be interactive it must give viewers a chance to get involved. That is what we are doing."

Part of the reason Telemorphix and its president, Andrew Harris, decided to produce the show was to change people's ideas about television, Washbourne said.

"Television does not have to alienate. It can reawaken creativity and can be proactive, rather than reactive," he added.

"Twenty-first Century Vaudeville" was test-marketed for six months in San Francisco and was met with audience approval, Washbourne said.

The company is interested in working with various university performing arts departments on projects, he said.

Telemorphix is a "virtual company," meaning most employees work at home and are linked by modems over a server, Washbourne explained.