Journalist returns to TV for weekly PBS series

Bill Moyers has a new public affairs series called Bill Moyers Journal, the same name as his first public television series.

NEW YORK - He's coming back, and viewers will be the richer for it.


Self-proclaimed "citizen journalist" Bill Moyers, who tore himself away from the TV grind a little more than two years ago with the explanation "maybe finally I've broken the habit," is returning to weekly television.

Bill Moyers Journal premieres Friday at 9 p.m. (WEBA, Channel 14, and WCES, Channel 20) with the first of a scheduled 99 hours airing through February 2009, by which time Mr. Moyers will be within sight of his 75th birthday.

So what? He's long since journeyed past retirement age with no sign of slowing down.

Though a-swirl in "round-the-clock scripting, narrating and editing sessions against implacable deadlines" (as Mr. Moyers outlined it in a hasty e-mail), he stole a few moments to text some musings on what lies ahead.

To describe the overarching mission of Bill Moyers Journal, he paraphrased Benjamin Harris, an editor in the 1690s of America's first newspaper: "To give an account of such considerable things as have come to my attention."

On today's edition, his attention will be focused on such things as the Justice Department's questionable firing of eight federal prosecutors - and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' role in what appears to be political shenanigans.

The program will mark the fourth anniversary of Mission Accomplished - President Bush's landing on the banner-sporting aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and his pronouncement that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" - with help from investigative reporter Carlo Bonini, the author of Collusion: International Espionage and the War on Terror.

In a commentary, Mr. Moyers will assess the war's crushing cost. Then the hour closes with a profile of Grace Lee Boggs, who at age 91 is still going strong as a philosopher and grass-roots activist.

"Week in and week out, it's Moyers and Friends on politics, culture, religion, books, media and money," he declares.

Such a robust recipe is no surprise. This veteran journalist has always been at home with subjects ranging from the power of myth to drug addiction and the environment, from modern dance to government corruption. His humanist advocacy has been honored with more than 30 Emmys and 10 Peabody awards.

The series follows a trio of documentaries titled Moyers on America on PBS last fall, and, before that, Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason, seven hourlong programs examining belief and disbelief that he hosted last summer.

In short, it hasn't been much of a break, despite Mr. Moyers' intentions voiced in December 2004 that he was signing off for good.

That was when he left Now, a weekly magazine show he had created, produced and anchored (and which continues on PBS with host David Brancaccio).

He then plunged into writing a memoir about his years with President Lyndon Johnson, whom he served as special assistant and press secretary.

Mr. Moyers also was the deputy director of the Peace Corps, publisher of the Long Island newspaper Newsday, and, apart from his lengthy affiliation with public television, had a stint in TV news as the senior analyst for CBS. The Texas native's rsum also includes a divinity degree (he's an ordained Baptist minister).

In short, he's not easily pigeonholed, however persistently a certain swath of right-wing critics have tried.

Mr. Moyers has never denied being a liberal, but, in his decades of interviews, he has provided a forum for people of all stripes. Many of them were individuals - both prominent and unknown - who TV otherwise overlooked.

"We threw the conversation of democracy open to all comers," he said when he left Now.

Since then, work on his Johnson book has progressed, but "the temptations of the world proved too enticing," Mr. Moyers concedes. "I realized that the present is far more interesting to me than the past, and I decided that with the election coming on, I should have one last hurrah."

Under the aegis of Public Affairs Television (the production company he founded two decades ago with his wife, Judith Davidson Moyers), he raised the money he needed, and with no financial support sought from PBS. (The new series "truly is independent journalism," Mr. Moyers says.)

Then he dusted off the name of the very first series he did for public television back in 1971, which "seemed fitting for this last round."

Last round? Don't count on it. Indispensable television? That's a safe bet.



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