Open House New York Weekend

October 7th, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Gloria Deucher, Director, Volunteer Services

On Saturday, October 4th, our station was one of 350 sites throughout New York City participating in openhousenewyork (ohny), the country’s largest architecture and design event. WNET.org opened its doors to visitors who wanted to know more about their local public television station. During the course of the day tour guides Rita Kessler, Liz Kaufman, Joe Weber, Fred Sorkin and Rosalie Kaplan (with the help of Carol Kaufman, Lorraine Sachs and Bea Sorkin at check-in) treated a total of 136 people to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of technical and architectural highlights of the station. The tour included Master Control, edit rooms and the main and Starr studios.

In Master Control, the Broadcast Operations Coordinator Brynne Clarke maintained her tireless good humor explaining how she and the other BOCs monitor the 9 different signals we broadcast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Her command post–which looks to the uninitiated like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise–is the brains of the broadcast facility. Guests kept a respectful distance from the control panel and tried to take it all in.

Savidge in the studio

A highlight of the tour was, of course, the main studio with its sleek new Worldfocus set. When we first began to organize for ohny back in May, we had just begun to hear talk of this new international news show we would be producing. We never imagined that the date of ohny would time perfectly with the October 6 launch of the show. The show’s host, Martin Savidge, had spoken to the guides earlier in the week and suggested stopping by to talk to our visitors. It was an unexpected perk we never could have imagined. Martin and his wife Blis generously spent their entire Saturday afternoon on the set greeting guests, describing the show, the need for it and answering questions. I’m sure most of them tuned in last night with a special appreciation for what they were viewing. That, after all, is the point of the open house–to stimulate interest, open a dialogue and send guests away with a better understanding of how the “behind-the-scenes” makes the “front of the scene” happen.

Worldfocus Debuts Tonight

October 6th, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

Today, we begin the first broadcast of Worldfocus and we think it will be the next great news and public affairs franchise in public television.

In the theater world, shows open in New Haven for rehearsals before they make their premiere on Broadway. We didn’t travel anywhere, but we have been rehearsing for the past three weeks, working on lighting, camera angles and tweaking our broadcast.

Our team begins work very early, and by 8:00 am, they are all on the phones to our various newsgathering partners. Walking through the newsroom is like walking through the United Nations: you hear conversations in Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, French, and many other languages. We describe the program with this theme: “Diverse Voices for a Diverse World”. Executive Producer Marc Rosenwasser, anchor Martin Savidge, and the producers meet to pick the line-up…what stories to select and which interviews to book.

On any given night, you’ll be able to see reports from news organizations all over the world. So, as financial issues reverberate around the globe, we won’t be limited to the perspectives from London or New York; we’ll have reports with many different perspectives. Our program will truly be unique and one that I think you won’t want to miss.

We may be a little bit nervous but mostly we’re very excited. We hope you’ll be watching Worldfocus. It airs every weeknight at 6:00 pm, starting tonight, October 6th.

Inside Conventioneers

October 3rd, 2008

Inside Thirteen Guest Blogger: Mora Stephens, Writer/Director of Conventioneers

The two year roller coaster journey that was my life with Conventioneers began in a very spontaneous way – an idea to direct a narrative film set against the Republican National Convention, held for the first time in NYC. In July 2004, I came up with the idea for a Romeo and Juliet story between a Republican and Democrat that would last the days of the 2004 RNC, and that would explore the issue of the divide in our country. A month later, we were shooting.

Stephens directs

The most important thing for me was to capture something that felt real, mixing my actors into the actual events of the Convention – the star-crossed lovers’ climactic reunion was filmed amongst 500,000 protesters; another actor stayed in character while on stage interpreting for President Bush. Because of the way we were working – small mobile crew all embracing the spirit of improvisation – we had the freedom to incorporate events as they unfolded around us. It was as if we were taking away all the things you think you might need on a film and stripping it down to its barest essentials — the story and the performances. We had a story we were passionate about and a hard start date – the Convention and surrounding protests represented a moment in history that we only had one chance to capture. With no one to tell us no, we were unstoppable.

My film’s premiere – at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005 – was the first time I saw it play for an audience. The sold-out screening was packed with both Democrats and Republicans laughing and getting into it; many of whom were shocked by what they saw because even though they were in the city during the RNC they did not know about all of the massive protests! That night was a mixture of one of my scariest moments – the projector breaking right at a crucial moment in the film – and one of my proudest – my mother Okhee (who sees more movies than any person I know!) seeing the film for the first time.

