New prices: Give a little, take a little

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The TV Repairman:

Those folks over at United Artists Cable of Baltimore really know how to join in this season of giving. City subscribers had to be delirious with joy upon receiving notice that "the monthly fee for Basic Service will decrease from $7.88 to $7.87 (next month) due to a slight savings in programming costs."

Hey, a penny saved is a penny earned, right? The flyer is, the monthly rate for Plus Service (otherwise known as the channels you watch) will be adjusted. Up, of course, by 60 cents to $13.21. Joy to the world.

* CBS sends along the Division 1-AA championship game tomorrow (noon), with potent defending champ Youngstown State (13-0-1) taking on Boise State (13-1). Besides whipping a couple of Division 1-A teams by a combined 50 points, Youngstown shelled 1-AA rivals that finished with 10-1, 9-2, 9-2 and 7-4 records.

It's part of a nice spread of action across the sports landscape: world team gymnastics, two golf events, a Torvill and Dean figure skating special, a Showtime boxing show, and two NFL games joining the usual roundup of college hoops . . . and then there's always shopping.

* Is it really of national and cosmic importance what Jimmy Johnson plans to do next year, go back to coaching in the NFL or continue dispensing opinions on network and cable TV from in front of a fish tank as Fox Network would have us believe? If so, see if the other networks go to a "news break" when Johnson's decision is made sometime Sunday.

* It's being suggested that the hockey season isn't dead yet because Fox's five-year, $155 million deal with the NHL doesn't commence until next month. Supposedly, that's when a settlement will be made. Individual clubs get just $1 million a year under this contract, which is chump change when all that seems to get you these days is a third-line right winger.

* George Foreman, who is on the tube more than the network news anchors, is hosting "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow (NBC, 11:30 p.m.). . . . The antics of Dennis Rodman suggest that Nike's Christmas poster boy is hoping the sequel to the James Dean movie "Rebel Without A Cause" will turn out to be his life story. In case you missed it on TNT the other night, Dennis said, "I'm ready to play and win." Tell me that doesn't take a big load off your mind. . . . The Kansas City Chiefs rank second among NFL teams in sale of licensed gear. So much for the problems of small-market teams.

* It's official: CBS analyst Billy Packer says of college hoops, "I see an exciting, balanced year of many upsets." Strangely, Packer's college basketball preview plays on Washington's Channel 9 Sunday (2 p.m.), with some teams being a third of the way through their season by then.

Add Bobbsey Twins: Dick Vitale must be trying to horn in on Packer's role as chief publicist of ACC hoops by saying, "I'll take the top seven ACC players, you take the rest of the country and I'll blow you out"

* The latest in HBO's "In This Corner" series, which will be telecast Tuesday (10 p.m.), then Dec. 24, 26, 29 and Jan. 1, 6, and 11, is "Boxing's Historic Battles." Included are Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier in 1971; Ali vs. Sonny Liston in 1965; Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling in 1938; Jack Johnson (sunning himself in Havana) vs. Jim Jeffries in 1910.

* Channel 11 spares us a tape of the North American Skating Championships on CBS on Sunday (3 p.m.) with another cinematic masterpiece. Hey, it figures to be a strong lead-in for the crime-drama "Sirens" at 5 p.m. It's a snap being a programmer when you don't have to worry about sports cluttering up your schedule on weekend afternoons. Good luck with these people come the new year, NBC.

* Now that was more like it. Ken Burns' "Baseball" epic was better as a four-hour, two-parter during PBS fund-raising week than the original 18-hour filibuster. By the way, "Baseball" outdrew Burns' "Civil War" by about five million viewers. Embarrassing.

* Joe Theismann took one look at the defensive scheme of the New Orleans Saints, which was being riddled by the Atlanta Falcons early Sunday night and scoffed, "Blitzing [quarterback] Jeff George makes no sense at all; you do it as a changeup every so often."

The ESPN analyst says things consistently, as does Pat Haden on TNT, which are dramatic improvements over those cliche merchants on the networks. Or maybe they're so good because the play-by-play guys sitting next to them, Mike Patrick and Gary Bender, are such pedestrians.

* The NBA double dip on Christmas will be the Sonics at Nuggets at 4 p.m. followed by the Knicks at Bulls at 6:30 p.m. A special entitled "Below The Rim: The Little Big Men" and "NBA Showtime" will precede the action.

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