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The family as a unit is the Disney Channel's target

By Arthur Unger / August 12, 1983



Los Angeles

''Masterpiece Theatre'' fans may be amused to discover that ''Mouseterpiece Theatre'' is one of the most popular series on the Disney Channel. Now in its fourth month of operation, and already the fifth-largest pay-cable service, the Disney Channel has attracted more than 300,000 subscribers in over 800 cable systems in 49 states. They pay between $7 and $12 monthly for the seven-day-a-week, 7 a.m.-through-11 p.m. service, which is now available to basic cable systems that ''pass'' (a trade term meaning ''is available to, if they wish to pay for it'') more than 7 million homes.

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In a recent Monitor interview, Ron Miziker, vice-president in charge of programming, explained to me that the Disney Channel shows many of the old Disney favorites but that around 15 of the universally hailed classics like ''Snow White'' and ''Bambi'' are being kept off the air until the US Supreme Court clarifies the status of home videotaping, since it is apparent that these Disney favorites would be prime home-taping candidates. (The court recently put off making a decision until next year.)

The Disney people want to avoid home-taping of those films, because on commercial cassettes and in theatrical release they remain huge potential moneymakers for Disney.But a few such favorites as ''Mary Poppins'' and ''Alice in Wonderland'' are already part of the Disney Channel repertoire of films.

According to Mr. Miziker, however, surveys have shown the surprising fact that the Disney film requested most often is ''Old Yeller,'' which has become a standard part of the new channel's programming.

Mr. Miziker believes that television is sometimes a disturbing or divisive force in the home. ''One of our goals is to see that our channel will never play that role in households. We are trying to reach the broadest number of people with what we feel are programs that are enjoyable, informative, and always constructive. We will never show on our channel any program which the whole family cannot safely view.

''Of course, there will be some which are better viewed with parent present, and some which are strictly children's shows. But there's nothing a parent ever has to put on a personal banned list.''

Probably the best-known program on the Disney Channel is the ''Mouseterpiece Theatre.'' It's a tongue-in-cheek daily cartoon showcase, hosted by George Plimpton, of vintage Disney cartoon classics, with Plimpton making like Alistair Cooke.

Mickey Mouse plays an important role in much of the Disney programming - every day opens with ''Good Morning, Mickey,'' a one-hour cartoon show featuring Mickey, Donald Duck, Pluto, etc., from the Disney archives. There's also a daily exercise show called, you guessed it, ''Mousercise.''

The cablecast day always ends with a movie, usually from the Disney library. In between are such things as a regular ''EPCOT Magazine'' show based on human-interest stories from EPCOT Center in Orlando, Fla., and other parts of the world; lots of animal shows; a ''Pooh Corner'' show for preschoolers; and variety shows. The new fall schedule will premiere a college talent show, an Australian adventure series, a science and problem-solving program hosted by a pair of 14-year-old twins (a boy and girl), and ''Donald Duck Presents'' (an animated educational show).

What would make the Disney Channel a success by Mr. Miziker's standards?