By Marc Gunther

(FORTUNE Magazine) – AT FIRST BLUSH, THE IDEA OF AL GORE getting into the cable business makes about as much sense as Eliot Spitzer hanging out his shingle on Wall Street. In order to make a success of Current, his new cable network, Gore is going to have to overcome some ill will. As a U.S. Senator he led the fight to regulate cable rates, getting a bill passed in 1992 that cost the industry a fortune. Worse, Gore railed against the "big cable monopolies," likened their bigwigs to the Cosa Nostra, and called cable power broker John Malone the Darth Vader of cable. "These guys have long memories," says one cable industry lawyer.

Current, unlike the 57-year-old former Vice President and his executive team (which includes legal-services millionaire Joel Hyatt and old-media veteran David Neumann), is supposed to be hip and contemporary. "We want to be the television home page for the Internet generation," Gore says. Instead of regular old programs, Current will present content snippets known as "pods," many of which will be sent in by "citizen journalists"--freelance producers and audience members--who will get to vote, via the Internet, on what stories they want to see. Get the idea? This is is going to be very cutting edge, kind of like iPods, or podcasting, or whatever.

Predictably, cable operators show no appetite for Current. Unhappily for Gore & Co., it's almost impossible for any independent company to launch a new cable channel today; only the media giants have the infrastructure to run programming, marketing, and sales operations, and the leverage to get carriage. Current, as a result, has not signed up even one major cable operator since announcing its plans in May 2004. Although it launched in nearly 20 million homes--a respectable number for a new network--that's mostly from the second-tier Canadian channel called Newsworld International that Team Gore bought last year. In an ironic twist, it was conservative Rupert Murdoch who allowed Current to take over Newsworld's slot on DirectTV, which is where 75% of Current's subscribers get the channel. Whether Murdoch hoped to insulate himself from charges that he freezes out liberals or just wanted to bank a favor, business did, apparently, trump politics.

If Current generates some buzz (it's too small, for now, to be rated), it could try to sell all or part of itself to the likes of Comcast, Cox, or Time Warner (FORTUNE's parent) or to Viacom or News Corp. But that would require Al Gore to partner with the "cable monopolies." Next thing you know, Tipper will be starting a record label. -- Marc Gunther