Rick Karr on Infrastructure in America

November 3rd, 2008

Guest Blogger: Rick Karr, Radio Correspondent, Blueprint America

One of the biggest frustrations of being a journalist is that sometimes, the biggest stories don’t get covered.

One of the greatest pleasures of being a journalist in public broadcasting is that our bosses realize when a huge story’s being ignored – and then correct the oversight.

That’s why it’s especially exciting to be part of Blueprint America.

Blueprint America came into being with generous support from the Rockefeller Foundation in order to take a close look at America’s crumbling infrastructure. That last word – infrastructure – is why the story’s been ignored. It’s too nerdy, wonkish, and complicated. It isn’t sexy.

But tell that to the 13 people who died when the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed two summers ago. Or to residents of three dozen homes in an upstate New York town that may be slowly sinking into the ground because an aqueduct hundreds of feet below them is leaking up to 35 million gallons of water a day. Or to tens of millions of people in eight northeastern states who lived through the Great Blackout of ’02. For that matter, tell it to yourself when the next president says the nation will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fix our roads, water supplies, electrical grid, and just about every other system that keeps this country ticking … all because we’ve been putting off maintaining them for decades.

In other words, it may not be flashy, but it’s important.

Blueprint America is a true multimedia effort. We’ve already collaborated with the PBS shows NOW on PBS, Expose, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

We’re also covering the story for public radio, which has allowed me to get back to my roots in public broadcasting. American Public Media – the folks who bring you Marketplace – have joined with us to cover infrastructure on the popular Saturday and Sunday show Weekend America. My first piece for that show, entitled “The Leak,” aired October 25th, and covered a leaking aqueduct – which, by the way, supplies about half of New York City’s tap water.


Rick Karr waits for the bus in St. Louis
(photo: Kristina Cafarella)

My second piece, which aired this past weekend, looked at the crunch that’s hitting public transit systems nationwide: It’s the best of times for them, because high gas prices are prompting more and more people to ride, but it’s also the worst of times, because high gas prices – among other factors – are forcing them to consider jacking up fares or slash service. My Blueprint America colleague Kristina Cafarella and I went to St. Louis – where the transit authority has put the matter to voters – to see how transit cuts would affect disabled folks who absolutely depend on public transit.

We’ve also partnered with the innovative public radio web site PRX (Public Radio Exchange), which offers content up for any of the nation’s hundreds of public radio stations. We’ve done a series of four, short “news-you-can-use” stories comparing John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s positions on infrastructure matters.

All of this material – and a lot of additional information – is available at the Blueprint America web site, which also includes a blog that we’re hoping becomes the go-to resource on the issue.

In short, this is the kind of reporting that only public broadcasters can do. I hope you’ll check it out.

Red Scare on Reel 13

October 31st, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Elisa Lichtenbaum, Writer-Editor, Marketing Department

A close friend of mine, a celebrity publicist, told me that when Charles Busch’s hilarious Hollywood thriller Die, Mommie, Die! opened at New World Stages last year, she asked her client Joan Rivers what she thought of the production. Rivers quipped: “It’s Charles Busch. What’s not to love?”


Charles Busch as ultra-glam
police chief Captain Monica Stark

My sentiments exactly. What’s not to love about the celebrated actor, playwright, and drag legend who has written and starred in such high-camp comedies as The Lady in Question and Red Scare on Sunset? This Off-Broadway baby has legions of fans, a cult following, devotees galore. So when I learned that Psycho Beach Party – Busch’s uproarious spoof of surfer movies and slasher films – was going to be part of Reel 13’s Halloween weekend line-up, I knew the PR and Marketing folks here at Thirteen had to do something special to get the word out.

We contacted Charles, who graciously agreed to do a phone interview from California, where he was starring in his new play, The Third Story. I was giddy with delight. Then I became terrified. Even though I’ve interviewed many Broadway stars I admire over the years, I’ve never interviewed someone I idolize. So the prospect of talking to Charles, while immensely exciting, was a little daunting. What if I said something dippy (“I’m such a huge fan!”) or acted like Kathy Bates in Misery?

How did the phone interview go? Dial F for Fabulous! Charles was charming, funny, down-to-earth, and spoke passionately about classic films, his life in drag, and his work in Psycho Beach Party. He also said some wonderful things about public television and did a Judy Garland imitation that had me in stitches. And thankfully, I only made one dippy remark during our conversation. (“I’m such a huge fan!”)

