Not every radio or television station is created equal. While many often aim to entertain mainstream audiences or cater to the Lowest Common Denominator, others may go in the other direction, aiming to serve a more narrow or intellectual audience.
Public radio and television, especially the U.S. NPR and PBS networks, tend to delve into more serious topics (such as education, politics, science, fine arts, classical and/or jazz music, and the occasional pledge drive) than the average commercial broadcaster. Similarly, the "soft adult contemporary" radio format tries to be inoffensive in its content to appeal to workplaces and an older demographic, focusing primarily on "soft rock" and ballads, new and old (although the format has since evolved to be more inclusive to music that is upbeat yet "safe").
Similarly, television channels and programs devoted to public affairs (such as coverage of governmental sessions and other political events) are similarly intended to be a public record rather than exciting entertainment by design (that is unless a protester or quick-witted politician livens things up, or they're covering an informal event such as the White House Correspondents' Dinner). Some public access shows may also fall into this category if they are not deliberately aiming for that kitschy, No Budget feel.
It's no surprise that these outlets are often a target for satire, stereotyping them as having little to no viewers due to their reputation or quality, attempting to stay relevant with a Ratings Stunt or two, outright begging for money because they have No Budget, or portraying a character's interest in such programs as an example of their intellectualism.
See also Biting-the-Hand Humor if the show claims this of its own network.
- Parodied in the late-1990's Saturday Night Live sketch "The Delicious Dish", which focused on an eponymous cooking show on NPR. The hosts, Margaret Jo McCullen and Teri Rialto (Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon) speak in unenergetic monotone voices, and discuss mundane, cooking-related topics with their guests. They don't break character, even if they are contributing to a barrage of double entendres about a chef's "Schweddy Balls" (as heard in the most famous edition of the sketch, which is almost always featured in the annual Christmas Clip Show special).
- Late-night comedy shows, such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and so on, loved and still love to poke fun at C-SPAN for being a walking stereotype, with dull broadcasts of congressional sessions and very little levity outside of the occasional prank call.
- A cold open sketch on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert introduced C-SPAN3 as "the channel you find by sitting on your remote."
- Referenced by the quiz show Remote Control, which featured a "Public Television" category with difficult questions involving subjects such as science, rather than music and pop culture like the rest of the show. The host outright claims that nobody knew the answer to these questions because people rarely watch public television. However, there were moments when a contestant correctly answered something from this category (of course, the contestant in the linked clip couldn't name the lead singer of Queen: you win some, you lose some).
- Played with in The Big Bang Theory episode "The Vengeance Formulation". Sheldon gets an interview with Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday to a discuss a "recent so-called discovery of magnetic monopoles in spin ices", since they wanted to "goose the ratings" for pledge week with something controversial. When Barry Kripke pumps helium into the office where Sheldon was doing the interview from, hilarity (and payback) ensues.
- Bill Nye the Science Guy, which aired on PBS, parodied this with the occasional segment "Community Access Television: The High Dilly School" which is introduced by a very bored-sounding announcer.
- Look Around You is an Affectionate Parody of the educational programming aired during the daytime by the BBC and ITV until the early 1990's (intended to be watched live at school before the advent of the VCR), right down to the 1970's production values.
- Jim Borgman's daily strip Zits for Wednesday 27 December 2017 has apathetic teenager Jeremy riding in the family car with his father at the wheel. National Public Radio is playing, which Walt prefers. Jeremy, however, feels compelled to snark: "Just curious ... have you ever had a passenger die of boredom, Dad?"
- Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! sometimes makes jokes about this at their network NPR's expense.
"Public radio may cause extreme drowsiness. Before listening to public radio, make sure your doctor says you're healthy enough to have sex, not that it will matter."
- They once asked teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson a question about NPR in a Not My Job game titled "Stuff Old People Like".
- When former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy played Not My Job, Peter read off some side effects of public radio:
- Homestar Runner:
- Strong Bad Email: In "radio", Strong Bad describes the voices of various radio show hosts. As its slogan promises, the host on Public Radio Sounds is "Smooth 'n' Smarmy", as he reports on events at Capitol Hill and the United Nations. The station also distributes gifts such as bottle openers and tote bags to its supporters, such as Marzipan — who wondered why she had not received her tote bag yet (somehow, Homestar got it and was wearing it as a hat).
