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Live news show with women anchors debuts Sunday on NBC

By
SYDNEY SHAW

WASHINGTON -- NBC-TV broadcasts its experimental traveling show, 'Summer Sunday USA,' live from the Washington Monument Sunday - the first prime-time network news program to be co-anchored by women.

For nine weeks, Linda Ellerbee, who co-piloted the network's acclaimed late-night news show that left the air in December, and NBC White House correspondent Andrea Mitchell will do the show from a different city.

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Ninety-five percent of Summer Sunday's staff is female, a fact the network says is merely coincidence, although they admit it is unusual. More unusual, however, is the fact that the show, slotted opposite CBS's '60 Minutes,' is not planning to compete with the top-rated program.

'We're not here for the ratings; we're here to try something different,' said Executive Producer Steve Friedman, who refers to the limited engagement as 'The Wide World of News.'

'I think of it as a summer workshop,' Miss Mitchell said in an interview last week, noting that some weeks the whole show may be scrapped on a moment's notice to cover a breaking story.

Besides trying out new programming ideas, the network is using the show -- the brainstorm of NBC's new president of news Larry Grossman -- to test its revolutionary Ku-band satellite equipment, which allows it to go live from anywhere on earth.

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Although Miss Ellerbee vows Summer Sunday will not be a prime-time transplant of 'NBC News Overnight,' it will include the features 'Week in Review' and 'This Week and Next,' and is likely to reflect her wry wit since she is doubling as a writer.

Principles on the show describe it as 'a rambunctious child.' It may also be volatile.

Each week on the 'Trading Places' segment, news figures get to interview three reporters, two of whom they have chosen. Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart goes first, but three weeks from now, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan will appear, grilling journalists including the Washington Post reporter he threatened over his coverage of Jesse Jackson.

In the first installment of another feature, 'Voice of the People,' correspondent Steve Mallory will interview Russians in Moscow's Gorky Park as Heidi Schulman talks to their American counterparts in Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

'It's not the usual way we see Moscow,' Ellerbee said. 'It's clear that Gorky Park and Griffith Park are a lot closer than the White House and the Kremlin.'

Senior Producer Cheryl Gould, who also produced 'Overnight,' has created a segment called 'NTV,' or news videos, to show off finely crafted stories told only with pictures and music. 'Editors and camera operators are also journalists,' she said. 'They don't necessarily need a correspondent to tell the story.'

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After Sunday's show, all the equipment will be packed into a 74,000-pound tractor-trailer and head for North Carolina, where the next live broadcast will originate from a tobacco field.

From there, the crew heads to San Francisco for the Democratic convention, back to Washington for a show on Central America and the Middle East, to Los Angeles for the Olympics, to Baltimore, to Woodstock 15 years after the rock festival of the same name, to Dallas for the Republican convention and then to College Station, Texas, home of the Texas A&M Aggies for the program's swan song.

'Because it's live, we're going to make mistakes,' Ellerbee said. 'But what are they going to do? They can't shoot us. They can't put us in reporter jail.'

Friedman agreed, saying, 'We're doing things on this show that I don't have the guts to try out on the 'Today' show (which he also produces). The lunatic factor is alive and well at NBC.'

'This has got to be fun,' he said. 'If it ain't fun, it ain't worth doing.'

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