New York Times | By Lisa Belkin
Many American television viewers will have a chance during the next week to sample Soviet programming. The Discovery Channel, a cable network, will offer 66 hours of programs from Moscow.
The programs will begin tomorrow night, as will ABC’s l4½ hour miniseries Amerika, which depicts the United States under Soviet occupation. “The timing of the airing Is not coincidental,” said John S. Hendricks, the cable channel’s chairman and chief executive officer. ”It will air during a time during when Americans’ interest in the Soviet Union is high because of America.”
The Discovery Channel is not available in New York City but is seen in 14 million households nationwide and in about 15 markets in the New York metropolitan area, according to Steven Eldridge, a spokesman for the channel. Manhattan Cable TV has specially arranged to carry the programs on Channel V.
Scholars in the United Slates have been monitoring Soviet television for several years, Mr. Hendricks said, since Orbita Technologies Corporation, a Manhattan company, devised a way to tap into the Soviet television satellite in 1984. Orbita’s equipment has been bringing the programs to some American universities for about six months.
But this is the first time the programs are to be available to the general public, Mr. Hendricks said. Programs of general interest will be presented tomorrow through next Sunday from 11 P.M. to 3 A.M. and Monday through next Sunday from 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. In addition, Soviet news programs will be offered tomorrow through Sunday from 8 to 9 P.M.
The non-news programs will be live and will contain no English subtitles, though the cable channel will periodically provide captions to explain, in general terms, what is happening on screen. The shows will include science and nature programs, domestic travelogues, sports events, classical music concerts, music videos, exercise classes and some game shows
The news programs will be delayed and shown with English subtitles. Jonathan Sanders, the director of a group at Columbia University that monitors Soviet television, will provide commentary before and after the newscasts
Orbita founder Ken Schaffer, the developer of the receiving system, first proposed this project to the Discovery Channel two weeks ago. Mr. Hendricks said he visited New York last Monday to watch the Orbita transmission at Columbia and was struck by film of a Soviet newscaster sitting before a map of the United States on which the name of the states were in Cyrillic letters. “I thought, ‘What is she telling 280 million people about the United States?’ he said. “I was sold on the project then and there.”
There will be no time for commercials during the 66 hours of programming, but Mr. Hendricks hopes that any loss of revenue will be offset by the visibility the programs will receive – visibility that he hopes will result in new subscribers.