Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A joint venture between the Public Broadcasting Service and MCI Communications should bring computer users spinoffs from public television shows, such as a way for children to chat with TV characters by e-mail.

PBS and MCI Communications on Thursday announced their plan to make PBS programming and related products available on CD-ROM, through the Internet and through on-line computer services, including the new PBS Online that begins this year.

MCI, which will provide the delivery system, has committed at least $15 million to the venture over the first five years, said MCI Chairman Bert C. Roberts Jr.

Access to some new services may be free, while in other cases a fee will be charged. The services are expected to help market a wide range of products related to PBS shows and provide additional information to viewers.

The joint venture also will develop new programming for PBS stations.

``We expect to share revenues from this,'' said PBS President Ervin S. Duggan said. ``In a venture that has not been fully worked out, we cannot tell you what the formula will be.''

The new venture won't generate operating funds for public TV stations and won't make up for reductions in federal funding being considered by Congress, Duggan said.

``We don't see this in any way replacing our commitment to free, nonprofit, accessible broadcasting,'' he said.

MCI and PBS expect to begin announcing the first of the new services in June, and details are still being worked out.

But they gave examples of things they expect to offer by computer: supplementary information, such as the bibliography from a documentary or recipes from a cooking show; interactive games and lessons for children, using public TV characters; the sale of products related to PBS shows, from mugs to CD-ROMs; and teaching aids, such as instructions for duplicating a science experiment as seen on TV.

Eventually, as technology improves, viewers should be able to order the latest episode of a PBS show to view on their computers whenever they want, the companies said.

Because PBS doesn't own the licensing rights to many of its existing shows, such as ``Sesame Street,'' it's unclear which will be incorporated into the new services.

But Duggan said PBS hopes to persuade producers and TV personalities from current public TV shows to join the effort. PBS will obtain rights to incorporate its new shows into the services, Duggan said.

PBS is a nonprofit corporation owned by the nation's public TV stations, which buys programming for the stations. MCI, a long-distance telephone and communications corporation based in Washington, has annual revenue of more than $13.3 billion.

AP-WS-03-23-95 1500EST

This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the originating newspaper or wire service. NewsHound is a service of the San Jose Mercury News. For more information call 1-800-818-NEWS.