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Moyers: He Can't Do Cbs With Pbs

November 22, 1986|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Bill Moyers, whom the new heads of CBS tried to keep as a commentator-correspondent, was back in public TV Friday, having reluctantly rejected a proposal to work both in public TV and for CBS News.

Moyers, 52, an eight-time Emmy winner, made public his departure from CBS News on Thursday in a letter to his colleagues, in which he also said that "I am proud of much of what we have done together in my time here."

CBS' acting chief executive officer, Laurence A. Tisch, and William S. Paley, the company's founder and now acting board chairman, had tried in recent weeks to persuade Moyers to stay.

Moyers, who was not available for interviews Friday and whose CBS News contract expired on Nov. 15, will be on his third public TV tour since 1971. He worked for CBS in 1976-78 and rejoined it in 1981.

He is regarded within the industry as having been a significant part of the well-publicized turbulence at CBS that led to the Sept. 10 ouster of its board chairman, Thomas H. Wyman, and the resignation of CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter a day later.

Early this year, Moyers notified his superiors that he was leaving when his contract expired. He had grown increasingly unhappy at the direction he thought CBS News was taking under then-president Sauter.

In a Newsweek interview published shortly before a CBS board meeting that led to the Wyman-Sauter departures, he accused CBS News management of "yielding to the encroachment of entertainment values" in trying to get ratings.

(In the interview, he also implied criticism of CBS' flashy new news-magazine series, "West 57th." The program is produced by Andrew Lack, who produced Moyers' short-lived "Our Time" series in 1983.)

After Tisch and Wyman took charge at CBS, they appointed Howard Stringer, Moyers' friend and former executive producer of Moyers' "CBS Reports" documentaries, as the new president of CBS News.

This led to speculation that Moyers might change his mind, even though he had said he was returning to public TV. Moyers noted the speculation in his farewell letter, in which he referred to CBS' "change in management."

The "new management" asked him to reconsider, he said, and when he cited his PBS commitments, Paley and Tisch "then suggested that I keep some connection with CBS News as I fulfilled my other commitments."

Because of his friendship with Stringer and because Tisch and Paley "expressed so eloquently their high expectations for CBS News in the coming years," Moyers said, "I seriously entertained the thought of a dual role. . . ."

However, he said, he finally concluded that his PBS schedule was so extensive that he couldn't work for both public TV and CBS and give them "their full due.

"I so informed (CBS) management this week," said Moyers, who with Joan Konner, a colleague from his earlier PBS days, has formed a production company, Public Affairs Television Inc., headquartered at WNET here.

Konner said Friday that Moyers was working on a 10-part series underwritten by General Motors, "Conversations on the Constitution," that will air next fall. She said they also planned to co-produce with the BBC six other one-hour documentaries, with work on that to begin in April.

CBS News chief Stringer said he and anchorman Dan Rather will soon start considering possible successors to Moyers as a commentator.

He said that Moyers--who reported and anchored four prime-time documentaries aired this year--made no recommendations on who should succeed him as CBS News commentator. Moyers' last network appearances in that role were on Election Night, Nov. 4, and the next morning on the "CBS Morning News."

The Welsh-born Stringer, who in a memo to CBS News staffers announced "with regret" that Moyers was leaving to return to public TV, nonetheless indicated he hoped that his friend might make a third return to CBS.

"We wish him every success in his broadcasting endeavors," Stringer wrote, but added that "if he wishes to return, as we say in Wales, 'We'll keep a welcome in the hillside.' "

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