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PBS's "P.O.V." Concludes 15th Season With Three Nights of Broadcasts And Historic Partnership With ABC News "Nightline"

  • February 5, 2003

"Two Towns of Jasper" Generates Largest Audience Response in "P.O.V." History, "Oprah" Appearance and P.O.V./ABC News "Nightline" Partnership; Sparks New Dialogue on Race Relations in America

New York, NY, February 5, 2003 - PBS's acclaimed independent documentary series P.O.V. concluded its 15th season with its largest audience ever for the film "Two Towns of Jasper," accolades from critics and viewers, and an unprecedented partnership with ABC News "Nightline" for a series of programs on race relations (January 21-23). Focusing on the notorious 1998 dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper, Texas and its aftermath, the joint venture included a preview of the documentary on ABC News "Nightline" and a town hall meeting anchored by Ted Koppel from Jasper on both networks. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and enhanced by local outreach efforts, also generated extraordinary viewer interest, with a record amount of traffic on the P.O.V. Web message board and phone calls.

The 90-minute documentary "Two Towns of Jasper" by Whitney Dow and Marco Williams garnered a 2.1 rating* for its January 22 premiere, attracting close to six million viewers cumulatively, the largest audience in P.O.V.'s history. The audience represents a 31 percent increase over PBSs season-to-date primetime average. The highest rating among PBS stations went to WHYY Philadelphia, at 3.9. Additional stations posting strong numbers included KUHT Houston (3.4), WTVS Detroit (3.3), WTTW Chicago and KERA Dallas (3.2), and Thirteen/WNET New York, KCET/Hollywood and WPBT Miami (2.7).

Programs Facilitate Dialogue on Race Relations

Beyond individual broadcasts, P.O.V. helps to expand the value of independent storytelling in public life through strategic partnerships with nonprofit organizations and public television stations. Over 70 screening and discussion events were organized around the broadcast. Of these, Dow and Williams participated in screenings and community discussions with WNED Buffalo, N.Y., and UNC Raleigh-Durham. WHYY Philadelphia; WYES New Orleans; KLRU Austin; KLRN San Antonio; KUED Salt Lake City; KWBU Waco; WSKG Binghamton, N.Y.; and WPT Madison, Wisconsin produced a variety of events and educational material. In addition, WPBS-TV Watertown, N.Y., and KNPB Reno produced follow-up on-air programs with panels of local experts discussing the issues raised in "Two Towns of Jasper."

The P.O.V. Web site, www.pbs.org/pov, drew over 550,000 page views the week of January 20 and more than 3,500 postings on its discussion board, a record for the series. P.O.V. linked on the Web with ABC News "Nightline" (www.abcnews.com) and a special feature on the homepage of the "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (www.oprah.com). In addition, viewer response generated more than 800 phone calls and close to 200 emails. USA Today chose the site as a "Hot Pick." Filmmakers Dow and Williams talked to viewers in an online chat with washingtonpost.com. "Two Towns of Jasper" was a pick of the PBS Program Club (www.pbs.org/programclub), a new initiative modeled after book clubs to encourage people to come together to discuss major programs.

"Two Towns of Jasper" employed two film crews - one black and one white - to follow the trials of the local men charged with the crime. The white crew looked at events as seen by whites, the black crew through the eyes of African-Americans. The town hall broadcast, "America in Black and White: Jasper, Texas" on January 23 featured a diverse cross-section of Jasper citizens, many of whom were featured in the PBS documentary.

"We are extraordinarily pleased with the response to "Two Towns of Jasper,'" said Cara Mertes, executive director of P.O.V. "It shows that independent films can be the catalyst for unique and far-reaching partnerships between non-commercial and commercial entities who have similar interests in promoting substantive dialogue on pressing social issues."

The PBS/ABC broadcasts have received tremendous media attention. Describing "Two Towns of Jasper" as "a raw and uncensored look at racism in our country," Oprah Winfrey devoted an entire episode of her top-rated daytime syndicated "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and nighttime Oxygen cable program "After the Show" to the film and filmmakers on January 21. The initiative has been covered by more than 800 print, radio, television and Web stories. "'Two Towns of Jasper' offers a disturbing montage of different realities that inhabit the same place and time," wrote Josh Friedman in the Los Angeles Times. "It also portrays hope in a town looking hard at itself and removing barriers." Mike McDaniel of the Houston Chronicle described the P.O.V. special as "eye-opening and thought-provoking."

