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New Cable Channel Seeks to Fill Gap in Public Access : Broadcasting: Producers of offbeat shows have felt frustrated by lack of a Glendale outlet.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like other cities, Glendale has its share of would-be celebrities who host an array of offbeat programs in the netherlands of public access television--the difference is that they have to take their shows on the road.

The local gurus of the alternative airwaves include a UFOlogist, a man who hosts a show on upper-class lifestyles, and a real estate broker who gives investment tips.

Public access aficionados have long complained there is little or no outlet for their endeavors here, and most have gone outside Glendale to tape and broadcast their programs.

But backers of a new local cable television channel, with its own studio capable of taping shows, hope to begin changing that.

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“There’s a really big, bottled-up need for local access. Very little programming has originated in Glendale,” said Allan Silliphant, co-founder of Glendale Community Television, which began cablecasting on Sammons Communications this month.

Silliphant, a longtime professional in video production, and his partner, David Wallis, have leased about 72 hours of air time per week from the cable company.

Using a small but capable studio, the entrepreneurs are offering anyone interested in hosting a low-budget TV show a place to tape it. Costs of production and broadcast time are waived for public-service programs and are “nominal” for local businesses looking to produce infomercials and the like, they say.

What sets the venture apart from other leased-access projects is that it will be affiliated with a national television network, Silliphant said.

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National Education Telecommunications, a Washington-based not-for-profit organization that airs political news and talk shows around the clock, has signed an agreement to provide the new channel’s program base. Silliphant is hoping viewers will tune in for the national politics and stay for the local programs.

“We think we’ve created something unique in being an affiliate of a network,” he said. “And we make it feasible, in a good-sized market area, for someone who can’t afford commercial television time to put an original program on television.”

Still, Silliphant and Wallis’ project is a business venture, so it isn’t exactly the savior that some people had hoped for in public access television in Glendale and Burbank.

Sammons, which serves about 80,000 households in the two neighboring cities, closed its small public access production studio several years ago, citing cost factors.

During franchise renewal negotiations last year, officials with both cities said they tried unsuccessfully to persuade the company to open a new studio. Sammons does set aside some public access time, during which it airs prerecorded programs for a $40 fee.

Glendale resident Emzy Veazy III, host of a program focusing on lifestyles of the wealthy called “Caviar and Class,” said he may skip Silliphant’s new studio and continue to record his show at cable company studios in Eagle Rock and Santa Monica, as he has for the last two years.

Veazy said he believes public access could thrive in Glendale and Burbank much like it has in Los Angeles or New York City, but has never been given a chance.

“The governments of Glendale and Burbank are at fault, because they have never demanded this type of service,” Veazy said. “This is about freedom of speech. Public access is supposed to encourage the discussion of different ideas; it’s a place for the common man to express himself. If you do away with that, then you only get the opinion of the government.”

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But while cities can make their cable companies set aside room on the dial for educational and government-access programming, a federal law enacted in 1984 prohibits them from requiring the company to pay the cost of running a public access studio.

Several cable operators in Los Angeles, including Century Cable and United Artists Cable, were already locked into long-term contracts when the law took effect, and they continue to produce and air public access shows at little or no cost.

Glendale and Burbank have refrained from investing city funds for public access facilities--as some cities have done--and instead focused on government-access programming, primarily the cablecasting of city council meetings.

“Many franchising entities [i.e. cities] have limited financial resources,”’ said Michael Friedman, vice president of Telecommunications Management Corp., a consulting firm that aided Glendale and Burbank in negotiations with Sammons.

“They are more likely to support educational and government programming than public access, because they feel they will see more results from those types of things.”

First Amendment issues are also of concern, since some public access programs border on what some consider obscenity, Friedman said. “Rather than be seen as supporting something people consider offensive, it’s easier to just not have that type of programming.”

Silliphant has promised to weed out not only obscene material but also “fringe” programs on his new channel. Among the shows he has in the works are a restaurant showcase, a show on wedding tips and another with tips for pet owners.

That probably rules out “Mysteries From Beyond the Other Dominion,” a show about UFOs and the paranormal, produced on a minuscule budget by Glendale resident Franklin Ruehl.

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The show, which has had 138 episodes since 1984 and was shown nationally in 1992 and 1993 on the Sci-Fi Channel, has never aired in Ruehl’s hometown.

Ruehl said he thinks it’s unfortunate that the two local channels that run government and public programs spend much of the time “just scrolling an events calendar across the screen” when there are so many unique programs out there.


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