Tribeca was the first stop on a worldwide festival tour for Conventioneers – culminating in winning the Independent Spirit Awards’ John Cassavetes Award and the film’s theatrical release by Cinema Libre Studio. During one memorable Q&A in New York City after one of our Spirit Award nominee screenings, a fight broke out between strangers over the meaning of Conventioneers. People shouted across the aisles at each other. I loved it – I wanted to provoke a dialogue with Conventioneers, and here it was.

The film changes and grows with the audience. I am fascinated to know how the current election will color how people see the film now. I hope Conventioneers stands as a time capsule for that tumultuous moment in history.

Growing up in NYC, I grew up on Thirteen, and I am so proud to see Conventioneers air on Reel 13 this Saturday, Oct. 4! My valentine to NYC returning home once again. Check for more details on the Reel 13 site. The film is distributed by Cinema Libre Studio and is available on DVD. Hope you get a chance to check it out!

Conventioneers airs on Reel 13 at 11:15 pm on Saturday, October 4th.

Charlie Rose Special Edition: Warren Buffett

October 1st, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

I had left morning religious services in Albany, NY, where my father lives, and decided to check in with the office. There was an urgent call from Charlie Rose and Charlie only uses the word urgent when it is…well, urgent. I called Charlie’s cellphone from my cellphone and there was a lot of static in the line, so I heard:

“…Neal…..chshshs….fiscal crisis…..chshsshshsshhh……exclusive interview…. cnssshhshsshh…… timing is so crucial with the vote pending…. xcvhchshchc….. get a a primetime audience….chshchshchshcs…. .what do you think?”

Who could he have been talking about? Who would be worth a special primetime interview?

“Charlie,” I replied, “I just didn’t hear who you thought you could interview.”

This time, I heard his answer loud and clear. “Warren Buffett.”

“Oh…..” I said and I instantly knew why he would be such an important interview. With all eyes focused on Capitol Hill, with much of the public divided about this rescue plan (or bailout depending on your point of view), Warren Buffett’s insights will be critical. And who better to conduct this thoughtful and probing conversation than Charlie Rose?

But this was Tuesday afternoon and we had lots of decisions to make. Where was Warren? Where should Charlie go to conduct the interview… How would we get it on the air and how many stations could carry it? Stephen Segaller, our VP of content, joined Charlie and his executive producer Yvette Vega in some urgent discussions early Tuesday afternoon.

By 1:30 we had confirmed that we could air the show at 9 pm on Wednesday or 8 pm Thursday, immediately before the VP debate. By 1:45 Stephen had WETA‘s agreement to air the show on Wednesday at 9 pm – thanks to their programmer Kevin Harris and Production VP Dalton Delan. By 2 pm Kent Steele in programming had secured WGBH‘s agreement to air the show Wednesday at 9 pm – we practically had a network!

As I ducked in and out of services and family obligations, Stephen connected with Charlie – or his cellphone voicemail. Charlie called back, and left a message.

“…Stephen…..chshshs…. Warren’s…..chshsshshsshhh…… tomorrow….cnssshhshsshh… before the vote….xcvhchshchc… after the vote….chshsshshsshhh.”

Mercifully, they connected soon afterwards. One slight problem: “Warren is willing to do it tomorrow but has to fly from Omaha to San Diego mid-day.” Hmm… Charlie could get to Omaha by 10 – maybe? But he’d have to tape before the markets close… how about San Diego? Warren has no trouble getting there – he owns NetJets. Charlie – first flight out. Where to tape? Next call to our friend Keith York, programmer at KPBS San Diego. He connects us and Charlie’s team to their studio manager Ena Newell – and by 3 pm a plan is taking shape. Charlie will tape at KPBS at 3 pm Pacific, after the markets close back east. KPBS will uplink to the PBS satellite at 7 pm… 8 pm Eastern… And with a bit of luck, PBS will announce and feed to the whole system. In the meantime, Keith already committed to carrying the show in San Diego.

Today’s New York Times carries a full-page ad (A17) announcing this primetime special – one full hour with the person America most wants to hear from on the economic crisis gripping the nation. We’re proud to be making it happen.

Airs on Thirteen 9-10pm, and rebroadcast at 11:30pm-12:30am; you can watch the special online the day after broadcast.

