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Two international affairs shows launch in Thursday PBS slot

Originally published in Current, April 22, 2002
By Karen Everhart

Two new Thursday-night limited series launching soon will extend PBS’s coverage of international affairs:

  • Frontline/World, a magazine-style collage of underreported international stories and based at KQED in San Francisco, debuts May 23 [2002] during Frontline’s weekly slot.
  • Wide Angle, a 10-week series from New York’s WNET coming in July, pairs long-form documentaries with hosted segments and interviews. Alternating as co-hosts will be Daljit Dhaliwal, anchor of the defunct World News for Public Television, and James Rubin, assistant secretary of state during the Clinton Administration. Like Frontline/World, it also feeds Thursdays at 9 p.m., during Frontline’s summer hiatus.

PBS was favorably disposed to both proposals, which Frontline and WNET had offered months before Sept. 11, but both series got the green light shortly after terrorist attacks on the United States created urgent demand for regular coverage of the world and the American role abroad.

"They should get credit and there should be credit to us that this was in the works long before Sept. 11," said Stephen Segaller, director of news and public affairs at WNET and executive producer of Wide Angle. "It was a no-brainer that a documentary series reporting on the rest of the world and its concerns and stresses and changes was a necessity for the U.S. audience."

Producers at Frontline originally proposed the World sub-series to report on issues raised by globalization, but they staked out broader editorial turf after Sept. 11. "Basically, I’m interested in good stories," said Series Editor Stephen Talbot. "If I could find a good story anywhere in the world, that’s where we’ll go." Talbot is a former KQED producer who produced numerous Frontline films through the San Francisco-based Center for Investigative Reporting. He is also a former child actor (a bad little boy on Leave It to Beaver), son of an actor (Lyle Talbot) and brother of an editor (David Talbot, editor of the webzine Salon).

World is produced at KQED in collaboration with the Frontline unit at WGBH in Boston. The production team includes recent graduates from the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, which has a mentoring partnership with Frontline that will become more robust for the new strand.

Personal journalism will be a strong thread in World, Talbot promised. "This is not a cookie-cutter show. There will be lots of surprises." The premiere installment includes an investigative story on gunrunning in Africa, a report on conflicts over water privatization in Bolivia, and a story by video journalist Joe Rubin on how terrorism and suicide bombings have affected life in Sri Lanka.

Talbot, who opposes using a host to thread the stories together, is working on a production technique that uses music, graphics and possibly satellite images to draw viewers into the locale of each story. Three more installments of World will air through early next year.

Segaller looks to elevate storytelling in Wide Angle by presenting docs of 40 to 45 minutes in length, unencumbered by interviews with policy wonks. Each film will be introduced by a co-host, who will return afterwards to interview a high-profile guest about U.S. policy implications.

"We want to have the freedom to report in a pure documentary format stories and issues from around the world that can be taken on their own terms," said Segaller. "We want the films to tell stories."

Segaller promises high-level government officials and political figures as guests.

With Rubin and Dhaliwal, Wide Angle gains the appeal of two proven media personalities—Jamie Rubin, the dashing diplomatic spokesman and spouse of CNN correspondent Christine Amanpour, and Dhaliwal, who gained a following and exposure in People magazine and on David Letterman’s show while she anchored World News for Public Television. (The program, a production of the British news service ITN, ended in December after underwriter Virgin Atlantic withdrew. The competing BBC World News has replaced her show on many public TV stations.)

The co-hosts won’t be based in a studio but will shoot their interviews and intros wherever appropriate and convenient, Segaller said. "I’m tired of boring studio conventions," he added. Interviews will be tightly edited to fit within each hour of Wide Angle. Transcripts and streamed audio of complete interviews will be posted on the series website.

Five slots in the 10-week season are already filled, but Segaller is keeping his debut show open: "We’re hoping to make a big splash." Two films are in production "in places I can’t tell you about because they’re dangerous and it would put the filmmakers at risk." A profile of Slobodan Milosevic by Leslie Woodhead, producer of "Srebrenica: A Cry from the Grave," is among the segments cued up but not yet scheduled.

Both Segaller and Talbot aim to secure ongoing PBS commitments for their new series, and PBS Co-chief Programmer Jacoba Atlas said that both can continue. She rejects the idea that they’re competing against each other to become PBS’s "signature" international series. "We’re totally supportive of both and think there’s plenty of room for both on an ongoing basis."

"PBS should be eclectic and there shouldn’t be one gatekeeper," she added. "It would be as if we said, ‘Since there’s American Experience, we don’t need Ken Burns.’"

"It’s good to have these executive producers out there with their eyes on the world," she added. "Everyday we realize how much more there is to know about it."

Dhaliwal, known here for entrancing David Letterman, will co-anchor Wide Angle. She will also anchor a daily CNN world newscast.


To Current's home page
Later news: Frontline/World's new website immediately makes news by alerting the cops to a wanted arms dealer living quietly in Florida.
Outside link re Dhaliwal: "The U.S. is charmed by her ... so how come she went almost unnoticed over here?" asks London's Guardian.

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