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China Grants a Prime-Time Slot for MCA, Paramount TV Shows

February 04, 1987|KATHRYN HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

MCA and Paramount Pictures have jointly reached an agreement with China's only national television network to air two hours of programming each week in a coveted prime-time slot.

Among the shows the Chinese may see on Tuesday nights: "Columbo," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Star Trek" and "Family Affair."

It is the first such deal negotiated by American companies for prime-time viewing "on a regular, fixed schedule," tentatively set for Tuesdays between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., said MCA Vice President Charles S. Paul, who confirmed the deal Tuesday.

The agreement could be heartening to other American firms because it was signed after the ouster last month of China's Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, who favored increased trade with the West.

Hu's successor, Premier Zhao Ziyang, has also advocated economic modernization, however, and apparently is making no abrupt policy changes.

Zhao paid MCA an unexpected visit in 1985 while his airplane refueled during a stopover in Los Angeles. The Chinese official wanted to visit a movie studio and meet actors Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, Paul said. The meeting was arranged, and MCA executives presented Zhao a director's chair.

Paramount and MCA have obtained the right to air 100 hours of programming in the first year, and sell advertising for that time period, Paul said, splitting profits on a 50-50 basis regardless of which studio's shows happen to be airing.

Paramount and MCA will receive no direct cash compensation from the Chinese, Paul said.

A Paramount spokeswoman referred questions to MCA official Janet Yang, who handled negotiations in China for both companies. She listed some of the programs, such as "Columbo," that the Chinese have already asked for.

"The studios recommend titles," she said, "but the (China Central Television Network) ultimately chooses them."

Two other entertainment companies--Walt Disney Co. and CBS Inc.--also provide programming to the network, but Disney's Sunday evening program airs before prime time, and CBS "was not able to lock in specific hours," according to Yang, who is director of MCA's Far East Operations.

Lorimar-Telepictures announced in December that it had reached a five-year deal to supply programs to a regional TV network based in Shanghai, in exchange for advertising time.

In a separate development, MCA said Tuesday that it has acquired a 9% stake in Coleco Industries for $20 million. Coleco, a toy maker, issued new shares of non-dividend paying preferred stock to MCA.

The companies said MCA agreed not to acquire more shares without Coleco's permission. The deal was negotiated to settle litigation between the firms and to provide Coleco a $20-million cash infusion.

MCA approached Coleco with the proposed solution to the lawsuit, which was scheduled to begin trial Tuesday, Mort Handel, Coleco's executive vice president, said.

Coleco expects to report "a very large loss" for its fourth quarter, Handel said, but he added that the toy company--ranked third in the nation--has received good reviews for its 1987 line of products.

"We expect to remain independent," Handel said.

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