By James Geluso
In a cramped room in a small house, seven teens prepared for their first experience in making a TV show. Two were behind the camera, getting instructions from the producer – the only person getting paid – in the next room. One was the host, four were contestants in the only teen game show in Lewis County. The show is “Hook Up,” the latest in several shows recently added to the lineup at CCTV, Lewis County’s public access station.
Other new shows include the Christian music program “New Beginnings with Sally” and a monthly half-hour from the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad Association. The shows may be short lived, though.
CCTV’s financial support from the city of Centralia will end May 18, 90 days after the city decided to end the contract because CCTV refused to sign a new pact cutting the the budget by 60 percent. The channel’s board wants to continue producing shows after that, but the equipment and studio – a small house on Floral Street, next to the railroad track – is owned by the city. City Manager Tom Reber declined to say whether the shows will go on. Public access might take new form in September if Hollywood producer C. Tad Devlin of Chehalis can line up funding for his vision of channel 3. But current CCTV producers fear their voices will be stifled under Devlin’s plans.
“Hook Up” is the brain child of Kelly Willis, a Centralia High School student who was looking for something for teens to do. When she had the idea, she called the station. “I didn’t think they’d let me do it because I’m only 15,” she said. But Thursday, she was there, in front of the camera. She had hoped to just work behind the scenes, but when some of the contestants backed out at the last minute, she had to fill in so the show could go on. The show featured Ruben Garcia, a Winlock High School student, asking questions of the three girls behind the barricade. At the end he picked Taleia Mash as his favorite, and the two would have dinner at Casa Ramos, one of the shows sponsors. The program, which premiered Friday, will re-air it’s first episode Sunday at 7 p.m. Wills said she hopes she can recruit contestants for a second episode. He version of an ideal show includes having two segments, with both boys and girls asking the questions, and a musical interlude provided by a local band. And she said she she’ll be sure to be more prepared next time, now that she knows all about the process.
Although the station is best-known for shows in the “old man talking politics” genre, it features a wide variety of programs. One weekly show from the Lewis County Animal Shelter about animals available for adoption Another features crafts. And Angel Hansen’s “Libertad de Palabra” is the only Spanish-language program on cable in the twin cities. Anyone who wants a show can have it, as long as their willing to put in the effort, said Jan Averill, a CCTV board member. The channel has two part-time employees who operate cameras, edit programs and put tapes in for broadcast – sometimes all at the same time. But the lack of money – the channel received only $30,000a year from the the city under a contract negotiated in July after the city fell $100,000 behind payments stipulated by a 1995 contract – results in an amateurish look on most programs. Neither the city of Chehalis or Lewis County contribute to the station.
Devlin’s proposal aims to professionalize the station and get more educational programing from out of the area, which Devlin says is needed. But CCTV producers fear their shows will be frozen out by Devlin’s policies and rules. Devlin’s draft calls for producers to come up with their own shows and tape them themselves. Lewis County Television, the proposed new entity, would offer post-production assistance, but no TV studio. “Where am I going to tape my show?” asked Karen Halsen, a board member who produces and stars in “Around the Town,” a half-hour show discussing what ever she wants to discuss. “The way he’s going to run it, he’s going to force me off the TV because I don’t have the money.” Devlin said Centralia College could be used to produce programs. But Marge Skold, Dean of Instruction at the college, said there are hurdles to that, including state laws against using college resources for noninstructional purpose. “Our TV studio is a learning laboratory,” she said. But she stressed it’s too early to say what could be done until LCTV is actually formed and discuses the system with the college.
Producers also cite the requirement that a show have three episodes produced before LCTV will even consider it for air time. That will deter people from bringing in new ideas, they say. They also point out federal law doesn’t allow public access stations to decide whether to air a show. Shows have to air anything that doesn’t violate obscenity laws. Devlin said his station will be more than public access. He calls it a PEG station – for public access, education and government. The government component will be more meetings, according to his proposal. Currently, Centralia City Council meetings are aired on CCTV, but the board has been reluctant to try to air others when they’re not contributing to the station, Averill said.
The educational component is also controversial. Devlin wants to use programs from the Anneberg channel, which is transmitted on a satellite and is available free to public access channels. He says says it will be valuable to local residents who can use it for learning, but producers deride it as “canned” programing and doesn’t reflect the local populace. Devlin has criticized the lack of professionalism at CCTV, which raised hackles with the producers and staff. “Ask Grandpa to take out his wallet, and ask him, ‘you would trade a professionally produced landscape for a picture of your grand kids?” said Mark Newey, who produces “The Technology Show” for CCTV. Carroll Hill, former CCTV executive director, said the channel has worked to provide more local programing, but inertia at other local institutions kept ideas from blooming into programs. He said he would have liked news programs hosted be school children, or perhaps school assemblies or projects. But his offers never got a response. Devlin said he isn’t trying to bury existing programs. He said he just wants them to be subject to a board that doesn’t include program producers.
Programs such as S.C. Shantz’s controversial “Nite Beat” still would be allowed, but wouldn’t necessarily have three hours of prime-time programing, he said. “Everyone keeps saying it’s a public access channel. It’s not that,” he said. “It’s a public access, it is educational channel, it is government channel.” People who want shows will have to pitch them to a 12 member board, and will take a class, he said. The board will also decide the air schedule. It will be up to producers to find money for the shows, although LCTV will help with that, he said. Devlin’s proposal calls for the selling of the current CCTV house and equipment to finance the station startup costs. If they decide to allow CCTV to keep using it as a studio, that’s fine with him, although he can’t see why. “Why broadcast from an area that immediately make you sub standard?” he said. “I’m asking for a year to try and do it and see what happens,” he said. If the community wants CCTV instead of LCTV, “then let the community step forward and say they want the channel.”