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PBS Gets Dough For Nonfiction Channel

PBS has gotten a $3 million grant to launch a 24/7 digital multicast channel and complementary Internet effort dedicated to nonfiction programming and public participation. The launch is targeted for fall 2006.

The noncom stations have a ready platform for the TV channel, thanks to a carriage deal with the cable industry announced earlier this year.

The grant, from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will be split up into $2.5 million for the channel and another $500,000 to produce a pilot for the series Global Watch, which will anchor a public-participation programming block called Public Square.

Global Watch, which will kick off the Public Square block, will be an hour nightly news program, followed by a documentary series, ITVS Presents, which will "explore complex issues and express points of view seldom seen on commercial television."

Taking a page from Al Gore's cable channel, Current TV, Public Square will be also be interactive, featuring short-form interstitial programming like My Life, video blogs from twenty-somethings, and 60 People in 60 Seconds, in which viewers weigh in with one-minute segments.

Surrounding the square will be an aggregation of PBS' signature nonfiction shows including Nova, American Experience, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Frontline, Charlie Rose and P.O.V, as well as specials and other library product and original productions.

The series will be a mix of "same-week" repeats and library product, according to PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan, both because it doesn't want to just be a timeshift channel, and because it is limited in time shifting by the agreement with NCTA for a minimum number of hours not duplicating the primary digital channel.

The channel will also be moving in on C-SPAN's territory, with live coverage of congressional hearings and major press conferences.

The grant was announced under the auspices of the Digital Future Initiative (DFI), created by its own grant from the MacArthur Foundation to help chart public television's future in the digital age.

According to PBS, DFI, co-chaired by former Netscape CEO James Barksdale and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, has concluded that public broadcasting "is uniquely qualified to address critical national needs in education, community engagement and emergency preparedness."