This is the story of how a TV program got glitched.
It all started happily. "TVTV looks at the Oscars," taped backstage at the 1976. Academy Awards, was shown without incident by KCET in Los Angeles, WNET in New York and, last night, WTTW in Chicago, among others.
Then it came to WETA (Channel 26) in Washington.
A station engineer ruled the program to be "technically unacceptable" for broadcast, even though other stations had aired it, because of technical things like "pulse width variance," "horizontal blanking" problems, and "glitches," which are little burps in the picture.
The engineer did not watch the program on a TV set. He watched it on an oscilloscope, which measures video signals. On a TV set, he admitted later, you wouldn't notice the defects. Except maybe for a glitch or two.
So "TVTV Looks at the Oscars" was dropped from its announced time, Sunday at 1 p.m., and an old William Buckley "Firing Line" substituted in its place.
"We didn't cancel the program out of spite," said WETA president Ward Chamberlin late yesterday. "We didn't do anything that wasn't proper. We'll play it as soon as we can get a hold of it."
Chamberlin said he would wait for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to send it down the network line again. But PBS has no plans to send it down the network line again.
WETA had its own videotape of the show. But-oops-somebody at the station erased it.
Chamberlin has not seen the show. Program director Fred Flaxman has not seen the show. Assistant program director Elizabeth Browstein has not seen the show.
Among the technical problems: The tape's horizontal blanking went .4 microseconds beyond the allowable deviation.
"These things are very closely controlled by the FCC," said station engineer John Koch. "If it's not right, I won't permit it on the air. My personal license is at stake. The station is liable for heavy fines if we break the rules repeatedly, and even doing it once isn't worth the trouble."
"We have been very lenient with public TV stations, traditionally," an FCC spokesman said. "It would take a very serious matter for the Commission to really land on them. We have fined very few of them."
Meanwhile, The Washington Post obtained a videotape recording of the program.
It looked fine.
And it was quite funny-whimsical and sardonic backstage tour of preparations for the 1976 Oscar rite and the post mortems that followed. One witnesses such privileged moments as Lee Grant rehearsing to lose in the back seat of a limousine(she won, however) and Steven Spielberg, on hearing he has not been nominated as best director for "Jaws," exclaiming, "Cancel my day! Cancel my week! I'm going to Palm Springs."