Stations misfire with pre-emptions



* Talk show hosts should not go on the air without eating. Hunger can be the only explanation for a cute slip on "Donahue" yesterday.

Introducing a panel of female television stars, including Dixie Carter of CBS' "Designing Women," host Phil Donahue said twice that the actress plays the character of Julia Sugarburger on the show. The character's real name, of course, is Sugarbaker, and Donahue corrected himself upon the second mention.

* To pre-empt or not to pre-empt? That is a programmer's dilemma. Two local stations found themselves re-thinking the question this week after viewer objections to decisions to replace network fare last weekend.

WBAL-Channel 11, for example, has petitioned CBS for permission to air last week's edition of "Dallas" at 8 tonight. Fans found last week's prime-time CBS lineup replaced on Channel 11 with the movie "The Cotton Club."

"We do that from time to time. It's kind of a difficult decision to win," says broadcast operations manager Emerson Coleman of the pre-emption. He noted the station wanted to air the quality movie and added "Dallas" ratings "really aren't that great" in this its final season.

Initially the station had not planned to air the pre-empted show but decided this week to seek permission to show it tonight (instead of the network's "Guns of Paradise") so as not to disrupt the serial story line. Coleman said CBS often does not respond to such requests "until the last minute."

WJZ-Channel 13 found itself in a somewhat similar position over Saturday's pre-emption of "ABC's Wide World of Sports," in favor of the movie "Airplane." Many fans of figure skating complained when they did not find the scheduled ladies competition from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"The station apologizes for a mis-judgment. We underestimated the degree of interest" in the skating show, said a station spokesman this week. Viewers should note that tomorrow's "Wide World of Sports" (at 4:30 p.m.) is also scheduled to feature figure skating, a series of exhibitions from Spain.

* What is the fascination of sharks? For a couple of years now cable's The Discovery Channel has promoted a "Shark Week" package of shows. Now the TBS basic service is doing the same.

Three films on shark research are featured in the next edition of "National Geographic Explorer," seen at 9 p.m. Sunday. And the rTC middle segment, "Sharks of the Deep," features University of Maryland shark authority Eugenie Clark taking a deep submersible vehicle down to the sea floor off Bermuda to film the huge six-gill shark species.

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