Through The Wire: Forget Overbuilds: Heres a Muny Programmer


Kick back, relax and watch Little Shop of Horrors (the'60s Jack Nicholson version). If you live in Santa Monica or Huntington Beach,Calif., you're not watching this oldie on AMCor TCM -- it's probably onthe local government channel.

Systems serving more than 1 million cable homes now program "City CinemaMovies" on their government channels in an effort to lure viewership. Theprogram, launched by Santa Monica's CityTV, contains 20 moviesincluding The Third Man, A Star is Born and Frankenstein. Thecopyrights to those movies have expired.

The city got a longtime TV and radio host to film bumpers, and it is now merchandising theseries to other communities.

Although 422 members of the House of Representatives votedfor satellite legislation last week, one member -- Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) --voted "present."

Voting present is a time-honored method for a lawmaker to protect his or her voting andattendance records, while avoiding conflicts of interest. In Paul's case, theconflict of interest was philosophical.

Paul -- the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 1988 -- detests must-carry,and he did not want to support the extension of must-carry rules to the direct-broadcastsatellite industry, as last week's bill would do Jan. 1, 2002. So why didn'tPaul just vote no?

"It wasn't as bad as some of the things that Congress has put out over the last60 years on telecommunications," explained Paul's press secretary, MichaelSullivan.

By the way, Paul is sponsoring a bill (the Television Consumer Freedom Act, H.R. 1078)that would repeal cable must-carry rules, but require cable operators to obtainretransmission consent from broadcasters.

It looked a little suspicious at Fox Family Channel'supfront last week when Haim Saban, chairman of Fox Family Worldwide, and Maureen Smith,general manager of Fox Kids, volunteered to help out in a trick being performed by mastermagician John Pendragon.

Pendragon asked for rings with initials from the audience. Saban and Smith gave theirs up,as did TV Guide writer Ileane Rudolph. Pendragon proceeded to somehow link allthree rings together and then separate then again.

Although it seemed like the fix was in -- that Saban and Smith were planted, interestedparties -- in reality, Fox officials insist that Pendragon had no idea that Saban wasthe head honcho of Fox Family. In fact, Pendragon innocently asked Saban his name, towhich Saban said simply, "Haim." Saban looked stunned when Pendragon pulled offthe three-ring trick, asking, "How'd you do that?" Said Pendragon, "Icould tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." Saban said, "OK," towhich Pendragon replied, "Boy, you are a fanatic."

Time Warner Inc. presidentRichard Parsons is certainly a good sport, but he shouldn't quit his day job. Parsonshad a bit part in a mock trial that Court TVdid during its upfront presentation last week, and his wooden delivery of his linesprompted some ribbing from Henry Schleiff, the network's CEO. "With feeling, theway we practiced it," Schleiff coached Parsons, to no avail. "Can you see thepain in his face?" Schleiff then asked the audience.

Schleiff finally gave up on trying to liven up Parson's stilted performance, joking,"We can fix some of that in [postproduction]."

CNN has had atough go of it covering the Kosovo war, CNN Group chairman Tom Johnson told a group ofadvertisers at the network's "Newsmaker" luncheon last week. He said CNNstaffers have been beaten and expelled from Yugoslavia. Christiane Amanpour wasthreatened with death, and she had to leave. Johnson said he himself has been brandedas a war criminal who should be tried. To top it off, he added, CNN lost $1 million worthof equipment in the conflict, including a "satellite uplink that was destroyed by aNATO missile."

By Linda Haugsted, from bureau reports.