One of the high points of the interview was the revelation that Charles and I wear the same red lipstick: M.A.C.’s Russian Red. Of course, the main difference is that Charles wears it when he’s onstage – and in drag – while I wear it in my everyday life. Most women, upon learning they wear the same lipstick as a celebrated drag diva, would consider a more subtle shade – at least for daytime wear. But not moi. I embrace my crimson karma and wear Russian Red with a renewed sense of pride.

Lest you think my interview with this theater giant was all lipstick and girl talk, let me point out that there were moments of great profundity. For example, I learned that Charles has never missed an episode of Survivor. I learned that his exercise regime involves salsa music and choreography usually associated with Gypsy Rose Lee.

Finally, I learned about Charles’ kitchen sink comedies – YouTube videos in which he and longtime friend and co-star Julie Halston sit in his kitchen and dish about the slings and arrows of outrageous showbiz fortune. “Julie thinks of them as Bergmanesque,” he observed wryly. “I guess they’re Bergmanesque in that I always look depressed.”

Go to thirteen.org to read the complete interview with Charles Busch. And don’t miss Psycho Beach Party Saturday, November 1st at 10:45 p.m. on Reel 13. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Halloween.

Besides, it’s Charles Busch. What’s not to love?

Opening Night at Carnegie Hall

October 28th, 2008

Guest Blogger: Jamie Bernstein, daughter of the composer-conductor-educator Leonard Bernstein and participant in GREAT PERFORMANCES’ Carnegie Hall Opening Night 2008: A Celebration of Leonard Bernstein.

(premieres on Thirteen Wednesday, October 29 at 9 p.m.)

Oh, what a night! September 24th was the Gala Opening Night of Carnegie Hall’s 118th season, as well as the launch of the citywide festival The Best of All Possible Worlds commemorating my father’s 90th birthday. It’s nights like these that give the word gala meaning. There could barely have been more hoopla had my father been there personally (But there certainly would have been more hugs).

Michael Tilson Thomas devised a genuinely innovative program of Bernstein music for the San Francisco Symphony and soloists. It spanned the richly varied Bernstein repertoire, playing excerpts from the first Broadway show, “On the Town” (Christine Ebersole rocked the joint with “I Can Cook Too”) all the way to the challenging and poignant late opera, “A Quiet Place” (Dawn Upshaw’s ethereal soprano was perfect for “Didi’s Aria”). Yo-Yo Ma and Thomas Hampson brought me to tears with their duet on “To What You Said” from my dad’s piece, “Songfest.” It’s my favorite tune he ever wrote, and I couldn’t imagine it more beautifully performed.

So many resonances that night… there was MTT, my dad’s longtime friend and colleague (and my longtime pal, too), conducting in Carnegie Hall, where a 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein’s conducting debut burst forth like a comet across the American airwaves on Nov. 14, 1943.. and there we all were, his family and friends and fellow musicians — thousands of fellow New Yorkers celebrating the composer who, more than any other, had depicted their multifarious city in music.

And so many resonances for myself! As I walked the corridors of Carnegie in my evening dress, I could still clearly remember being five years old, and carefully lifting my patent-leather party shoe over the anaconda-sized TV camera cables that snaked down those very same corridors at the first Young People’s Concert in 1958.

And now, here I was at the splashy kickoff of my dad’s 90th birthday celebration presented, in an unusual partnership, by Carnegie Hall (where, for a time, he actually lived) and his beloved New York Philharmonic, now residing up the street at Lincoln Center.

I felt as if I were literally embodying this partnership myself. As I listened to “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” some of the most irresistible music ever written in this country, I thought about how, in the course of the festival, I’d be sharing that music while narrating two concerts for young people about my father: one with the Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, and one at Carnegie with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Imagine: sharing the joy of music – my dad’s own music, yet — with a new crop of kids at both of the houses where my father used to do the same thing! Nothing could be more gratifying.

Celebrating Halloween, Cyberchase style

October 27th, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Kristin DiQuollo, Project Manager for CYBERCHASE

As a child, pumpkin seeds were my favorite thing about Halloween. I loved carving pumpkins with my father, not because I was particularly skilled with a toy store pumpkin knife (I wasn’t), but because I loved the feeling of pumpkin pulp oozing through my fingers as I cleared the seeds for roasting. I loved watching the seeds as my mother arranged them on a baking sheet and carried them to the oven. Then, before eating the seeds, I loved counting them into even numbers and making patterns or designs with them – a flower, a star, a witch’s hat. After my pattern was perfectly symmetrical, each seed neatly in place, I would munch it away. One seed at a time.

