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Cable network balances the M and TV


Lip-synching celebrities are nothing new to MTV. Now, regular people can win prizes for their mouthing abilities.

Starting this weekend, viewers can see themselves on MTV when the talent show "Lip Service" premieres at 5 p.m. EST today. The segment repeats at 9:30 p.m. ET Saturdays and at noon EST and 6 p.m. EST Sundays.

The show is yet another series addition to the music network, which introduced the half-hour teen newsmagazine "Like We Care" earlier this month.

Whether viewers want these additional shows -- added to an already crowded program schedule -- is still in question. Doug Herzog, senior vice president of programming, noted that many viewers love the programming while others complain, via letters, that they are getting too much TV and not enough M.

"Music videos are the hamburger; programming is just the french fries," Mr. Herzog said. "Music videos are the mainstay of MTV, always will be."

Mr. Herzog noted that the two new shows are merely replacing departing ones, "Just Say Julie" and the game show "Remote Control."

MTV also offers "Liquid Television," a weekly animation hour; "House of Style," model Cindy Crawford's fashion vehicle; comedy hours; and a variety of other non-musical offerings.

On top of that, there are the music-oriented programs "Unplugged," "Club MTV," "Street Party," "The Week in Rock," the black-music feature "Fade to Black," daily "rockumentaries" and specials such as the making of the latest Michael Jackson video.

When the cable channel made its debut in 1981, it was exclusively devoted to music videos and concert clips announced by video jockeys. Even today, Mr. Herzog maintains that 95 percent of air time is devoted to music. According to video programmer Matt Farber, more than 200 videos are shown in each 24-hour period.

A person who watched 24 solid hours of MTV would find that 75 percent of the network's air time is actually reserved for music videos, he said.

During one studied 24-hour weekday period in February, 180 videos were shown -- 99 of them different, meaning a substantial number were repeats.

Mr. Herzog said that additional programming is one way to make sure MTV will stand apart from other cable services such as Video Jukebox and shows like "Friday Night Videos," "JBTV," "Videosyncrasy" and "Night Tracks."

"Anyone can show 24 hours of music videos," Mr. Herzog said. "MTV has the credibility, the creativity and the people to do more."

Even with the clout of MTV behind it, additional programming doesn't always mean a ratings success for the network. Less memorable moments include:

* The 1988 MTV talk show "Mouth to Mouth" hosted by Steve Skrovan. The show was basically another place for celebs to pitch products and, shortly after, Mr. Skrovan was part of MTV history.

* An earlier version of the teen magazine idea from spring of 1990, called "Buzz," designed as a way for MTV to fight its reputation as a network that only fed teen-agers music videos filled with sex and violence, according to creator Mark Pellington. Whether the show died because of its frenzied format or because it didn't appeal to a sex-and-violence-crazed viewership wasn't revealed.

And there are confirmed successes:

* "Club MTV," which consists of kissy-face host Downtown Julie Brown and a studio audience of scantily clad kids writhing to the latest dance hits. The show has spun itself off into record clubs and concert tours and made Ms. Brown a star.

* "Unplugged," which features the likes of R.E.M. or Paul McCartney performing their hits as acoustic numbers. "Unplugged" performances have been repackaged for radio and home video, and the show is the network's most critically acclaimed offering.

Both programs have the type of success MTV producers would love to duplicate with its new shows.

"Lip Service" will feature two teams competing in three areas of lip-synching -- including one where the audience will see one minute of a popular video but will hear the contestant singing the song.

"Like We Care" airs Mondays to Fridays at 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. EST, and alternates such heady topics as condom usage with fluff such as features on the stars of "Beverly Hills, 90210."

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