Cable Notes

A day after being fined by the National Basketball Assn. for comments he made criticizing Turner Broadcasting for renewing its NBA TV rights package at double its previous cost, Tele-Communications Inc. prexy and CEO Leo Hindery said during a press conference Wednesday that it’s not the fault of cable networks that prices for NBA rights have risen so high but the fault of owners who pay athletes astronomical salaries. Hindery cited as examples Michael Jordan’s $37 million salary for the 1997-98 season and Kevin Garnett’s six-year, $127 million pact. “And Latrell Sprewell is being paid $32 million (over four years) to strangle his coach,” Hindery added.

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The former Family Channel has officially been rechristened the Fox Family Channel following its purchase by News Corp. and Saban Entertainment. The channel’s new logo was unveiled Wednesday, along with a partial programming lineup, effective summer 1998. It will feature such shows as the original “Famous Families,” “Mr. Bean” (starring Rowan Atkinson), “The Baldy Man,” “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and specials, including “The Captain’s Treasure House” and “Kids Do the Weirdest Things.”

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In an unusual example of a public TV series leaving for the world of commercialism, the long-running PBS kids series “Shining Time Station” is relocating to the Fox Family Channel beginning fall 1998 after eight seasons in the ad-free world. Gullane Pictures, the U.S. production and distribution company recently formed under the umbrella of media and entertainment group the Britt Allcroft Co., has licensed both “Shining Time Station” and “Britt Allcroft’s Magic Adventures of Mumfie” to the Fox cable entity. Deal also involves new films of “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends,” Thomas being the centerpiece of “Shining Time Station.” The Thomas the Tank Engine brand has experienced a 37% growth during 1997 alone, ranking seventh in revenue in the U.S. among all infant and preschool toys. It’s generated more than $1 billion in retail to date.

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TBS Inc. has reached an agreement with Telesynergy for carriage of TBS Superstation following the network’s conversion to a free-market station on Dec. 31. The agreement covers 5.2 million subscribers from among a consortium of 12 members, including Greater Media, Marcus Cable, Media General Cable and Charter Communications.

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Romance Classics, the American Movie Classics all-romance film spinoff channel, has signed a licensing agreement with Twentieth Television that will add to its roster such titles as “Working Girl,” “Romancing the Stone,” “Jewel of the Nile,” “Unfaithfully Yours,” “An Unmarried Woman,” “The Pick-Up Artist” and “The Buddy System.” It also has signed a longstanding licensing agreement with Paramount Pictures, adding such acquisitions to the Romance Classics roster as “Ghost,” “Falling in Love,” “Flashdance,” “Racing With the Moon” and “Urban Cowboy.” The deals push the channel’s library of films to more than 1,500 titles.

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The most-talked-about souvenir being distributed on the Western Cable Show exhibit floor Wednesday was at the Discovery Networks booth, where conventionites were invited to have a picture of their face morphed onto the body of the wild animal of their choice. Quipped one: “This is the coolest day of my life.”

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