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Through The Wire: When Youre Hot, Youre Hot

3/22/1998 7:00 PM Eastern

Comedy Central's red-hot SouthPark sure seems to quicken the pulse of national magazine editors. In February,Cartman & Co. got on the cover of both Rolling Stone and Spin.Then,dueling newsweeklies Time and Newsweek fought over the scatological scamps. Newsweekwon out, although a cover line appeared on Time, as well. To complete the hattrick, this week, the South Park gang are on the cover of no less than thebest-selling magazine in the country, TV Guide. What's ComedyCentral's secret? "Don't do anything," says Bert Gould, thenetwork's senior VP of marketing. "When things are happening this fast, youdon't have to."

Meanwhile, the prestigious Columbia Journalism Reviewputs the fledgling Fox News Channel under its microscope in the currentissue, asking the question, "Is Fox News Fair?" Author Neil Hickey, a veteran TVGuide reporter, concludes, "The answer is a qualified no," citing thenetwork's "right-of-center convictions." That said, he also called FNC"robustly controversial, which, for better or worse, expands the boundaries of ournational discourse." Network spokesman Brian Lewis called the article"fair," but he denied that Fox "tipped to the right." But let'sgive the last word to FNC's chairman and CEO, unabashed conservative Roger Ailes:"Everybody who claims that they're totally unbiased," he told Hickey,"is full of crap."

USSB wound up making a splash on USANetwork's $20 million primetime miniseries hit, Moby Dick, with aflashy commercial for its movies featuring famous film director Martin Scorsese. In thewake of the miniseries' success, some cable operators were wailing, almost as much asStarbuck grumbled about Ahab, that a DBS rival wasable to seize on such a whale ofan opportunity.In essence, when it came to USA's selling so much time to DBS,these cable executives borrowed from Starbuck's assessment of Ahab's whaleobsession: "'Tis madness." USA sales executives were unavailable forcomment.

EchoStar and TCI were atit again in the nation's cable capital last week: A Denver-based TCI installerapparently took it upon himself to remove an EchoStar satellite dish from the roof of alocal apartment building. The building's owner complained to the cable company, andthe dish was later returned. EchoStar spokeswoman Judianne Atencio said last Wednesdaythat she doesn't see this as a sign that the competition is secretly coveting DBS. "Ithink that they were going to use it as a birdbath," she said. "They justdon't want it on their territory."

With its promise of 24-hour customer service, EchoStarcan't afford to lose any staff to a snowstorm. Last week, the company, based justoutside of Denver, sent out four-wheel-drive vehicles to pick up stranded employees whootherwise wouldn't have made it in to work. As a backup, the company has also askedits customer-service reps to start keeping a spare set of clothes on hand, just in casetheir replacements don't show up. According to a spokeswoman, the CSRs don'tseem to mind. "It's like a pajama party to them," she said.


By Charles Paikert, from bureau reports.

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