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Public Stations Get 'Connected'

Television* A weekly newsmagazine focusing on California issues premieres Thursday in all of the state's seven markets.

April 24, 2002|SUFIYA ABDUR-RAHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Californians often seem too spread out and diverse to have much in common, don't tell that to the state's public television executives. They've set out to unite California behind stories and issues through a weekly TV newsmagazine.

"California Connected" will premiere Thursday at 9 p.m. in the seven distinct television markets across the state. Idealistic? Yes. Possible? Apparently.

"To my knowledge, it's the first time that all seven markets have ever linked up," said Al Jerome, president and CEO of KCET in Los Angeles, the headquarters for the program. Jerome said he and the other station chiefs agreed to the collaborative venture to provide the show the greatest impact.

"There's nothing more important for a public television station than to deal with the major problems and issues facing the state," Jerome said.

The one-hour show will focus on such topics as education, the environment, health care and the arts and will include studio segments and reports from the field produced by KCET, KQED in San Francisco, KVIE in Sacramento and KPBS in San Diego. Stations in Eureka, Fresno, Redding and San Bernardino (which serves part of the market reached by KCET) will also carry the program.

"I feel pretty strongly that stories unite," said Marley Klaus, the executive producer of "California Connected" and a former "60 Minutes" producer. "There are many issues that apply to all of us."

Those include state laws, an area frequently given little time on commercial stations. "Almost everything does lead back to Sacramento. It's completely uncovered in local television because people think that it's boring, and we plan to show them that it's not," Klaus said.

The series also won't stop at reporting on important bills going through the legislative process, she said, but will tell viewers exactly where and how to get involved. The "Get Connected" minute is a news brief that will air daily, with information about what decisions are being made the next day.

The show's Web site, www.californiaconnected.org, will include background information on these decisions, along with meeting places and e-mail addresses of involved parties.

"It's not just that we're reporting on what has happened and what is going to happen, but what are the implications for the future," Klaus said.

If all goes well, Jerome expects the program's format to be copied by public television networks in other states. Texas, he said, has already expressed interest.

The series will be anchored by David Brancaccio, host of Minnesota Public Radio's "Marketplace." Former CNN producer Bob Melisso is the senior producer.

A news program about California wouldn't be complete without a diverse lineup of reporters, including David Garcia, a seasoned environmental reporter for Southern California television stations; Hena Cuevas, a former CNN correspondent who reported from several Latin American countries; and Jon Beaupre, an award-winning broadcaster for National Public Radio and the BBC News.

"It's a very ambitious project," Jerome said. "What excites me is at a time when commercial broadcasters are doing less and less public affairs, less substantive reporting of major issues, this is a time for public television to step up and show that we can be an alternative."

Added Klaus, "What we really hope is [that] people become more actively involved in the decisions that are made that affect their lives."

"California Connected" premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on KCET.

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