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Burt I. Harris, 81; Broadcasting Executive, Cable TV Pioneer

August 01, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Burt I. Harris, pioneering cable television executive who tried unsuccessfully to compete with Home Box Office, Showtime and the Movie Channel nearly a quarter century ago, has died. He was 81.

Harris died of cancer Thursday in Los Angeles.

The veteran industry leader well earned his induction into the Cable Television Hall of Fame. He formed Harriscope Broadcasting companies in several cities and headed cable operations, including Cypress Communications in Los Angeles. Nationally, he served as chairman of both the National Cable and Television Assn. and Cable TV Pioneers.

Harris helped shape the ethics of cable television as the new industry developed -- including calling for special key cards for viewers of adult or X-rated films.

In 1972, when subscribers obtained cable television primarily to improve reception -- and long before the Internet offered such services -- Harris predicted in a speech to the Los Angeles Lions Club that cable TV would soon provide home banking, home shopping, local movie theater listings, stocks and the local newspaper.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 04, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Harris obituary -- The obituary of Burt I. Harris in Sunday's California section said KWHY-TV Channel 22 was based in Orange County. At the time Harris was president and general manager, the station was located on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Harris may also be remembered as chairman of Premiere, an ambitious cable channel that fizzled without ever getting on the air.

The strictly pay-for-view movie channel was organized in 1980 by the unusual alliance of the Getty Oil Co., MCA (Universal), Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures. The start-up plan included preventing competing cable movie networks from showing films from the four studios for nine months.

Competitors cried foul and the Justice Department filed suit to block the new network. Forty-eight hours before Premiere was to begin broadcasting, Jan. 2, 1981, a federal judge barred operations, calling it an "unlawful" conspiracy. Premiere was dissolved five months later.

Harris later became president and general manager of Orange County's KWHY-TV Channel 22 and helped make it "the Business Channel" in the late 1980s.

Born in St. Paul, Minn., Harris attended the University of Minnesota and served as an officer during World War II.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Shirley; four children: Janie Hansen, Buzz Harris, Melissa Zatzkis and Natalie Storie; a brother, Robert, and a sister, Helen Sue Ginsberg; and seven grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Hillside Mortuary in West Los Angeles.

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