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Through The Wire: But Malone Didnt Sing Auld Lang Syne

Despite its carefully controlled atmosphere, there weresigns of nostalgia at TCI's shareholders' meeting last week, even with chairman and CEOJohn Malone's attempts to conduct events in his typically efficient style. Encore MediaGroup honcho John Sie, for example, was spied setting up his own personal video camera tothe left of the stage to record the meeting's events for his private collection.

TCI president and COO Leo J. Hindery Jr., meanwhile, had trouble controlling his voicewhen he spoke of how hard "emotionally" the previous 24 hours had been, as heprepared for what would be the last official meeting of TCI as a company. Even Maloneadmitted to "a little sadness" at the passing of TCI, noting that aboard-of-directors dinner that he'd hosted the previous evening featured "a lot ofreminisces and camaraderie." Said one company insider, "It was a celebration ofhow long they'd been together and how far they had come." Just wait until the daywhen TCI officially disappears from the landscape.

TCI is used to cable critics, but an example of what theywill face now that they are on AT&T's side of the column appeared last week atAT&T's special meeting in Secaucus, N.J., in the form of famous gadfly shareholderEvelyn Davis. She demanded that AT&T chairman C. Michael Armstrong explain theinvolved, $48 billion TCI merger "to those of us who aren't Ph.D.s," and shealso wanted the chairman to explain how the two companies' cultures will mesh. She wasinfuriated that the meeting was scheduled on the same day as that of AT&T's spinoffcompany, Lucent Technologies, and she attributed this to sexist maneuvering on behalf ofan AT&T executive.

And furthermore, Davis complained that she has trouble connecting to the Internet viaAT&T's WorldNet service. AT&T had set up glass "phone booths" so thatshareholders could dial up the podium, so when Davis got too long-winded, theydisconnected her. This being a free country, she got back in line and dialed up again.

With Nickelodeon's Rugrats doll line among the fewstrong sellers in a generally slumping doll market last year, according to the ToyManufacturers of America, it's not too surprising that more cable-net-inspired toysemerged from the annual Toy Fair in New York earlier this month. Duking it out forshelf space will be CatDog toys from Mattel and Animorphs action figuresfrom Hasbro, both inspired by Nick shows; action figures from Celebrity Death Matchon MTV from Toy Biz Inc.; and a "Job Switching Lucy" doll based on the I LoveLucy series on Nick at Nite. Discovery Channel licensed production of Explore YourWorld animal and action products for preschoolers. Also for preschoolers are Bearin the Big Blue House from Disney Channel and Blue's Clues items from Nick Jr.

Sometimes an operator just can't win, even when itsteps up for the community. Time Warner Cable's cluster has joined in a partnership withthe police department and postal workers in Garden Grove, Calif., to improve the communitywatch in that Southern California city. At the request of the police department, theoperator and a local cellular-service provider have donated cell phones and talk time tooutfit up to 25 letter carriers with the devices for up to two years. According to thepolice department, the postal employees will use the phones to report any suspiciousactivities that they spot on their daily routes. But a voice has sounded to end thepartnership before it begins: The local newspaper, the Register of Orange County,sneered at the project, opining that it will only "paint targets" on the backsof postal field employees, who are not trained to fight crime.

By Linda Haugsted, from bureau reports.