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TELEVISION & RADIO | TOUR TALK

Seriously, now: It's PBS' turn

July 28, 2006|Lynn Smith, Matea Gold

A look at some of the highlights as the TV industry unveiled its upcoming shows to the entertainment press at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena.

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On the final day of the press tour, the party mood turned somber and earnest.

Instead of the dancing and hilarity that marked some -- but certainly not all -- of the earlier panels, the few reporters remaining heard PBS talk Thursday about new shows on asteroids, evolutionary throwbacks and the abusive treatment of captive chimpanzees, as well as two programs that focus on the rebuilding at ground zero.

One reason PBS decided to revisit its 2002 documentary on "Why the Towers Fell" with "Building on Ground Zero" (which is scheduled to air Sept. 5) is new technical information that has surfaced on the causes of the towers' collapse, said Paula Apsell, the senior executive producer of "Nova." Because information contained in the first documentary was used to revise building codes, the corrections need to be reported, she said.

"America Rebuilds, Part II, Return to Ground Zero" (set to air Sept. 11), is a more emotional effort, opening with a benediction of the twin towers in 1973, a prayer after the collapse and a prayer from protesters in 2006. It covers neighborhood meetings and controversies over the memorial, and the reconstruction of the commercial tower and transportation hub.

A third "America Rebuilds" is planned for 2010, producers said. They said footage could include a ribbon cutting and the reactions of family members as they see their loved one's names on the memorial.

Lynn Smith

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Maintaining their 'Masterpiece'

PBS' Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of "Masterpiece Theater," told reporters the venerable institution would not skimp on quality despite the fact that public broadcasters are still searching for a sponsor.

"We do not have a funder but we have a team in place looking for a funder in a new way," she said on Wednesday, the penultimate day of the press tour. "Masterpiece Theater" will be "rebranding" and presenting itself to potential corporate sponsors as a multi-platform vehicle for their messages, she said.

Viewers may notice fewer new dramas, but Eaton promised that the artistic quality would remain high. This year, the program produced "Bleak House," which received 10 Emmy nominations, she noted. The final season of "Prime Suspect," starring Helen Mirren, airs in November.

"We are thrilled with the new leadership at PBS," Eaton said, referring to Paula Kerger, who recently replaced Pat Mitchell as PBS president. "She is someone who has gone on record as supporting the arts, and we take that definition to include drama."

Lynn Smith

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'George,' to satisfy their curiosity

It was a smaller-than-usual crowd that turned out for the PBS breakfast with the producers of the new animated children's series "Curious George." (Many attendees were likely still recovering from the Fox party the night before, a full-scale blowout in the hotel garden.)

Those who made it to the Wednesday morning panel were greeted with what looked like a room full of ... large yellow hats? Scratch that: They were just tables with bright yellow tablecloths, made up to look like the favorite accessory of Curious George's human companion.

If the room's eye-opening color scheme didn't jolt you awake, there was no way you could remain sluggish once Frank Welker took the stage. (The voice-over actor provides George's voice in the new series.)

He demonstrated his talents with a rendition of a dog and a cat that encounter each other on the street. (Much hissing and woofing ensued.) Welker then offered a sample of his take on Curious George, a mixture of squeals, screeches and hoots. (Margaret Rey, one of the creators of George, mandated that he would never speak.) Welker said he got his inspiration for George's persona by observing monkeys in zoos and discussing the character's spirit with producers.

Matea Gold

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Still committed to fighting back

Using celebrity to raise funds for humanitarian aid is a fine thing, but the Angelina Jolies and Brad Pitts of the world ought to take on international child exploitation, according to John Walsh, host of Fox's "America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back." "It's unbelievably disgusting and there's big monetary value behind it."

It's been 25 years since his son, Adam, was abducted and later found murdered, but Walsh has maintained his passion for recovering missing children and capturing and punishing offenders, largely through the television show, billed as the "original interactive television program" in which viewers can report suspected offenders to law enforcement officials. The show has reportedly helped capture almost 900 criminals and reunite 43 children with their families since it debuted in 1988.

Speaking to journalists this week, Walsh, founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, described his two-year effort to pass the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, a $1.2-billion bill that was signed into law by President Bush on Thursday, the anniversary of Adam's abduction.

The bill includes a monetary provision to help local law-enforcement agencies establish training programs in cyber crime, a sex offender registry system, and also establishes uniform rules for states on what offenders are required to report.

The reason it took two years to get such a "no-brainer" bill adopted is that many lawmakers were consumed by bitter turf battles over who would get the credit and the money, he said.

And still, many cases go unsolved. "The harsh reality is you probably never get justice," he said.

-- Lynn Smith

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