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Alternatives a Window of Opportunity

Television: The smaller networks and cable stations hope to cash in on viewers disinterested in election returns by airing special programming.


Television will serve up plenty of alternatives Tuesday for those apathetic about watching the wheels of democracy turning.

Election night, in fact, is seen as a window of opportunity for new networks and cable channels that normally struggle to attract viewers opposite regular series on the established networks, which will preempt their lineups to monitor the vote count.

The night takes on additional significance because it comes during the November ratings sweeps, which stations use to determine local advertising rates. That's most costly to ABC, since election coverage preempts high-rated Tuesday programs such as "NYPD Blue" and "Home Improvement."

Perceived disinterest regarding this year's returns could be a boon, meanwhile, to the UPN network, which will offer special episodes of its Tuesday comedies under the umbrella title "Politicked Off." The night will feature a two-part episode of UPN's "Moesha" at 8 and 9 p.m., with interstitial sketches featuring UPN stars spoofing popular network shows that won't be on, including "Homey Improvement," "BROSanne" and "Frazier" (former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier will appear).

UPN doesn't feel any remorse about encouraging viewers not to watch the news. "With all these [all-news] channels available and the main networks, viewers are served," said UPN Entertainment President Michael Sullivan. "This gives us a chance to get our programming sampled. Tuesday is a very, very tough night, so any chance to get any competitive advantage is what we're in business to do."

Beyond that, movies will rule the night, most scheduled to draw audience segments that aren't apt to be glued to the set by updates on congressional races. Fox, for example, will air "Beethoven," which has strong appeal among kids and younger viewers.

KTLA-TV Channel 5 (part of the WB network, which doesn't program Tuesdays) will pursue young men with the Steven Seagal movie "Marked for Death." Cable networks HBO, USA and Lifetime all offer original movies: respectively, "Mistrial," starring Bill Pullman; "The Morrison Murders," a fact-based story featuring John Corbett; and "Color Me Perfect," with Michele Lee.

Picking up where it left off during the political conventions, "Politically Incorrect" weighs in with its own slightly bent take on election results. American Movie Classics repeats the special "D.C. Follies"--looking at politics in the movies--while A&E repeats a "Biography" on Abraham Lincoln.

KCAL-TV Channel 9, however, may literally have the biggest alternative to election coverage by televising its first regular-season Lakers road game, featuring Shaquille O'Neal's coming-out party against the New York Knicks. The game airs at 5 p.m., when polls close in the East, and the station will air its prime-time news coverage later in the evening.

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