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Moyers May Return To Public Tv

September 10, 1986|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

Barring a last-minute change of mind, CBS correspondent-commentator Bill Moyers, who this week accused CBS News management of "yielding to the encroachment of entertainment values," probably will return to public TV, as has been expected for several months.

Although his secretary in New York reported him out of town and unavailable for comment, a CBS News spokeswoman said Tuesday that Moyers has "told CBS News he is not working past the end of his (CBS) contract," which expires in November.

A spokeswoman at public TV station WNET in New York, which co-produced such acclaimed Moyers series as the "Bill Moyers Journal," said that because he still is under contract to CBS no negotiations have been made with him to return to public TV, where his broadcasting career began in 1971.

However, she said, "we have been in discussions with him about two or three ideas for shows" after he leaves CBS News and "we would be delighted, of course, if he returned to public television, doing what he does as nobody else can."

Moyers said "some months ago" and again several weeks ago that he will leave CBS News when his contract there ends, but gave no explanation why, "not in any specific words," CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter said by phone from New York on Tuesday.

"You'd have to ask him about that," he added.

Moyers, an eight-time Emmy Award winner, has in recent months expressed increasing dissatisfaction with the direction of CBS News.

He reiterated that in an interview in this week's edition of Newsweek magazine (dated Sept. 16), asserting that the "line between entertainment and news was steadily blurred" over the last 2 1/2 years.

"Our center of gravity shifted from the standards and practices of the news business to show business. In meeting after meeting, 'Entertainment Tonight' was touted as the model--breezy, entertaining and undemanding," he told the magazine.

Moyers' remarks were yet another problem for CBS News, already beset by layoffs, stiff ratings competition posed to the once-dominant "CBS Evening News" by the "NBC Nightly News"; uncertainty over who will run parent CBS Inc., and another much-publicized critical salvo last month by "60 Minutes" humorist Andy Rooney.

Moyers' interview was published just a few days before a regularly scheduled CBS board meeting to be held in New York today.

CBS News chided Moyers Monday afternoon in issuing its response to his comments.

"The overwhelming majority of people at CBS News take pride in the integrity, quality and contribution of their journalism," it said. "This organization should hardly be exempt from critical analysis, though, in this case, it is regrettable that it is expressed against the background of Mr. Moyers' frustration of an unfulfilled personal aspiration."

There was no elaboration, and Sauter said that he had nothing more to add to the statement. But CBS' response apparently referred to a meeting that Moyers recalled between himself and CBS Broadcast Group President Gene F. Jankowski.

Moyers said in the Newsweek interview that Jankowski asked him what it would take to keep him at CBS News.

According to Newsweek, Moyers said he proposed resurrecting in CBS "worst" prime time slot the late Edward R. Murrow's old "See It Now" series--which aired on CBS from 1952 to 1955--for 52 weeks, and to let him "call on some of CBS News' best producers and reporters, and a little patience."

If the series failed, Moyers said he told Jankowski, "send me $1 in the mail. If it succeeds, give me any payment you want--not agents." He quoted the CBS executive as saying he was going to "stick with 'West 57th,' " CBS News' flashy new news magazine series.

Jankowski declined to comment Tuesday on Moyers' remarks.

Moyers, 52, former press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson and later publisher of Newsday, the Long Island, N.Y., newspaper, left public television to join CBS News in 1976, returning to noncommercial PBS three years later.

He rejoined CBS News in November, 1981, as a commentator on the "CBS Evening News." He also did "CBS Reports" specials and in 1983 anchored a CBS News summer series, "Our Time." The next year, he and Charles Kuralt co-anchored the short-lived "Crossroads" series.

This year, he has reported and anchored four prime-time news specials, ranging from the disintegration of families in black urban ghettos to an exclusive interview with retiring Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.

Sources at WNET have said that possible future projects of Moyers in public TV include a 10-part series, now tentatively called "Conversations on the Constitution," which would be underwritten by General Motors and co-produced by PBS station WTVS in Detroit.

Despite his criticism of CBS News, Moyers appeared Monday night on the "CBS Evening News" with a commentary on Nicholas S. Daniloff, the U.S. News & World Report magazine correspondent imprisoned by the Soviet Union on a charge of espionage.

Tom Bettag, the program's executive producer, said Moyers told him Monday he'd be taking a few days off but would return later this week. "I expect he'll be available either Thursday or Friday," Bettag added.

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