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Hi-def detectives

The glare of NYPD Blue
star Dennis Franz will get even sharper tomorrow when ABC starts broadcasting the gritty police drama in HDTV.

ABC has confirmed that NYPD Blue
will be the network's first high-definition series, as initially reported in BROADCASTING & CABLE last week. Starting with tomorrow night's season premiere, ABC will broadcast 34 hours of Blue
in the 720-line progressive HDTV format with 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio. The 720p version of Blue
will be broadcast by 31 ABC owned stations and affiliates currently capable of HDTV (one affiliate, Belo-owned WFAA-DT Dallas, will actually convert it to 1080-line interlace).

ABC has been quiet on the HDTV front since it failed to reach a new subsidy deal with Panasonic to broadcast Monday Night Football
in HDTV for the 2000 NFL season. But, according to ABC President of Broadcast Operations and Engineering Preston Davis, the network has continued to broadcast HDTV movies on Saturday and Sunday nights. In fact, he says, the addition of Blue
means that ABC will show slightly more HDTV in the 2000-01 television season (126 hours) than in the 1999-2000 season (125 hours), which included all of MNF, the Super Bowl and the National Hockey League All-Star Game.

Unlike the MNF
broadcasts, the hi-def airings of Blue
won't be subsidized by a consumer electronics partner. Davis says ABC is bearing all the costs of the HDTV production in an effort to drive the sales of HDTV sets. "We made the decision to do it about two months ago. We hoped to find a sponsor for it, but so far we have not done that."

Davis says he isn't surprised that ABC couldn't secure an underwriting partner for Blue, even though CBS has made underwriting and/or advertising deals for HDTV programming with set makers Thomson, Mitsubishi and Panasonic over the past year. "I think to some extent even the consumer electronics guys are questioning the real value of underwriting HDTV product."

He also refutes CBS' claim that producing HDTV has gotten much cheaper since last season as Hollywood post houses have absorbed the cost of buying new HDTV equipment. "It's not substantially cheaper than doing this in 1999," he says.

Since NYPD Blue
is shot on 35mm film, producing an HDTV version wasn't a big technical challenge but a matter of transferring the film to HDTV tape. The biggest hurdle, says Davis, was converting reams of stock footage of New York City streets. "We had to transfer all of that to HD. It's a substantial cost."