Battle of the cable programmers

Practically on the eve of CBS Cable's recent formal inauguration on some cable systems, RCTVhs "The entertainment Channel" has announced plans for inaugurating its cable service "in early 1982." The timing of the announcement seemed designed to take the edge of the CBS Cable promotion.

Both services are offering a wide-ranging potpourri of programming, with CBS Cable proudly stressing its cultural bent, while The Entertainment Channel shie away from the word "culture."

Both cable services, however, offer advertising mixed in among whatever it is they proclaim they are presenting as programming.

As far as this observer can see, after listening to both organizations' top executives and reading their press releases, the major difference between the two services is that CBS Cable will be offered free to basic cable-system subscribers, while RCTV's The Entertainment Channel will charge subscribers an extra fee, not yet announced, but probably between $5 and $10 per month.

Some of the programs announced or scheduled: CBS Cable

* An original musical by Elizabeth Swados, creator of "Runaways."

* "The Gift of Friendship," a drama written for television by John Osborne, starring Alec Guinness.

* "Mixed Bag," a regular series, a mix of on-location stories cohosted by CBS Cable's regular host, Patrick Watson, featuring interviews and episodes with such varied names as Art Buchwald, Mike Nichols, Robert Rauschenberg, Gay Talese.

* "Macbeth," by the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring Ian McKellen. The Entertainment Channel

* "Pippin," featuring Ben Vereen, Martha Raye, and William Katt.

* Dudley Moore in an evening with George Gershwin with the Los Angeles Symphony.

* A six-part "Great Expectations."

* Most of the "Sherlock Holmes" movies.

* Remake of "The Day of the Triffids," now airing on BBC in England.

So, you pay your money (or you don't pay your money) and you take your choice. Call it culture or entertainment, the prospect for better television (at least during the first year) seem to be improving immeasurably on cable television.

RCTV's head, Arthur Taylor, chief of The Entertainment Channel, who is a recently ousted president of CBS Inc., somewhat coyly refers to his company's commercials as "informercials," while decrying the fact that some people insist upon designating the company's service as "cultural" when he says it is actually "entertainment." His fellow executives do admit, however, that some programming may logically be considered both cultural and entertainment -- an overlapping which CBS Cable seems to be happy to point out. As a matter of fact, CBS Cable specifically calls itself as "a cultural channel."

If you are a basic cable subscriber, it is possible that, starting today at 7 :30 p.m. Eastern time, one of the channels available to you will start carrying CBS Cable's inaugural programming. CBS Cable estimates that around 3 million homes will be receiving their initial signals in around 250 cable systems.

If you do not receive the channel and wish to have it, all you can do is call or write to your cable system president and request that it be included in the programming schedule. The system itself benefits by sharing in the advertising revenues.

CBS Cable's programming will be seen 12 hours a day, seven days a week in three-hour program segments. According to CBS Cable spokesmen, 60 percent of its programming will be original, 40 percent acquired from cultural sources.

When The Entertainment Channel makes it to cable in 1982, its executives now promise "100 percent exclusive" programming seven hours per day for five days of the week, with nine hours on weekends. If an observer asks too many specific questions now, the response is usually that exact plans are not firm.

However, The Entertainment Channel recently stated that 40 percent of its programming will be coproductions with BBC, that motion pictures will not be a major part of the programming, that original productions will be "hallmarks" of the schedule. Yet CBS Cable has already announced that 60 percent of its programming will also be original.

Meantime, our old familiar PBS "struggles along" this week with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy performing Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," reruns of "Cosmos" and "The Ascent of Man," "A Town Like Alice," and Anthony Hopkins in "Othello."

All free and without commercials.

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