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Local Crime Show Makes Good : Law enforcement: A new cable service wants to air episodes of 'In Hot Pursuit, South Bay's Most Wanted' and pay Torrance for the rights.


Who says crime doesn't pay?

A new commercial cable station wants to broadcast a South Bay crime show developed for Torrance's government access channel, and is willing to pay the city up to $5,000 for each half-hour episode.

The Crime Channel, a Sherman Oaks-based cable service, wants to buy non-exclusive broadcasting rights to "In Hot Pursuit, South Bay's Most Wanted," a local version of Fox Television's "America's Most Wanted" crime series.

Tuesday, the Torrance City Council authorized the city manager to begin negotiations with the Crime Channel, which debuts July 3 on the Channel America television network.

"A program such as ('In Hot Pursuit'), which depicts how the South Bay responds to crime, can get people to start thinking, 'Well, maybe my (police) department can do this,' " said Arnie Frank, president and founder of the Crime Channel. "People always like to view police programs or law enforcement shows, going back to 'Keystone Kops,' 'Streets of San Francisco' . . . or 'Hill Street Blues.' "

"In Hot Pursuit" has been dormant for the past six months while the city searches for a replacement for its former host, Michael Ellington. Ellington, who reported, wrote and helped produce the show, left the city last year to seek other television work, city officials said.

Torrance produced more than 35 episodes of "In Hot Pursuit" for its government access channel and shared tapes of the show with neighboring cable companies. The Crime Channel is interested in purchasing the rights to both old and new episodes, city officials said.

In addition to "In Hot Pursuit," the Crime Channel plans to broadcast cop dramas, documentaries and spot crime news. Its programming would air for three hours on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Michael D. Smith, Torrance's cable television administrator, said he is flattered by the Crime Channel's interest in the show. Although a profit from the sale of broadcast rights would be nice, Smith said, he would be happy just to recover production costs of the show, which have ranged from $250 to $1,100 per episode.

"The primary purpose of the show is to provide a public service," Smith said. "It's an important program in these days when public funding is being reduced and law enforcement is being scrutinized. We try to show . . . the police departments are trying to do a good job."

The "In Hot Pursuit" series profiled 30 fugitives wanted by South Bay law enforcement agencies. At least three were later apprehended as a result of the show, which has used police cases from 15 South Bay cities.

The series has also given "plain English" explanations of the state Penal Code and tips on crime prevention. In one segment, store managers were advised to place variously colored pieces of tape in door jambs to mark various heights, providing them a means of gauging the height of a thief.

Because the Crime Channel hopes eventually to broadcast worldwide, Frank said, the Torrance series could be aired internationally. Why would someone in say, London, be interested in a South Bay cops-and-robbers show?

"By watching other municipalities, they'll be able to educate themselves and inform themselves as to how other communities handle the problem of crime," Frank said. "We're hoping to create a worldwide 'Neighborhood Watch.' "

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