PBS elects coverage

'NewsHour' will help fill prime time with convention news

PBS may have lost its partner for the political conventions, but the network believes it has gained enough to provide broadcast TV's most extensive coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions.

Even with recent decisions to increase coverage (the commercial broadcast networks will provide an hour or two of live convention coverage nightly), PBS plans to fill its prime time hours from the Los Angeles and Philadelphia venues.

NBC and PBS worked together in 1992 and 1996, but NBC now has two cable networks to fill with public affairs programming, and the bulk of its coverage will be on MSNBC.

But since the last convention, PBS' Newshour With Jim Lehrer, which will functions as the network's news organ for the conventions, has added two senior correspondents, Gwen Ifill and Ray Suarez, to join Margaret Warner and Elizabeth Farnsworth. The network will have a second studio in addition to its anchor booth, access to the many C-SPAN pool cameras covering the convention hall, and a slate of well-known historians (Michael Beschloss, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Haynes Johnson) and pundits (Mark Shields and Paul Gigot) for analysis and perspective.

"Even though the selection for presidential candidates has been decided," said Newshour Executive Producer Les Crystal, "and that takes away some of the mystery and some of the spontaneity, the conventions will be very important to the campaign. A large part of the country-the part that votes-will be interested."

PBS' ratings for convention coverage in 1996 were in the low-to-mid-2 range, less than one of the major networks but more than cable networks providing convention coverage. It expects to match or surpass that performance.