NEW YORK — Public-TV station WGBH is developing a documentary series devoted entirely to the issue of AIDS. Tentatively titled "The AIDS Update," it is being designed as a magazine-style show that would be broadcast four times a year in prime time on public television stations around the country, starting this fall.
The projected $3-million series, which has been in the planning stages at WGBH for 18 months, has not yet been funded. However, WGBH officials have targeted it as "highest priority" and are optimistic about lining up support.
"We're putting this project on a fast track and bypassing the wearying delays caused by the usual PBS funding process," said Peter McGhee, WGBH's program manager for national productions.
"Usually we have to come up with material support from the (public TV) stations and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in order to get funds from other sources, and this involves a lot of time and, often, internal politics," he explained. "But in this case, we feel there are enough potential funding sources who understand the magnitude of the AIDS crisis and share our perception that the media needs to become more of a player than it has to date."
Planned as a joint presentation of the weekly "Frontline" and "Nova" series (which WGBH also produces), "The AIDS Update" would be guaranteed a place in PBS' prime-time schedule by being broadcast in the time slots reserved for the two existing series, according to both McGhee and PBS officials.
"This series will get all the support it needs from PBS," said Suzanne Weil, senior vice president for programming at PBS. "I can't think of an idea that has come to us that has been welcomed with more enthusiasm and seriousness, and we're enormously grateful to WGBH for jumping into this and helping to put PBS where we want to be with every major issue."
Renata Simone, who has been developing the new series at WGBH, said each 60-minute program will consist of documentary film reports, live news updates, interviews, discussions, analysis and commentary.
She said the show will contain original material produced by a staff at the Boston station and by independent film makers, and of material acquired from sources "all over the world."
A 12- to 15-member advisory panel for the series is now being formed from among experts in medicine and research, public health, public policy and AIDS activism, she said.