Selections from the newspaper about
public TV and radio in the United States
Fall 2004
On tap for fall: Gigot, big bang, RFK, big climb

Originally published in Current, Aug. 9, 2004
By Karen Everhart

PBS’s fall schedule includes ingredients for what could be a crowd-pleasing season — the origins of the universe explained by Nova with spectacular animation and a genial, down-to-earth host, great moments in the rich and storied history of Broadway, a mountaineering adventure and a poignant drama that takes viewers inside the British royal family a century ago.

Extending recent efforts to bring more conservative voices to its public affairs coverage, PBS also adds a new weekly show hosted by Paul Gigot, editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages and former NewsHour regular.

Starting Sept. 17, the half-hour Journal Editorial Report will combine news reporting and roundtable discussions among the newspaper’s op-ed contributors. CPB backed the series for a 26-week run, which producers hope to extend.
“PBS has a great audience that’s compatible with what we produce — thoughtful journalism about public policy and political economy,” Gigot said. The new series offers “a chance to do what we do, which is journalism, in a different medium.”

PBS coverage of the White House contest will include Frontline’s quadrennial bio of the presidential candidates, The Choice, airing three times, Oct. 12 and 14 and Nov. 1. The NewsHour will cover the presidential debates — three tentatively scheduled for early October — and election night. A special from MacNeil/Lehrer Productions visits with the wives of the candidates, Laura Bush and Theresa Heinz Kerry, on Oct. 25.

In the meantime, MacNeil/Lehrer’s By the People Project will offer A Time to Choose, an Oct. 21 special on the campaign issues of terrorism and jobs, using excerpts from local discussions aired by stations participating in the project.

Despite the loss of Exxon-Mobil as underwriter for Masterpiece Theatre this spring, PBS’s signature British drama series comes back with new titles this fall. The Lost Prince, originally slated to air this spring, opens Masterpiece Theatre’s fall season, debuting in two installments beginning Oct. 17. It dramatizes the short life of Prince John, the youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary, who was hidden from the public because of epilepsy and an unidentified learning disability. Henry VII, about the cruel monarch and his many wives, airs Nov. 7 and 14, during Nielsen’s fall sweeps.

Next winter Masterpiece Theatre will scale back its weekly presence as its sister series Mystery!, lately aired only in the summer, expands to fill half the year in the same Sunday night time slot. Summer success with British crime dramas, along with a wealth of new material from British producers, led PBS to give Mystery! a bigger footprint, said Steven Ashley, senior producer at WGBH in Boston. Among the new titles coming to Mystery! next spring are four new episodes of Miss Marple, the black comedy Malice Aforethought and Jericho, a detective story set in the 1950s.

September: God and Lennon’s vinyl

On Sept. 7, Frontline returns to Tuesday nights from its three-year ordeal on Thurs-days. It opens with Sacred Ground, a documentary about the first year of planning for construction on the site of Manhattan’s World Trade Center.

Question of God, a four-hour miniseries based on a popular Harvard course and book by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, examines the big questions of life and religion through the ideas of two of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis.

On Sept. 8, a Great Performances documentary explores the music that influenced John Lennon, and on Sept. 21 Live from Lincoln Center takes viewers to the New York Philharmonic’s opening night. Visiones: Latino Art and Culture, a six-parter executive-produced by Hector Galan, airs in weekly installments beginning Sept. 5.

Last week presenting station WNET officially announced Journal Editorial Report. Each installment will open with a field-produced piece on a top news story and then Gigot will moderate a roundtable discussion with other Journal columnists — deputy editorial page editor Daniel Henninger, economist Susan Lee and cultural commentator Dorothy Rabinowitz. Paul Friedman, former executive producer of ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC’s Today, is executive producer.

When PBS solicited ideas last year for new Friday night series, the Journal proposed a concept with another public TV station that Gigot declined to identify. The proposal was shelved after PBS decided to pilot and green-light Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered. “Then earlier this year [President] Pat Mitchell called and asked us to try again,” Gigot said. The Journal retooled its concept and began working with WNET.
“I guess this time it worked,” Gigot added. “We produced a pilot and they’ve agreed to it.”

