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Brancaccio will anchor high-energy weekly for California citizens

Originally published in Current, April 8, 2002
By Karen Everhart

David Brancaccio, host and senior editor of public radio's Marketplace, has until April 25 to make a decision about his on-camera haircut. The 25th is the launch date for California Connected, a major new series created by the state's biggest public TV stations. Brancaccio will host the show, his first weekly stint as a TV host.

But it was Brancaccio's thinking guy-next-door demeanor that secured the extra gig, not his hairstyle.

"The attitude and the way Marketplace gets at stories is what we're looking for," said Marly Klaus, executive producer. "Marketplace and David take what some think of as a boring economic story and come at it in a way that's compelling and engaging and substantive."

"It's my mission in life to do this in a smart way that dignifies the intelligence of the viewer, but not to make it like castor oil," said Brancaccio.

The mandate for the show, as reflected in the title, is to deal with the major policy issues in California in ways that encourage viewers to both care and participate. That would be the aim for any public affairs series on public TV, but in the nation's most diverse state, it's an especially steep challenge.

Californians don't talk politics the way that people in Chicago and Massachusetts do, Brancaccio observed. "In California, it's very, very different. People are less like likely to be having these conversations, and it's a tragedy." The state is vast, ethnically diverse and fragmented into many media markets. The commercial media don't devote much coverage to important topics like the governor's race.

California Connected aims to bridge these gaps with a high-end weekly newsmagazine modeled on 60 Minutes and Nightline but slightly irreverent and very fast-paced. "It's shocking, the energy level of this show," said Klaus, a former 60 Minutes producer. "I haven't seen this pacing on any other PBS show."

Klaus focuses on narrative to engage viewers. "What I learned at 60 Minutes was to tell specific stories that get at important issues," she said. "We'll have a very flexible format that can deal with many different ways of telling stories."

California Connected was conceived as a daily half-hour, but producers created a weekly hour instead. Foundations that backed R&D didn't want it "done on the cheap," said Klaus. They requested a "very high-quality, high-impact program with depth of content and real time to think about things," which would have cost too much five days a week.

Funding will be short even for the weekly show. It will go into hiatus after 12 weeks.

The producers plan 38 original shows a year but don't have enough money for all of them so far. Grant renewal decisions by the James Irvine Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and additional support from other funders and sponsors, will determine when California Connected goes back into production.

Eight public TV stations have agreed to broadcast it Thursdays at 9 p.m. These include the four stations in the producing collaborative--KCET in Los Angeles, home base for the producers; KPBS in San Diego; KVIE in Sacramento; and KQED in San Francisco, which is developing an extensive website. KEET in Eureka, KVPT in Fresno, KIXE in Redding and KVCR in San Bernardino also have picked up the series.

Producers at KCET are also creating daily Get Connected minutes for these stations to air during primetime. Breaks will be produced for five different regions of California, and will include information about local meetings. Viewers will be encouraged to look for details at

Brancaccio, who also signed on to host the Get Connected breaks, says he won't have to cut back on his duties at Marketplace. He plans to stop by KCET each afternoon after finishing his Marketplace workday.

The bigger issue, he said, is how to rearrange his home life as the father of three kids ages 8 to12. His wife is a hard-working English teacher who needs time in the evenings to grade papers. She used to work in commercial television but got out of the business because she "couldn't stand the blow-dried people." She's not saying much about her husband's latest hair experiment, Brancaccio acknowledged.

"This is a work in progress," he said. "I have one more chance for a haircut before the air date." He's already decided that the gray in his hair is staying.

Earlier story
Stations join to produce state news for non-wonks

Originally published in Current, June 11, 2001
By Steve Behrens

Early next year, four of California's largest public TV stations will begin producing a new half-hour weeknightly news and public affairs program, California Connected.

The program will be anchored at KCET, Los Angeles; production units also will be located at KQED in San Francisco, KPBS in San Diego and KVIE in Sacramento.

It will be public affairs — no soft best-pizza features, but still engaging, promises Marley Klaus, the former 60 Minutes producer-writer who is planning the show at KCET. "The yardstick we intend to use is: stuff that's important to know, stuff that's going to affect [the viewer]. It's going to be an entertaining show, but it's not going to be an entertainment show."

The stations raised funding for R&D from the James Irvine Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Klaus says talks with the foundations have been some of the easiest funding conversations she's ever had "because people get what we're doing."

"The first mission is to talk about California as a unified community so that people start feeling like participating in its governance," she says. State news is under-covered, particularly on television, Klaus says, but she wants to cover it with strong narrative stories, in the 60 Minutes style, not as wonkish issues. She wants to expand the story list beyond journalists' "relentless focus on things that don't work" to include stories of citizens and lawmakers dealing with problems and trying to resolve them.

Klaus, a writer/producer who produced for Ed Bradley's segments on 60 Minutes and the ABC series Vital Signs, will head the R&D phase as project executive. Bob Melisso, who produced pieces from Los Angeles for CNN's Newsstand, will serve as senior producer. Melisso worked for PBS programmer Coby Atlas when both were at CNN. Both Klaus and Melisso have worked on investigative reports — Klaus for 60 Minutes and Melisso for Inside Edition-American Journal and other programs; he was a news executive at network affiliates in Los Angeles, Spokane and Columbus.

The four stations worked together earlier this year on a Bay Window special, "California's Power Play," on the state's energy crisis. They will consider whether to make the new series available to all 14 public TV stations in the state, according to a KQED release. Klaus says that's the hope.

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