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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2000

It's February - so what's on the tube?

Oh, be still my heart: Television's Dean Johnson and Robin Hartl will be in town this weekend, appearing at the House & Home Show.

Maybe their names don't mean much to you, and if they don't, then I've got you pegged as an apartment dweller, at least. Maybe even a condo owner.

Believe me, many's the weekend that I wished I had as much free time as you folks do. On the other hand, I probably would have more time if I didn't love Hometime, that cable home-improvement show starring (and I use that word archly) my pals, Dean and Robin.

Dean and Robin aren't your typical TV stars. They don't have the nonstop effervescence of, say, Regis Philbin, or even Dave Hecht.

In fact, Dean and Robin often come across as two-dimensional. You could say they have a very flat affect. They smile, but never too much. They register concern, but always mildly.

Speaking, there is no rise and fall to their words. What you hear is conversation that starts at Middle C and stays there. No flats, no sharps, no jumps in octaves. I can't remember ever hearing them laugh.

Then again, Dean and Robin aren't starring in anything from the desk of David Mamet. Our hosts say things like:

"While you get started with the grout, I'll go downstairs and look in on the window installation."

"OK, great idea. "

Personally, I find this stuff riveting. As a homeowner, I am profoundly aware that heart-stopping drama can be found between four walls.

Dean and Robin are my heroes, especially in February, that bleary month of do-nothing sloth so perfect for television. By now, the shine of January's exercise program is already lackluster, yet spring is still beyond our grasp. It's the perfect time to hunker in and watch Hometime which, after all, exists so that people can sit back and watch home improvement instead of getting up and doing it. An afternoon's Hometime voyeurism helps me do less but feel I've done more.

Back in a previous life, when I worked for a huge advertising firm, my boss would sometimes sing out: "It's February, and HUTS are high, people!"

High HUTS - "households using television sets'' - were our reason to live, since presumably our clients' valuable "messages" were seen in far greater numbers than usual. (And people wonder why I promptly fled the advertising biz . . .)

This week, I have done my part to up the HUTS in the Toledo broadcast market, which is to say, I've finally given in to the month of February.

The other night, I stayed up to watch that little spaniel take Best of Show at the kennel club extravaganza. It was fun, listening to the unseen, unknown announcers. They talked up the merits of the basset hound versus the collie, they made flattering pronouncements about the judges, they revealed heartfelt tales.

The German shepherd, for instance. Who knew a future show dog would ever be found tied up to a tree? There is every bit as much dramatic tension in the dog show broadcast as there is in Hometime.

It's its own subculture, Dog World, and in February, it's just about the most exotic thing going on.

Except ballroom dancing, of course, which I also dearly love. Boy, talk about subcultures! I swoon for that pasodoble. Speaking of which, I gotta run. Channel 30's broadcast of championship ballroom dancing starts any minute.

It's February - HUTS are high, people!

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Readers may contact her at 724-6086, or e-mail roberta@theblade.com.



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