With public TVs new Saturday night
concerts, younger viewers can eavesdrop on diverse musicians
in Current, June 23, 1997
The first major part of American Program Service's weekend schedule for public TV will be Sessions at West 54th, a fully underwritten weekly pop music concert hosted by clued-in public radio deejay Chris Douridas, starting July 5 on stations reaching at least 85 percent of the population.
APS also announced that WNET, New York, is seeking underwriters for Digital Duo, a weekend review of computer hardware and software hosted by Stephen Manes and Walt Mossberg, computer columnists for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, respectively.
Both programs are parts of what APS calls "the American Weekend"--a schedule of lifestyle programs including the how-to shows and movies that the Boston-based program distributor already provides, plus new pieces such as a Sunday morning kidvid block. Kevin Harris, former programmer at KQED in San Francisco and now a consultant at APS, is working on the schedule and will have announcements in coming weeks, according to APS spokesperson Jan Goldstein.
Sessions at West 54th is named for the Manhattan street where the soundstage is located, not far from the studios where CBS made the similarly titled West 57th newsmagazine some years ago.
The series will air in most markets at 11 p.m. Saturdays. It features an array of blues, rock, folk, jazz and world music acts selected to attract the 25-55 age group, said Jeb Brien, who is executive producer for the production house, Automatic Productions.
The Caribbean act Albita, for instance, has the sophistication and cultural diversity to appeal to typical public TV viewers, while the rhythm and musicianship will pull in younger people, he predicts.
Earlier this month, Brien completed taping such performers as Ben Folds Five, Taj Mahal, Keb' Mo', k.d. lang, Wynton Marsalis, Sonic Youth and Papas Fritas.
The initial broadcast schedule:
Brien and Niki Vettel, APS senior v.p. for program development, developed the series after working on APS concert specials with Suzanne Vega and Ottmar Liebert. Brien also credits series producer Monica Hardiman for contributing to the project.
Off-stage with D.A. Pennebaker
"We're being mindful of not schlocking this thing together," said Brien.
With underwriting from IBM, BMW and Sony Electronics, he is flying in host Chris Douridas from KCRW in Santa Monica and hiring noted documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (The War Room, Monterey Pop and Don't Look Back) to film Douridas interviewing the artists off stage.
Though the series will be taped with an audience, Brien wants to give it a different look, with the musicians facing each other instead of the audience.
"Our audience will be eavesdropping on these musicians, busy at their craft, having a good time," said the producer. "The artists are meant to relate to each other, not the audience." His model is a 1959 CBS special, "The Sounds of Miles Davis," that featured John Coltrane and Gil Evans as well as Davis.
Brien, who has directed concert programs of Carly Simon, Luther Van Dross, LeAnn Rimes and other stars, and done musical specials for Great Performances and In the Spotlight, is taping each artist for about an hour and selecting five or six songs from each session. Most of the hour-long shows will be split between two performers.
But the series also will include specials, including an abridged version of the Jazz at Lincoln Center presentation of Wynton Marsalis's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Blood on the Fields."
The program is being taped in component digital video at Automatic Productions, a production company owned by Sony. But having different branches of Sony as producer and underwriter doesn't mean that the series will specialize in Sony Records artists. Only three of the 18 artists signed so far are with Sony, said Brien.
The first batch of tapings ended last week and will resume in late July and again in early September. While Douridas is in New York, he's continuing to do his daily program for KCRW, Morning Becomes Eclectic. Besides working as music director at the station, he is an A&R consultant with DreamWorks Records and has selected soundtracks for such movies as Heat, Grace of My Heart, Grosse Point Blank and Austin Powers.
Digital Duo modeled on Siskel and Ebert
The half-hour computer review, planned to debut this fall, casts Manes and Mossberg as the Siskel and Ebert of geekdom. They'll advise viewers to "save" or "delete" four or five products per show, according to APS.
ZMedia Inc., based in Framingham, Mass., will produce Digital Duo. The co-executive producers and managing partners of ZMedia are Steven DePaul, co-producer of the ABC drama NYPD Blue and Dennis Allen, co-e.p. of a nature series for Discovery Communications' Animal Planet channel.
The producers aim to start a run of 26 half-hour programs in the fall. More than 113 licensees, reaching 84 percent of households, indicated they will carry the series, according to APS.
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