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‘HIGH-PRESTIGE’ PROJECT : KOCE, CENTER HOPE TO CO-PRODUCE PROGRAMS

Times Staff Writer

Public TV station KOCE Channel 50 in Huntington Beach is hoping to restore some luster to its financial ledger with an agreement to produce a series of national and local programs in association with the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

If the station can come up with $2.3 million to finance the project, it would produce three 1987 national programs from the Performing Arts Center, modeled after broadcasts from the Kennedy Center in Washington, and a local series about the arts in Orange County.

“It’s a high-prestige project for us. It’s the kind, we hope, that will provide support not only for this project, but also generate support for our other programs as well,” said Don Gerdts, the station’s executive vice president.

Under a preliminary agreement, expected to be finalized next month by the KOCE-TV Foundation and the Performing Arts Center, KOCE would:

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--Tape the first of three specials this fall for airing on the Public Broadcasting Service next March. The series would be called “Tonight, From the Pacfic,” but specific performing groups are yet to be selected. PBS already has allocated $15,000 in seed money to help develop KOCE’s proposal. “It is still in the preliminary stage. But we’re very much interested in what they come up with,” said PBS spokeswoman Mary Jane McKinven.

--Produce a monthly series focused on Orange County Performing Arts Center facilities and on other Orange County arts organizations, including interviews with star performers. This series, to begin with live coverage of the Sept. 29 opening-night ceremonies at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, would be offered to other public stations in California.

Dale Bell, the project’s executive producer, said that he wouldn’t discuss specifics about the productions until the entire project is assured of being financed. “Right now, we’re still looking for backers. But we hope to have a single corporation, or a partnership of companies, lined up by this summer,” he said.

Bell, a former vice president with public station WQED-TV in Pittsburgh, was executive producer of “Kennedy Center Tonight,” the series that was broadcast nationally from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from 1981 to 1983, at a cost of $2.6 million a season. The chief underwriter was Shell Oil.

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Bell last summer drafted a TV proposal for the Orange County Performing Arts Center at the request of the center’s executive director, Thomas Kendrick, who formerly was the Kennedy Center’s director of operations.

The plan was presented to both KOCE and KCET Channel 28 in Los Angeles, Southern California’s biggest public station. (KOCE’s budget this year is $6.1 million, compared to KCET’s $23.7 million.)

KCET spokeswoman Barbara Goen said that Channel 28 President William Kobin held one “exploratory discussion” in Costa Mesa with Performing Arts Center officials, but was told a week later that the center had decided on KOCE. “Their (center officials’) decision, they informed us, was because KOCE was willing to make the venture its sole primary project,” Goen said.

KOCE executives said that the Performing Arts Center collaboration could not have come at a better time for the station, which has seen its fiscal support and number of employees dwindle markedly in the past three years. It is still faced with uncertainty over whether its owner, the Coast Community College District, will retain operational control or will withdraw all financial support and turn it over to the KOCE-TV Foundation to be run like KCET, on the strength of whatever community, foundation and governmental support it can muster.

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