At almost five hours, it was longer than the "The Waltons," "M*A*S*H" and "Real People" combined, all of which it now competes against.
Those Alexandria television viewers who forsook prime time and turned instead to cable TV last night for the first broadcast of a City Council meeting got oration-packed suburban politics, including budget-wrassling, city agency squabbles, and that time-honored council ritual, Millions for Metro. It was nonstop politics, no commercials, from the moment the cameras began rolling. And it will all be rebroadcast again tonight for those who could not get enough.
No one knows exactly how many of the city's 9,600 Alexandria Cablevision Co. subscribers tuned in last night to Colonial 10, as the channel that carries the council meetings is known. Whether there were 100 viewers or 1,000, one thing is sure. Now that the eye of the camera is upon them, the council will not be the same.
Few will admit to playing to the camera, of course, but after Tuesday night's successful taping, nearly everyone present in the high-ceilinged council chambers had noticed how the other guys were putting on the dog.
More than one council member commented on how well-attired others were for the meeting, and how habitual slouchers sat somewhat stiffly at attention in their high backed council chairs. Smiles tended to last longer and the speeches certainly did. "We added at least one and one-half hour of speeches," said Councilman Donald Casey.
"There was some grandstanding," said Casey. " Vice Mayor Robert Calhoun was dressed up, and we had some vintage Moran," he said, referring to Councilman James Moran's fervent speech on public housing.
Other councilmen pointed at state Del. Bernard S. Cohen and Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell, who were on hand to discuss the city's annual legislative requests, but who were thought by some to have put in unsually florid stints at the podium.
"I think you could say that Bernie Cohen milked it for all it was worth," said Mayor Charles Beatley yesterday.
"Oh, sure, there's bound to be some posturing," said Moran. "We wouldn't be human if we didn't from time to time. Its certainly going to be an incentive to be well prepared. And it may slow down decisions made late at night after most of the people in the chambers have gone home."
Under its cable TV franchise, Alexandria's city government gets 3 percent of the system's annual revenues, which once the entire city is wired should mean at least $125,000 a year to the city coffers. That makes the$2,700 the city spent on new lighting for cameras in council chambers seem like a good investment.
Of course, not everyone thinks city politics makes makes for scintillating television. "I once said anyone who would watch a five-hour council meeting is a masochist and I stand by that," said Calhoun.
Most council members agree that the tapings will benefit those who live far from City Hall and never get to see a council meeting.
"I can see school children being made to watch this for school," said Beatley. "I think we on the council are going to have to learn to slow down and read motions clearly before we vote. It will certainly behoove us to do our homework."
Most council members agree that the cameras will be beneficial once the novelty wears off. "It won't affect citizen attendence at meetings," said Calhoun. "There's something to seeing the animals in the zoo close up, as it were."
At least some officals were planning to watch. "I'm going to take my wife into the TV room and show her the baloney I have to put up with," said Casey. "I'm hoping I'll get a little sympathy."