For years this was just a fond childhood memory for me. Now, I see that this memory is much more – it’s a classic CYBERCHASE moment. I didn’t realize then, but I was actually creating my own fun…with math! And this is what CYBERCHASE does for millions of kids every day. It shows them that math is everywhere in their lives, even in the most surprising little places.

I’m new to the CYBERCHASE crew, and as someone who helps promote this fantastic project, this fall has been an exciting time. Today we premiere a brand new episode, Spheres of Fears, as part of a week-long Halloween celebration on-air and online.

You can hop over to thirteen.org now to see sneak peeks at the new episode. Or visit CYBERCHASE Online, which has been decked out with all the Halloween trimmings. For grownups, we have tips for making math part of your kids’ Halloween fun (ever thought about playing a pattern guessing game with Halloween candy?). And for kids, the online treats abound. Kids can explore interactive games that tie to the math topics in our episodes, test their recipe mettle by whipping up some Chocoberry Chillers, make masks of their favorite CyberSquad members, and even download what will surely become their new Halloween anthem, The Halloween Howl. (I’ll warn you now – it’s catchy.)

So if your kids’ favorite thing about Halloween is carving jack-o-lanterns with geometric shapes, measuring patterns for costumes, or estimating their trick-or-treating time, you can help them find their CYBERCHASE moments too. Soon enough, they’ll realize that math is everywhere around them – even in their pumpkin seeds – and who knew? It really is fun.

Spheres of Fears premieres today at 5:00 PM with an encore presentation on Friday, Oct. 31. For more on CYBERCHASE Halloween week, click here.

A minute with Sidney Lumet

October 24th, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President, WNET.ORG

One might expect one of the greatest American filmmakers to be an egomaniacal, unapproachable, cigar-chomping maniac. If I had directed 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Serpico, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, I would probably be a terror. But Sidney Lumet, who stopped by for a Q&A with Reel 13 host Neal Gabler on Wednesday, could not have been a nicer guy.

A friendly crowd of Reel 13 fans and contributors turned out for the event, but I had the opportunity to talk to Sidney in the green room before he went on. Being a news guy at heart, Network has always been one of my favorites, and hearing stories and anecdotes about that production from the horse’s mouth was a rare opportunity. When I asked him who he thought the most underrated director was, he barely hesitated: “William Wyler.” When I asked him who the most overrated director was, he hesitated a little, then said that a good way to figure out if someone was overrated was to look at their reviews. If the critics begin by saying, “Not since Orson Welles…”, then you know that something’s fishy.


He may have worked with Brando, Pacino, Newman,
and Hepburn, but now Sidney can add two Neals
to that prestigious list.

During his discussion with Neal Gabler, topics ranged from his origins as a child actor to working with “Hank” (that’s Henry Fonda to you and me) to a touching remembrance of the late Paul Newman. Sidney was thoughtful, humble, and candid. What more could you ask for?

It’s not often that we show someone’s debut film as a part of Reel 13 Classics, but Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men airs this Saturday at 9:00. Not bad for a first-timer.

NATURE visits a real-life ‘Narnia’

October 24th, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Fred Kaufman, Executive Producer, NATURE

Fergus Beeley, his real name, is a British wildlife producer with a unique ability to weave an engrossing story about wildlife and places. He can describe an ant walking on the ground and make it sound like a personal story of persistence and triumph. So, when Fergus speaks, I listen. Several years ago, he described a place that sounded more fairytale than real — an island in the Canadian Arctic with no trees, only rolling hills and high cliffs. The island is 75,000 square miles, with just 150 people. But the reason for going to Ellesmere is its wildlife — a collection of characters all dressed in white. A white falcon, called a gyrfalcon, is both stunning and threatening. There’s a beautiful white wolf, a snowy white owl with piecing eyes, and a bunch of white hares that comically jump around. For much of the year, snow covers the ground. But for a brief couple of months, this landscape comes alive with some of the most visually captivating creatures on our planet.

See preview:


The moving story of survival in one of earth’s timeless places is captured in NATURE’s season premiere, “White Falcon, White Wolf” this Sunday, October 26, at 8:00 pm (check local listings).