The series presents an opportunity “to bring some of the best journalists working in America, their expertise and insights, to add to the lineup of public affairs programs we have,” said Stephen Segaller, e.p. for WNET. Segaller said the roundtable won’t avoid critical analysis of the Bush administration.

“These are not lapdogs, this group,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

“We are who we are—it’s not as if our point of view is hidden under a rock,” Gigot said. “We’re going to try to bring that to a television program. I view that as part of PBS’s mission. They want a diverse point of view and we can bring some diversity.”

Later in the month, Origins, a four-hour Nova miniseries, debuts as a two-night stunt Sept. 28 and introduces astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as Nova’s guide to cosmic beginnings. Tyson amiably explains the violent origins of the universe and planet Earth—events depicted with visually stunning animation in the opening hour—and how our planet came to support life. The series also explores the possibilities of life beyond the planet.

October: RFK’s transformation, Broadway magic

American Experience leads PBS’s October lineup with RFK. The two-hour documentary by David Grubin gives full-scale bio treatment to the late Robert F. Kennedy, a behind-the-scenes political operative who was transformed into a popular candidate in his grief over the assassination of his brother, President Kennedy [later article]. The film documents RFK’s controversial roles as chief counsel on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s rackets committee and in covert operations in Cuba, and chronicles his later struggle to find his voice as a candidate who spoke for the poor and the oppressed.

PBS Hollywood Presents unveils the first two episodes of a prospective drama series, Cop Shop, on Oct. 6 [earlier article], and Broadway: The American Musical, a chronicle of musical theater hosted by Julie Andrews, premieres as a gigantic six-hour, three-night stunt Oct. 19 through 21 [later article].

“It’s the magic of Broadway underscored by American history,” said David Horn, e.p. for WNET, during a presentation to programmers this spring. “It looks at 100 years of popular culture in what many refer to as the American Century.”

November: Life stifled in a corset

The latest installment of the PBS “House” franchise takes viewers to Britain’s socially restrictive yet opulent Regency period. In Regency House Party, 10 single men and women spend nine weeks in a stately mansion retrofitted to standards of luxury in 1811-1820 Britain. The series, which airs over four weeks beginning Wednesday, Nov. 3, demonstrates the strictures dictated by social class, wealth and gender as young adults angle for marriage partners who can bring them status and riches.

On Nov. 9, Frontline presents The Persuaders, a two-hour documentary exploring how marketers and advertisers overcome Americans’ growing resistance to sales pitches, seducing them to buy products and elect a president this year. Correspondent Douglas Rushkoff, an author and lecturer on new media and popular culture, collaborates with producers Rachel Dretzin and Barak Goodman. The same team produced The Merchants of Cool for Frontline in 2001.

Touching the Void, which hits the air Nov. 21 during Nielsen’s fall sweeps, combines drama and documentary techniques to re-create a real-life mountaineering adventure. Based on the best-selling book by the same title, the program recounts two mountaineers’ harrowing life-or-death struggle in the Peruvian Andes.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Masterpiece Theatre presents a new adaptation of the classic children’s book Pollyanna. Young Miss Whittier, a glad-hearted orphan, is the character who inspired the pejorative term for foolish optimism. Pollyanna, a popular heroine in pre-World War I America, brightens the lives of gloomy adults she encounters, including an aunt who seems to have closed her heart to love.

PBS gives a broad hint of the programs it thinks have the greatest potential to draw crowds and acclaim. It’s giving major “pop-out” promotional campaigns to three shows: Nova’s Origins, Broadway: The American Musical and Touching the Void.

Web page posted Aug. 30, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Current Publishing Committee

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CPB announces new Wall Street Journal series on PBS.

Nova's website for Origins.

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Visones: Latino Art and Culture on Latino Public Broadcasting site.

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