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The Business Of Science Fiction Mitchell Rubenstein Is Turning People On To The Sci-fi Channel

PROFILE

October 23, 1989|By Susan G. Strother of The Sentinel Staff

Mitchell Rubenstein knows his robots. He explains mechanical men and women so thoroughly, you'd mistake him for someone who was, well, interested in the subject.

''There are three principles of robotics,'' he says. ''First, they never harm humans. It's not what they do.'' Coming from Mitchell, these principles - pilfered from Isaac Asimov, the science-fiction guru who made them famous in the I Robot stories - are statements of fact.

Convincing, too, are Rubenstein's answers to questions such as ''Where do robots come from?'' and ''Where, exactly, do they end up?''

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Rubenstein is so surprisingly capable at rattling off the theories that underlie Asimov's popular works, one would expect the 35-year-old Boca Raton businessman to be a science-fiction junkie. He must be an avid viewer of Star Trek, a regular reader of Stephen King or, at the very least, the proud owner of one Batman T-shirt.

He is, in fact, none of those things.

For Rubenstein, science fiction is not a hobby. It's a business in the form of The Sci-Fi Channel. Founded by Rubenstein and Laurie Silvers, his wife, the Sci-Fi Channel will air science fiction, horror and fantasy programs when it begins broadcasting in December 1990.

As planned, the Orlando-based channel will be a cable-television network much like WTBS or CNN. Rubenstein, a communications lawyer by training, says his interest in science fiction is a relatively recent thing.

After deciding a year ago to launch a cable-TV network, it was pure economics that drove him into sci-fi: No existing cable network is devoted to the genre; a survey indicated viewers were crazy at the prospect.

''It's like surfing and riding a wave,'' Rubenstein said. ''If you catch it at the right time, it's great. If you miss the wave, you don't go anywhere.''

The success of the network will depend upon three things: Will Rubenstein be able to convince cable operators to carry the Sci-Fi Channel? Will he garner enough advertising support? Will he be able to afford enough shows to fill a 24-hour broadcast day?

It's the sort of challenge that would do Superman proud.

Professional colleagues and acquaintances say that Rubenstein is a bright, determined businessman and faithful friend. He rides bicycles with his wife and three children; takes the crew on a ski vacation to Vail, Colo., each year; and has season tickets to the Miami Dolphins. The family will not move from Boca Raton once the network gets off the ground; Rubenstein will simply commute to Orlando when necessary.

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