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Cable TV Crew Has Low Budget, High Spirits


The "sky-cam" doesn't move and its view is partially obstructed by a rail, the house band is made up of college students, the set consists of two well-worn couches and the producer shouts out directions to the hosts during the show.

Earlier this year, two home movie cameras were borrowed and mounted on tripods to replace studio cameras that were broken. During the show, the crew--made up of friends, high school and college students--runs around behind the scenes, occasionally tripping over extension cords strewn on the floor.

Welcome to public access cable TV, East L.A. style.

The operation is not exactly CBS, admits Arturo Esparza, 33, public access coordinator for Buenavision Cable TV, which serves Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles.

Esparza also serves as executive producer of the cable company's local programming, including "East L.A. After Dark," "The Ralph and Quester Show," "The Midgets of East L.A.," "Generic Television" and "Fax Metro," a twice-monthly show dealing with health issues. Esparza also produces three 5-minute local news briefs twice a week.

Esparza said the shows, which are produced with virtually no budget, aim to entertain while providing information and spotlighting local personalities and musical groups that might not otherwise get covered by mainstream media.

"We've set up programming that you can't find anywhere else," Esparza said. "It's particular to our community, the Chicano community."

The showpiece of Buenavision's programming is "East L.A. After Dark," a live hourlong talk show that airs at 6 p.m. Wednesdays on cable channel 6.

The guests have included a middle-aged lounge entertainer singing to music from a portable tape player, a local high school student body president reporting on the latest news at school and a county health official talking about the need for foster parents in the Latino community.

"It's a great opportunity for local groups to get their message out to the community," said Jerry Moreno, director of the Ramona Gardens recreation center. Moreno was on a recent show plugging a golf program for youths at Griffith Park, sponsored by the Ladies Professional Golf Assn.

Former USC Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett, who grew up in East Los Angeles and graduated from Roosevelt High School, is a frequent guest on the show and during his appearances provides free tickets for boxing at the Forum.

"I think it's great what they are doing," said Garrett, who is director of business development for the Forum. "These guys really provide a service for the community."

Part of that community service includes frequently stepping outside a structured format to provide information quickly.

"That's what we are all about," Esparza said. "People call with questions and, if we can, we give them the answer right on the show."

The number of calls is one way Esparza gauges community response to the show. He said as many as 50 calls have been received during a single show.

The show has made minor celebrities of co-hosts Xavier Torres, 40, a custodian at East Los Angeles College, and Esteban M. Steinhour, 21, a computer operator at a hospital and an aspiring comedic actor.

"We were out at the Forum for boxing and people pointed us out," Steinhour said. "They wanted to shake our hands."

Esparza is hoping that, through his programming and training, more Latinos will get involved in the media.

"If we had something like this when I was a kid, maybe more of us would be in the industry," he said. "It's all about helping the community and the community helping itself. We want to make it a training ground for our gente (people) to become media aware, so they can look at things with a more critical eye."

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