Ted Koppel may be struggling to save ABC’s Nightline from the expanding late-night entertainment complex, but he is doing all he can to support Two Towns of Jasper, the documentary about the hate-motivated 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, scheduled to air on PBS January 22.
Nightline is working with the PBS series P.O.V. to expand coverage of the film into a four-day event, the highlight of which will be Ted Koppell hosting a live town hall meeting in Jasper, on January 23, the night after the Two Towns broadcast.
Two Towns of Jasper, directed by Whiney Dow and Marco Williams, garnered critical attention at Sundance 2002 for its provocative use of two separated crews—one entirely African American, the other all Caucasian—to document the effect of the murder and subsequent trial of three white men charged with the crime.
"Two Towns of Jasper has become the centerpiece of a collaborative effort” between ABC News and P.O.V., explained Cara Mertes, executive director of P.O.V. “The film is really a springboard for a wonderful partnership that can capitalize on the integrity attached to both Nightline and P.O.V.”
The collaboration begins January 21, when (barring a major news event) Nightline will feature an episode-long preview of Two Towns of Jasper. The following night, January 22, P.O.V. will air the film in its entirety. On January 24, Nightline will air a forty-five minute version of the town hall meeting.
“The events in Jasper, Texas, offer Nightline an opportunity to revisit an issue they have already covered in-depth,” says Mertes. Nightline followed closely both the murder of James Byrd Jr. and the trial and conviction of the three white assailants. Two Towns, a portrait of the racially divided city, was made during the trial.
The collaboration between P.O.V. and Nightline is not the first between public television and a commercial broadcasting entity. According to Mertes, Frontline “did it during the Clinton years—but this is the first time for P.O.V.”
Public television advocates look skeptically at any link between public and commercial television, but Mertes is confident that such feelings are unnecessary. “Anyone wondering about [such issues] only has to look at how closely Nightline’s mandate for public affairs programming lines up with P.O.V.’s goals. We are after the same things. We have both retained complete editorial control [over our separate productions]; that was never an issue.”
ITVS Takes Helm of PBS Series
by Charlie Sweitzer
A reworking of Independent Lens, the anthology series of independent films, will be unveiled by PBS and the Independent Television Service (ITVS) on February 4. “The one theme that defines the series,” says Claire Aguilar, cocurator and ITVS director of programming, “is the vision of the independent filmmakers who passionately pursued stories and made programs that reflect an individual perspective.”
ITVS received a special grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the initial season. Lois Vossen, Independent Lens senior producer and cocurator, says ITVS is seeking corporate underwriters for future seasons and hopes to reach out to new sources of funding, “rather than going to foundations who typically fund public TV.”
Independent Lens premieres with Maggie Growls, a documentary about activist Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers. Other shows this season address such diverse topics as gay parenting and adoption (Daddy & Papa), resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied France (Sisters in Resistance), and one of the world’s most famous female big wave surfers, Rell Sunn (Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka’ehukai).
According to Cheryl Jones, senior director of PBS Program Development and Independent film, the series plans to provide the same kind of outreach as P.O.V., including material on the show’s website, marketing, and publicity.
The series will air Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. through June 3. During the summer PBS’s award-winning documentary series P.O.V. will run in the same time slot. Independent Lens’s fall season, featuring fifteen new episodes, will begin in September 2003.