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Why 'Turning Point' Focuses on Manson : Television: ABC News President Roone Arledge says the topic of the premiere is a 'pragmatic and deliberate' effort to snag viewers early.

March 09, 1994|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — ABC News President Roone Arledge acknowledged Tuesday that the network is kicking off its documentary-style series "Turning Point" with an hour about Charles Manson and his followers in hopes of bringing viewers into the tent.

Putting the Manson show first, Arledge told a news conference here, "was a pragmatic and deliberate act on our part. It is not necessarily representative of all the areas we want to cover. But we do want people to know the show is on the air."

"Turning Point"--which will focus on a single subject each week, unlike ABC's three other prime-time news programs, "20/20," "Day One" and "PrimeTime Live"--is the first new series that will be co-anchored by Diane Sawyer under her new, $6-million-a-year contract with ABC. She and Barbara Walters will be the main anchors for "Turning Point," with Peter Jennings contributing several programs each season.

In an interview Tuesday, Sawyer said she believes the story of Manson followers Leslie Van Houton and Patricia Krenwinkel has journalistic merit. She interviewed them and Manson in prison, where they are serving life sentences for the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders.

"I think this is a story about what it's like for these women to face themselves," Sawyer said. "These were middle-class homecoming queens in the culture of the 1960s; how did they end up going off with Charlie Manson?"

Opening with Manson is an illustration of the role that sensational crime stories are playing in a crowded field that, with "Turning Point," is occupied by 10 prime-time network news programs. ABC's newsmagazine "Day One" has gone on to do many kinds of stories since its premiere one year ago, but the series debuted with a story about a man who'd been tried for using the AIDS virus as a deadly weapon.

"We're going to do a mix of stories," Arledge said of "Turning Point," "not simply the ones that we know will get a rating." Future programs will include investigative pieces on "slave labor" in the United States and the murder of Amy Biehl, an American student in South Africa. Among Jennings' programs will be historical pieces on the uprising in Tian An Men Square and on D-Day.

Sawyer, who also has reported a "Turning Point" program on a young couple with sextuplets, will continue as co-anchor of "PrimeTime Live" and is expected to be named co-anchor with Forrest Sawyer of "Day One." She said the details of her schedule have not been worked out yet.

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