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CNN's 60 Minutes : THE NEWS NETWORK EXPANDS ITS DOCUMENTARY 'SHOWCASE'

January 16, 1994|SCOTT WILLIAMS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — If you'd care to watch CNN put its best foot forward, tune in on Sunday nights this year.

"CNN Presents," the Cable News Network's "marquee" documentary, which premiered as a monthly show last March, has gone weekly as a one-hour, one-theme program airing Sundays.

"This is going to be a showcase for CNN in the same way that '60 Minutes' is a showcase for CBS," says Bob Furnad, CNN's executive vice president and executive producer, who developed the show with its executive producer, Scott Woelfel.

Furnad says CNN always intended to make the show a weekly feature: "1993 was more seeing what we could do ... seeing if we had the staff and the wherewithal--the talent--to go weekly."

CNN has redirected the efforts of its special units. "For instance," Furnad says, "the Special Assignments Unit had been doing a weekly piece every Monday, in addition to two or three one-hour specials during the year. 'We've dropped the weekly piece and concentrated toward a dozen one-hour pieces."

In addition, CNN will continue to combine special units--as it did for the 1993 report, "Swords to Plowshares," in which CNN's science and business units teamed up on a story about the conversion of U.S. and Soviet war economies to peace economies.

"We found that the combined units actually enjoyed working together and produced a hell of an hour," Furnad says.

Since its premiere, "CNN Presents" has boosted ratings in its various time slots by 29%, according to CNN figures. But it hasn't found the larger audiences Furnad believes are available.

That's part of the reason for the Sunday night time slot, he said.

"Last summer, during the Mississippi River flooding, our environmental unit did a dynamite hour on the environmental consequences, but it got little audience because folks didn't know it was there," Furnad says.

"We get a lot of criticism from the networks and other critics who say we do great on breaking news but we lack depth," he says. "Well, we do have depth, but people haven't been able to find it."

The anchor desk will rotate among four of CNN's principal anchors: Susan Rook, Frank Sesno, Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

Fittingly, "CNN Presents' " first hour looked at "TV 2000," the present and the promise of its own medium, where technologies are converging on an "interactive TV"--a hybrid of computer, telephone and cable box.

Rook directed viewers through the products and services already available "on" television or in it, with reports from CNN science correspondent Miles O'Brien and "Showbiz Today" anchor Jim Moret.

Next among the 34 shows slated for 1994 was "The Battle of the Sexes," which aired last week, when anchor Woodruff and sports anchor Nick Charles examined college sports, where the dollars-and-cents gender gap between men and women persists.

On Sunday, CNN's Peter Arnett reports from Afghanistan on how suspects in the World Trade Center bombing allegedly were trained by a CIA-backed political leader.

Other topics include genetic engineering, behind the scenes at the Academy Awards, the proliferation of legalized gambling, slavery, fan violence, Eastern Europe five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and unequal U.S. education 40 years after the Supreme Court's Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling.

"If you took one hour of the week and said, 'This is the most important hour of the network, and this is an hour that's going to be our signature, and put your creative nickels into it, as well as your actual nickels, this is what you would get," Furnad says.

"That's why it's different, dramatic and bolder than what we've been doing," he says. "These are 1990s documentaries. They're good television, and they're good journalism."

"CNN Presents" airs Sundays at 6 p.m.

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