NEW YORK — After a six-month search, the Public Broadcasting Service's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" has found a second corporate underwriter, telecom giant SBC Communications, owner of Pacific Bell.
The multimillion-dollar commitment comes just as grant money to tide the show over was about to run out, and is unusual at a time when many other companies have cut back on corporate underwriting of public television due to the economic downturn. The uncertain economy was the reason cited earlier this year by two Citigroup units when they told the producer, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, they would no longer underwrite the show.
SBC, which is based in San Antonio, has signed up as an underwriter effective immediately and continuing through 2002, with an option to renew. A spokesman declined to comment on how much the company had committed, but one person familiar with the deal said MacNeil/Lehrer got the full $5 million it had been seeking. SBC, which has been underwriting PBS' Friday night public affairs show, "Washington Week," joins longtime "NewsHour" sponsor Archer Daniels Midland Inc. The program also gets funding from PBS, viewers and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
An SBC spokesman said the show "fills a great need for in-depth and objective reporting of national and global events. It's a terrific forum in that regard and one we're very pleased to support."
A MacNeil/Lehrer spokesman said, "We're delighted to have them." The "NewsHour" had been relying on a $1.6-million grant from the Menlo Park, Calif.-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to cover expenses through the end of the year.