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Koce Plans For Series Imperiled

March 16, 1987|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

A $1.4-million national public television series--announced with great fanfare a year ago by public television station KOCE and the Orange County Performing Arts Center--has yet to come up with underwriters or be given a starting date.

As a result, the Orange County-based station may be dropped from the venture next month when its agreement with the Center is up for renewal, KOCE and Center officials say.

Although administrators of KOCE (Channel 50) insist that the effort to broadcast a three-performance series from the new Costa Mesa arts complex is "very much alive," they acknowledge that their fund-raising effort is at a standstill.

"We've found no donors," KOCE President William Furniss said. "We've tried all sorts of possibilities--a single source, a consortium, you name it. Funding national specials has always been tough. Now that (cultural fund-raising) competition is even greater, it's tougher than ever."

KOCE's fund-raising problems aren't limited to the national series--entitled "Tonight From the Pacific." The station also has failed to get underwriting for an additional $400,000 for a companion series of locally aired programs involving the Center, Furniss said.

Under its agreement with KOCE, the Center is free to consider other public stations, including Los Angeles-based KCET (Channel 28), if Channel 50 hasn't begun production or raised the money for the national series by the end of next month.

KCET officials, citing their station's larger audience in Orange County and greater technical and fiscal resources than KOCE, have made it clear they are seeking some kind of Orange County Center connection.

A KCET spokeswoman said the station hasn't discussed the "Tonight From the Pacific" series with Center officials since 1985, when KOCE was picked to package that project. But talks have been held recently on other possible national specials, including a proposed KCET program honoring composer Harold Arlen.

"Naturally, we're interested in establishing some kind of relationship with the Orange County Center," said KCET's Barbara Goen. "There's nothing on tap just now, but who knows, if the right project comes along under the right circumstances."

Thomas Kendrick, the Center's executive director, left the door open for further talks with KCET. "Our obligations are with KOCE. But, yes, we have talked--and want to continue to talk--with KCET about other projects. We're open to all possibilities."

The "Tonight From the Pacific" package announced by the Center and KOCE in March, 1986, was keyed to the taping of three performance specials for national airing in 1987.

KOCE said then it had already received a $15,000 planning grant from the Public Broadcasting Service. The station added that Dale Bell, who had been executive producer of the "Kennedy Center Tonight" national specials, would head the KOCE project.

Last March, KOCE announced it had launched a nationwide drive to find the $2.3 million needed in corporate underwriting: $1.4 million for the three national specials, $400,000 for nine local programs and $500,000 for promotion. The proposed date for the first national broadcast was to be this month.

Center officials said they would provide underwriter prospects, but added that KOCE was responsible for the television project's actual fund-raising.

However, the small Huntington Beach-based public station is itself struggling financially. KOCE's annual operating budget has dwindled to about $4.5 million. Support from the station owner, the Coast Community College District, has dropped to $950,000. Drives to find major new corporate backers for the station's regular operations have failed.

This plight was underscored by Channel 50's coverage of the opening of the Center's Segerstrom Hall last Sept. 29. KOCE had to limit itself to mostly outdoor interviews of arriving audience members. Station officials said that the 90-minute, locally aired program, "A Night To Remember," cost $45,000. A live performance broadcast, they added, would have cost about $500,000--beyond KOCE's fiscal capability.

In January, Bell's KOCE contract was not renewed. "He's still project executive producer. He's still a consultant for us, still running down (underwriter) leads. He's very much involved. We haven't given up on this project by any means," said Furniss.

"I'm not sure what will happen after April if the project isn't renewed," added Furniss. "But I know KOCE will be involved with the Orange County Center--if not this project, then certainly others that we're already talking about with (the Center)."

After April, one Center option is to resume talks about the "Tonight" project with KCET. The Los Angeles station has a far larger annual operating budget, now $25.5 million. KCET also reports a more sizable Orange County audience--50,000 subscribers in the county, compared with the 22,000 reported by KOCE.

Last March, Center officials, explaining the choice of KOCE for the "Tonight" project, said the smaller, Orange County-based station could give the project "highest priority," including the promise to also produce local programs on the Center.

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