Family fare - cable TV's new vision of success

Don't ever say ''cultural'' around any of the new Entertainment Channel executives. They blanch noticeably and hasten to inform you that their new cable service being launched today should never be called a cultural channel. ''Entertainment'' is the word that brings joy back into their slightly uneasy faces.

Market research and a study of the huge losses being racked up by such ''cultural'' cable channels as CBS Cable, ARTS, and Bravo have convinced Entertainment chairman Arthur R. Taylor and programming vice-president Arnold M. Huberman that the cable road to success lies in what they call family entertainment. Their service will cost subscribers $8 to $10, depending upon the pay-TV channel's arrangements with the local cable operator.

The Entertainment Channel, a 24-hour-a-day ''premium television network,'' will not be repeating its programming as often as CBS Cable, which does it in three-hour cycles. The new channel is a joint venture of Rockefeller Center Cable Inc. (RCTV) and RCA Cable. According to Messrs. Taylor and Huberman, with whom I chatted recently at their spanking new offices on Avenue of the Americas, the channel was created ''for people who have outgrown ordinary television and want more entertainment than movies alone can provide.'' Thus, in one fell swoop , the Entertainment Channel derides commercial TV, PBS, HBO, Showtime, and the many other services now available to viewers.

When the Entertainment Channel was first announced, it was to be an advertising- supported free service to audiences. Soon afterward came the switch to a pay-TV service. Mr. Taylor makes it clear, however, that it is quite possible that at some time in the future the service may be running advertising even as one pays for the entertainment. He feels that pay-TV with advertising is the ''airwave'' of the future.

Mr. Huberman gave me a run-down of programming plans for the first year, showed me a sampling of videotapes, played the channel's theme notes. ''Now, nobody can call that cultural'' he said as his amplifier boomed out the disco beat theme.

The character of a new cable service can be found in its first few weeks of programming, since that usually represents the best of what has been scheduled. Mr. Huberman, who says his channel represents ''the second generation of pay-TV'' (after HBO and the movie channels) adds that 80 percent of the programming has been set through 1983.

Here's a sampling of what a paying subscriber will find on the Entertainment Channel: a new version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, ''Pippin,'' with Ben Vereen (later on there will be ''Sweeney Todd'' with Angela Lansbury and ''Lena Horne, the Lady and Her Music''); British-oriented soap operas and action-adventure and comedy series, mostly produced by BBC; a serialization of Dickens's ''Great Expectations,'' also by BBC; and ''Just For Fun,'' a home-audience participation game show.

There are also classic films such as ''There's No Business Like Show Business'' and ''Of Mice and Men''; ''Limited Edition'' which will pick up good commercial TV series dropped because of limited ratings (''The Associates,'' ''Skag,'' and ''Friends and Lovers,'' for example. And what may prove to be the major attraction of the service will be offered: ''The Animal Express,'' starring Joan Embery (who you may have seen on the ''Johnny Carson Show'') and her animals from the San Diego Zoo.

How do you get to see some of these programs for yourself? Since it is a pay service, some basic cable systems will provide free samplings during the early days. But Entertainment Channel executives are rather vague about the number of subscribers who will be seeing the programming from its first day onward - preferring to talk instead about ''signed agreements with operators with a potential 3 million homes'' - which means that the channel is starting up with virtually no subscribers, but a lot of promises from basic cable operators.

The Entertainment Channel's ad campaign will say it is starting up ''because the average television viewer is more intelligent than the average television show.'' The big question may prove to be: ''Is the average television viewer intelligent enough to rebel against being asked to pay for so much of what he has been used to getting free on commercial networks and PBS?'' Uncle Walter's 'retirement'

Walter Cronkite has discovered the secret of successful retirement.

While managing to struggle along on a reported $1 million a year ''retirement'' contract which will effectively prevent either ABC or NBC from luring him out of ''retirement,'' Cronkite is devoting his energies to the excellent PBS educational program Why in the World (at varying times during the day) which is basically a philanthropic activity for Cronkite, and the third season of Walter Cronkite's Universe, (premiering Tuesday, CBS, 8-8:30 p.m. for 13 consecutive Tuesdays).

For this year's debut show, Cronkite studies man's association with the chimpanzee, the animal closest to man.

Most of the 1,500 chimps in the US are used for scientific research but have outgrown their usefulness for those purposes when they are ten. However, chimps may live 50 years. So, ''Universe'' takes Cronkite on a trip to ''Baboon Island'' in the Gambian jungle to report on nine human-reared chimpanzees that are being taught how to survive in the wild. A trainer, Janis Carter, lives like a chimp to teach the disoriented animals how to build nests, climb trees, and forage for food. She has actually had to sleep in a tree to convince the chimps that such conduct was safer than sleeping on the ground.

Featured is Lucy, a 16-year-old chimp who was raised in the home of two psychologists, who now believe it is wrong to domesticate monkeys and would discourage anybody else from following their example. Also featured is Ham, the first chimp in space, now learning to make his home in the jungle.

As if to prove that animals as well as people love Uncle Walter, at one point in Cronkite's interview with the trainer, one of the chimps jumps into Cronkite's arms and nuzzles him affectionately.

''Walter Cronkite's Universe,'' now in its third season, seems to be on the way to becoming CBS's annual gift to summertime TV. Cronkite has been traveling around the world, filming scientific advances that intrigue him - fun, perhaps, but not very restful. American viewers can be thankful that Cronkite doesn't seem to know the real meaning of ''retirement.'' Moyers and Friends

Is our German alliance beginning to seem like a misalliance?

That's the question posed by CBS News correspondent Bill Moyers in a startlingly incisive review of Our Friends the Germans (CBS, Wednesday, 8-9 p.m. , check local listings). It is revealing to note the grim face of the normally compassionate Moyers as he talks to the generation of young Germans who ''want the American Army but not the American GI.''

Timed to air during President Reagan's NATO meetings in Bonn, ''Our Friends'' tries to heed Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's warning: ''Please don't overdo and overdramatize the doubts. . . .'' These doubts, though, are evident in anti-American graffiti, anti-American street demonstrations, and anti-American silent vigils. This report, produced and directed by Catherine Olian and written by Ms. Olian and executive producer Perry Wolff, refuses, however, to slough off such obvious signs of a deteriorating relationship.

Even though in most cases the demonstrators' focus is on their dread of nuclear warfare and the role of the US in stockpiling nuclear weapons throughout their country, correspondent Moyers points out that many of our troops are as disenchanted with Germany and the German people as the Germans seem to be with the US.

A tour of the Berlin Wall is just as horrifying now as it was when it was constructed. And the unfriendly attitude of a young German toward the tourists who come to look, laugh, and take pictures is understandable. ''The wall is human perversion,'' he says.

Moyers concludes that it is difficult to imagine that US troops will continue to maintain a presence in a Germany that seems to resent them so much, in a Germany which the troops seem to dislike so much. ''Something is changing. Public sentiment is coming right out in the open. . . . The danger is that public sentiment in both countries will run ahead of the leaders.''

As usual, despite his apparent annoyance at some of the criticism he hears from affluent youngsters who seem to be playing terrorist roles for their own amusement, Bill Moyers brings with him an aura of compassion and understanding. Viewers may sense that it was difficult for Moyers to refrain from sharper comments. Is the peace movement merely street theater by bored, radical middle-class kids? Or is it, as Bill Moyers makes clear in this vastly important and relevant documentary, a movement to which we must pay more attention, even as Germany's leaders try to understate it?

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.