1999 critics tour: a cable channel for everyone

THE CABLE TV NETWORKS kick off their three days of the twice-annual Television Critics Assn. tour today in Universal City. Welcome to a nightmare, TV editor-style …

“Good morning, and thank you all for being here at the 1999 TV critics tour, attended this year by more than two dozen representatives from electronic newspapers and computer-modem services. It should be a great time for everyone, and we’re planning to party like it’s … well, you know.

“We’re going to kick off the tour with eight days devoted to cable, allotting time to each of the 174 basic channels as well as the various pay services. If you’ll take a brief look at your individual video monitors we’ll run down some highlights of what we think will be a fascinating week for anyone who covers interactive wireless fiber-optic entertainment.

“In the interest of time, we’re going to try and move things along by grouping networks and their various satellite channels together. The Arts & Entertainment presentation, for example, will also include information regarding its History Channel, the World War II Channel, the Hitler Network and the Shakespeare Channel.

“Up next will be the Discovery Channel, featuring its Shark Network, the Science Channel, the new Whales & Other Mammals Network and of course both Dinosaur channels.

“Tonight we’ll have the big hot dog and Cracker Jack reception for Nike’s ESPN IX, the Baseball Network. And yes, network president Pete Rose will be on hand to answer questions and sign autographs — cash only, please.

“The various ethnic, minority and specialty networks — including the Woman’s Network, Teenager TV, Black Entertainment TV, the seven Asian-American channels, Latinovision and Orthodox Jewish TV — will each host receptions this evening.

“Tuesday night, the Crime Network invites you to tour Chino Hills State Correctional Facility as part of a big kick off for its Serial Killer Channel with a ‘Silence of the Lambs IV: Mo’ Hannibal’ theme party. Several serial killers will be available for round-table interviews, and we ask that you book time early, since most of the tabloid TV shows will also be attending.

MARY KATE AND ASHLEY OLSEN will also be around for a press conference tomorrow to unveil Doublemint’s the Twins Network. And, for those on the other end of the spectrum, the Stephen King Channel will host tomorrow’s dinner, which promises to be interesting, if not appetizing.

“A number of top TV movie producers will be available for interviews on a sailing tour sponsored by BOATS TV, Based-on-a-True-Story Television. Interviews with Judith Krantz, Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins will also be featured as part of the presentation by Hallmark’s Miniseries & Movie Network and Procter & Gamble’s Soap Opera Channel.

“Throughout the tour, Paramount-Universal, also known as P-U Pictures, will screen its straight-to-cable feature films, which, as you know, will simultaneously make their debut in theaters this weekend along with their $ 24. 99 pay-per-view showings. Stars from two of those movies, ‘Jurassic Honeymoon’ and ‘It’s Garth’s Globe 2,’ will be available for interviews.

“In terms of upcoming events, ABC/Disney said tapes of its new fall season will be made available before its portion of the tour this weekend. You’ll also get to meet ABC’s Fred Savage — who shocked everyone last week when he became the youngest ever head of a network entertainment division — at Saturday’s session.

“And by the way, text is available from last week’s CBS-Viacom Networks leg of the tour of the speech by research chief David Poltrack. For those who missed it, Poltrack says there’s absolutely no way that five-network primetime viewing will drop below its current 49 share and predicted that CBS will win the upcoming Nielbitron season with a 9.2 rating.

“We hope you enjoy your time here in Los Angeles, and remind you to stay inside the domed air bubbles, or avoid inhaling if you do happen to venture outside at any time.”

Wake up, screaming, like the teenage kid in “Home Alone VI.”

SYMBIOSIS: Well, so at least we now know what Rev. Donald Wildmon’s sudden furor over “NYPD Blue” was all about.

Wildmon’s American Family Assn. ran full-page ads last Sunday (including, appropriately, in the comics section of the Los Angeles Times) calling the show “softcore pornography,” inflating what it will actually depict and asking like-minded types to enclose a tax-deductible contribution “to help pay for this ad to get more parents, grandparents and concerned individuals involved.”

So where does the symbiosis come in? Because folks like Wildmon, for all their outrage, help a show more often than not by creating more (and hotter) publicity for it, making the fruit seem even more forbidden and thus more desirable. “NYPD Blue,” on the flip side, provides grist for Wildmon’s fundraising efforts.

The wild card in the whole scenario involves the advertisers, who could make life difficult for the series, unless of course all the attention makes it a major hit, in which case many will jump on the bandwagon.

The point is, if something like “NYPD Blue” didn’t exist, Wildmon and the like would have to either create it or find an equivalent target. Small wonder “Blue” producer Steven Bochco thanked Wildmon “for the ink” when he launched the campaign. The only question now is whether it’ll pay off … for either of them.

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