Those assuming PBS and NPR are the same organization are still wrong, but they're a little more right than before. After collaborating in their online presences and already cross-promoting, the public TV and radio networks last week debuted on PBS the news-analysis program NOW With Bill Moyers, featuring the PBS documentary icon and a host of NPR journalists in a reporting, interview and commentary mix.
"It has always been one of my goals," said PBS President and CEO Pat Mitchell, "to have Bill Moyers back on the air each week. It was important for PBS to offer a regular, weekly forum for the discussion of important ideas and issues. Bill is the person to lead such a renewed commitment to public affairs in prime time on PBS." She described his post-Sept. 11 specials, produced by Public Affairs Television, as "outstanding."
On the nets' reinvigorated synergy, Mitchell said: "PBS and NPR have talked about combining resources for the past year or so. This is a chance to use the journalistic resources of both public radio and public television. The deep background and reporting NPR brings to this show will certainly strengthen analysis. We'll be finding our way on this as we go along."
NPR President and CEO Kevin Klose wants "a creative and strategic relationship with PBS, complementary to both. There is a natural affinity, and we can strengthen and deepen the public-broadcasting presence in the marketplace of ideas."
NPR Executive Vice President Ken Stern pointed to 77 joint licensees in public radio and television, including prominent stations like KQED(TV) San Francisco, WETA-TV Washington, D.C., and KERA-TV Dallas. "We began the process of working closer together at the beginning of last year with an online partnership."
NPR's journalistic heavyweights include Juan Williams, Nina Totenberg and Mara Liasson, who make frequent TV appearances. Moyers will likely appear each week on any of several NPR shows, as panelist or commentator or with a produced segment.
"We'll be looking at how successfully this goes," Stern said. "We are not as ratings-bound as commercial broadcasters, but our service is in some ways measured by audience. PBS has an audience of 100 million people, and not enough of them are familiar with NPR."
It's too soon, Klose said, to specify joint projects. "The need for this kind of quality programming has never been higher, but the costs have never been higher, too. We're all looking for collaborative relationships."