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||[Jun. 27th, 2003|12:02 pm]
The American Caliban
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PG&E Warns Against Ballooning Poultry After Prank
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
CHICAGO -- Utility Pacific Gas & Electric has gone on the offensive, warning customers against fowl play after a ballooning chicken knocked out power in San Francisco.
The normally flightless bird, tethered to helium balloons, floated into power lines and caused 1,800 PG&E customers to lose service last Saturday, the PG&E Corp. (PCG) unit said. The chicken was safely removed, but the utility is concerned that the prank will be repeated, based on its feature in an upcoming Fox television network program called "Banzai."
The program doesn't premier until July 13, but a promotional commercial has apparently already prompted one copycat, PG&E said.
"PG&E is concerned that after the full segment featuring this stunt is aired on national television there could be a rash of copycats," the utility said in a statement Thursday. "Not only is this act cruel to chickens, but it is potentially dangerous to people on the ground."
The chicken involved in Saturday's flight was safely removed from the power lines, PG&E said.
A spokesperson for Fox, majority-owned by News Corp. Ltd (NWS), couldn't be reached for immediate comment late Thursday.
On its Web site, the network referred to Banzai as "the wildly inventive half-hour spoof of Japanese game shows" that lets home viewers wager with friends and family on the outcome of various stunts. Those apparently include a stunt in which Todd Bridges, who played "Willis" on 1980's sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," races a dog to see who can fetch a stick from a swimming pool first, according to the network.
Jason Alderman, spokesman for PG&E, said he's talked to a vice president at Fox who agreed to pull the chicken-related commercial. But there were no guarantees at the time to halt the full segment, Alderman said.
"I hope they decide not to air it," he said.
This isn't the first time Fox has ruffled PG&E's feathers. Last summer, 20th Century Fox released a film called "Like Mike" in which teen rapper Bow Wow gained super basketball abilities while retrieving his sneakers from a power line that gets hit by lightning. A sizable portion of the electric power industry expressed concern, and PG&E issued some of the strongest indictments about the potential dangers involved.
"There is little doubt that the filmmakers of Like Mike would not have put a scene in this children's' movie showing a youngster gaining super human basketball skills by doing illegal drugs," the utility said at the time. "However, Like Mike portrays an equally deadly scenario."
In a response statement, Fox said the movie was simply a "fantasy about magic shoes."
"The scene is clearly not meant to be real or present behavior to be emulated by youngsters," the network said.
PG&E plans to hold a press conference Friday to urge customers against mimicking the "Banzai" stunt.
"Hopefully we won't see flotillas of chickens," Alderman said.
While there are plenty of sneakers in PG&E power lines, there were never any reports of kids getting hurt by copying "Like Mike," he said.
-By Jon Kamp; Dow Jones Newswires; 312-750-4129; firstname.lastname@example.org