'Mr. Rogers' of news gets edgy
Bill Moyers combines fireside chat style with penchant for in-depth news.
At a time when TV news programs feature war in real time and talk shows morph into shouting matches, there is one program going against the grain - with lengthy interviews, philosophical insights, and tireless coverage of domestic issues.
"Now With Bill Moyers," which airs Friday nights, debuted in January last year in answer to what PBS felt was a need for responsive, post-9/11 news programming.
Mr. Moyers, who aired a series of special reports after the Sept. 11 attacks, delayed a planned retirement in order to host the weekly newsmagazine.
Viewers familiar with Moyers's special reports and documentaries, such as the well-known "Power of Myth" series with Joseph Campbell, or the recent "Becoming American: The Chinese Experience," probably aren't surprised to find Moyers's philosophically framed questions and fireside-chat style on "Now."
What may set "Now" apart from previous Moyers programming is a tone of urgency that offers not only hard-driven, alternative news, but decidedly cutting-edge content.
"We're trying to get the truth behind the news," says Moyers, who also credits his production staff, who are half his age, for the edgy tone. "An official person speaks, and we as journalists often act as stenographers for it ... when all too often what's actually happening behind; the words is the real story. Someone once said that news is what's hidden, everything else is advertising."
That may sound a little, well, radical for a man in a Mr. Rogers sweater. In fact, while Moyers still comes across as empathetic and engaged in interviews, his on-air style is more probing and direct: "I've become impatient with the superfluous," Moyers admits.
The "Now" method of letting people finish their thought doesn't always thrive in a sound-bite landscape. The future of the respected in-depth program "Nightline" was called into question last year. At the time, "Nightline" was drawing more than 4 million viewers - almost double the 2.3 million who tune in each week for "Now."