PAPAL VISIT: CASSETTE AT 11--ALMOST

Are video companies going to try to cash in on the current American visit of a certain religious figure? Is the Pope Catholic?

At least four videocassettes about Pope John Paul II are being released in conjunction with his visit to the United States. Two tapes are due at stores sometime during the next few days, both documentaries about the Pope's life. The third and fourth videos, featuring network footage from ABC and NBC of the visit itself, are being prepared for an early-October rush-release. (Spokespersons for Cable News said they had no plans for an instant Pope video.)

Since two of the companies involved, MPI and Forum, were the ones that rush-released videos in August drawn from Lt. Col. Oliver L. North's Iran- contra hearings testimony, it would seem a safe bet that one of them would be releasing the Pope quickie.

However, Vestron Video--based, like Forum, in Connecticut--is behind "The Pope Visits America, 1987," in cooperation with ABC Enterprises.

The 60-minute Vestron tape will derive its footage from the ABC coverage of the papal visit, including "Good Morning America" and "Nightline," said a Vestron spokesman, who did not wish to be identified. (Nerves are a bit on edge around the video company; parent company Vestron Pictures reportedly suffered quarterly losses of more than $2 million and has laid off more than 30 employees.)

Don't look for any of the controversy surrounding the Pope's trip in this video, though. Calling the Vestron video a "commemorative collectible," the spokesman said there would be "concentration on the upbeat." The tape "will not be a news documentary," meaning that people who plunk down their $19.98 will be a lot more likely to see the Dodger Stadium mass, motorcades and a whole lot of speeches than they are likely to see incisive (or any ) reporting on such political questions as the Pope's attitudes toward Israel or sanctuary for Central American refugees.

As the Pope completes his visit, an ABC line producer will select appropriate material daily from the network's coverage. What would he be looking for? "If there's a shot of the Pope kissing babies under a sunny sky, I'm sure he'll set that aside (to use)," opined the Vestron spokesman, who added that final editing should be completed in time to get the video in stores "less than two weeks" after the visit ends.

While their combined efforts didn't get as much publicity as MPI's and Forum's North tapes, Vestron and ABC Enterprises have had the most experience in this new phenomenon of "instant video publishing." Their previous co-ventures include video swifties on last year's "Liberty Weekend," the New York Mets World Series victory and, earlier, the rock-star African-hunger benefit Band-Aid. The latter, said the Vestron spokesman, "was done in 10 days, from first notice to street date."

NBC is also putting together a Pope video, but details are sketchy at this point. According to network publicist Pat Schultz, the tape is being readied by NBC News Productions in conjunction with NBC Enterprises, which will probably distribute the video itself through both direct mail marketing and retail outlets. Details of price, length and title were unavailable at press time.

MPI Vice President of Sales Jaffer Ali noted that while orders for his company's "Oliver North: Memo to History" were "incredible," the actual sales were not overwhelming, though "without a doubt, we made money" from the project. Ali said that the company produced 100,000 North cassettes and shipped 78,000 to retail outlets. He acknowledged that many of those shipped were returned or would be sent back to the company, but he said specific sales figures were unavailable. "We just didn't make a bonanza," he said.

However, pre-orders for MPI's own contribution to the Pope parade, "Pope John Paul II: Seven Days of Eternity," have been disappointing, Ali acknowledged. The 50-minute video, which began shipping Friday and should be on shelves any day now, focuses on the Pope's duties during the final week of the Lenten season but also offers "a history of the Pope, including the (1981) assassination attempt," said Ali. Narrated by actor Joseph Campanella, the tape will sell for $19.95.

A few days after the MPI video arrives, Forum's "John Paul II: The Power of Faith" will go on sale for $24.95. This turns out to be a documentary assembled by Robert Evans (yes, the ex-Paramount-chief) from film and stills of the Pope, "including footage smuggled out of Poland," according to Forum publicist Cathy Mantegna.

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