4 PBS stations join forces on news show

Aug 27, 2001  •  Post A Comment

PBS station KCET-TV, Los Angeles, will work with three other PBS stations in California to produce a news affairs show focusing on California issues.
KCET is still in the research and development phase on “California Connected,” a weekly one-hour prime-time show that executives describe as a California version of “60 Minutes” meets “Nightline.” The show, which will be broadcast from a virtual set, will be headquartered at KCET but is a collaboration of KCET and three other major PBS stations in the state: KQED-TV, San Francisco; KVIE-TV, Sacramento; and KPBS-TV, San Diego. The show is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2002.
“California Connected” is a new concept, tying together a state that is often seen as divided between North and South. Each station will be able to call upon its connections in its community, such as Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the Mexican border and the state capital, for the benefit of the program.
PBS stations are usually independent, although they do produce programs that are distributed to other PBS stations nationally or regionally. This project is unique because the four stations are partners on one show, which will be distributed to the 13 PBS stations in California. The yet-to-be-chosen host will anchor the show at KCET, but each of the four stations will have one on-camera reporter involved in the production.
“California is such an important state; it’s the largest economy in the country,” said KCET President and CEO Al Jerome. “With a state that is that important and powerful, we felt that public television-which is so oriented toward substance in our programming-ought to find a way to cover the state, in an effort to get people civically engaged, celebrating diversity and fixing problems.”
The four general managers involved in the project raised $600,000 from the James Irvine Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for research and development of the show. An additional $2 million from each foundation is allocated to the show for the first year of production-that is a large budget for one PBS show. Additional funding will be needed to sustain the production. “It’s an ambitious show,” Mr. Jerome said.
Marley Klaus, executive producer for the new show and a former “60 Minutes” producer, said the show will run live on the Web. Though the details need to be worked out, she said viewers will be able to see how the production team puts the show together before each episode airs, and can participate and change the course of the show as it’s being produced.
“Because it’s PBS, one of the opportunities, one of the mandates-it’s more involved in the communities than a conventional news operation [would be],” Ms. Klaus said. “One of the other things we’re going to play with is working with a small company, Internews Interactive, based in San Francisco. It puts two-way video conferencing kiosks in public spaces.”
Ms. Klaus said Internews Interactive already has interactive kiosks in a restaurant in Minneapolis, in a prison in San Francisco and in some schools. People visiting the kiosks will be able to interact with the show’s producers. “California Connected” will also have two-minute interstitials, or cut-ins, which Ms. Klaus said will be designed to give viewers more information on what’s being discussed in their communities and how they can get involved.
“We’re not a reactive news organization-it’s depth of content. It may not be in the headlines, such as car chases,” Ms. Klaus said. “This show is to increase people’s participation in their own governance and to have the citizens in California begin to feel like members of their community.”
The show will focus on things in the state that work and people who are making a difference. “I think that’s almost a radical concept in TV today,” Ms. Klaus said. “We’re going to be talking about problems in a constructive way.”
The show will work with local programming that comes out of all four PBS stations. For example, Ms. Klaus may use documentaries from KPBS and pieces from KVIE, which has a successful agricultural show, “California Heartland.” The show will have partnerships with print media and journalism schools and will ask viewers to put together news pieces, or “citizen-produced” pieces. The show also will have a link on the Web sites of all the PBS stations in California.