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Check Out These Picks For An A La Carte Cable-TV World

Tue., July 9, 1996

You’re a dues-paying member of the cable generation. You get 30 channels, 50 channels, 80 channels, and more are coming all the time.

There’s just one wrinkle: According to A.C. Nielsen’s latest survey on this matter, the average U.S. home gets 41.1 channels but watches only 10.4 of them for more than 10 minutes a week! This raises an interesting question: What if, instead of buying a big wad of channels, most of which are unviewed, you could pick and choose each channel that’s pumped down the cable into your home?

The truth is, a la carte channel purchasing is a rotten idea, mainly because it would favor the most popular channels and choke off less popular but unique and important ones. That said, here’s what my a la carte lineup would look like, bumped up from the average 10 channels to a baker’s dozen:

All four networks and PBS. PBS does what channels like Discovery, History and A&E; do, only better. And Fox has “The Simpsons” and “X-Files.”

CNN. Actually, Headline News is a more useful service, and it has the added advantage of not ramming the astoundingly dumb “Talk Back Live” down your throat. But a news junkie needs to know he can get his fix when news breaks. That’s CNN’s business.

HBO. Pay channels already are a la carte items, but they still count. I put HBO in my top-dozen not so much for its theatrical movies as for its original films.

MTV. “Beavis and Butt-head,” the most creative on-air promos in television, the often hilarious “Real World” and enough music/culture programming to make me think I’m in touch with American youth.

C-SPAN. It is often the only source for coverage of important government hearings, commentary-free campaign coverage and other political and media-related events.

Court TV. American justice in the flesh, warts and all. No sensationalism, no hype and no shortage of admirable public service.

Comedy Central. Yeah, there’s too much stand-up comedy, but there’s also “Politically Incorrect” (until January, when it’s scheduled to jump to ABC), “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” “Dr. Katz” and a surprisingly good selection of comedy movies.

The Weather Channel. No question. Local forecasts, color radar, travel conditions, severe-storms coverage and absolutely the best commercials for all sorts of disaster videos.

Independent Film Channel. Nobody works harder for less money in the arts than the people who make independent films - both fiction and nonfiction - and this fairly new channel offers a place to display their creations. So far, alas, not many cable systems offer it.

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