- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

David Brancaccio is blunt: Yes, viewers will notice changes when he takes over Friday as the solo host of “Now,” PBS’ underappreciated weekly newsmagazine.

For one thing, Bill Moyers — who helped create “Now” in 2002and brought Mr. Brancaccio aboard as his co-host the next year — retired from the show last month, slipping away quietly with little Tom Brokaw-style fanfare.

Then there’s the show’s handsome blue-and-green hued set: It’s history. Mr. Brancaccio is now a roving anchor, hosting each week’s show from a different locale.

Another big change: PBS has slashed the length of “Now” from one hour to 30 minutes, the result of ever-tightening budgets in public television.

What won’t change, Mr. Brancaccio said, is the serious tone that has distinguished the show from most of its counterparts on the commercial networks. Since its debut, “Now” has been one of the few TV news programs that would make broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow smile if he was still around.

“We’re trying to look at public policy and how it translates to the decisions people make around the kitchen table,” Mr. Brancaccio said.

This week’s edition, which will air in the Washington area Friday at 8:30 p.m. on WETA-TV (Channel 26), will feature the first extended television interview with David J. Graham, the Food and Drug Administration official who blew the whistle on the agency’s lax drug safety standards.

“Now” will also continue to track consolidation of the press, a pet project of Mr. Moyers and a story the commercial press has largely ignored.

“It’s the classic public broadcasting journalism story,” Mr. Brancaccio said. “It’s not going to get you a lot of attention at a bar — ‘Hey, guess what I’m working on? A piece about media consolidation’ — but it’s important.”

Reducing “Now” to 30 minutes means the show will do fewer stories, not shorter ones, Mr. Brancaccio said.

“If a piece was 18 minutes in ‘04, it will be 18 minutes in ‘05,” he said.

Mr. Brancaccio is a worthy heir to Mr. Moyers, whose thoughtful reporting made him the conscience of public broadcasting.

Before Mr. Moyers invited him to join “Now” two years ago, Mr. Brancaccio was the mellow-voiced host and senior editor of “Marketplace,” the inventive public radio business show.

The men grew close working together. Viewers would often see them chatting on the set as each edition of “Now” opened; those conversations weren’t rehearsed, Mr. Brancaccio said.

Mr. Brancaccio started his career in the early 1980s in the Washington area, where he worked as a traffic reporter at soft rock station WASH-FM (97.1). His ethnicity-free on-air name was David Anthony.

WMAL-AM (630) morning man Andy Parks — then that station’s traffic reporter — introduced Mr. Brancaccio to his wife, Mary, a WMAL assignment editor at the time. The couple now lives with their children in New York.

Mr. Brancaccio grew up worshipping at the electronic alter of Walter Cronkite, but he’s glad he didn’t wind up following in his footsteps at one of the commercial networks.

“They’ve been forced to spend so much time on human-interest stories. Sometimes you just want to know what’s going on in the world,” he said.

Starling dies

Walt Starling, the dean of local traffic reporters, died this week. He had suffered from colon cancer since the spring.

Mr. Starling, 52, parlayed a pilot’s license and a term paper on airborne traffic reporting into a career that covered more than 20 years and more than 2.2 million air miles, according to the Associated Press. He spent most of his career at 1,200 feet circling the Capital Beltway in a two-seat Cessna.

Mr. Starling reported on traffic for several local stations from 1974 until the mid-1990s. Most recently, he worked as a news writer at WRC-TV (Channel 4), the local NBC station.

Friends are planning a tribute in College Park Saturday to raise money for his medical bills.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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