Playwright George Packer on his play, ‘Betrayed’

October 22nd, 2008

Guest Blogger: George Packer, New Yorker journalist and playwright

Betrayed airs on Thirteen, Thursday, October 23 at 9 p.m.

One of the many political surprises this year is that the Iraq War has receded almost to the vanishing point as we approach Election Day and Americans move on to other concerns. This is understandable, but even if the war no longer makes much news, its powerful human stories and the collective responsibility they leave behind linger on. The fate of Iraqis–interpreters and others–who joined the American effort in their country is one such story, perhaps the most emblematic of the war. It encompasses hope, self-deception, friendship, misunderstanding, disappointment, violence, resilience, and betrayal. “Betrayed” tells the story of these Iraqis–first as a New Yorker Magazine article, then as an Off Broadway play, and now as a teleplay on WNET. Large subjects are best illuminated by small dramas, and in “Betrayed” viewers will see the war not as a news clip or a political argument but as a tragedy of individuals. I’m grateful that WNET will bring “Betrayed” to a wider audience and make it indelible.

Watch a few clips from the play:

An American interviews Adnan (Waleed F. Zuaiter), a prospective interpreter:

A different American interrogates Laith (Sevan Greene), an Iraqi interpreter:

SundayArts News Essentials

October 16th, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Christina Ha, Host of SundayArts

Am I the luckiest gal in town or what? As a correspondent for SundayArts News, I get to see the city’s top exhibits and venues each week. Recently, the production crew and I visited the new Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle. Though our time is often rushed because of our shooting schedule, the “Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary” exhibit really grabbed our attention.


Sonya Clark’s Madam C.J. Walker portrait,
photo by Taylor Dabney

The exhibit is a collection of about 50 international artists who create art from everyday objects. I was drawn to the magnificent tapestry designed with bottle caps by El Anatsui, an artist from Ghana. There was American Sonya Clark’s eye-catching portrait of pioneering businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker, done all with black combs. And the huge pyramid-like display made from more than 9,000 plastic spoons by Jill Townsley of Great Britain. Before long our focus had shifted from packing up our equipment to a discussion of our favorite pieces. Later that night at dinner with friends, I was still marveling about the exhibit.

That’s what I hope SundayArts News delivers every week: excitement, enthusiasm and enlightenment. Thirteen has always been the place for featuring the best of the best in the New York arts world. And now SundayArts News is where you can find out the latest happenings in theater, dance, music and art. As my husband will attest, I love to talk but I especially love talking about what’s going on out there. Who’s performing at the Joyce? What’s playing at BAM? What’s new at the ICP? Is there an off-Broadway show that has buzz?

Don’t forget that with every SundayArts show there are Great Performances to check out and profiles to watch – everyone from David Rockwell to Judith Jamison. It keeps you current. It gives you ideas. It makes you think about how lucky you are to be a New Yorker.

watch video:

State of Journalism in the Middle East

October 15th, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Mohammed Al-Kassim, Associate Producer for Worldfocus

Earlier this month, an Egyptian court sentenced an independent newspaper editor to prison for two months. The editor, Ibrahim Eissa, of Al Dustour, a newspaper critical of Egypt president Hosni Mubarak’s government, published an article in August 2007, in it Mr. Eissa reported that President Mubarak was ill and he and his aides were keeping it under wraps. Mr. Eissa was charged with publishing false information intended to harm national interest. He was prosecuted and sentenced last March to six months in prison, reduced to two after an appeal.

Ironically, as Mr. Eissa was getting ready to surrender to prison authority, President Mubarak issued a decree pardoning Mr. Eissa. This week marks President Mubarak’s 27th anniversary as president of Egypt.

I grew up in the Middle East, where the flow of information was controlled by an ever-watchful government.
I remember watching the nightly newscasts anchored by serious men with thick mustaches, scowling brows and grave voices. Most news shows were 30 minutes, leading with the daily handshakes of the president, king or emir. Ribbon cuttings and new infrastructure projects were also common highlights of the broadcast.

But no mention of the projects’ corruption — sometimes involving the president or his kin — ever squeezed into the newscast.

It turned out that the ubiquitous newscasts were mere extensions of government control. The news was pre-approved by government — or by news directors on the government payrolls. Word by word, sentence after sentence, the news was carefully-scripted and strategically placed.