- In an Easter Egg of "Date Nite", Strong Sad is heard listening to an ad on Public Radio Sounds promoting a wrestling match between Ira Glass and Ira Flatow (a Brick Joke about remarks made by Marzipan earlier). Strong Sad thinks this is a sign that they were really getting desperate.
- In an Arthur episode, Grandma Thora acknowledges that she only has over-the-air antenna television at her house, but tells Arthur that there's always public television — a remark that elicits a somewhat negative response. Also a bit of Biting-the-Hand Humor, as it's a PBS program.
- In another episode, DW is upset that her favorite show, Mary Moo Cow, was cancelled in favor of a financial news program. It turns out that the anchorwoman was actually the person who played Mary Moo Cow, and had decided it was time for a change.
- The Simpsons
- In "Homer Badman", Homer resorts to using public access TV to issue a rebuttal of his sexual harassment allegations without it being manipulated. The man in charge of the station immediately says that their lines were ringing ... with just two calls. One is a wrong number and the other is a salesman, implying that very few people were watching. One of the viewers was Groundskeeper Willie: luckily, he had footage showing an alternate angle of the incident which clarified what had actually happened.
- In "'Round Springfield", Lisa has the local radio station KJAZZ play a tribute to Bleeding Gums Murphy after his death so that Springfield could appreciate his music. However, it's revealed that the station has a very weak signal only able to reach 152 listeners, and that Hans Moleman was its morning host. But when lightning strikes its transmitter, the station's signal briefly became powerful enough to cover Springfield, allowing the station to give Murphy the tribute he deserved.
- In "Missionary: Impossible", Homer becomes fond of the British sitcom Do Shut Up airing on a PBS station, but it gets interrupted by a pledge drive. Homer tries to be an Anonymous Benefactor by offering to donate $10,000, that he doesn't have, just so they could get back to the show. However, they have "insta-trace" technology that attributes the call back to Homer anyway, and PBS tries to shake him down by sending Betty White, Mr. Rogers, the casts of Sesame Street and Teletubbies, and Yo-Yo Ma after him. Homer escapes by volunteering to do missionary work in the South Pacific. The end of the episode is cut off by another pledge drive ... by Fox, promoting that low-brow entertainment such as Family Guy wouldn't exist without viewer support. Bart phones in with a $10,000 donation.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- From "No Free Rides":
SpongeBob: If you think I'll let go for a little EDUCATIONAL TELEVISION?! OH NO!
- In "The Thing", Squidward tries to watch a clarinet concert on public television.
- In "Tentacle-Vision", Squidward gets his own show, Squidward Chat, on Bikini Bottom Public Access (because, apparently, they'll give a show to just about anybody). When it becomes a massive success thanks to SpongeBob and his friends taking over, its president points out that it's doing just fine in the ratings — after which he brings in a small bag of money, and says, "This is actually a lot by Public Access standards.".
- In "Idiot Box", Squidward's Your Television Hates You moment has him channel surfing through several shows bringing up boxes, one of them being a professor using one to demonstrate an equation (and then there's "Championship Boxing", which ends up featuring two cardboard boxes "fighting" each other in a boxing ring).
- From "No Free Rides":
- BBC Radio 3 is thought of this way. It began in 1946 as the BBC Third Programme, out of the institution's built-in need to educate and inform as well as entertain. And it has been remarked that whenever the BBC feels a compulsive need to educate, then entertainment goes out of the window, as if the two are mutually exclusive concepts. The output of the station has always been slanted towards heavy classical music and seriously intellectually highbrow literary talk shows. It has been said that you need an university-level education to even understand the station's announcer. Very much a minority channel, Radio 3 has its ardent and fanatical devotees who remain alert to any sign of even the slightest "dumbing down".
- BBC Radio 4 (a sister station involved primarily in spoken word programming) broadcasts a series of shipping forecasts four times per-day, which provide weather conditions for sailors navigating the British isles. They are mainly fed on the station's longwave signals only, but two of them are relayed on the FM signals — including one most famously aired at 12:45 a.m. before the station signs off for the night. Its reception, however, subverts this trope; the shipping forecast has a cult following for its iconic Theme Tune, mysterious subject matter (to those unfamiliar with where Tyne and Dogger are located, and why they are Northeast 3 or 4), and its strict and hypnotic delivery.