Nov. show is just the tip of the iceberg

Broadcast: PBS and NPR to put their collective journalistic talent to work on a pre-election program. And more cooperative efforts may follow.

July 14, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

LOS ANGELES -Pat Mitchell, the president of PBS, announced yesterday that public television will team up with National Public Radio for an unprecedented live broadcast Nov. 1 on the election.

The prime-time program, which will bring such NPR talent as Juan Williams and Elizabeth Arnold together with the staffs of "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and "Frontline," PBS' signature news and public affairs series, is only the start of what Mitchell said she hopes will become an ongoing partnership between the two broadcasting operations.

Mitchell made the announcement of the joint broadcast, "Time to Choose - A PBS/NPR Voter's Guide," at the annual press tour here, saying, "We're delighted to bring together NPR, `Frontline' and `NewsHour' to create an electronic voters guide six days before the election. This unprecedented combination of journalistic resources will provide voters with everything they need to make an informed choice on the presidential race."

But, in answer to follow-up questions after the press conference, she went much further in explaining her goals for the relationship, saying that she and Kevin Close, the president of NPR, were both committed to finding ways to bring NPR and PBS together as partners. She said the two organizations, which have traditionally kept their distance, will soon be announcing a new series, which they will co-produce.

"Absolutely, I want to do more PBS-NPR productions, and so does Kevin Close. We need to work together. One of the first things we said to each other is, `Here are two great journalistic resources, two great content resources; we ought to be doing more together,' " Mitchell said.

While NPR has an image as lean, feisty operation vs. a more staid, mainstream one for PBS, Mitchell said she did not think the differences in style would hinder joint ventures. "It's not so much that the cultures are different, but the difference in resources is an issue. It's just absolutely amazing to me what they get on the air at NPR with what they have in terms of resources."

Besides Arnold and Williams, the Nov. 1 broadcast will include: Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, Margaret Warner, Ray Suarez and Elizabeth Farnsworth, all of "NewsHour." The participants from "Frontline" have not yet been named, though, most will probably be producers.

As for the new PBS-NPR series, Mitchell said, " `I can't announce it today; I wish we were further along. It's going to take us a little longer to look at how we do it, how we fund it in a way that's equitable and doesn't do harm to either side. But it just makes such sense for us to be working together this way."

Mitchell and John F. Wilson, head of programming for PBS, answered questions about changes in PBS' prime-time scheduling set for October in seven cities. The changes will mean new nights and time periods for such signature series as "Masterpiece Theatre," "American Experience" and "Frontline" in an effort to attract new viewers.

The cities are: Cleveland, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Orlando, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Based on viewer reactions in those cities, PBS will devise a new prime-time lineup, which it could have in place as early as April.

"It will happen. We will have a new schedule rolling out nationally. It's just a matter of when," Wilson said.

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