NEW YORK — Bill Moyers is planning to launch a weekly series on PBS about issues facing the United States during the 1992 election year. But despite his enthusiasm for this new venture, Moyers intends to shift his focus away from public television thereafter. "1992 will be my last full year in public broadcasting," he said in an interview.
By the end of next year, Moyers said, he will have spent most of the production funds he raised since he returned to PBS from CBS in 1986.
"I'm not going to disappear from public broadcasting," he said, "but it's not going to be the massive commitment that I have fulfilled in the last five years. Since I left CBS, I've raised about $15 million and done hundreds of hours of television. I've been very lucky through (corporations and foundations) to get the support for what I want to do, but I'm not eager to start over in raising an equal amount of money again. I'll be 58 next year, believe it or not, and I think it's time for younger people with bigger (fund-raising) cups."
Moyers said that his decision to cut back at PBS was a personal one and that he had informed network executives. His public disclosure of it comes as PBS is planning to mark his 20th anniversary of starting in non-commercial television with a 90-minute special at 9 p.m. Friday, "Moyers: 20 Years of Listening to America."
Moyers is working on several PBS specials for next year and on a five-part series about healing and the mind that will not air until early 1993. The election series, tentatively called "Listening to America" after a Moyers' 1971 book, is expected to begin in April and continue through the November campaign.
"We will report on what ordinary Americans and others think about the issues facing us, and why so many Americans feel that they hate politics. This is how I started out on PBS, and it seems a good time to round out the circle."
Moyers, whose career path has taken him from the Baptist ministry to working as an aide to President Lyndon Johnson to newspaper publishing before turning to television, is still contemplating what he will do beyond 1992.
Despite recent suggestions by political columnists that he might be drafted as a Democratic candidate, Moyers said that he is not planning to run for President, and he could not do so now that he is committed to the series.
According to published accounts of recent presidential campaigns, Moyers has been approached several times in the past to run for the nation's highest office. This summer, he said, "A group came to me and said they wanted to draft me, that I wouldn't have to do anything, and they'd run a campaign to build up the fires. I told them absolutely not."
Doesn't he want to be President?
"Sure, I'd like to be President--everybody in this (restaurant) would like to be President. Most Americans believe that anybody can grow up to be President, and we've proved that lately. Anyone \o7 can \f7 grow up to be President, and that's part of what's wrong with this country. But do I intend to run for President? No. I want to stay a journalist."
Moyers said that, like business leaders Peter Ueberroth and Lee Iacocca, others whose names pop up occasionally as potential candidates, "I'm seen as somebody outside who's not a political animal, whom a lot of people read into what they want to read into. Nobody knows what Ueberroth or Iacocca think about abortion or the debt. . . . Television makes people intimate strangers. People stop me on the street and want to tell me their stories, make a connection. Television does that. I remember when Walter Cronkite got a vote for vice president at one of the conventions. As he said subsequently, 'The moment I announce my position on abortion or the Panama Canal, boom, they're out the door.' "
Unlike Ueberroth and Iacocca, however, Moyers, in addition to producing numerous conventional documentaries, has not hesitated to state his point of view in TV essays on PBS, such as one award-winner on Watergate, and in an earlier stint as a commentator on CBS.
"I guess I'm perceived as being liberal," he said, "because I've asked a lot of tough questions about the only administration that we've had for the past 12 years, which has been a Republican administration. Personally, I've got a traditional family, I'm a regular worshiper in my religion, I'm a pretty square guy. Do I believe that society has to act to solve its problems? Yeah, I do. But is that the reason I do television? No. There was no ideological impulse to doing (mythologist) Joseph Campbell or (historian) Barbara Tuchman."