Recovery Television?

In 1998 I was approached by an outfit in Los Angeles called “The Recovery Network” (RNet). (All that survives of it today are press releases)

My souvenir coffee mug is all that’s left of RNet

This was a cable channel with 24 hour a day, 7 days a week programming aimed at persons in recovery from addictions of all kinds. TV shows, panel discussions, documentaries, open line talk shows and movies geared to addiction and alcoholism recovery. They sent me a demo tape of their channel which I still have and in a word it was awful.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of bad radio and television over the years, but the Recovery Network took it to a new level of “awful” that needed a broader, more concise definition of how bad a really badly executed idea could be”.

Recovery Network was originally a good idea that drew investors and creative programmers in recovery who wanted a forum to educate others into “what recovery from addictions and alcoholism is all about.”

Then like all things that have to do with drugs, money became the main objective of RNet. Even a show about the concept of “sponsorship” needs a sponsor.

My involvement with RNet was brief because financially the company had one foot on a roller skate and the other one on an ice cube. They were going down fast as revenue from ad sales seemed to have never been considered by management as a problem. It was a BIG problem because although the network had distribution it was sketchy at best. It was available mainly in California on obscure channels similar to local “Community Channels”.

Think of “Wayne’s World” on Saturday Night Live, only not that good…really amateurish and AWFUL!)

Paul Petersen in 1958
RNet introduced me to Paul Petersen, the former child star from the Donna Reed Showan actor and singer who hosted on RNet.
Paul's’ passion is the sad plight of child actors. He founded a support group for former child stars to lobby for better working conditions for children in films and television. A Minor Consideration.

Paul would like you to note that today in Canada there are more laws to protect the welfare of animals than there are to protect children working in television and film.

Peterson’s involvement with RNet was working on air as a program host, but his involvement with the company went far beyond the studio floor.
Paul has been an actor since the age of 6, beginning with The Mickey Mouse ClubMouseketeers. He was an original Mousketeer but Walt Disney fired him before the show even began for Conduct unbecoming a Mouseketeer”.

As he told the story, 6 year old Paul was fired from the show before filming even began for punching a casting director in the stomach. (and I thought I had an interesting career)

The main problem with RNet”, as Paul explained it was “the people in the studio and manning the controls were dedicated to recovery and carrying the message to others” as laid out in Step 12 of the famous “12 Steps of Recovery” of Alcoholics Anonymous.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This step encourages members to help others in their recovery. Many members become sponsors once they have completed the 12 steps.”

However, he recalled that upstairs the booze flowed freely in the executive suite.

Management had a few recovering people involved but the problems were too numerous to comprehend. This was supposed to be a money-making venture, but fell flat, fell apart and died.

Before that happened I made contact with Mel Lawrence, the Program Director of RNet which led to the President of RNet with Mel making a visit to meet me in Windsor, Ontario. They came for 3 days to find out what I was all about with the idea of making my “People Helping People” the flagship of RNet’s programming.

Mel was a former radio guy and we hit it off immediately. The plan was to televise my show as I broadcast live from Windsor each night and repeat the full 4 hour show several times a day as the flagship program of RNet.

I’m not a big fan of radio programs on television, but there’s something about “People Helping People” that I like a lot more than exploitative programming like “Intervention” or its devil offspring Intervention Canada.”

Those shows teach crazy addicts how to be crazier by showing drug users in their natural habitat, “Drugland.” If you didn’t know how to score, cook, and shoot heroin, well, you do now. Likewise, there are any number of other addictions you got to know up close and personal. Too personal quite often for those involved on camera.

I’ve dealt with several victims of the TV show up close as a counselor and found the damage done to be overwhelming to the point that I was unable to win their trust. They’d been betrayed and then abandoned when they failed to comply with the TV program. This is recovery?

No one should have to do a TV show against their will, but crafty lawyers have got a waiver that lets the producers exploit mentally ill addicts without fear. One girl told me that she signed on believing she was to be in a documentary about addiction until the day came where she realized she was on “Intervention”.

She cried, begged and pleaded not to be on “Intervention”, please?

However, when the show appeared her crying and pleading was cut to look like she was begging not to go to treatment. Not at all the truth, but you can do anything in an editing studio. I hope she is still alive, but she’s since disappeared off my radar and doesn’t want to appear in public anymore. Too many people have seen her on the show and the endless reruns. Also, YouTube clips live forever…

It is very different when an addict or a family member calls me of their own free will because I don’t know what’s coming next. The calls can be heartwarming or hilarious. They can also be heart breaking and tragic. I never know until I answer the call what’s coming next.

The fact is that people call me because they want help either for themselves or for someone they care about and they don’t know what to do next.

I’ve had to reinvent myself many times in my career. From disc jockey to talk show counselor was the biggest, but with the previous radio experience I know that radio is the “most intimate” of media. You speak to one person and you have their ear. It’s a one-way conversation until I add callers.

The idea for RNet was to televise as well as talk with listeners/viewers.
We had a deal, then a press release. Fanfare, then bust. RNet went out of business.

Fortunately, I didn’t and “People Helping People” continues to this day Saturday nights at 11 pm on NewsTalk1010.com CFRB Toronto.

Still I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t have worked to have a niche channel devoted to recovery topics?

To be done right it would have to be edgy and aggressive. Television done right can do wonders to educate people about the realities of addiction, but it’s a topic that has a really seamy side that can turn people off more than turning them on or tuning them in.

Rainbows, fairy tales, and scary drug movies can be one way to do it, but I watched that go down the tubes with RNet.

If we can have channels selling cubic zirconia, why can’t we have one that’s dedicated to addiction recovery?

There is even an existing allocation for a “Recovery Network” in Canada that was given with the license for “The Independent Film Channel”. If they did it now it would likely be a marathon of past episodes of “Intervention. Yuck!

If anyone ever gets around to activating the channel I can share some ideas about how not to do it…

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