February 7, 2008
PBS Will Broadcast Concert From North Korea
By DANIEL J. WAKIN, New York Times
In an unusual arrangement, ABC News will cooperate with WNET, New York’s public television station, to produce the broadcast. Bob Woodruff, a correspondent for ABC News who has reported from the tightly closed North, will provide “behind-the-scenes coverage” of the concert, WNET said.
Because of the time difference, the concert will actually take place before dawn New York time on Feb. 26. A live broadcast will be made available for any takers by EuroArts Music International, which produces and distributes classical music programming and has the rights to the broadcast outside South Korea.
One place where the broadcast is still uncertain is North Korea itself. Government officials there have not said whether the concert will be shown on local television, according to Eric Latzky, the Philharmonic’s spokesman.
Given North Korea’s deep isolation and the government’s tight control over its citizens, the broadcast issue is of crucial interest. Orchestra officials said they had pressed hard to have the concert shown on North Korean television, to ensure that it would be heard by more than just a small audience of dignitaries. The broadcast of any event from North Korea is rare.
The joint WNET-ABC News effort came from a desire to jump on the newsworthy nature of the event, said Neal Shapiro, president and chief executive of WNET’s parent, the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, which also includes WLIW, Channel 21, on Long Island. Mr. Shapiro is a former producer at ABC News and president of NBC News.
“I didn’t want to just show a concert,” he said in a phone interview. “It was a historic place at a historic time.”
Mr. Shapiro, continued, “What makes it so interesting is the very nature of North Korea and what it means to have an organization steeped in everything that the free world implies, the center of culture and capitalism, making an appearance in North Korea.”
So, he said, “I called up my friends at ABC News and said, ‘Why not do something together?’ ”
Mr. Shapiro said that Mr. Woodruff would provide commentary and reporting, ABC News might provide related footage, and the package would be assembled in New York the day of the concert. “It’s what we would call crashing, in the TV business,” he said.
The orchestra leaves Thursday for a long tour of Taiwan and China, including Hong Kong. In December it accepted an invitation by North Korea to visit amid a longstanding effort of diplomatic engagement by the United States, intended mainly to induce North Korea to end its nuclear program. The concert in the capital, Pyongyang, and another in Seoul were added to the tour.
This would be the first major cultural visit by Americans to North Korea. The State Department has backed the trip as a potential opening for the country toward the outside world.
The trip coalesced during an optimistic time in negotiations over the nuclear program. But efforts have sputtered in recent months. The North missed a year-end deadline to disclose all its nuclear programs.
The orchestra will play at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater, performing Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”), Gershwin’s “American in Paris” and the Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s “Lohengrin.”
The broadcast will also be of some financial interest to the orchestra. Once the cost of production is recouped, it can share in the profits from DVDs and television distribution, said Thomas Baer, an executive producer of EuroArts.
South Korea’s Munwha Broadcasting Company, a producer, will provide the equipment for the telecast, trucking it across the border. ARTE France is also a producer.
Mr. Baer said the production was extraordinarily complicated. “This one involves doing a first-class broadcast and distributing it from a country that has no infrastructure in the area in which we are operating,” he said. “All the equipment, down to generators and cable, has to be brought into the country from South Korea. You can’t go down to the rental place and swap out a lens in Pyongyang.”
Mr. Baer said North Korean government officials had been cooperative. “It’s very hard for the North Korean authorities to deal with this kind of onslaught of people they would never see,” he said.
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