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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Who Wants to Be Among Millions Without ABC TV?

May 03, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

I spent my Tuesday morning checking out Tuesday night's TV listings for ABC, just so I could find out exactly what Time Warner might make me miss.

At 9 o'clock, on "Dharma and Greg," according to a synopsis in the paper, "Edward tires of Kitty's domineering ways."

That's something I definitely didn't want to miss, if only to learn who this Edward and Kitty were and what they had to do with Dharma and Greg. I have never seen this ABC show, you see, so for all I know, Edward is a mouse and Kitty is a cat.

At 9:30, "Drew reluctantly hires Kate as his assistant" on this week's episode of Drew Carey's show.

Sounds like must-see TV to me. I haven't seen Drew since I interviewed him a couple years ago at Barney's Beanery, where he smoked in a nonsmoking section so he could protest nonsmoking sections. Drew's a funny guy. I really should watch his show more--at least whenever ABC's not blacked out.

At 10 p.m., on "NYPD Blue," indictments of police officers--no, sorry, that's LAPD--let's see, here it is: "A panic-stricken woman tries to convince Kirkendall and Russell that her twin sister has become the victim of foul play."

Dramatic stuff. I particularly appreciate the TV page making it clear that this woman's "twin" was her "sister." Because I don't particularly care for ABC programs about twins who aren't brother or sister. There hasn't been a single good one since Patty Duke's ABC show about identical cousins.

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Hundreds of thousands of TV viewers in the Los Angeles area were totally ticked off Monday night, because somebody took away their ABCs.

I don't blame them one bit. It would have really steamed me too, had Time Warner pulled the plug on any more of ABC's outstanding programs.

Luckily for all of us, a truce was called Tuesday between a couple of bickering media conglomerates, meaning that the American Broadcasting Co. could be welcomed back into our hearts and homes.

A day earlier, 3 1/2 million households in America had their ABC channels go blank, thanks to--sorry, I mean "due to"--technical difficulties beyond their control. Namely, a snit involving Time Warner's cable systems and the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC.

The rhubarb appeared to concern which of Disney's sister channels would be a part of Time Warner's cable package. When Time Warner got angry, it made ABC disappear from TV screens like a Clapper turning off a lamp.

For some, this was going too far.

It meant that they were unable to see Monday night's installment of the quiz craze "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"--a show that seems to hypnotize viewers, as if Regis Philbin were dangling a gold watch in front of their eyes.

(I can be of some help here, in case your household was one of the 625,000 in the Greater L.A. area that got blacked out. In a special celebrity edition of "Millionaire," you missed contestant Kathie Lee Gifford missing a question in which the correct answer was Django Reinhardt, a gifted French guitarist of the early 20th century, whereupon Ms. Gifford yelped: "WHO?")

It also meant ABC viewers missed Part II of a two-part tale about the "Arabian Nights." But don't worry, there are thousands more where that came from.

A caption came across my home TV screen late Sunday night, like a tornado warning. It advised me that Time Warner valued its customers, but was hung up in a little business hassle--I'm paraphrasing here--and, as a result, it might have to make some of Monday's shows on ABC go DOA.

I didn't call to complain, partly because to the best of my knowledge, I am not a Time Warner subscriber. All I know about cable TV is that I used to watch Channels 2, 4 and 7, and now I watch Channels 48, 163 and 501.

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The big ABC blackout caused the Time Warner switchboards to be flooded with angry calls. ("Literally flooded," one competing network's newscaster noted, which made me wonder how they mopped up all that water.)

Customers were affected coast to coast, from Palm Springs to Raleigh-Durham. You can take away Americans' laws, liberties, possessions, even the milk right out of their babies' mouths, but keep your fingers off their Philbin.

The public revolted. Raleigh was mad. Durham was madder. I could see picket lines forming in the distance: "Free ABC!"

Time Warner made a huge mistake, blacking out ABC that way. NBC, yes. NBC's quiz shows, nobody would miss.

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Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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