ABC adds newsmag

'America '01' to focus on post-Sept. 11 U.S.

While some newsmags are slowly easing back into regular programming, ABC News will buck the trend by launching “America ’01,” a new program devoted to covering the changes in the country after Sept. 11.

“America ’01,” to debut Friday, was created in order to fill the gap left by reality skein “The Mole,” which is on hiatus.

Each week, “America ’01” will be introduced by an ABC News anchor, including Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters. It will consist of reports from ABC News correspondents in the U.S. and abroad.

Senior exec producer of ABC Newsmagazines Victor Neufeld will serve as supervising exec producer, while David Doss and David Sloan, the exec producers of “Primetime Thursday” and “20/20” respectively, will alternate exec producing duties.

While competitors contemplate whether a single theme is enough to sustain a newsmag, Neufeld has no doubt the topic warrants the attention.

“The events of Sept. 11 changed our lives permanently. It transcends almost everything else that has ever happened. There’s no shortage of angles and approaches one can take to it,” Neufeld said.

However, some newsmag execs — worried that auds are suffering from Osama bin Laden overload — are turning to other subject matter.

On Friday, CBS News’ “48 Hours” aired its first nonterror-related segment since Sept. 11 — an investigation into a quack doctor who got his training by performing surgery on a chicken.

“The feeling is that people need to see some other things. Of course, the problem is that everything else pales in comparison,” said the show’s exec producer, Susan Zirinsky.

NBC News’ “Dateline” is planning to inject some other stories into the mix — including an interview with the first beneficiary of an artificial heart, which will air Friday.

And, ABC News’ “20/20” and “Primetime Thursday” have made an effort to venture out of terrorist territory. “20/20” recently did a piece on the opening of the Abba-themed Broadway show “Mamma Mia!,” while “Primetime Thursday” devoted a segment to an interview with Drew Barrymore.

But, not everybody is ready to return to business as usual.

“We’re not doing anything but the war on terrorism. It’s not about choosing not to go in other directions,” said Jeff Fager, exec producer of CBS News’ “60 Minutes II.” “At this point, it’s still not an option.”

“60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt is similarly hooked on stories surrounding terrorism and the war in Afghanistan.

“If you want to know how long we’re going to go on doing this, just get me Osama bin Laden’s phone number and I’ll tell you,” Hewitt said. “I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, let alone what Sunday is going to bring.”

Separately, on the cable news side, CNN announced Tuesday that “Newsnight With Aaron Brown,” a new evening news program, will debut Nov. 5 at 10. The program evolved out of the newscast Brown has anchored since the events of Sept. 11.

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