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CBS’ Cable Channel on Outside Looking In

THE HARTFORD COURANT

If you’re excited by the news that CBS has launched its new cable channel, CBS Eye on People, you’re also going to be frustrated.

With just 2 million households hooked up nationwide, available cable slots few and far between, and network competitors NBC and Fox already off and running with their cable operations (NBC has MSNBC and CNBC, and Fox has the Fox News Channel), it’s probably going to be a while before you see what I’m about to talk about.

So consider this a read-more-about-it sneak peek.

According to Geoffrey Darby, president of CBS Eye on People, “Television viewers want to be informed, they want closure, they want positive stories about what is good in the world today.”

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And, he says, “they prefer real people, not celebrities.”

So here, would go the pitch, is a channel made especially for them.

From what we’ve seen, however, it’s going to be a tough sell. Or, at the very least, a long haul.

The Eye on People channel kicked off this week with 14 new series, starting with “The Best of Us.” The hourlong program, anchored by Mark McEwen (of CBS News’ “This Morning”), is, to quote CBS, “an inspiring collection of stories about everyday heroes.” The debut profiled an architect who created North America’s largest playground, with the help of 11,000 volunteers, and a physician who opened a free clinic and staffed it with retired doctors and nurses.

That is being followed by “Against the Law,” with Jose Diaz-Balart (also of “This Morning”) anchoring a nightly series with behind-the-scenes stories from the criminal justice system. This week’s opener looked at America’s most notorious bombers.

Then “Fast Forward” with CBS anchor Paula Zahn as she plays “whatever-happened-to?” with former newsmakers such as talk-show host Morton Downey Jr. and ex-presidential candidates George McGovern and Michael Dukakis.

Can’t get enough “60 Minutes”? Well, if you ever get CBS Eye on People, you’ll get “60 Minutes More.” Like several other series on the cable channel, this one puts a fresher face on material drawn from the CBS News archives. Included in this nightly broadcast are three classic “60 Minutes” reports with a common theme, followed by an update as well as observations from “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt.

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“Off Tenth” is live each night and features Thalia Assuras (formerly of ABC’s “World News This Morning”) and Richard Schlesinger (of “48 Hours”) as hosts of a program that looks at headline-grabbing people of more recent vintage. The title plays off the location of the Eye on People’s studios off 10th Avenue in New York City.

Capping off the evening is “Under Fire,” with CBS anchor John Roberts looking at war through the eyes of those who have served and reported. The opening shot was a photo history of war as seen by war photographer Don McCullin.

Also on the schedule:

* “I Remember"--Charles Kuralt, one of the best CBS News has ever had to offer on a weeknight or a Sunday morning, is host of this weekly first-hand look back at major news events, such as the fall of South Vietnam.

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* “Final Cut"--Anthony Mason (“48 Hours”) anchors this weekly hour featuring uncut versions of previously seen major interviews. See what hit the cutting room floor, for instance, when Mike Wallace went toe-to-toe with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

* “Video Zoo"--Jane Robelot (of “This Morning”) and special correspondent Roger Caras (president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) offer up zoo tales with human appeal--from endangered species to lost whales and lovesick moose.

* “Travels With Harry"--An hour with Harry Smith (formerly of “CBS This Morning”), which hits the road in search of people across America with special stories to tell (i.e. stories you probably won’t hear from New Yorkers and Angelenos).

Of course, even the above-mentioned series do not a 24-hour cable network make, which is why you can expect paid programming in the wee hours as well as some grand filler, such as “CBS Classics,” which will begin with a rerunning of Edward R. Murrow’s towering “Harvest of Shame” on Saturday.

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Look, too, for the BBC series “The Explorers” on Saturdays and Sundays with--what else?--tales of the world’s greatest explorers.

Now all that CBS Eye on People needs is people.


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