NEW YORK -- With an unprecedented $5 million in the bank and a green light to launch the most ambitious documentary series ever undertaken by public television, all David Fanning needed was a network headliner to anchor it.
He found one in Jessica Savitch.
As a result, in a rare cooperative effort between commercial and noncommercial television, she will take a partial nine-week leave of absence from NBC, beginning in November, to carry the ball for 'Frontline.'
'Nobody has done anything quite like this,' she said of NBC's willingness to let her take the job. 'It's very special and very journalistically sound -- something broadcast journalism needs. It's a terrific opportunity.'
'Frontline' -- funded at $5 million by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with additional money to come from various PBS stations and the Chubb Group of insurance companies -- will consist of an eclectic 26-week series of documentaries.
'We will cover topics ranging from power plays in the Pentagon to corruption in professional sports,' executive producer Fanning said. 'Our cameras will travel from the streets of Harlem to the Vatican - from Appalachia to the Soviet Union.'
Fanning said the documentary format of 'Frontline,' slated for premiere Jan. 17, will be so flexible that documentaries -- most of which will be the work of independent producers -- can run anywhere from 40 to 55 minutes.
Ms. Savitch, who will continue to anchor the Saturday edition of NBC's 'Nightly News' while she works on the series at WGBH in Boston, will return to her regularly scheduled duties at NBC in January.
Fanning said he sought Ms. Savitch out as anchor for the series because it needed 'a good strong identity.'
'With her,' he said, 'this is going to be a class act.'
In the video world of instant drama, it was only to be expected that when the Valentine couple of the decade got married everyone would jump on their honeymoon bandwagon.
That done, everyone now is scrambling for position.
As a result, 'The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana' will not be broadcast as a Christmastime 'Hallmark Hall of Fame' special after all. CBS will run its version of the royal romance, with Christopher Baines and Catherine Oxenberg in the roles of Britain's Prince Charles and Lady Di, on Sept. 20.
Hallmark, instead, will underwrite another, darker, sort of love story for the yule season -- the remake of 'Witness for the Prosecution.'
The reason for the scheduling shift was obvious. ABC also has a two-hour special in the can, titled 'Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story,' and CBS wanted its version to be first in line.
No air date has been set by ABC.
When it comes to playwrights, Euripides is a tough man to match. Talk about box office -- his 'Medea' still is running 2,500 years after opening night, and next spring, PBS will have it fresh from 'Kennedy Center Tonight.'
PBS producing station WQED, Pittsburgh, announced Thursday it will begin shooting a 90-minute television version of the great Greek classic Nov. 8 in Toronto, complete with the original Broadway duo of Dame Judith Anderson and Zoe Caldwell whose performance in the title role won a Tony Award this year.
The PBS air date has been set for April 20, but CBS Cable will get first shot at it. CBS has purchased performance rights from WQED and will showcase it to cable subscribers in January.