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TV Notes: Armstrong plugs in new HDTV option

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Armstrong cable subscribers can now receive high-definition content if they own an HDTV-ready set and sign up for a new service called Armstrong Digital HD.

The cable operator began offering the option to 125,000 customers in Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio this week and says it will be available to the balance of its subscribers later this year. The new service will offer five channels of HDTV programming from the major broadcast networks plus Showtime. Armstrong expects to add additional high-definition content from HBO, Cinemax, ESPN and Discovery.

HDTV broadcasts offer the highest resolution and clearest picture possible. Saturday's Steelers playoff game was broadcast in high definition, and the Super Bowl will be, too.

Armstrong Digital HD is free for now, but the cable company expects the charge could be an extra $5 a month, possibly starting in February, to cover the cost of in-home equipment. That could rise slightly as additional channels are added.

"Our surveys indicate 2 percent to 3 percent of our customers have already purchased an HDTV television," Mike Haislip, Armstrong president, said in a written statement. "The prices on these sets have been dropping quickly, and we believe there is going to be strong customer interest in HDTV programming from now on."

Armstrong says it's among the first cable companies in the nation to offer the HDTV content. "More and more of our customers have been asking us about HDTV, and we're delighted to offer the most convenient and lowest-cost source of programming for them," says Joe Wyant, general manager of Armstrong's Cranberry-Zelienople area.

Armstrong provides cable TV and high-speed Internet services to more than 210,000 customers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky. (Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer)

Extra, Extra

They may not get their names above the title or even below, but they're an integral part of show business. They're extras, the people who populate the background and lend authenticity to TV shows.

Nicholas Carifo, a former Pittsburgher and onetime Kennywood Park magician, has become a background regular on ABC's "The Drew Carey Show." He was initially cast to appear in an episode as a jogger in a park scene filmed on the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, Calif. He shared the screen with Carey, Marion Ross and a trained squirrel.

The first assistant director invited him to return to appear in The Warsaw, the bar that serves as Drew's hangout. "So, two days a week, I am sitting in the bar on the Warner Bros. set, reacting to the nutty antics of Drew, Oswald, Lewis and Mimi. It's really kind of surreal," he said in a recent e-mail.

Carifo, who continues to work as a magician, also has been an "ER" doctor, reporter on "The West Wing," soldier on "The District" and a bartender in the Ben Affleck superhero movie "The Daredevil," arriving in theaters Feb. 14. (B.V.)

Election winner

Pennsylvania Cable Network's "Election 2002" coverage has won an Award of Distinction from the Communicator Awards video competition.

As part of its coverage of the primary and general election, PCN went to 500-plus events across the state. That included campaign stops and speeches, editorial board meetings, debates and other public forums, press conferences, candidate interviews and call-in shows, endorsement rallies and political roundtables and analysis. On election days, the network carried live reports from campaign headquarters, the state Capitol, Philadelphia Inquirer and electronic media outlets.

Judges for the Communicator Awards, based in Texas, weighed 3,242 entries from 48 states and nine countries. PCN also received an honorable mention in production technique for its "PCN Tours" series, and a crystal Award of Excellence for its 40-hour series on Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia police commissioner and two-time mayor.

PCN, a nonprofit news service, receives no state or federal funds. It is funded by cable companies in the commonwealth. (B.V.)

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