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An Interview with EXP TV
By Ben Shearn

AN INTERVIEW WITH EXP TV

The paradigm shattering shift from physical to digital home media came about so abruptly it left a society of pop culture orphans in its wake.

In an instant, the rental galaxy imploded and split into a sprawling multiverse of alternatives. Our options suddenly included the barely organized Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime libraries, as well as the YouTube archive of virtually all recorded media.With all of it on-demand, browsing thumbnails became a crippling and stressful omnivore’s dilemma.

Enter the algorithm.

Magically intuitive math automatically replenishing your content trough, relieving you of the soul search necessary to address the ultimate existential quandary: “What should we watch tonight?”

But (sigh) (naturellement) the algorithmic morphine drip was too powerful a tool to withstand corporate opportunism. YouTube now white rabbits you into a spiral of eerily targeted content, Netflix insists on an Orwellian replacement of all entertainment with banal originals, Hulu gaslights you to ‘continue watching’ a show you’ve never heard of...

The algorithm, once a beacon in the darkness of bottomless choice, now has an agenda and can no longer be trusted.

Enter EXP TV.

A sponsor-less, free-to-all, 24/7 live channel which is in its own words, “broadcasting an endless stream of obscure media and video ephemera.” And if that sounds vague it is due to the psychedelically indefinable quality of the channel’s programming.

Created by film/event curators, artists and all-around VHS mensa hounds Taylor Rowley, Marcus Herring and Tom Fitzgerald, EXP TV is a revolutionary return to appointment television in a remote entertainment landscape where schedules are as elastic as sweatpanted waistlines.

The program and times are posted on their site, and there is some TV Guidance as to what you’re in for, but the EXP TV experience is all about curatorial trust. Fixed programming to deprogram your compulsion to text, to scroll, to search, to hoard tabs, to grasp mindlessly at pop-ups and banners and featured content and staff picks. 

EXP TV is, in short, an extraordinarily and expertly pre-surfed and re-mixed internet by the kind of cultural crate diggers who unearth every bizarro canary in the media coal mines you never knew existed, but once you do, can’t live without. 



Ben Shearn: How did it all begin?

Tom Fitzgerald: EXP TV rose from the ashes of The Cinefamily, the LA cinematheque we all worked at, after it closed in 2017.

Marcus Herring: All three of us have a sickness that drives us to relentlessly collect obscure media, and we really enjoy sharing our loot with others.  That probably led us to working together at an arthouse. 

Taylor Rowley: We spent a ton of time in our late night off-hours hanging out, digging up stuff, and riffing off each other’s discoveries. Some of our most bonkers ideas were born out of that activity. Endless hours of one-upping each other and blowing each other’s minds. There were definitely many moments where I questioned our collective sanity.

MH: Maybe we all had this idea at one point or another, but personally, I had been wanting to do 24/7 streaming TV for over a decade—back when Twitch was still called Justin.tv, but I didn’t know exactly how to pull it off or even exactly what the programming would look like.

One of our primary goals initially was to remove all interactivity from entertainment, to take away the tyranny of choices and end the indecisive paralysis we all experience trying to figure out what to watch on the big streaming services.


BS: There was a spate of post-pandemic Twitch-based, arthouse-minded streaming channels (Cinephobe, Cathode TV etc) and EXP TV feels like an entirely new iteration of this almost entirely new format. Would you agree with this statement?

MH: I think the difference is that EXP TV has a distinct concept aside from just being a channel that streams a bunch of old shows back to back or full movies or whatever.  EXP is like a giant video collage made up of smaller video collages, and there is so much curation and craft going up and down.  Instead of just showing old material, we’ve made new shows out of the old material.  It’s a lot of work!  So the channel itself is like its own art project. 

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BS: I wouldn't dare ask you to give away your magician,'s tricks but I am dying to know where and how you've sourced this overwhelming amount of material.

TF: I’ve been collecting video footage for years and years. Looking everywhere, from mom and pop video stores and VHS collector trading in the nineties all the way to good old YouTube today (as well as various odd connections, miracles, mishaps and accidents in between).

The reason for all this digging has been that, for me, hip hop is the only original and interesting art form from the last 50 years. Taking this and taking that and making something new, it has been a great inspiration for me since I was a kid. Nothing thrills me more than making a video mix that, for example, fuses —  a music number from a Mormon cartoon, a snippet of a seance on a public access show, a space shuttle blooper, a nightmare sequence from a Filipino kid’s show, on and on. Fuck yeah. That way of doing things informs EXP TV programming greatly.

MH: The sources are from all over the place, some hiding in plain sight and sometimes it takes an archaeological dig that leads to the filmmakers themselves.  Case in point, I recently tracked down a Euro DJ from the 90s who used to make his own animated CG music videos and never released them publicly.  I had seen some 240p (we meet again) snippets on Youtube, but the quality was unwatchable.  He was so appreciative that I reached out to him that he sent me the VHS masters to rip.


BS: It's impossible not to begin with the Video Breaks, which for the most part take up the 6am-5pm daily slots.

On your site they're described as: "Classic MTV style video collage series featuring never-ending and ever-changing archival clips on every subject imaginable." This is naturally the best overview of what's going on there. However there are additional criteria at play.  Are you able to elaborate on what those may be?

