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No matter the winner in contract squabbles, viewers lose

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Earlier this week, "Walking Dead" fans were on the edge of their seats - not only because of the killer (pun intended) penultimate episode of the season, but also because of announcements declaring the possible loss of the network if AMC Networks and Suddenlink could not reach a deal over licensing fees.

Tuesday night, they did reach a deal, but if they hadn't, the network (plus WE tv, IFC and Sundance, the other channels in the AMC brand) would have gone dark as of Thursday -- just days before "The Walking Dead" finale on Sunday and not long before the returns of "Mad Men" (March 25) and "The Killing" (April 1).

The gist of the situation was that AMC was asking for significantly more than Suddenlink wanted to pay: a 50 percent rate increase over last year and a 100 percent increase in annual payments by the end of the new proposed contract. AMC countered that its requested increase -- to about 75 cents a month per subscriber, admittedly almost double the current rate -- was reasonable, given the drastic overhaul of the network, specifically the addition of its acclaimed original shows, since deals were last negotiated.

While I am extremely glad that I will be able to see the "Walking Dead" finale in real time, I can't help but be disappointed by this whole fiasco, which, by the way, seems to happen every time a contract negotiation comes up. I'm not naïve enough to believe that each side truly cares what is best for customers; I know it's all about the bottom line. Still, it seems like, no matter which side "wins," we lose.

In this case, if an agreement hadn't been reached, we would have lost some of the highest-quality programming on TV. Now that it has been reached, though, we'll almost certainly see that reflected on future bills -- and I'm guessing it will be more than 75 cents per month. (For the record, I am fine with a small increase if it means I get to keep watching "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad.")

With each passing year, more people are turning away from traditional cable/satellite viewing in favor of alternative -- and, yes, less expensive -- means, like streaming shows online or through Internet-enabled TV sets, that give them more flexibility to enjoy the shows and channels they want while cutting out the clutter of those they don't. Squabbles like this that put us at the mercy of corporations that don't care what we want don't do anything to dissuade us from doing so.

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Network series premieres: "The Missing," 8 p.m. today, ABC (Ashley Judd is a mom/ex-CIA agent searching for her abducted son in this Europe-set, action-packed thriller); "Bent," 9 p.m. Wednesday, NBC (romantic sitcom about an uptight woman and the laid-back construction worker remodeling her house).

Other series premieres: "Frozen Planet," 8 p.m. Sunday, Discovery (seven-part documentary exploring wildlife in the Arctic and Antarctic); "House of Consignment," 9 p.m. Sunday, VH1 (fashion entrepreneur); "Styled by June," 9:30 p.m. Monday, VH1 (celebrity stylist); "Couples Therapy," 9 p.m. Wednesday, VH1 (celebrity self-help); "Duck Dynasty," 10 p.m. Wednesday, A&E (a family makes duck-hunting gear).

Season premieres: "The First 48: Missing Persons," 10 p.m. today, A&E; "Fairly Legal," 9 p.m., and "In Plain Sight" (final season), 10 p.m. Friday, USA; "Dancing with the Stars," 8 p.m. Monday, ABC; "La La's Full Court Life," 9 p.m. Monday, VH1; "Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory," 10 p.m. Monday, MTV; "The Little Couple," 10 p.m. Tuesday, TLC.

Returning: "Community," 8 p.m. today, NBC; "The Vampire Diaries," 8 p.m., and "The Secret Circle," 9 p.m. today, CW.

New timeslot: "30 Rock," 8:30 p.m. today, NBC. ("Parks & Recreation" goes on a brief hiatus.)

Season finales: "Project Runway All-Stars," 9 p.m. today, Lifetime (part one of two); "Archer," 10 p.m. today, FX (part one of two); "Jersey Shore," 10 p.m. today, MTV; "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," 8 p.m. Friday, Cartoon Network; "The Walking Dead," 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC; "Pretty Little Liars," 8 p.m. Monday, ABC Family; "Switched at Birth," 8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC Family; "The River," 9 p.m. Tuesday, ABC (likely series finale); "Southland," 10 p.m. Tuesday, TNT; "Key & Peele," 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Comedy Central.

Specials: "Great Performances: The Phantom of the Opera at Royal Albert Hall," 8 p.m. today, PBS; "Under the Streetlamp," 8:30 p.m. Friday, PBS (doo-wop/oldies concert); "Pop-Up Video Jersey Shore," 10 p.m. Friday and 9 p.m. Saturday, VH1; "Rip the Runway," 10 p.m. Wednesday, BET (music and fashion show).

Of note: Fox's "Touch" pilot (originally aired Jan. 25) repeats at 8 p.m. today in advance of next week's official premiere; Lady Gaga and mom Cynthia (who is from West Virginia) talk about their Born This Way Foundation, "Oprah's Next Chapter," 9 p.m. Sunday, OWN.

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com.


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