In its battle against satellite dishes, the cable industry is sometimes its own worst enemy.
Consider what Group W did recently. On Tuesday of last week, with Prime Ticket televising a UCLA-Pepperdine baseball game at 7 p.m., Group Wrong--that is what the W stands for, isn't it?--didn't pick up the coverage until 8:15, when the game was in the middle of the fifth inning.
But that was nothing compared to what happened two nights later. With the UCLA basketball team playing California, delayed coverage was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., after a telecast of the hockey game between the Kings and the Philadelphia Flyers.
But Group W, which is owned by Westinghouse, didn't start showing the UCLA game until 9:30, then left it for good midway through the second half to rejoin the Nashville Network.
"They had a problem with their switcher," said Tony Acone, the president of Prime Ticket. "Whenever you have humans and equipment involved, sometimes there are mistakes.
"I've been in the cable business long enough to realize that. I'm not going to point a finger at Group W and say, 'It's their fault, it's their fault.'
"I have talked to their people and have been assured the problem has been taken care of. Now, I think, we should sit back and see if problems still exist before criticizing them.
"I don't think they should be taken out and shot at dawn."
No, just a good flogging would do.
Add cable woes: Reader Harry Shearer writes: "Many of us are cable subscribers as well as dish owners. Thus, we have a continuing opportunity to compare the picture and sound quality of the two.
"Before the gentlemen from Prime Ticket, for example, go any further down the road to scrambling, they should consider this fact: Anyone who has invested considerable money in a high-quality television receiver simply will choose to watch Prime Ticket off satellite every time, in preference to the grainy, color-drained, soft-focus picture we get from, for example, Group W.
"If the choice is either continuing to subscribe to cable or disconnect in order to pay for a descrambler, I know what the choice will be."
Programming blunders, bad reception and bad service have plagued much of the cable industry since its inception. Unless a concerted effort is made to correct such problems, cable television may someday become obsolete, and operators will look back and ask, "Where did we go wrong?"
The double-hitter: The boxing doubleheader matching Marvelous Marvin Hagler against John (the Beast) Mugabi, and Tommy Hearns against James Shuler at Caesars Palace March 10 will be televised on a pay-per-view basis.
Choice Channel of Century City is providing the card, which also includes an attractive Richie Sandoval-Gaby Canizales fight, to 40 addressable cable systems in Southern California, including Cox Cable in San Diego, and an additional 110 systems throughout the country. SelecTV is also offering the fights.
The total of 150 cable systems, representing 3.6 million subscribers, is a pay-per-view record. The previous record was 125 systems, representing 2.6 million subscribers, for the Roberto Duran-Hagler fight in November of 1984.
Cost for the March 10 show is $15 through today, then it goes to $20.
The Beverly Hills Theater and the Irvine Marriott are among the closed-circuit establishments offering the fights, and a number of sports bar-restaurants have obtained rights through Satellite Programming Service of Redondo Beach. The restaurants pay $8 a head plus $650 for a decoder. Yes, the signals will be scrambled.
Restaurants carrying the fight include Legends, Players and Yankee Doodles in Long Beach; 12 Red Onions; Hamburger Hamlets in Brentwood, Pasadena and Costa Mesa; the Sports Deli in Century City, and Tom's Burger in Carson. At most places, the admission charge will be $10.
Recommended viewing: On "Wide World of Sports" Sunday, ABC will offer coverage of the fourth "Race Across America," a transcontinental bicycle event.
The last three years, ABC has broken up the coverage in two one-hour segments. This year, the race was covered in one two-hour show, beginning at 3 p.m.
Jonathan Boyer, the best-known of the 25 cyclists in the race, traveled first class, accompanied by his personal acupuncturist, and slept in comfortable motels while others slept along the roadside. He said the acupuncture treatments allowed him to get by on 1 1/2 hours of sleep a night.
Wayne Phillips of Vancouver, on the other hand, was the only competitor traveling alone, without a support van. Tragically, Phillips was struck down by a truck at 2 one morning near Tucumcari, N.M., in a hit-and-run accident that left him paralyzed.
Bad timing: Just before the end of last Sunday's Laker-Philadephia game, CBS' Dick Stockton announced that the 76ers' Charles Barkley was the game's Miller Lite MVP.
Then Magic Johnson, who scored 34 points to Barkley's 24, connected on a three-pointer to tie the game, and the Lakers won in overtime.