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Pbs To Test Commercials--on Rival Networks

January 13, 1986|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

If you someday tune in to "The Cosby Show" or "Dynasty" only to see commercials for "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Nova," do not adjust your dial. PBS will have taken control of your screen.

The Public Broadcasting Service, always on the lookout for new subscribers, may attempt to find them by advertising on NBC, CBS and ABC. A three-city test of that plan begins Friday, PBS President Bruce Christensen told visiting press Saturday morning at the Century Plaza Hotel.

The cities in the test are Rochester, N.Y., and Toledo, Ohio, where newspaper ads as well as 30-second TV spots will appear; a third undisclosed city in the Western United States will act as a "control" and receive no advertising for comparison purposes. PBS executives said that revealing the control city could affect test results.

If viewership substantially increases as a result of the network spots, PBS is planning a $10-million, nationwide promotional effort for January and February, 1987.

That's one of several new marketing schemes that appear to be moving PBS closer, in spirit, to the Big Three.

The non-commercial network has been airing "general support announcements," occasional promotional spots bought by sponsoring corporations.

In addition, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, Miami and several other cities are experimenting with "Pledge-light" campaigns, which eliminate time-consuming pledge nights from individual public television stations' schedules. In their place are mailings to existing subscribers explaining that if they contribute again, the on-air campaign can be avoided.

Lest anyone confuse PBS with the commercial networks, however, Senior Programming Vice President Suzanne Weil assured that viewers can "expect the expected" from PBS. "And you can expect teen-agers to probably watch something else," said Weil, who sat behind a name tag that read BRANDON WEIL, a reference to the proliferation of that name in programming circles. (Brandon Tartikoff and Brandon Stoddard are the chief programmers at NBC and ABC, respectively.)

Some highlights for the second half of the 1985-86 season:

--"The Shakespeare Hour": Walter Matthau will host this series of hourlong installments in miniseries-type presentations of five of Shakespeare's romantic plays. Premieres Sunday. --"Flashpoint: Israel and the Palestinians": To be broadcast April 9 at 8 p.m., this is another "theme night" in the mold of the PBS evening devoted to "The Abortion Battle," in which both sides of a controversial issue were presented. Produced by San Francisco's KQED, the "Flashpoint" package comprises three films: "Two Settlements," made in Israel by settlers in the occupied territories; "Peace Conflict," examining the different political viewpoints within Israel, and "Occupied Palestine," which favors Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

--"Hostage in Iran": Never-before-seen footage shot inside the U.S. Embassy in Iran will open the new season of "Frontline" on Jan. 21. Other topics to be examined in this documentary series: medical malpractice, the effect of divorce on children, AIDS, tax reform and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

--"Planet Earth": Seven episodes detail the expansion of our knowledge about the Earth via visits to each continent, beneath the ocean and to outer space. Premieres Jan. 22.

--"Black Champions": This three-part series traces the history and progress of black American athletes in this century and presents the theory that today's black superstars "have affected not only the rules and stakes of sports but also the social fabric of the country."

--"The Great Space Race": This four-part special looks at the competition to get a foothold in outer space and the prospect for space stations and colonization.

--"Brown Sugar": Another four-part series, this one on the lives of such well-known black singers as Aretha Franklin, Bessie Smith, Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick. Billy Dee Williams hosts the shows, to be aired Fridays beginning Jan. 31.

--"Heritage: Civilization and the Jews": Jan. 23 will mark the return of this award-winning, nine-part series on Jewish history, hosted by Abba Eban.

Also on the PBS front, Weil said, the network has an option on "Shoah," the 9 1/2-hour film by Claude Lanzmann about the Germans' extermination of Jews during World War II.

On the opposite end of the programming spectrum, Weil said, she is working on securing that PBS rarity, an American comedy series. One prospect is "Channel 1," produced by WTTW in Chicago and using the talents of that city's famed Second City comedy troupe.

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