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Station decides not to show debate live

A Tallahassee television station has decided that viewers would rather watch games shows than a debate between gubernatorial candidates. Eight CBS stations in Florida plan to show Tuesday's debate between Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and Democrat Lawton Chiles live at 7 p.m. However, WCTV in Tallahassee is opting for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. The station plans to show a tape of the debate at midnight.

WCTV general manager Jim Caruthers said a contest between Chiles-Martinez and Vanna White was no contest.

"You tell me how many people would rather watch Wheel of Fortune," he said.

The television station's decision prompted an angry complaint from Chiles in a telephone call to Caruthers.

Chiles has been pressing for more debates. Polls have shown the contest a dead heat, giving added importance to the candidates' face-to-face confrontation.

"We've agreed to every term ... now we find this thing is going to be done at 12 o'clock at night," Chiles said.

"I hope we can get CBS to reverse themselves on that and put that all on prime time," he said.

WCIX-TV in Miami also had planned to show a tape of the debate later in the evening, saying it had too many contractual obligations to make room for the candidates. But Tuesday afternoon, WCIX announced it would show Chiles-Martinez live after all.

"It is clear from viewer feedback we're getting today that there is a heightened interest in seeing the debate live," said Jerry Birdwell, director of broadcast operations at WCIX. "We will air the debate."

The debate will originate from WCPX-TV in Orlando. News director George Tyll said C-Span, the public affairs cable network, will carry the debate nationally and 80 stations on the Florida Radio Network can broadcast it live.

In the Tampa Bay area, the debate will be shown live on WTVT-Ch. 13.

The decision by C-Span will enable cable viewers in Tallahassee to see the debate, but Tyll said if the capital's CBS affiliate does not carry it live, the feed will be offered to the ABC and NBC stations.

"So far, no one else in that market has stepped forward to carry it live," Tyll said.