Coming soon to a television station near you: the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Starting today, with little fanfare and little expectation of overtaking "NYPD Blue" in the ratings, the supervisors will begin broadcasting weekly board meetings for the first time.
The event seemed to be causing little excitement at the Hall of Administration, where the supervisors expressed few pre-curtain jitters and said that, for the most part, business will be conducted as usual.
No one can say with any certainty, but many county officials believe the board is one of the last major deliberative bodies in the state, and possibly the nation, to televise its proceedings.
Proponents say the broadcasts will finally open to full public scrutiny a group that has long been accused of too much secretiveness and behind-closed-door dealings.
"Most people don't know what county government is, and ignorance breeds suspicion and suspicion breeds a lack of support for county operations," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles city councilman who pushed for televised meetings as one of his first acts on the board.
He added: "When the (Los Angeles) City Council went on TV, the public perception of the council on the whole improved. Not that we were loved, but we were understood better. This is a good day for the county."
Actually, it will be a good night for the county. Initially, the Tuesday meetings will be taped and shown at midnight on KLCS, Channel 58, which is operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
But beginning next month the board jumps to a coveted 9:30 p.m. prime time slot.
Officials say the total costs for the broadcasts will not exceed $300,000 annually, paid out of the county's cable television fund.
Although the supervisors shrugged off any concern over the omnipresent cameras, they are likely to heed some do's and don'ts.
Test tapings, for example, have caught supervisors and staff members eating, drinking, taking pills and, ahem, adjusting clothing. The cameras--four of them mounted strategically in the walls--have also picked up a dais cluttered with empty paper cups, half-eaten food, soft drink cans and stacks of papers.
Public Affairs Officer Judy Hammond said she has ordered up a few cosmetic changes, such as exchanging the eye-catching white paper cups with less noticeable mugs and replacing shiny silver microphones with darker-colored ones.
In a memo to sent to the supervisors, Hammond advised that skirt-wearing staffers should be cautious when sitting on the rails behind the supervisors, that solid-colored clothing looks better on TV, and that presentations should be directed not down at the papers from which you are reading but toward the cameras.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who along with Deane Dana opposed televised hearings, said he fears there will be too much playing to the cameras.
"It's a misuse of limited resources that could be better spent," Antonovich said.
"The cameras . . . will distract from the legislative process; there will be more pontification by the board members and the gadflies will take advantage of the TV."
According to most opinions, the supervisors have rarely attracted the kind of fervent public comment period that can juice up even the dullest of meetings at, say, the Los Angeles City Council or Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Some observers speculate that, spurred by television, the board meetings might indeed evolve into more lively affairs.
Frederick MacFarlane, an old hand at City Hall who was former press deputy to Mayor Tom Bradley and now works for Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, said: "It's pretty clear from the example of the city of Los Angeles that some people will see this as an opportunity not only to voice their opinion on matters of the day, but to garner attention for their own particular beliefs--sometimes in a more demonstrable way."