PBS adds to election sked, but Markle assists CNN
A year before the presidential election, public TV is fleshing out its schedule of campaign programs, most recently with a new weekly Bill Moyers series that starts next April. Other elements being planned include three to five election-related programs from The '90s; specials on education, health and minority issues, and an outreach special on citizen responsibility.
But the biggest hunk of money available for campaign coverage — the hunk that got away — has gone to Cable News Network instead of PBS. The Markle Foundation and CNN announced plans last week for a $3.5 million package of programs to be paid for by Markle.
Moyers' new 27-part series of hour-long programs, Listening to America with Bill Moyers, got a $1 million assist from the CPB/PBS Program Challenge Fund this month.
The Moyers series will be made by four teams of producers, each doing one program a month. Formats will include conversations, guest columnists, town meetings and original reporting.
The series will deal with such questions as, why Americans hate politics, what's happening to the economy, and why our democratic system isn't working.
The CPB/PBS million will supplement $1.25 million from the Mutual of American Life Insurance Co., $1.25 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and other funds yet to be raised, according to Moyers' company, Public Affairs Television.
Arnold Labaton, director of the PBS election initiative, will provide an update on plans for the Moyers series and other campaign coverage Oct. 24 during a satellite videoconference for stations.
Specials from The '90s
For the fourth season of The '90s, PBS will lay out $350,000 toward a series of at least nine hour-long programs to be fed starting Jan. 24. The series of independently produced programs may expand to as many as 11 episodes with a cost of $1.1 million, says Executive Producer Tom Weinberg.
Independent producers working with the series are already on the road, recording footage with presidential candidates, but Weinberg says the series offers an opportunity to bring in citizens whose views ``don't ordinarily get national television exposure.”
Besides the three, four or five election-oriented specials, the series will include programs with working titles such as “Taking Chances,” “Getting Older,” “Guns and Violence,” “Rural American/Country Living” and “It's a Mall, Mall World.”
The '90s is produced by the Fund for Innovative TV in Chicago and presented by KBDI, Denver, and WTTW, Chicago.
In addition, PBS is planning a campaign-related program on ethnic-minority issues next year and another on education issues for Back-to-School Week 1992, PBS programming topper Jennifer Lawson told the network's Executive Committee Oct. 11.
The Back to School Week special will be supplemented by a live interactive special for classroom use, PBS education chief Sandra Welch told the committee.
Top programmer Lawson said PBS had not been consulted by the commercial networks and CNN before they proposed last month a series of four presidential candidate debates next September and October.
She noted that Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Barone Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy had also proposed a series of candidate debates, also on Sundays, and PBS would cooperate in producing a share of those debate programs.
“If there are debates, we will cover them and would like to participate in them,'' Labaton told Current. It's still early to know which debate formats and sponsorships will be accepted by the candidates and media outlets.
A new ``election channel”
Exactly what CNN will do with the aid from the Markle Foundation was not immediately clear, as might be expected a year before the election.
Turner Educational Services Inc. will provide the programs and curriculum support materials to schools at no charge, according to the CNN release.
CNN President Tom Johnson said the news network will expand its "issues coverage and programming aimed at encouraging citizen participation.''
Markle Foundation President Lloyd Morrisett predicted in the release that CNN would become “campaign headquarters — the election channel — for the American voter in 1992.”
That's what Morrisett was saying about PBS a year ago, when his foundation and public TV were planning a much larger joint election project with $5 million from Markle, $3 million from PBS and CPB, and additional millions that never came through. But the deal fell through in June (Current, July 22) and Morrisett took the Markle money elsewhere.
CNN said it has begun developing programs that may include “People's Agenda” reports on citizens' view of the issues, and reports analyzing the campaign process today and yesterday, modern political leadership, and citizen participation in democracy.
The list also includes innovative off-air projects similar to those the foundation wanted public TV to undertake: experimental citizen-involvement projects including focus groups, "innovations in survey research,” alternative formats for candidate debates, 800-number phone services and “where feasible” uses of interactive media technology
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