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PBS offers ‘Reverse Angle’ on docu series

A pair of Hollywood producers will be making a rare foray into the world of PBS with “Reverse Angle”–a one-hour pilot for an ongoing documentary series fronted by the New Republic’s Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke.

Lionel Chetwynd, the producer of “Hanoi Hilton” and “To Heal a Nation,” and Norman S. Powell, the former CBS Entertainment Prods. exec who oversaw the reality series “Rescue 911,” will team with Kondracke and Barnes on production under the banner of Two Cities Film Consortium.

The pilot, “Fear in America: A Reverse Angle,” will air in April, with a second special on the educational crisis already ordered. The producers hope to turn the project into a weekly series.

The title “Reverse Angle” is something of a double entendre, Chetwynd acknowledged, referring both to the documentary’s focus on talking to regular people (as opposed to experts and leaders) and to the more conservative perspective that columnists Barnes and Kondracke–both regulars on “The McLaughlin Group”–will bring to the project, in contrast to the perceived left-leaning bias of most PBS documentarians.

Asked why he would move into this area, which doesn’t normally attract Hollywood suppliers and which he called “impoverishing,” Chetwynd quipped, “We wanted to be part of the public debate, (but) we didn’t have a sitcom.”

“Reverse Angle” is being produced with a grant from the Corp. for Public Broadcasting and is seeking corporate underwriting.

Though Chetwynd said the program isn’t designed to be the conservative voice to mollify PBS’ critics on the political right, the producers believe it does represent a legitimate PBS commitment to reach out to diverse points of view.

PBS has drawn fire as well from critics on the left for refusing to air two documentaries, “Building Bombs” and “Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment,” both Oscar nominees. Critics said the service was bowing to political pressure, while PBS said the programs didn’t meet its fairness standards.

Powell, who left CBS in 1991, is also developing a number of telefilms in addition to his involvement with “Angle.” Chetwynd is currently independent as well following a non-exclusive relationship with Hearst Entertainment.

Separately, PBS announced funding yesterday to Wisconsin Public TV to produce a quartet of prime time docus using reports from stations around the U.S., providing different perspectives on a central theme. The first, on education, will air in September.

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