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Pbs, Soviets Exploring Exchange

September 27, 1985|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

For the next eight days, the president and chief executive of Los Angeles public-television station KCET may well hear himself called Comrade William Kobin.

Kobin is among a contingent of 12 representatives of the Public Broadcasting Service who are in the Soviet Union through next Friday to explore an exchange of programming with Gostelradio, the state-controlled TV and radio network.

The trip became something of a cause celebre last May when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes federal funds to public television stations as well as National Public Radio, withdrew its support for the trip. Then-CPB President Edward J. Pfister resigned over the issue, accusing the CPB board of "foreclosing the possibility of increased communications" with the Soviet Union.

But PBS immediately "picked up the ball," as Kobin tells it, and reorganized the trip as originally planned.

Kobin, interviewed prior to his departure, said he is "pretty blank, to tell you the truth," about the kind of shows he will see. "I've heard the Soviets make outstanding nature shows," he said.

The Soviets presumably have the same curiosity about American public television-produced shows. Kobin has packed a suitcase of videocassettes of KCET productions, including the pilot episode of a new comedy-drama anthology series, "Survival Guides." Rosanna Arquette stars in the first episode, which was written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Beth Henley and directed by Jonathan Demme.

Also in the trunk: an act from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"; the children's show "Mad Scientist"; a half-hour segment of "Cosmos," and excerpts of everything from a documentary on organ transplants to live music.

Kobin's sample list is somewhat longer than the two or three shows he and his fellow station executives were supposed to bring. "I tend to take too many clothes when I go places too," he said with a shrug.

In a way, Kobin acknowledges, he will be competing for the Soviet programmers' attention with fellow travelers such as LLoyd Kaiser, the CPB board member from WQED, Pittsburgh; WNET, New York's Robert Kotlowicz; David Liroff from PBS flagship station WGBH, Boston, and Stephen H. Kimatian from the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.

But Kobin emphasizes that "we should all go in there as partners."

The PBS mission, which includes the network's chairman, Alfred R. Stern, and its chief programmer, Suzanne Weil, is not the first such exploration into a TV trade agreement. TV-and-movie-mogul Ted Turner signed an agreement in Moscow last May under which his Cable News Network will exchange and co-produce entertainment programming with Intervision, the Eastern Bloc consortium of television stations. (Intervision is also having a sales convention this week, which the PBS delegation may observe.)

Having been in the Soviet Union before, Kobin said he knows that programming exchanges "don't evolve out of formal pieces of paper from stranger to stranger" but rather "out of conversations from friend to friend."

In that regard, Kobin dispels the notion that American station executives might not be able to distinguish between honest programming and state propaganda. That was part of the sentiment that came from the ideologically split CPB board when it withdrew its support for the trip.

"That's not a concern of mine," he said. "This is a very experienced group of broadcasters with solid credentials in television journalism and arts production. All of us are able to make accurate judgments."

PBS itself is funding only a minor portion of the trade mission--perhaps a hospitality suite at the Intourist Hotel, where the Soviet government has assigned the delegation to stay. Otherwise, individual stations pay their executives' way.

Kobin is more frugal even than duty and tight budgeting calls: His round-trip fare to London, where he joined his fellow travelers Thursday for the trip to Moscow, was paid for by his airline's frequent flyer program.

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