A Killer Show

October 1st, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer, Secrets of the Dead

I’m excited about murder! Actually, I’m excited about new evidence that repaints the picture of a murder that happened almost a century ago. Not something most people would be jumping up and down about, but most people aren’t out searching for stories about using modern science to rewrite history. As the executive producer of SECRETS OF THE DEAD, that’s what I do. Over the past eight seasons, I’ve come across some pretty outlandish, gruesome and spectacular tales, from ancient Aztec warriors ripping out their prisoners’ still-beating hearts to a fungus that likely caused Salem’s “witches” to hallucinate, to bouncing bombs used in World War II. But rarely have I come across a story like ‘Executed in Error‘. It not only rewrites history, but shows how forensic science can reveal the truth about a crime or lead to a deadly miscarriage of justice.

I first heard about this story when the news about the DNA tests broke in the press last year, and knew right away that I had to jump on it. It was perfect for SECRETS, and I didn’t want anyone else to scoop us. So, working with my co-production partners in the UK, we contacted the scientists, found out the incredible details, and began production right away.

In brief, here’s the story: 1910. Hawley Crippen is an American doctor living in London with his wife, Cora. Cora goes missing and the police find ghastly dismembered body parts in the couple’s cellar. Crippen flees with his lover, is caught, tried, convicted and hung. All pretty straight forward. Or is it?

The “Cellar Murder”, as it became known, was the O.J. Simpson case of its day. It was the first trial by media, and one of the first to incorporate forensic science. The media sharks circled, covering the investigation and trial in day-to-day detail, and the world read with bated breath. The jury deliberated for only 27 minutes before convicting the good doctor.

But now, 100 years later, a new forensic and historical examination of the crime has led scientists to question the original conviction, and cast a dark shadow over the original trial. Was Crippen executed for a crime he could not have committed? Was Scotland Yard too eager for a guilty verdict after failing to capture Jack The Ripper 10 years earlier? Had Crippen’s wife actually run off with a lover?

SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Executed In Error premieres nationally Wednesday, October 1 at 8:00 pm, on PBS (check local listings). After that, you’ll be able to watch it online (streaming video) at www.thirteen.org/secrets. Hope you enjoy the show. It’s a killer…

Introduction: Worldfocus.org

September 29th, 2008

Stephen Puschel, producer of Worldfocus.org

Note: Worldfocus, the new nightly, international news broadcast, launches Monday, October 6.

I started working on Worldfocus.org in May 2008, back when the working title was “Your World Now.” Fast-forward several months, many ideas, and a few name changes (not mine), and we have a balanced, informative and engaging news site that we’re really proud of.

More than anything else, I’m thrilled about the breadth of journalism that Worldfocus.org offers–from polished, diligent reporting, to off-the-cuff, on-the-ground observations. This combination is close to my heart because I think that two major factors determine the effectiveness of a news source: the trustworthiness of the content, and the content’s ability to represent diverse perspectives. The International Herald Tribune is a trustworthy news source that largely focuses on the “macro”–policy, diplomacy and conflict. Similarly, I know international bloggers who provide the “micro”–how large-scale trends affect individuals.

So what will make Worldfocus.org different? We’ll feature a vetted expert explaining Venezuelan foreign policy alongside a merchant in Caracas talking about how oil diplomacy affects him. By doing this, Worldfocus.org will offer not only a unique understanding and a human perspective to international news, but will report the news in a way that explains to American viewers how global events impact their lives.

Weekly Press Digest, Sept. 19-25

September 26th, 2008

Neal Shapiro, Stephen Segaller and Jac Venza are among those current and former Thirteen/WNET executives mentioned in the New York Sun in coverage of Carnegie Hall Opening Night 2008 celebration, which was recorded for air on Great Performances. Playbill also notes telecast, as do nearly 100 dailies nationwide, including Newsday, am New York, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, and Denver Post.

Newsday previewed “the big draws on channels 13 and 21” for the fall season, mentioning: American Masters: You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, Worldfocus, Brava Italia: The Proud Tradition, Leading with Kindness, Betrayed, Great Performances: Carnegie Hall Opening Night, Healthy Minds, In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, David Foster and Friends, and Dance in America. “For the most part, it’s all quiet on the public TV front this fall. There are no huge multipart productions, or (necessarily) can’t-miss draws that’ll make viewers forget about commercial TV. Instead, there’s a bounty of one-offs – many dance- and music-related – that’ll remind said viewers that this remains a vital – and vibrant – alternative.”

