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How 'The West' Is Being Marketed

July 19, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of PBS' most anticipated fall programs is "The West," an eight-part documentary from executive producer Ken Burns ("The Civil War," "Baseball") and director Stephen Ives.

But if you can't wait until the PBS premiere on Sept. 15, Time-Life Video & Television is offering "The West" on video now through phone and mail-orders.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, "The West" chronicles the westward expansion of the 19th century. By using diaries, letters and autobiographical accounts, the 12 1/2-hour series traces the history of the move west through the lives of explorers, soldiers, American Indian warriors, settlers, railroad builders and showmen.

Peter Downey, senior vice president of program business affairs for PBS, says having "The West" available on video two months before the airdate actually raises public awareness for the show. "We think of it as not competitive, but constructive in terms of promotion or general awareness of the program," he says.

Six years ago, Time-Life offered "The Civil War" prior to its premiere on PBS. The telecast still generated record ratings for the noncommercial network.

In the case of that enormously popular, Emmy Award-winning series, "we mailed [information] directly to people in our database who are Civil War fans," says Betsy Bruce, president of Time-Life Video & Television. "We sent about a million direct-mail pieces to those people prior to airing and the typical response was about 2%. We continued to sell it throughout the airing and we still sell 'The Civil War' today."

Though Bruce won't divulge figures, she says that "The Civil War" is "one of the best-selling, if not the best-selling history video series we have ever sold."

Time-Life is making a bigger push with "The West" by giving the general public the opportunity to purchase the series before the premiere.

"When we were selling 'The Civil War,' Ken Burns was not a household name," Bruce says. "Now, based on Ken's excellent reputation, we can go out and leverage his reputation."

Adds Bruce: "The way we market video, we use a continuity plan, so you get one tape a month. So they will not have purchased the entire series by the time it airs on PBS."

Time-Life also has a financial stake in "The West."

"Based on how much we enjoyed 'The Civil War' and the quality of the production, we jumped into 'The West' early on," Bruce says. "We will do it more often with PBS because we have gotten over the age-old concern that if they can buy it beforehand, they won't watch the series. Clearly, that did not provide true in the case of 'The Civil War.' "

And in fact, on Aug. 1, Time-Life will be offering a new two-hour PBS documentary on Edward VIII, "Edward on Edward," six days before it airs on TV.

To order "The West," call (800) TIMEVID. The first tape is $10; subsequent tapes are $20. The box set is $150.

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From TV: This Tuesday, Paramount Home Video releases "Star Trek: The Captains Collection" ($65), which puts the four "Star Trek" series captains together for the first time in a video set.

Also available Tuesday is "Cracker: To Be a Somebody" (A&Em $20), a gritty episode from the award-winning British crime series that airs on A&E. The splendid Robbie Coltrane stars as the dysfunctional police psychologist Fitz. To order call (800) 423-1212.

Less satisfying is "Root Into Europe" (Acorn Media, $20 each; $90 for the set), a so-so five-volume British comedy series chronicling the European misadventures of a retired conservative wet fish merchant (George Cole) and his long-suffering wife (Pat Heywood). To order call (800) 999-0212.

Coming Next Week: Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a struggling drug-addicted singer in the drama "Georgia" (Miramax). Mare Winningham received a supporting actress Oscar nomination as her sister, a successful singer.

Al Pacino and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio star in the coming-of-age story "Two Bits" (Miramax).

Home Vision is releasing a letterbox edition of Luis Bunuel's classic "Tristana" ($30).

Ray Liotta and Linda Fiorentino star in John Dahl's mystery thriller "Unforgettable" (MGM/UA).

Facets Video presents "Heimat," Edgar Reitz's 16-hour chronicle of Germany from 1919 to 1982.

Richard E. Grant and Samantha Mathis star in the comedy-drama "Jack and Sarah" (Polygram).

John Frankenheimer directed the TNT Civil War drama "Andersonville" (Turner, $50). . . . Also new: "How the West Was Fun" (Warner, $15); "Tales of Erotica" (Vidmark); "America's Dream" (HBO); "Screamers" (Columbia TriStar); and "City of Lost Children" (Columbia TriStar).

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