COMPULSIVE channel surfers are occasionally rewarded by...


September 04, 1993

COMPULSIVE channel surfers are occasionally rewarded by unexpected entertainment in their endless quest to thumb their remote control through the entire span of cable TV offerings at least once every 15 minutes.

The restless spirit that once conquered the American West is now redirected toward finding the latest kitchen-gadget "infomercial" and the newest version of the psychics' telephone hot line. Avoiding any episode of "Star Trek", old or new series, is a constant challenge.

One of these occasionally rewarding strikes has been an amusing program on E! Entertainment cable that is so much a parody of television entertainment that it has now achieved pop-cult status.

The name is "Talk Soup," snippets from 22 hours of daily TV talk shows, both network and independent. The down-putting comments and rehearsed double-takes of host Greg Kinnear make it clear he wants nothing to do with this talk trash -- except to earn a buck from it like the practitioners of the art from which he cooks his soup.

This is no "best of" talk shows anthology; that would be an oxymoron. It is the most bizarre and most titillating of topics, the most outrageous guests. "Talk Soup" boils and skims to produce a half-hour at night for those who missed the full performances, serving it up with appropriate skepticism and sarcasm, but also with pure enjoyment.

"Talk Soup" is attracting viewers who have no interest in sitting through a full hour with Geraldo or Jenny or Phil. It's the putdown of the offbeat that draw them -- true counter-audience programming.

But the talk shows are more than willing for the publicity, even with the snide remarks. Only Oprah Winfrey, who's the highest-paid talk show host, doesn't give permission for rebroadcast on "Talk Soup."

By condensing its product every day, the program threatens to run out of topics and different guests even faster than the originals. That could mean the end of a wacky show thriving on viewers who don't take their TV too seriously, and don't have more than a few minutes to spend on each program. Mr. Kinnear, a Pat Sajak-Bob Costas type, already says he's ready for better things -- and that definitely doesn't mean a talk show.

* * *

DEAN JUNIOR COLLEGE, in Franklin, Mass., just outside of Boston, is offering credit courses on commuter trains.

The ride from Franklin to Boston allows professors to conduct a ** 45-minute class.

Both Dean and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority think they can lure more customers with this academic schooling on board these trains.

"Principles of Management" is the current course offering; classes next year are planned in economics, marketing and public speaking.

It's an education that can really take you somewhere.

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