USA Today calls American Masters: You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, “A special no film fan will want to miss.” The Los Angeles Times says it’s “an endless toast rather than a purely journalistic examination.” The New York Times says that an “air of elegy is palpable,” but also that, “in the excitement it generates for movie watching, it’s a triumph.” “Nobody on TV does biography like PBS’ American Masters,” says the Baltimore Sun, “and that goes for the life history of institutions as well as individuals.” “Delicious” says Hollywood Reporter. The Rocky Mountain News calls it “fascinating”and “intriguing.” Christian Science Monitor writes “Hollywood is full of stories, but the history of one of its fabled studios is as absorbing as any film it turns out.” and Catholic News Service raves “The series is extremely well-paced, and gets down to basics within minutes. This is one of the milestones of the always worthy American Masters series.”

Where We Stand: America’s Schools in the 21st Century becomes the jumping-off point for a column about the future of American education, published in the Evansville Courier & Press.

Newsday previewed the premiere of Going Green Long Island (soon watchable online), with TV critic Verne Gay calling the doc “a sprawling look at a sprawling challenge before Long Islanders – how to reduce your carbon fuel consumption, while saving money and the Island for future generations.”

Franny’s Feet, a Decode Entertainment production in association with Thirteen/WNET, has a new sponsor in the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, notes Cynopsis Kids.

“In an era when publicity potential dictates many programming decisions elsewhere, public television remains wary of celebrity, despite its own well-chronicled lack of money to promote its programs,” writes New York Times in its review of Spain . . . On the Road Again. “Channels 13 and 21 already experienced that phenomenon this summer when the Police donated the final concert of their reunion tour as a fund-raiser. The stations raised $3.1 million before expenses (up from the $2.35 million first reported),” notes the article.

“Coming up is PBS-TV’s six-hour series Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America. Produced by Michael Kantor, it’s partly hosted by Billy Crystal, who just filmed his opening and closing episodes intercut with another fairly funny guy of a few guffaws ago – Groucho Marx,” says the New York Post.

Memories of The Brothers Warner

September 24th, 2008

By Cass Warner Sperling, Filmmaker, The Brothers Warner, an American Masters presentation from Thirteen/WNET New York

What do memories hold, and why my fascination with THE BROTHERS WARNER? To the world, Harry Warner was the head of an important motion picture studio but to me he was “Grandpa”—the benevolent patriarch of our family.

When I was young, at the end of the windy road, and after what seemed like hours of sisterly squabbles and some carsickness, there was the serenity of grandpa Harry’s California ranch waiting for us. Pepper trees lined the longest driveway leading up the hill to where ol’ Prince, the St. Bernard, greeted us with his massive clumsy, furry body and wet kisses.

I had a favorite ritual, which I always made sure I had time to do. After successfully stuffing myself with the usual brunch goodies of lox and bagels, potato pancakes with apple sauce, pickled herring in sour cream and onions, fresh fruit salad, and, of course, the desserts—poppyseed cake, assorted breakfast rolls, beautifully molded jello, and frosted lemon cake, and getting sufficiently bored with the adult conversation, I’d excuse myself and go and mount my favorite deer.

She rested on her haunches, legs tucked under her starring out at the racetrack, barn and gentleman farm below. So what if she was made of metal? That only meant that she would always be in the same place waiting for me. Once I had taken in the panorama and opened all my senses to the familiar smells of sage, damp straw from the morning dew, and dust, I’d manifest the same gaze that my friend the deer had. I truly felt immortal, definitely privileged, and without borders or boundaries.

By the time I had indulged in this form of personal dessert, my food had digested so that I could get permission to swim. The pool overlooked the expanse of the land below, as it bordered on the edge of a knoll that the ranch house sat on. By the time I climbed out, the skin on my hands were especially white and shriveled. I’d pretend to be an old lady monster and try and scare my little brother.

The mention of going to the stables with Grandpa to go riding assisted greatly in getting us out of the pool. Grandpa’s pride came shining through as he walked us down the hill pointing things out as he went, and giving us a tour of the sleek race horses in their immaculate stalls.

I’ll never forget how honored I felt when Grandpa told me he had named a colt after me, and that she was bred to be a prize race horse. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Putting his arm around me as we both admired her, he told me that he KNEW she was going to be a winner. That moment is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, and is a constant reminder of his belief in me.

His love and reverence for nature and his land became mystical as he proudly showed us what he was growing in his vegetable gardens, how beautiful his prize laying hens were, how the seasons caused the fruit trees to be different during the year, and the comings and goings of the birth and death of his animals. Sharing this mind-set of his was part of the legacy he wanted us to remember. His certain, quiet dignity and knowing that the ranch represented so many life lessons that he could demonstrate was an obvious important pleasure for him, and something I get to carry forward.

