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STOP-SMOKING PROGRAM MAKES NBA FANS FUME

FLORENCE HENDERSON and E.G. Marshall ended up benching Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas last Sunday.

Any National Basketball Association player can appreciate the reason -- money.

The paid programming monster is more out of control locally than NBA salaries.

Almost everywhere you turn, Henderson and Marshall are telling people how to quit smoking. No one is happier than me to see people try to end their smelly addiction. But pro basketball fans understandably were fuming last Sunday about a programming development that stinks.

When Channel 4, which has been a classy operator for decades, starts pre-empting NBA games on the order of last week's championship rematch between Detroit and the Los Angeles Lakers for paid programming, then local TV is in very sorry shape.

The problem is Channel 4 is now owned by King World, a successful TV syndication outfit that earned record company profits last year.

However, its purchase of Channel 4 was a leveraged buyout, which means that it has a huge debt load. It requires several millions in profits just to pay the interest payments on its loans.

That's why it jumps for the $2,000 to $10,000 an hour the paid programmers are seducing them with.

Channel 4, which had been very faithful to CBS' NBA and NCAA schedule, is pre-empting five college basketball games over the next several weeks, including today's game between Arizona and Pittsburgh.

It also will be pre-empting a March 18 NCAA tournament game for its St. Patrick Day's Parade coverage, which has become an annual event. That is excusable.

But it also is planning on pre-empting the Pistons-Knicks game Feb. 25 in favor of paid programming. Those are two of the league's best teams.

Hopefully, the local cable systems will find room for these pre-empted games. But not all are equipped to do so, and not all fans have or can afford cable.

Next year, the NBA switches over to NBC, but that might not help things.

Channel 2 is now owned by Tak Communications, which has a big debt load and also is looking to make some easy money with paid programming.

The larger question concerns whether the heavy debt loads will affect future station services and programming.

Today it is the NBA. Tomorrow will it be prime time?

Super Mario didn't bring super ratings for the National Hockey League All-Star Game. Despite the four goals scored by Pittsburgh star Mario Lemieux in a wide-open affair, the game received only a 3.6 rating and 9 percent share of the viewing audience. The first game of the NBA double-header (not shown by Channel 4) on CBS had a 6.2 rating and 17 share and the second game had a 7.1 rating and 17 share.

To put it in further perspective, the 3.6 rating is only one point above what NBC averages with its regular-season college basketball package and only about three-10ths of a point higher than CBS' average for its regular-season college basketball package.

Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy was one of the National Football League coaches miked on the sidelines for the syndicated show, "The Road to the Super Bowl" (7 tonight, Ch. 7).

It is obvious, however, that Levy was miked last year and not this season. After Levy is shown telling Bills fullback Jamie Mueller to protect the ball, the camera focuses on Bills assistant coach Jim Ringo on the sidelines. Ringo, of course, left the Bills' staff after last season.

The most interesting footage for a Bills fan finds Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche telling his players that they lost a field goal before halftime to a bad call during the Bengals' loss to the Bills here this season.

"We think they are dead wrong, but we're not going to have a chance to argue that in court," an emotional Wyche tells his players.

He was right. The NFL ruled later the officials should have allowed the Bengals another field-goal try.

The most amusing coach miked is former Houston (and now Atlanta) coach Jerry Glanville, who has a lot of fun at the expense of an official who just left the college game.

If Glanville ever leaves coaching, he might consider becoming a stand-up comic.

Always a good television draw, the Bills appeared to break audience records this November.

According to Arbitron, the Bills' four games in November averaged a 55.5 rating on Channel 2 in metro Buffalo. That means that 55.5 percent of all the TV households in the city were tuned in to the Bills games.

The four games averaged a 50.5 rating in all of Western New York. In seasons past, the Bills have averaged ratings in high-30s to the mid-40s. Super Bowls generally average about a 45 national rating.

The Arbitron ratings prove this is a football town.

The Bills' games were the highest rated programs of the month in Western New York.

Channel 2's post-game show, "Goal to Go," finished in a tie for eighth with "The Cosby Show" and "Monday Night Football" with a 24 rating. That is much higher than MNF's national average.

And the ABC comedy about a football coach, "Coach," even finished in a tie for sixth with a 25 rating.

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