Thanks, Charlie

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Some time has passed since I looked at the one and only TV set in our house that has digital offerings, which deliberately shares a room with the towering treadmill that could use a dusting off.

That's because the "DCT-1000" digital box, which we have had for several years, sighed its final sigh while I've been on the road these past three weeks. The other sets in our house are plain old analog, so we have managed this passage.

Nor apparently was the death of the digital box, or watching TV while on the treadmill, a high priority for my husband, Bob, who took his sweet time in my absence calling Cablevision Systems Corp. to report the problem.

That MSO owns what was once a Tele-Communications Inc. system, and now has the joy of servicing about 1,500 Headend in the Sky customers, whom it also inherited.

Cablevision, like other operators, still has to deal with the very real and difficult operational nuances of what it inherited during this era of consolidation. The company-which will soon be rolling out its own digital offerings-has a dilemma it shares with others that inherited HITS customers: It has to continue to support a technology that it will not roll out.

And that means servicing a very small percentage of its customer base. I take my hat off to Cablevision on this front: While the MSO is readying what will be a Sony-platform digital offering, it is taking great care of its current HITS customers in the interim. We must be a pain in the neck, but Cablevision is handling us adroitly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Bob had earlier reported that all was well. We had a new digital box, and he was actually raving about TV Guide's new interactive program guide.

Now that was strange: He never used the old TV Guide IPG, which I loved, for the last several years. In the past, he would rifle through newspaper listings to find what he wanted to watch. I thought his behavior odd, because the old guide was great.

Last week, Bob went on the road. Getting religion again, I mounted that treadmill and found myself totally annoyed by the new TV Guide IPG.

Maybe it was my elevated heartbeat, but I took an instant and intense dislike to it. The arrows weren't doing what I wanted them to do. I was sure Bob had screwed something up here. What else could it possibly be?

Nor am I alone in my gut reaction to the new TV Guide IPG. I know at least two cable executives who had the old and don't like the new. And in full disclosure, they are not cable operators who are trying to negotiate their rates in the press by urging competitors to come in and lowball TV Guide.

My frustration is that no new instructions came with the new IPG. My disgruntled buds didn't get anything, either.

The change just happened. TV Guide, I later learned, told its cable clients the new guide works the same way. I have to wonder if they did any focus groups to see how old users felt about the new guide.

I'm sure they did and got more Bobs than people like me. Out of frustration-and really starting to hate that digital-TV set because I had pushed so many buttons and hadn't made a dent with the new IPG-I called Charlie at Cablevision corporate.

Charlie said it might not be TV Guide's fault, but Cablevision's, and he helped me get to the bottom of this problem.

That night when I got home, I not only found directions for the new TV Guide IPG on my fax machine, thanks to him-not only TV Guide-but also a Cablevision truck sitting out in front of my house, wanting to check things out on their end.

All told, it was pretty embarrassing. The guide, of course, worked fine for the technician, who reminded me that I was forgetting to push the tiny little guide button, and that was the reason why the arrows were not moving like they used to.

I write this sorry tale about my own lack of technical prowess because these are the sorts of problems cable systems have to deal with daily in providing customer service in a new era in which operations problems are rife.

At the end of the day, TV Guide should have understood its clients'-the cable operators'-potential problems in dealing with this new IPG, which is not a hands-down winner and which takes some getting used to.

There was nothing wrong with the IPG or with Cablevision servicing a platform it inherited. It was just me-another frustrated customer looking for some answers.

But there's a big difference: Doing what I do for a living, I know how to find the answers. Most subscribers don't know Charlie. Again, I humbly say thanks.

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