Way Down (Under) in New Orleans

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As the cable industry prepared for the National Show in New Orleans this week, TBS Superstation has slated On Hostile Ground-a disaster movie about a giant sinkhole threatening to swallow the Big Easy-for June 2 primetime. In reality, "Nawlins" may suffer a worse fate 100 years hence. If the NCTA is still around then, and if it plans a National Show for the Crescent City at that time, attendees may need to pack snorkels, since a recent ABCNews.com report said that by then, New Orleans may well be underwater. Citing a U.S. Geological Survey official, among others, the Web site said the outlook is for "a very wet future for New Orleans," which it dubbed, "Atlantis on the Bayou."

- - - Black Entertainment Television hosted its 20th-anniversary celebration during the cable industry's biggest weekend. The only problem is that the network's May 6 blowout affair wasn't in New Orleans, where executives were en route to attend the National Show, but instead thousands of miles away in Las Vegas. BET was able to draw high-power entertainers to its shindig, however. Scheduled to perform were such top rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop artists as Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, LL Cool J, Luther Vandross, Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige and Brian McKnight.

- - - You've seen him wandering the halls of the National Show since 1997, wearing the red badge with the words, "Puppy Channel," superimposed on a dog bone. But that puppy won't hunt this year. Daniel FitzSimons has decided to stay home this year. "We are keeping our powder dry until we can get some venture money to really step it up," he said in an unsolicited call to The Wire. The Puppy Channel's track record so far hasn't been good. In fact, it has failed to launch on any cable system. "We are hoping Ted Turner will change his mind one day," FitzSimons said.

- - - Meanwhile in Victoria, British Columbia, they've come up with what could be called the "Bunny Channel." No, not the Playboy variety. Those creative types at Shaw Cable's community cable channel, who ran the "Log Channel" last Christmas, offered a live "Bunny Cam" for Easter weekend. "Sometimes all you saw were bunny back-sides," said Shaw staffer Kathleen Chiasson of the outdoor shots of rabbits hopping in and out of camera range. "And other times you could watch the grass grow," accompanied by audio of birds chirping. The offbeat idea inspired many supportive phone calls and requests for videotaped copies, Chiasson said, adding, "I have one lady who's buying it for her cats."

- - - Although he buys lots of cable-news networks'local avails, Mentzner Media Services'Bruce Mentzner told the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's "Cable Campaign Strategies 2000" conference in Washington, D.C., last month, "There are certainly some [non-news] opportunities out there. One that always shows great qualitative [research] is Comedy Central. But," he lamented, "I cannot educate a campaign to run on Comedy Central." As if to show why pols are uneasy about buying time on the irreverent network, Comedy gave out a flyer there saying its viewers are "more likely to take an active part a local civic issue than the average cable viewer." The headline read, "Comedy Central viewers are highly active in their communities." But then, the network couldn't resist adding, "As opposed to actively high in their communities. Not that they'd ever inhale."

- - - We've all heard of the term, "guerilla marketing," but this might be taking it too far. Early last month, a Wire reporter and once-content RCN Corp. customer woke up one morning to find that out of the blue, he was receiving the programming lineup of none other than Time Warner Cable of New York, the dreaded incumbent. RCN was clueless as to how its connection was usurped, and apparently unconcerned. As of this writing, it's been three weeks since the switcheroo took place, and numerous calls to RCN customer service have gone nowhere. There may be a bright spot in this story: The reporter enjoyed New York 1 News so much that Time Warner is beginning to look like an interesting option. Now if only RCN could figure out how to get the reporter line of sight.

- - - The Wire's satellite-TV reporter was among the lucky few in the New York office not affected by Time Warner Cable's removing ABC from its cable lineups last Monday. But instead of basking in the opportunity to watch Regis Philbin and his celebrity guests on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, she tuned into EchoStar Communications Corp.'s multimillionaire chairman Charlie Ergen. Ergen used his monthly "Charlie Chat" to tell viewers of a new rate hike, and he did it so smoothly that customers thanked him for keeping rates so low.

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