It’s memories like this that inspired my dedication to telling my family’s story. The Brothers Warner, an AMERICAN MASTERS presentation, airs Thursday, September 25th. Check local listings at pbs.org/americanmasters.

See clips from The Brothers Warner online.

2008 News and Documentary Emmys

September 23rd, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

What a night!

For 25 years, when I worked for ABC News and NBC News and attended the annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards, I watched with envy as PBS took home the lion’s share.

Last night at the 2008 News & Documentary Emmys, I watched with pride as PBS went home with 10 awards, more than any other network, and more than twice as many as the closest competition… including an Emmy for our own program, The Mysterious Human Heart, in the Outstanding Science, Technology and Nature Programming category.

There were Lifetime Achievement Emmy Awards for Bob Schieffer, the late Tim Russert and Ken Burns. Ken’s history with PBS began in 1982 with a film about The Brooklyn Bridge (which was nominated for an Academy Award) and his body of work includes some of the best documentary films ever made: The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz and most recently The War.

Here is a list of the PBS 2008 News & Documentary Emmy Awards:


The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Political Turmoil : Margaret Warner in Pakistan
(Watch Online)
Executive Producer
Linda Winslow
Senior Producer
Michael Mosettig
Simon Marks
Senior Correspondent
Margaret Warner
Dan Sagalyn


Made in L.A.

Executive Producers
Sally Jo Fifer, Simon Kilmurry, Cara Mertes
Almudena Carracedo
Robert Bahar


America at a Crossroads
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience

Series Executive Producers
Jeff Bieber, Dalton Delan
Series Producer
Leo Eaton
Program Executive Producers
Tom Yellin, Sally Jo Fifer (for ITVS)
Program Director/Producer
Richard Robbins


The Undertaking
(Watch Online)
Karen O’Connor, Miri Navasky
Executive Producers
Michael Sullivan, David Fanning


The Mysterious Human Heart (Watch Online)
Executive Producer/Producer/Director
David Grubin
Executive Producer, Thirteen/WNET New York
Jared Lipworth
Executive Producers, WETA
Dalton Delan, Jeff Bieber
Tania Castellanos, Thomas Jennings, David Murdock
Mica McCarthy


Bill Moyers Journal
Buying the War
(Watch Online)
Executive Producers
Judy Doctoroff O’Neill, Felice Firestone
Senior Producers
Bill Petrick, Sally Roy
Executive Editors
Bill Moyers, Judith Davidson Moyers
Kathleen Hughes


Independent Lens
Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life

Robert Levi
Joshua Blum, George Seminara
Executive Producer
Sally Jo Fifer


American Experience
The Living Weapon
(Watch Online)
Rich Remsberg, John Rubin


America at a Crossroads
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience

Sound Editor
Glen Frazier
Re-recording Mixer
Terrance Dwyer
Foley Artist
Monique Reymond
Sound Effects Editors
Sam Londé, Matthew Slivinski
Dialog Editors
David Ball, Vince Tennant


Forgotten Genius (Watch Online)
Lighting Director and Scenic Designers
Gary Henoch, Katha Seidman

Digital TV Transition: Senior Workshops

September 23rd, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Dan Allen, Friends of Thirteen Intern

Attendees watch on as a converter box is
connected to a television using “rabbit ears”

On September 17th, I traveled uptown with Dorothy Pacella, Executive Director, Friends of Thirteen, to represent Channel Thirteen at “Harlem Connects,” an educational conference to prepare Harlem’s seniors for the digital television transition in 2009. Studies show that seniors are most likely to be left behind on February 17th, 2009, when all analog TV signals cease. The Harlem Consumer Education Council, under the leadership of dedicated community activists Dennis Lane and Florence Rice, hosted the event at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. building on 125th Street.

As the day progressed, my eyes were opened to an array of issues surrounding the “big switch.” Barriers of age, language and cost are frequently overlooked obstacles when it comes to the digital transition. Even with a $40 coupon, a digital converter box is a still a serious financial concern for someone living on a fixed income.

Below: sample coupon; for real coupon, go to

Even if your household subscribes to cable, I urge you to spread the word and educate your parents, relatives, friends, co-workers or neighbors; someone you know who is not ready for February 17th. With 148 days to go, it’s important to be as proactive as Harlem’s seniors who have already held two forums about the digital transition. It’s a daunting task, but Friends of Thirteen is doing our best to make sure that no one misses out. Learn more about the digital transition here: https://www.dtv2009.gov/

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