|FRONTLINE/World: Q & A withStephen Talbot|
FRONTLINE Takes On the World
Stephen Talbot discusses his work on FRONTLINE/World, WGBH and KQED's new co-production that examines global issues.
In a public television career that has thus far lasted 20-plus years, Stephen Talbot has produced, written and directed more than 30 documentaries, including several for FRONTLINE. Among his pieces for that series were "Justice for Sale," "Spying on Saddam" and "The Best Campaign Money Can Buy," winner of a duPont-Columbia Award. Talbot began his career as a staff reporter and producer at KQED, where he won two George Foster Peabody Awards, for the national documentaries Broken Arrow and The Case of Dashiell Hammett. As series editor for FRONTLINE/World, Talbot is based at KQED.
What motivated FRONTLINE to create WORLD?
World really grew out of two impulses: The first was a desire to understand "globalization." The reality is that the world is getting smaller and increasingly interdependent. The United States and U.S. companies have a tremendous impact on people and cultures around the globe. At the same time, there have been major demonstrations in Seattle and Europe against the negative effects of globalization. So we really wanted to create a public forum for asking "What is globalization?" then help Americans to understand it.
The second impulse was to respond to September 11: Suddenly, the outside world dramatically impacted us, and we realized that we need to know more about the world-particularly the Middle East and developing nations-so that we can understand the roots of resentment that have fueled this hatred of our country. I recall first wanting to know more about the world as a young man because of the war in Vietnam. That was a wake-up call, when I realized that I could be sent there. I thought, "I better learn about this place." Now in the wake of September 11, my 21-year-old son and his friends are making similar comments: "We better understand what is happening in the world."
The bottom line is that we are no longer isolated by two vast oceans; the world is literally a smaller place. I think it's a great thing for PBS to respond to these issues on-air with a regularly scheduled series that fills a need for more international coverage.
In what way will WORLD be different from FRONTLINE?
First, the focus will always be international. Second, the format will be more magazine-style, with each episode featuring several shorter stories as opposed to one hour-long documentary. We'll also be working with a younger, more diverse group of journalists-writers and producers from other countries as well as our own-who will take viewers on a journey of discovery through some other country or culture. Some of these reporters will be seasoned journalists; others will be journalism students who have never produced for television before. All of them will be thoughtful, curious individuals with a compelling story to tell.
And with two stations producing FRONTLINE/World, KQED in San Francisco and WGBH in Boston, we will be looking at the world from both a West Coast and an East Coast perspective, broadening our outlook. I expect we will have a different take on things.
What types of stories will viewers see on WORLD?
World will spotlight the ways in which different cultures interact and intersect. For example, one piece we're working on examines the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, which recently became the last country on Earth to get television. Working with a group of graduate journalism students at the University of California, Berkeley, we'll take viewers inside this isolated Buddhist nation, where leaders now find themselves confronted with young people who are imitating their idols from the World Wrestling Federation, whom they see on cable television. Other stories will examine such fundamental economic questions as: Who should develop and own the water rights in a poor country like Bolivia? Is privatization a good idea? And we will do some edgy investigative stories, about international gun smuggling and other serious problems. Essentially, what we hope to offer on World is a collection of short stories from a small planet-stories that get at something deeper by illuminating some universal truths about our world and the ways in which we are all interconnected.
FRONTLINE/World debuts on PBS nationwide on Thursday, May 23, at 9 p.m. (check local listings).