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DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL ... : News or snooze? It's just a matter of time in Los Angeles : Who really needs an early start on the news of L.A.?

June 27, 1993|ELIZABETH HANSEN | Elizabeth Hansen is a Los Angeles-based playwright and writer

I was in Salt Lake City recently (my birthplace for those of you who want to know, and why wouldn't you?) and something I've always liked about being there is that the evening news starts at 6 o'clock. Six o'clock, which is the evening.

Starting the news at 4 o'clock (as do Channel 4 and Channel 7), which is the afternoon, not the evening, never made sense to me. I mean, who the heck watches the news at 4, anyway? Well, I do, but as we've established in previous columns, I have no life.

I could understand the local channels' scheme of things, if at 5 when they started the news again, they gave us new news, but they repeat it. Even the same words. Just different anchor people. Then they do it all again at 6. It doesn't make sense to me. If they're going to repeat the news for the people who missed it, why don't they just delay the air time?

But let's go back to Salt Lake City. Another thing I like about that town is that prime time starts at 7. 'Course it ends at 8, but that's not the point. The point is that you're done watching even the worst TV by 10, and you can go to bed.

Why does network prime time in Los Angeles have to start at 8? Are we really still on the freeways? I'm not.

I called someone in programming at KNBC. Seems it's always been that way. I called someone in programming at KABC. Seems it's always been that way. I called someone in programming at KCBS. Seems it's always been that way. I called someone at the NBC network. Seems it's always been that way.

Then just for the heck of it I called KSL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City, and reached David Manookin, the director of programming.

He said that the scheduling was "part of the 'prime-time access rule'." (The prime-time access rule was established by the FCC in 1970, and limits the networks' use of the peak viewing hours to three hours per night. The ruling broke up the networks' monopoly and opened a new market for independent producers.)

Manookin explained that "the FCC wanted to provide incentive for local news and programming. However, that prime-time access hour has turned into a syndicators feast." Now I understand the plethora of game shows and "reality series" in that hour. They're cheap, and lucrative.

But why was 8 p.m. chosen for both coasts and 7 p.m. for the Central and Mountain zones? Manookin did not know for certain, but surmised that "people in the central and mountain time zones tend to go to bed earlier because the locations are more rural, more agricultural." Yeah, I know a lot of farmers in Chicago.

So, will we ever be able to go to bed at 10 after watching a network movie? Don't know. But in the meantime, thank heaven for the VCR.

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