Takes on the World
Talbot discusses his work on FRONTLINE/World, WGBH and
KQED's new co-production that examines global issues.
In a public television career that has thus far lasted 20-plus
years, Stephen Talbot has produced, written and directed more
than 30 documentaries, including nine for FRONTLINE. Among his
pieces for that series were "Justice for Sale," "Spying
on Saddam" and "The Best Campaign Money Can Buy," winner of a duPont-Columbia Award. Talbot began his career
as a staff reporter and producer at KQED, where he won two George
Foster Peabody Awards, for the national documentaries Broken
Arrow and The Case of Dashiell Hammett. As series
editor for FRONTLINE/World, Talbot is based at KQED.
motivated FRONTLINE to create World?
really grew out of two impulses. The first was a desire
to understand "globalization." It is a buzzword, but it is also
a reality from McDonald's in Moscow to Honda factories in Ohio.
The reality is that the world is getting smaller and increasingly
interdependent. The United States and U.S. companies have a
tremendous impact on people and cultures around the globe. At
the same time, there have been major demonstrations in Seattle
and Europe against the negative effects of globalization. So
we really wanted to create a public forum for asking, "What
is globalization?" How does it affect the lives of Americans
and everyone else in the world?"
The second impulse was to respond to September 11. Suddenly,
the outside world had a dramatic, searing impact on us, and
Americans realized that we need to know more about the world
-- particularly the Middle East and developing nations -- so
that we can understand the roots of resentment that have fueled
this hatred of our country. I recall first wanting to know more
about the world as a young man because of the war in Vietnam.
That was a wake-up call, when I realized that I could be sent
there. I thought, "I better learn about this place." And I did.
I ended up going to Vietnam in 1974 to make a documentary film,
"The Year of the Tiger," which first aired as a series of reports
on KQED's old "Newsroom." Now, in the wake of September 11,
my 21-year-old son and his friends are making similar comments:
"We better understand what is happening in the world." My son
decided to spend this year in South Africa studying politics
at the University of Cape Town, and one of his best friends
is going to work in Japan for two years. I have a sense that
a lot of young people are eager to learn more about the world.
The bottom line is that the United States is no longer isolated
by two vast oceans; the world is literally a smaller place.
I think it's a great thing for PBS to respond to these issues
on-air with a regularly scheduled series that fills a need for
more international coverage.
what way will World be different from FRONTLINE?
the focus will always be international. Second, each episode
will feature several short stories as opposed to one hour-long
documentary. We'll also be working with a younger, more diverse
group of journalists -- writers and producers from other countries
as well as our own -- who will take viewers on a journey of
discovery to another country or culture. Some of these reporters
will be seasoned journalists or a even a well-known novelist;
others will be journalism students who have never produced for
television before. All of them will be thoughtful, curious individuals
with a compelling story to tell.
And with two stations producing FRONTLINE/World, KQED
in San Francisco and WGBH in Boston, we will be looking at the
world from both a West Coast and an East Coast perspective,
broadening our outlook. I expect we will have a different take
types of stories will viewers see on World?
will spotlight the ways in which different cultures interact
and intersect. For example, one piece we're working on examines
the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, which recently became the
last country on Earth to get television. Working with two recent
graduates of the journalism school at the University of California,
Berkeley, we'll take viewers inside this isolated Buddhist nation,
where leaders now find themselves confronted with young people
who are imitating their idols from the World Wrestling Federation,
whom they see on cable television. It's a case of karma meets
Other stories will examine such fundamental economic questions
as "Who should develop and own the water rights in a poor country
like Bolivia?" "Is privatization a good idea?" And we will do
some edgy investigative stories, about international gun smuggling,
AIDS and other serious problems, working with groups like the
Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco.
We will present a variety of stories in different styles, but
audiences can expect to see a more direct, personal form of
journalism. Using smaller, easily portable digital cameras,
reporters can go places that were previously off-limits and
sometimes, when necessary, even film surreptitiously, as video
journalist Joe Rubin, a Pew Fellow, does in our story about
suicide bombers in Sri Lanka.
Essentially, what we hope to offer on World is a collection
of short stories from a small planet -- stories that get at
something deeper by illuminating some universal truths about
our world and the ways in which we are all interconnected.
debuts on PBS nationwide on Thursday, May 23, at 9 p.m. (check