WJZ will remain on cable here, but not in Cambridge

October 06, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

WJZ (Channel 13) made a flurry of 11th-hour deals last night to guarantee that it would stay on all Baltimore-area cable systems for at least 60 days.

But subscribers in Cambridge will find that Maryland's most popular TV station and all its ABC programs are missing in action today when they turn on their cable TV.

And there's more bad news for cable subscribers in Cambridge: WMAR (Channel 2) and all its NBC programs are going to be missing as well. Marcus Cable in Cambridge said it would pull the plug on WJZ and WMAR as of 12:01 this morning, immediately after the midnight deadline mandated by the Cable TV Act of 1992.

The law says cable systems may not carry local stations without their permission. With the extensions, cable systems can carry the stations while negotiations continue.

WJZ General Manager Marcellus Alexander tried last night to minimize the problem in Cambridge.

"It's good news -- we made the Baltimore deals," he said.

"We have a deal with Comcast and an agreement in principle with TCI. . . . The bottom line, we will still be on those systems for our Baltimore-area viewers Wednesday morning."

Denver-based Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), the nation's largest cable company, owns United Artists Cable in Baltimore City, with 110,000 subscribers. Comcast owns systems in Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties, with 255,000 subscribers.

WJZ kept itself on several smaller systems by granting last-minute extensions of 60 days yesterday. Those include Mid-Atlantic Cable in Howard, Clearview CATV in Harford and Frederick Cablevision in Frederick and Carroll. The station also has granted extensions to Prestige Cablevision in Carroll County and Jones Intercable and North Arundel Cable TV in Anne Arundel County.

The station also had granted a 60-day extension to Marcus Cable in Cambridge (Dorchester County), but the cable company rejected the extension, saying it wanted nothing less than a one-year extension.

"WJZ offered us 60 days and WMAR offered us 90 days, and we rejected both," said Lou Borrelli, a senior vice president for Marcus, from corporate headquarters in Dallas last night. "WJZ and WMAR will not be on the cable system in Cambridge Wednesday. We're not sure at this point what we'll run in their place. It's unfortunate, but that's the situation."

Mr. Borrelli said the system in Cambridge has about 5,000 subscribers. He said that of the 80 network affiliates Marcus was dealing with nationally, WJZ and WMAR were among six that would not be on their systems today.

"We managed to reach agreements with the majority," he said, "and unfortunately WJZ and WMAR were not among them."

Meanwhile, WJZ immediately took its fight with Marcus to the air waves.

Last night during prime time and the late news, the station ran messages across the bottom of TV screens telling viewers of the decision by Marcus and urging Cambridge cable subscribers to call the company and demand that it keep WJZ on the system.

"We'll start with that and see how they handle the calls," Mr. Alexander said. "I suspect that after they get the calls, maybe they'll want to reopen negotiations. We think our offer was fair. To get rejected after you offer an extension is kind of unusual."

WMAR management could not be reached for comment last night.

Cable subscribers in Cambridge who wish to watch such shows as ABC's "Home Improvement" or NBC's "Law and Order" will have to switch to over-the-air reception to do so, which will probably mean installing an antenna and A/B switch on their cable box.

In Baltimore, the other network-affiliate stations, WMAR (Channel 2), WBAL (Channel 11) and WBFF (Channel 45), already made deals to remain on area cable systems for at least the next 60 days.

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