Sunday, September 30, 2007

BBC to premiere an American newscast

PhotoMatt Frei who will anchor the new 'BBC World News America,' which debuts Monday at 7 p.m. EDT on BBC America, a network available in about half of the nation's TV homes.

By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television WriterSun Sep 30, 12:17 PM ET

They speak English at the BBC, but CBS News veteran Rome Hartman still faced a language barrier when he was hired to create a newscast specifically for American viewers.

Almost all of the TV terms he was accustomed to were different. The American anchorman is a "presenter" at the BBC. The producer works in a "gallery," not a control room. And a voiceover is known as an OOV — an acronym for "out of vision."

"I'm not so arrogant that I think the entire BBC should adopt my lingo," Hartman said, "but it does make my head hurt."

Nearly four months of planning bear fruit Monday when the hourlong "BBC World News America" debuts at 7 p.m. EDT on BBC America, a network available in about half of the nation's TV homes. Parts of the newscast will also be seen on PBS stations that regularly air news material from the British Broadcasting Corp.

Matt Frei, the BBC's lead correspondent in the U.S. for the last five years, is the anchor. Oops, we mean presenter.

It was the second time in a year Hartman was asked to create a new newscast. He was Katie Couric's first executive producer at the "CBS Evening News" and the fall guy when that went sour.

His goal each night is to "bring the world home to Americans."

While many American networks boast of having a worldwide reach, it's mostly just talk compared to the resources of the BBC, Hartman said. CNN comes closest with its international staffing, but "if you look at what CNN broadcasts to an American audience, the appetite for world news on a daily basis for the domestic network is really quite limited," he said.

"BBC World News America" won't ignore breaking news from the United States — but if you're looking for extensive coverage of a tornado blowing apart some mobile homes, it's best to turn to the American networks. Frei is looking forward to presenting an outsider's view of the upcoming presidential election.

For those who want to learn more about the democracy protests in Myanmar, the BBC offers several advantages. The company operates a Burmese radio service that broadcasts in the isolated country, giving the network many contacts. Frei spent many years based in Asia, and was even arrested once on a surreptitious reporting trip to Myanmar.

During Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's contentious trip to New York, for example, the BBC could offer another angle with its ability to quickly gauge how the leader's actions were playing back home.

Besides news reports, the BBC will offer "60 Minutes"-style in-depth pieces, interviews by Frei and round-table discussions. For most viewers, it will complement, rather than replace, the American network newscasts that air a half-hour earlier.

"What we have to do is use what the people come to the BBC for," Hartman said. "They come to us because they want a smart and sophisticated view of the world and that's what we hope to provide."

BBC America on Monday will also begin presenting a second daily newscast, "World News Today," at 10 p.m. EDT.

One of the BBC's faults, Frei said, is that it takes for granted a certain level of knowledge among its viewers. Hartman has been helpful in encouraging BBC reporters to make clear to viewers why a particular story is important.

Hmmmm. Does that mean a little condescension can slip through?

"We are British," Frei said, "and people have this impression of the British as being a bit stuffy, a bit haughty. We have to be aware of that. I personally don't think if you watch a BBC newscast now that you will feel you're being talked down to and I think the American audience will feel the same way."

As a journalist, Frei said he loves Americans.

"This is a country, and you really appreciate it after having been in Asia for six years, where everyone will talk to you, with a very small number of exceptions," he said.

"They are not intimidated by a camera, or the sight of a correspondent with a microphone. They will give you their unadulterated, constitutionally underpinned opinion about just about everything in wonderfully articulated English. And that is a joy."

Now his friends and neighbors will be able to see what the Washington-based Frei does for a living.

For Hartman, there's far less outside pressure than there was for his last start-up. Couric's early version of the "CBS Evening News" didn't hold up, but he remains proud of the product. He said he doesn't feel like he got a raw deal from CBS News.

"You climb up on the wire and you know you're just as likely to get knocked off as not," he said.

Meanwhile, he's busy enough now learning the vocabulary.

Much of the week before the premiere was spent doing "paper pilots," or written run-throughs of a test show. You may be able to figure this one out by now: when someone says Frei is "in vision," it just means he's on camera.

"There is a bit of a culture shock, for sure," Hartman said. "But, for me, it has mostly been a good culture shock."


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