Where I lived (and watched TV) in Jerusalem, Kuwait City or Amman, criticizing the policy of any leader or government official was simply not tolerated. Those in charge kept a close eye on journalists. Those regimes knew that in order to stay in power, they had to control the flow of information.

The few journalists that dared to ask probing questions were punished, imprisoned, tortured or executed.

That’s why during the coup attempts I witnessed growing up, print, radio waves and TV broadcasts were blockaded with tanks and heavy weaponry. The governments knew that the “pen is mightier than the sword.”

Information is power, and when people are informed, then they have the necessary power needed to make sure that unscrupulous leaders like the ones I grew up with are never in charge.

Worldfocus airs every weeknight at 6:00 pm on Thirteen.

Press Digest from WNET.org, Oct. 3-9, 2008

October 10th, 2008

Selected press items featuring WNET.org, its programs, projects and services from the period Friday, October 3 through Thursday, October 9.

A group of WNET executives were on hand to ring the closing bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange yesterday. Neal Shapiro gave remarks about the launch of Worldfocus. The proceedings are available for viewing online here.

“For 10 years, the BBC has largely had to itself the American market for television news that is not United States-centric, thanks to its distribution deal with public television and its cable network BBC America. That changed on Monday with the start of Worldfocus, a half-hour nightly newscast being produced and distributed by the New York public broadcaster WLIW, Channel 21,” writes The New York Times. “The new competition, available in about 85 percent of the country, brings an extensive juggling of the station lineup for “BBC World News” on public television nationwide. In the New York metropolitan area, the half-hour BBC newscast will no longer be seen on WLIW and its sister station, WNET, Channel 13, where it occupied plum evening spots; the program garnered on average some 60,000 viewers per night on WLIW alone. Instead, viewers will find it on the less-viewed New Jersey Network, at 6:30 p.m., Eastern time.” Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge talks to the Daily News and Broadcasting & Cable about the launch of the new newscast, which debuts tonight. The New York Times, New York Post, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram give the program a highlight. Worldfocus is also the subject of a substantive analysis by Voice of America, and Neal Shapiro blogs about it at Inside Thirteen.

“If you’re in the NY area, tune into Channel WLIW21 on Sunday, October 19 at 10pm. Based on the book Leading with Kindness: How Good People Consistently Get Superior Results by Bill Baker & Michael O’Malley, this program provides an inside look at successful organizations and their leaders,” writes Interbiznet. “The program will be re-aired on November 23 10pm on Thirteen/WNET New York.” Marketwatch has the announcement.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed Alan Alda, host of upcoming PBS program, The Human Spark about his latest book, ‘Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself’. The piece was picked up by Miami Herald and The Palm Beach Post, among other outlets.

New England Film mentions the American Masters future broadcast in this review of the film Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women at a recent screening in Boston.

“Icon Films has been commissioned by National Geographic Channels International (NGCI), Thirteen/WNET New York for PBS’ Nature series and ITV Global Entertainment to produce Dragon Chronicles, a 50-minute documentary exploring whether dragons exist,” reports C21 Media. “Fred Kaufman, exec producer of Thirteen/WNET’s Nature series, added: ‘Dragons would be a tough and wildly expensive film to do so we went with their modern-day cousins, the reptiles that inspired the great fantasy stories of yore.’ ”

Newsday highlights Reel 13 Classic: Giant, and Uppereastside.com gives a nod to Joel Viertel, UES native and producer/writer of Reel 13 Indie: Conventioneers. Conventioneers is also plugged in the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting monthly e-blast, which is sent to 15,000 subscribers including industry insiders, local filmmakers, and New York City residents. Meanwhile, Brooklynite filmmaker Ilya Chaiken and her film Margarita Happy Hour on Reel 13 fly in the Brooklyn Eagle. Newsday also highlights Reel 13 Classic: Wall Street.

“An intimate documentary with the soul of an epic, Up the Yangtze on P.O.V. (10 p.m., PBS, check local listings) packs more story, more drama, more strange, deadpan humor, political insight, heartache and human emotion into its 90-minute running time than many major motion pictures,” writes Reading Eagle. “It’s a small, personal film with a grand subject and a reminder of filmmaking’s power to inform, entertain and put us in the shoes of people who are caught up – quite literally – in the rising tide of history.”

Influential political blogger, Valtin, writes about Torturing Democracy.