TF: Not to sound coy but, speaking for myself, everything I put in Video Breaks is simply a clip or scene I like. No other context. It’s just gotta be something that connects with me.

If I find the clip funny or strange or mysterious or beautiful, it’s in. As for the eras, I do respond most to the “look” of film (and some old analog video) much more than anything on HD etc (and I don’t like how cars have looked in the past few decades). That said, I recently pulled some footage of crunkcore from Caracas.

MH:  We all view what we do as some form of video art, so we like the clips to have a strong visual quality.  Is it something that looks amazing even with the sound off?  That’s the kinda thing we’d go for.  Sometimes the relative obscurity of the clip is a factor.  Personally, I skip stuff if I feel like it’s too well known.  I want the audience to be stimulated and mystified.  And most importantly—is the clip truly exceptional?  I think that’s something we all talked about a long time ago.  The clips must be truly exceptional or what’s the point?

BS: Video Breaks seem to be on shuffle mode, and furthermore the clips contain zero contextual information. This causes in me a profound ambivalence. At first, it's maddening. In the post-Shazam, post-YouTube age of instant algorithmic recognition it truly is a wild feeling to watch these incredible, completely anonymous, usually unsearchable clips for hours.

The more I watch however, the more a magical nostalgic sense of classic television takes over. There're so many hazy half-images of cartoons, music videos and commercials from my TV youth which haunt my memory, and even return in mysterious waves, like weird cultural acid flashbacks. I find that the unidentifiable Video Breaks uncannily replicate this hypnagogic quality of ancient channel surfing.

Did you set out to create this experience with the Video Breaks?

TF: Bingo! There is a specific intent to replicate the old school feeling of just flipping the TV dial at 4am and stumbling on something that is blowing your mind but you have no idea what it is. It took me years to figure what the “little girl at the basketball game who telepathically makes the b-ball explode” movie was. (answer: The Visitor [1980]). I looove that feeling, it’s like remembering a fragment of a dream, and thought it would be fun to let someone else feel it too.

TR: Exactly. I’m a lifelong insomniac, and some of my earliest and most formative memories are from staring at television in the middle of the night, not understanding at all what I was watching but completely transfixed and unable to describe what I saw to my parents the next day. Kind of like Carol Anne in the Poltergeist. Video Breaks are meant to evoke that feeling like you might be the only person who ever saw what you just watched. They’re the ghosts in the TV set.

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BS: One program you refer to as a "culture jam." In a way, that term, as broad as it is, feels like a good place to start as far as an attempt to 'name' the EXP TV format overall.

Would you agree? I'd love to hear some philosophical waxing on this...


MH: It’s funny because your question got us internally discussing this term, with one of us opining that “culture jam” is a dad rock word, but in terms of EXP TV, it was just a throwaway description I used when filling in the caption for our show MELT on the EXP TV guide. 

I always thought of “jam” not in a Widespread Panic or Pearl Jam type context but “jam” like a log jam—or like throwing a monkey wrench in the works.  In that light, I saw “culture jam” was a way to obfuscate culture or mess it up.  MELT is a show that slows down audio/video to a point of trippy delirium.  If you sit back and take the ride, you start to experience the manipulated video in completely different, unexpected ways.  Sitcom themes become industrial art rock.  Unfunny standup comedy becomes deeply disturbing.  Dull local news segments become the funniest thing you’ve seen all week. 

TR: If we use Marcus’s definition, we do “culture jam” in real life! It would take too long to explain how we once created a connection between Corey Haim’s love for Japanese funk music and an old “I Feel Like Chicken Tonight” commercial, but I can say with certainty that my mind was never the same after that.


BS: The free-for-all and/or optional patreon-support model certainly keeps the format pure. This is of course a massively threatening idea to corporately supported streaming channels. If a free Twitch channel started to somehow outpace, say, Hulu, capitalist knives would no doubt sharpen. Historically, when these forms have emerged in the past, a corporate takeover inevitably kills it. Do you foresee any danger of this?         

MH: I would love to imagine a world where the content on EXP TV has grown so popular that it threatens the existence of Hulu, but I think the corporate execs can relax for now.  There’s not enough LSD on the planet to make that world a reality.  I will say that I see a wide range of possibilities for the EXP TV concept—a video collage TV channel broadcasting an endless stream of obscure media & video ephemera— on the media landscape from the big streaming platforms to cable TV. 

I would like to see EXP TV everywhere!


EXP TV can be accessed through its website, periscope profile and (most popularly) its Twitch stream.   

Benjamin Shearn is a film editor and writer. His latest work, the films Please Baby Please and Give Me Pity, premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2022 as part of a retrospective on Shearn's work with filmmaker Amanda Kramer. Their previous film Ladyworld, premiered at BFI London, Fantastic Fest, TIFF: Next Wave and was presented as part of the Frontieres Showcase at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Shearn’s work in narrative and documentary films has also been exhibited at ComicCon San Diego, the Louisiana Museum of Art in Copenhagen, la Gaîté lyrique in Paris, as well as official selections of the CPH:DOX, Melbourne International, Planete+Doc, TIFF After Dark, Court Metrage du Clermont, Chicago and Boston Underground Film Festivals, amongst others. For more of his work, go to benjaminshearn.com and/or follow his absurd Instagram account @actorsupset.

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