Martin Marietta, a Maryland-based aerospace corporation, has come to the aid of public television's "Great Performances" series, at least temporarily. The company said Wednesday that it will donate $1.2 million to help underwrite the weekly performing-arts series during the 1987-88 season.

The health of the 14-year-old performing-arts series had been in doubt since the Exxon Corp. announced plans to bow out as its sole corporate underwriter at the end of next season.

"Martin Marietta has brought about a reaffirmation of the series as a mainstay in public television," said Stephen Sayler, senior vice president and director of marketing at WNET-TV here, where "Great Performances" is produced.

He said that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has increased its 1987-88 season support for the series by $900,000, to $2.2 million, and that the country's more than 300 public television stations have voted an increase of $1.4 million, to $3.7 million, in support for the same season.

With the $1.2 million that Exxon has pledged for its last season of support, plus $800,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, the series will actually have more money than usual next season--$9.1 million. "We have been able to turn around a critical situation to a point where we can do more than simply stay the course--we can move ahead," Sayler said.

Martin Marietta has been a public-television underwriter for many years. It supported "Evening at Pops" from 1972 to 1977, "Wall Street Week" from 1978 to 1982 and, for the past two years, "On Stage at Wolf Trap." Under the new, one-year agreement, Sayler said that the latter series will be merged with "Great Performances" and two of its programs will be produced from the Wolf Trap facility.

In addition, he said that the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting, producing station for the "Wolf Trap" series, will join the consortium of public-television stations that now present "Great Performances." Besides WNET, they are KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth, KQED in San Francisco, WTTW in Chicago and South Carolina Educational Television.

Martin Marietta's commitment to "Great Performances" also was seen here as an important vote of confidence in public television at a time when corporate support for the noncommercial medium has been at a near-standstill.

"We look on this as a long-term commitment lasting many years," said William Harwood, Martin Marietta's vice president for public relations. He said the one-year contract was dictated by company policy.

Sayler said that the "Great Performances" consortium would continue to look for "corporate partners" to join with Martin Marietta in underwriting the series in 1988 and beyond.

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