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Cooper’s Focus Shifts to Specials but Content Still Orange County

Times Staff Writer

Jim Cooper defied the TV odds.

In a business in which success means making it to a second season, Cooper’s weekly public affairs program was aired on Orange County’s KOCE-TV for nearly 17 years. It won two Los Angeles-area Emmys and for years was the only TV news program dedicated entirely to exploring Orange County issues.

But “Jim Cooper’s Orange County” is no more.

Ending the show was a mutual decision by Cooper and station officials at KOCE, Channel 50.

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After nearly half a century as a journalist, first in print and later as radio and TV broadcaster, Cooper wanted to spend more time at home in Santa Ana, he said recently. And KOCE executive Bill Furniss said the station, still strongly committed to news programming, wanted to shift its format in the direction of longer shows, to delve more deeply into issues.

Cooper is by no means disappearing from the airwaves, however. He expects to produce and be host for a series of 90-minute specials on KOCE in the coming year. The first, to air Jan. 25, is about the county’s shortage of adequate child care.

“When I worked as a reporter for CBS, we had a minute, maybe a minute and half to tell a story,” said Cooper, referring to the 6 years he worked as the county reporter for the CBS-TV affiliate in Los Angeles. “Now I’m going to get 90 minutes. . . . That’s quite a change.”

In a market dominated by Los Angeles-based TV stations, which for years treated Orange County like a distant land, Cooper focused KOCE’s cameras on local issues, ranging from housing and transportation to drug abuse and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

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There was little razzle or dazzle, however. His was not the Geraldo Rivera approach.

“I’ve never been a big fan of fluff,” said Cooper, a Midwesterner and former Marine Corps aviator who settled in the county in 1952.

What has most surprised Cooper about the county through the years is its “intellectual and cultural” growth, he said. Much like a teen-ager, the county grew in all directions, but questions persisted about the level of sophistication of its residents.

Today, Cooper said, the county no longer plays second fiddle to anyone, least of all Los Angeles: “We’ve lost the days when you could smell orange blossoms from the beach to the mountains. But the county has evolved into a more diverse society. . . . The change has been breathtaking.”

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Cooper, who has taped close to 1,000 shows, acknowledged a strong affection for the county but quickly added that he is “not blinded by its promise. There are problems here.”

Solutions to the county’s ills were long debated by politicians on Cooper’s shows. During election years, Cooper was host for question-and-answer programs with county candidates running for state and congressional offices. In an age when opposing candidates often avoid each other on the campaign trail, Cooper’s show offered one of the few forums where opponents met face to face. Though Cooper was criticized at times for being too soft on his guests, voters at least got the chance to see and hear the candidates speak.

Few candidates have declined his invitation to appear on the show. Cooper estimated that 95% of those invited have shown.

Now, at 67, Cooper hopes to be host for another round of election programs in 1990. He made it clear that he has no intention of sitting idle, even though his show is now gone.

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“I’ve got too much energy to sit still,” Cooper said.

That’s good news for Orange County.


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