Will Council Pan SCAN?

Comcast deal would fund new arts show on Seattle Channel, but force layoffs at Community Access Network.

Should Seattle accept $5 million from Comcast for an arts show called Art Zone on the Seattle Channel? The show would run for 10 years, from 8 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday, with four nightly 15-second PBS-style underwriting credit sequences for Comcast. The deal is part of a proposed new city of Seattle cable-TV franchise agreement.

The hitch: Seattle Channel's tinier rival Seattle Community Access Network (SCAN public access Channel 77) will lose $162,000 a year, forcing layoffs and higher charges for citizens to get their dream shows on TV, and SCAN was cut out of the decision loop. SCAN's Ann Suter says this is "a little bit galling," but she's glad about the $500,000 SCAN will get, and the city's donation of its building, which Suter says Comcast values at $750,000. There's a public hearing on the proposal at Seattle Center's Shaw Room at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30.

The show would be helmed by longtime TV arts czar Gary Gibson (who was one of my producers on KCTS in the '80s). "We propose to do long-form lectures (Joan Didion, E.L. Doctorow); concerts with local orchestras and bands; local music videos and indie films; interviews with artists, musicians, and dancers, and lots of shorts and features; a weekly show with critics and bloggers talking about what's hot on local stages," says Gibson. "There is no local arts programming on commercial TV and really hasn't been since the days of Greg Palmer and Lucy Mohl." Though there is some local programming, like Palmer's KCTS film of Jonathan Raban's Inside Passage, it's no longer regular fare. Gibson says KCTS and KBTC are "missing in action when it comes to local."

SCAN is all local, all the time. It's more open to new faces than Seattle Channel, but its talent is seldom ready for prime time. Some grumble that the city should've cut a better Comcast deal for SCAN, which, not being mayor-controlled like Seattle Channel, sometimes features critics of the city. "Valid points, worthy of pursuing and discussing at the council level," says City Council member Nick Licata. "It's apples and oranges," says Gibson. "Even if the council turns down the $5 million to fund Art Zone, it cannot and will not go to fund SCAN."


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