fX works to dust off makings of a dynasty for Murdoch and Fox

June 01, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Reruns of "Fantasy Island" and "Wonder Woman," a pet show with a dog named Jack as co-host, and a morning show featuring lots of coffee and chat.

This is the brave, new future of cable TV?

Well, part of it, if you believe what Rupert Murdoch and Fox say about their new cable channel, fX, which arrives today. With 18 million viewer households, it's the largest launch ever for a basic cable channel.

Fox calls it a "fresh, new approach to television." But there's not much evidence of that in the preview material Fox made available.

The channel will sign on each morning at 6 with "The Pet Department," which Fox describes as "a show designed for pet lovers everywhere, hosted by with Steve Walker and his dog, Jack."

Walker's name probably doesn't ring any bells unless you've lived in Sioux City, Omaha or Seattle -- the local news operations where he's worked since graduating from Iowa State University in 1984. Walker's most recent post was as "the animal guy" at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Fox doesn't say what Jack's been up to in recent years -- though it seems safe to assume he was "the animal guy's animal" at KOMO-TV.

"The Pet Department" will also air daily at 2:30 p.m.

The featured show each morning on fX is "Breakfast Time." Fox calls it a "mix of news, weather, exercise, health tips and guests." The set is a New York apartment. The regulars are: Tom Bergeron, from WBZ-TV in Boston; Laurie Hibbard, from WSVN-TV in Miami; Gwen McGee, an actress, and Patricia Moreno, "a champion aerobics competitor," according to Fox.

"Breakfast Time" will be followed by reruns of "Dynasty," "Hart to Hart" and "Fantasy Island."

There are more reruns in the afternoon and early evening: "Eight is Enough," "Family Affair" "The Greatest American Hero," "Wonder Woman," "Batman," "Mission: Impossible" and more "Hart to Hart."

Jane Wallace, formerly of CBS and CNBC, provides the live prime-time programming with a half-hour talk show each night at 8 called "Under Scrutiny With Jane Wallace."

Other daily fX programs will include a drama series from Australia, "Home&Away," a music video show called "Sound fX" and a live show about collecting, "Personal fX: The Collectibles Show."

Fox is stressing the "interactive nature" of the channel.

But, initially, that won't involve much more than the opportunity for viewers to call in or send faxes to the shows while they are being cablecast live.

And, while Fox stresses the future, the key to understanding fX is in the past -- specifically, the Cable TV Act of 1992 and the portion of it that came to be known as retransmission consent.

In the act, Congress gave broadcasters the right to charge cable operators for carrying local and network programs. But many cable operators refused to pay and told the networks to keep their shows if they wanted money for them.

Murdoch worked out a compromise with some cable operators: He'd let them carry Fox shows if, in return, they'd give Fox a cable channel to own and operate. The fX channel is the result of that deal.

TCI, one of the largest operators in the country, is putting fX on all its systems, which is why it will be on United Artists in Baltimore City starting today.

Other systems carrying fX are: TCI Cablevision on the Eastern Shore, Multivision in Prince George's County, Metrovision in Prince George's County, Frederick Cablevision and Cable TV Montgomery.

Comcast has "no immediate plans to carry it," according to spokesman David Nevins, which means that fX initially will not be on the state's largest systems -- in Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties.

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