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Comcast deal stirs memories of '30 Rock's" Kabletown - and worry among some cable subscribers

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Where is "30 Rock" when you need it?

During seven seasons, this clever NBC comedy made sport of the real-life acquisition of NBC Universal from General Electric by the cable giant Comcast.

In the pretend world of "30 Rock," NBC's new owner was the make-believe Kabletown, a mammoth so-called "family company" based, like Comcast, in Philadelphia.

But now "30 Rock," which concluded its run last winter, isn't around to weigh in drolly on the just-announced purchase by Kabletown, er, Comcast of its rival Time Warner Cable.

The deal, which with regulatory approval could close by year-end, would have likely provided some laughs for "30 Rock" fans, many of whom might be expected to view an even more gargantuan cable colossus with jaundiced, or at least, wary eyes. It's a deal that would combine America's top two cable TV companies for a total of about 30 million subscribers. Subscribers might welcome some comic relief.

TV viewers — even those satisfied with their own cable service — traditionally relegate this industry to depths similar with Congress, airline travel and, well, journalism.

So don't look for many high-fives on Twitter, where, in New York City and Philadelphia, "Comcast" and "Time Warner Cable" were trending Thursday with irate and woeful forecasts for what a combined company might bring. One of the operative hashtags: #Monopoly.

Monopoly, schmonolopy, insist Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Through the purchase, as Comcast stated in its announcement, "more American consumers will benefit from technological innovations, including a superior video experience, higher broadband speeds, and the fastest in-home Wi-Fi. The transaction also will generate significant cost savings and other efficiencies."

Rrrrreally?

The deal could indeed result in a company whose even-greater scale makes it better able to serve its customers, as Comcast promises. Unless, instead, it's even more dismissive than the current two competitors may seem to their respective subscribers.

The deal could put Comcast in an improved position to launch new technical innovations and new program content. Or, thanks to its dominant purchasing power in the marketplace, it could halt bold advances in their tracks by rejecting them from its infrastructure or program lineup.

As a souped-up gatekeeper, the combined company could give preferential treatment to its own channels (which include USA, Bravo, MSNBC, E! and many more) and shut out channels that may seem to be competitive with its own portfolio. Or, instead, it might be all the more vigilant in bringing popular channels, whoever owns them, to its customers while granting every channel equal consideration.

Consumer advocates have already passed judgment on which way it will go, and they aren't holding their fire.

The combined entity "would become the bully in the schoolyard," warned Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer in a sweeping salvo, "able to dictate terms to content creators, Internet companies, other communications networks that must interconnect with it, and distributors who must access its content."

The Parents Television Council voiced similar worries. The deal "would create a behemoth of near-unstoppable market power that will invariably be anti-consumer and anti-family," said PTC president Tim Winter. "Bigger doesn't mean better, particularly where consumers and families are concerned."

And Free Press CEO Craig Aaron declared that "Americans already hate dealing with the cable guy," adding: "This deal would be the cable guy on steroids — pumped up, unstoppable and grasping for your wallet."

Such contempt can weigh on the guy in charge, at least on a TV comedy.

"30 Rock" concluded with NBC boss Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) landing the plum job as CEO of NBC's new parent Kabletown. Yet he still felt unhappy and unfulfilled, and resigned to start a vision quest to find his true bliss. (Almost immediately he returned to corporate life, scoring new success at GE with a washing-machine breakthrough.)

But if "30 Rock" and its Comcast doppelganger is now gone, at least the Kabletown website can still be visited.

"Why Kabletown with a K?" it asks on its home page. "Because K stands for the Kindness we show our customers, the Keen interest we take in their needs...."

Real-life cable subscribers, however doubtful, will be hoping the supercharged Komcast, er, Comcast, recognizes all that, too.

___

EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier.

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