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COVER STORY : Media for the Masses : Public-Access TV Gives Everyone a Chance to Be a Star--In Their Own Universe

March 31, 1994|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rose Brown inspects vegetables for a living, but frankly, she'd rather host a television show.

Yvonne Swearingen cleans houses, but she'd like to be on video too.

For these Lakewood residents and dozens of others, such a fantasy is well within reach, thanks to public-access television, the low-budget dream factory of cable television. After a few hours of free training, anyone in the Long Beach area or other parts of Southeast Los Angeles County can have his own television show on a cable system's community channel.

Who cares if even your mother thinks you lack talent? You can still be in pictures--broadcast into the homes of thousands of local cable subscribers.

"It's fabulous," said Brown, a food inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who plans to produce a talk show. "I can do as much as I want and there's no pressure to make money at it. And if people don't like it, they can turn me off."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 7, 1994 Home Edition Southeast Part J Page 2 Zones Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
'Bob's World'--A photo caption accompanying a story about public-access television in the March 31 edition of The Times incorrectly identified the host of "Bob's World," a public-access show in Long Beach. The host of "Bob's World" is Bob Bush.

Almost anything goes on the air. Views from the far left, the far right. Fundamentalist Christians, atheists, meditators, amateur music video makers--all get their shot. Along with the free or low-cost training, most area residents get free use of late-model video production equipment, limited professional assistance and, most important, free air time.

The result is a cornucopia of small-budget or no-budget shows. Air time also is available to local government, which has gotten into the act by televising city council and planning commission hearings.

Residents are not allowed to pitch products, but otherwise, "as long as it's not lewd or obscene and people are willing to produce it, they can," said Benjamin Harvey, who oversees video productions for Bellflower. "The cable company doesn't really do a whole lot of censoring."

Nor does the cable company demand sophisticated technique. Many locally produced programs have the look and insight of a home video.

*

The tape kept rolling on one show after a magician skewered his hand with scissors. The wound bled during the rest of his routine. The producers of a story-telling program for children made the mistake of using young readers who could barely read. A "how-to" art demonstration became a "how-not-to" exercise when a portrait of a show's host looked nothing like the real thing. The host of a medical show got so enthused while talking about heart disease that he forgot to let his guest speak.

The set for the typical public-access talk show is simple--a few chairs, a table or two and a few hand props. The backdrop for many Long Beach talk shows is blue because the engineer doesn't have the equipment to light the set in any other color. The same four artificial plants get rearranged in different patterns from show to show.

The talk shows rarely have a problem booking guests, who range from musicians trying to record their first album to local residents who have lived lives worth talking about. Long Beach studio technicians recall one talk show that would bring on a political activist who always appeared with a clear plastic briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. They don't remember the point the man was trying to make. Then there was the theorist who warned that the sitcom "Get Smart" and the movie "Star Wars" were elements of a conspiracy to control viewers' minds.

For guest and host alike, the shows are often a bully pulpit for ideas, fantasies or feelings that usually get little attention, let alone a spotlight.

Sundays on Long Beach cable channel 33, you can see "Cambodia Today," which informs the large Long Beach Cambodian community about events back home. On Mondays, you can catch the latest in senior citizen talent on "Bob's World." Thursdays offer "Flights into the Unknown," which makes the case for healing with voodoo, using magic wands and reading Tarot cards. Friday is the day for "Women's Sports Info," which features video clips of local women's sporting events.

*

In Pico Rivera, tune in to the crowning of the town's beauty queen. In Lynwood, witness the anti-gang crusade of a mother who lost two sons in drive-by shootings. In Artesia, catch up with the latest news from the Azores--in Portuguese. In Hawaiian Gardens, relive a moment of civic pride by watching a replay of the appearance of Councilwoman Kathleen Navejas on the network talk show, "Donohue." In Lakewood, see a local video version of Disney's animated feature, "Beauty and the Beast."

Most cable companies offer public access as part of their negotiated agreement with a city for the right to operate the local cable franchise. In most Southeast-area cities, public access was first offered in the early to mid-1980s.

The quality of the equipment and professional assistance varies from city to city. In some places, the service has never taken off. Montebello, for instance, has only one regular local show, a religious program.

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