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Media Watch

Metro Week Takes Over at AZPM




PBS affiliate AZPM is adding a weekly local public affairs program and is in the process of dramatically retooling Arizona Illustrated.

Andrea Kelly will host Metro Week. The debut is June 6. The half hour program, which will air Friday nights at 8:30 and Sunday mornings at 10:30, focuses on topics of local interest.

"This will be a local metro-focused show," Kelly said. "It's a real opportunity to go deeper into some of the stories we're talking about. Some of our viewers will know there's an issue really popping this week, but we're going to go over different angles and through different sources to talk about it more than viewers would otherwise get in the other local mediums we consume every day."

Metro Week pushes Arizona Week, hosted by Lorraine Rivera, to 9 p.m. on Fridays.

"We've had great success with Arizona Week over the last three and a half years," said AZPM news director Michael Chihak. "Having seen the model of covering statewide issues a half hour a week, we're seeing the same opportunity to cover local and regional issues, thus the addition of Metro Week. News and public affairs is why we have a strong audience, and we need to maintain and expand on that kind of coverage, so Metro Week gives us the opportunity and vehicle to do that."

The format will include a lead-in field report covering the week's focus followed by in-studio discussions with decision makers and a journalist's roundtable delving further into that issue and other pertinent topics.

As Metro Week premiers, the PBS affiliate's local flagship program comes to an end, at least in the form most familiar to viewers. The last nightly version of AZ Illustrated, formerly Arizona Illustrated, aired last Friday. The evening news and public affairs program has been a fixture in the KUAT lineup since 1980, and enhanced its notoriety with Bill Buckmaster at the helm.

Buckmaster hosted the program for a quarter century, and when he parted ways with the organization (he now hosts a radio show noon weekdays on KVOI AM 1030 that is among the most successful brokered programs in the market), Arizona Illustrated seemed to lose its cohesion. Even though the format was the same in the early stages, the program borrowed much more frequently from package repeats and produced stories emanating from Phoenix PBS affiliate KAET.

Viewers noticed.

Shortly thereafter, the format became theme based (Monday: Nature; Tuesday: Science; Wednesday: Metro; Thursday: Arts; Friday: Politics) and featured a rotating cast of hosts, and the show even tweaked its name, dumping the Arizona in favor of AZ, a likely branding effort to parlay the title with the name change of parent organization AZPM.

While Chihak argues the theme-based version was well received and improving viewer numbers, AZPM has decided to jettison the model in favor of another approach. Starting in September, a new Arizona Illustrated will air not nightly, but in a variety of available time slots throughout the course of the week. The revamped model will be much more visually focused.

"I came here seven months ago, looked over the portfolio and was given one job: raise the quality of programming," said AZPM executive producer John Booth. "I think the best shooting and editing and producing core in Arizona is here, and I look at that crew and say how can I put them into a position where they can, in fact, do their best work over and over again. The new Arizona Illustrated (the program is dumping the AZ moniker) will afford them that chance. By keeping Arizona Week and adding Metro Week, I'm looking for a vessel to tell stories in more visual ways, gorgeous ways, character driven ways, so I'm looking at creating a format that allows photographers, editors, writers, producers, to tell deeper stories, and I think that can be done better in the field.

"The predominant number of minutes on (the program) on any given night are in the studio, and so we looked at it and thought what if we gave our folks a chance to do those top-notch stories we were doing, but instead of having them on any given night surrounded by minutes in studio, only at 6:30, how about we put together a weekly that has three or four or five of these mini-docs and air it up to nine times a week in different slots that allows you to attract many different audiences that may not be sitting there at 6:30 every night waiting for News Hour (the nationally syndicated PBS evening news program that airs in Tucson weeknights at 7). That is an old era. In times past, when you only had four or five stations to compete with, you could present everything you did that way. Now people are coming up through media in a hundred different ways, and the only way we're going to compete is really producing quality material that cannot be ignored, that creates conversation, and that people want to see again. The new Arizona Illustrated allows us that kind of format."

Booth says staff met this week to begin the story brainstorming process, and the organization will spend the summer putting many of those features together. Instead of airing five separate shows a week, the new Arizona Illustrated will be one 30-minute program a week that airs in a variety of as-yet-to-be-finalized availabilities on the schedule.

"I've had shows in the past where the fourth or fifth time it aired in the week was the highest rated airing," Booth said. "What we can do now through strategy programming is find audiences, instead of laying it out there the old way and hoping they'll come. We have doubled down on public affairs. The new Arizona Illustrated will not abandon public affairs. You will see a story that delves visually and is character driven that is a public affairs story on that show, but it's not going to be 6:30 every night. We could start shooting a story this week that gets finished in October and airs in November, whereas if we're chasing the night we could never do that."

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