By CHARLES McGRATH
AS cable channels continue to proliferate and to generate more and
more specialty programming, the television landscape has increasingly
come to resemble the family house. There's a vestibule, where if you
let them in, unnaturally cheerful people will try to sell you
knickknacks and costume jewelry. There's a den, where old movies play
day and night, and a rec room where partly clad young people never
weary of singing and dancing to hip-hop music. There's a yard, for
sports; a kitchen, for cooking demonstrations; a basement, for
woodshop projects. And now there's a garage, where tattooed guys in
T-shirts come and work on cars and motorcycles.
Garage shows are the newest addition to the House of TV, and they are
growing in popularity, especially on the Discovery and Learning
Channels and on testosterone-juiced Spike TV, which among them devote
several hours a week to automotive programming.
Most of these shows are set in the spacious and well-lighted
workplaces -- so clean they resemble operating rooms -- of high-end car
and motorcycle customizers, and they feature a lot of welding,
grinding and sheet-metal bending. But except for a couple of highly
practical shows like the long-running "Trucks!" (Saturday afternoons
on Spike), where you can learn how to install a fuel pump or a brake
line, these are not how-to programs in the style of "This Old House"
or "The New Yankee Workshop." You won't learn, say, how to fix the
defroster on your '98 Taurus wagon.
Instead you watch, transfixed, as that old wagon, veteran of the car
pool, the grocery run and countless after-school pickups, is morphed
into what car people call a "truly sick ride."