To ally on air and on the Web

PBS, NPR

TV: PBS and NPR agree to co-produce and co-promote programming.

January 16, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

LOS ANGELES - Following the pattern of convergence driving so much commercial media strategy these days, PBS President Pat Mitchell announced yesterday a formal alliance between the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio (NPR) to co-produce and co-promote on-air and online programming.

The deal makes the two giants of public broadcasting partners on several fronts. It guarantees more joint television productions such as November's "Time to Choose - A PBS/NPR Voters Guide," which was anchored by PBS' Jim Lehrer but featured NPR's Elizabeth Arnold and Juan Williams. The two will also co-produce live Web events, cross-promote each other's programs on-air and online, and bring NPR news content to the PBS.org Web site.

"This landmark alliance between public radio and public television is about using the great resources and assets of NPR and PBS to leverage promotional opportunities - online, on radio and on television - and to work together to develop new content that will work on television, on radio and online," Mitchell said yesterday during a press conference here. In a statement issued after Mitchell's press conference, NPR President Kevin Klose said, "I am delighted to join PBS President Pat Mitchell today in announcing a landmark alliance between NPR and PBS. ... The alliance will foster a fertile environment in which NPR and PBS, together, can bring new groundbreaking programming to our expanding audiences."

Clearly what PBS wants is more immediacy, and NPR's daily news programs "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" can give them that. In the case of the PBS Web site, it will happen the instant it adds NPR content sometime this spring. The more complicated task will be finding a way to make the NPR news presence work on television.

What NPR gets out of the deal is a tremendous promotional platform by the standards of radio. According to Nielsen Media Research, 100 million viewers watch public television each week.

In connection with her efforts to give PBS more impact and immediacy in the national discourse, Mitchell also announced that PBS will team with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to create a weekly two-hour prime-time program tentatively titled "Public Square." The program will make its debut early next year.

"The series will be designed to put public broadcasting at the forefront of new ideas and current thinking," Mitchell said.

Mitchell tried to avoid politics yesterday when asked if she is apprehensive about a Republican, George W. Bush, assuming the presidency. In 1994, when Republicans took control of the House, Speaker Newt Gingrich threatened to "zero-out" funding for public television. About 20 percent of funding for public television comes from the federal government.

"We're hopeful President-elect Bush will stay true to everything he's said about education being a priority," she said, "because, if you look around at media companies serving educational needs, we're [the one] doing that."

But Bush came under heavy fire during a PBS press conference earlier in the day to promote "The Kennedy Center Presents: The Mark Twain Prize," which will be broadcast Feb. 28. The recipient of the humor award, Carl Reiner, and his son, film director Rob Reiner, addressed the politics of PBS directly.

After saying how grateful he was to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal for funding his study of acting, Carl Reiner said, "The government does have a role to play, and we worry. Pat Mitchell and I were just talking about how this wonderful PBS and all the radio stations are in jeopardy because we have a new government.

"And they may say, `No, we don't have to give them money. Let them fend for themselves.' So, that's really scary. These things should be funded. Art should be funded when it needs it."

Rob Reiner, a politically active Hollywood Democrat, attacked Bush for saying he wanted to be a president who unites the country during the campaign and then appointing a cabinet "representing an extreme right-wing ideology."

"That's divisive," Rob Reiner said.

"He's become a uniter," the elder Reiner said sarcastically of Bush. "He's united the Democratic Party."

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