P.O.V. forged alliances with schools and organizations around the country, including the Columbia University School of Journalism, New School for Social Research and Schomburg Center in New York, which held screenings and discussions with Dow and Williams; the American Library Association; Listen UP!; Network Education Program and Port of Harlem in Washington, D.C.; the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago; Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pa., Center for the Healing of Racism in Houston; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; and the Literacy Assistance Center and City-As-School High School in New York, which organized community screenings.

"It's very important that you open a dialogue," an audience member said during the town hall broadcast from Jasper, "and carry that dialogue out of this room." Another participant echoed the sentiments felt by many: "Let this program be a reminder to our country and to the world that we shouldn't forget and we have to still work."

Ted Koppel is the anchor and managing editor of "Nightline." Tom Bettag and Leroy Sievers are the executive producers. "Nightline" airs at 11:35 p.m. weeknights on the ABC Television Network. "Nightline" has long had a commitment to reporting on issues of race in America. "America in Black and White" premiered as a five-part series in May 1996, and has continued on a periodic basis as a regular feature on "Nightline". The programs have received a number of awards, including two News and Documentary Emmy Awards.

* Source: NSI Galaxy Navigator, average P.O.V. prime-time rating for PBS stations in 45 metered markets, January 22, 2003. Overall prime-time rating for metered-market PBS stations Sept. 30, 2002-January 21, 2003. "Six million viewers" estimated by PBS Research. Qualifications available on request.

Co-presenters: "Two Towns of Jasper" was produced in association with the Independent Television Service with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Unique in American Public Television, ITVS was established by Congress, "to fund and promote programming that involves creative risks and addresses the needs of underserved audiences," while granting artistic control to independent producers. ITVS has funded more than 350 single programs and limited series for public television. Many of these ITVS programs have been featured on P.O.V. including Sundance Audience Award Winner "Scout's Honor" by Tom Shepard, Peabody Award Winner "A Healthy Baby Girl" by Judith Helfand and Emmy Award Winner "Nobody's Business" by Alan Berliner. NBPC is a non-profit media service organization devoted to the production, distribution, and promotion of diverse films and videos about African Americans and the experiences of the African Diaspora. NBPC funds, commissions, acquires and awards talented makers of quality African American film and video projects. Selected programs reflect a variety of subjects and production styles. Projects unlikely to appear on the big Hollywood screen are encouraged, especially those which offer a more realistic, historically accurate, diverse, and non-stereotypical picture of the Black World. NBPC funds every phase of the production process-i.e., research and development, production, post-production and outreach. Film and video projects that are selected present Black people in primary roles, in front of and/or behind the camera. Since 1979, NBPC has provided more than five million dollars in grants to both independent and station-based producers.

CPB, a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, develops educational public radio, television and online services for the American people. The Corporation is the industrys largest single source of funds for national public television and radio program development and production. CPB, a grant-making organization, funds more than 1,000 public radio and television stations.

P.O.V. is a division of American Documentary, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to leveraging the power of independent media in the public interest. P.O.V. has received every major broadcasting award including 18 Emmy Awards. Major funding for P.O.V. is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, NYSCA, the Open Society Institute, The Houston Foundation, PBS and public television viewers. Funding for the America in Black and White, Talking Back and the Diverse Voices Project is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. P.O.V. is presented by a consortium of public television stations including KCET/Los Angeles, WGBH/Boston, and WNET/New York. Cara Mertes is executive director of P.O.V. The series is produced by American Documentary, Inc.

P.O.V. Interactive (www.pbs.org/pov) P.O.V.s award-winning Web department creates a web site for every P.O.V. presentation. Our web sites extend the life of P.O.V. films through community-based and educational applications, focusing on involving viewers in activities, information and feedback on the issues. In addition, www.pbs.org/pov houses our unique Talking Back feature, filmmaker interviews and viewer resources, and information on the P.O.V. archives as well as a myriad of special sites for previous P.O.V. broadcasts. P.O.V. also produces special sites for hire, specializing in working closely with independent filmmakers on integrating their content with their interactive goals.

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