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New host, new season, same agenda for "Now'

There are changes afoot as PBS's Now begins its new season.

Most notably, its changing of the guard: Bill Moyers retired at age 70 last month from the weekly newsmagazine he founded three years ago.

But David Brancaccio, his former co-host and designated successor, is sticking with the fundamentals.

"We still think there's a lot of good in the world that needs to be highlighted, there's a lot of bad in the world that needs the scrutiny," says Brancaccio, who came to Now in mid 2003 after a decade hosting the public radio business program Marketplace. "We want to dig to the bottom of it."

That's been the hallmark of Now since Moyers started it in January 2001 as a "flexible format for ideas and conversation, reportage and debate."

Now has stayed true to its journalistic ideal _ afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted _ by pursuing stories that were too complex, sensitive or off the beaten path to engage most other newscasts. (A prime example: media consolidation, an ongoing story Now had virtually to itself even as hundreds of thousands of Americans protested the easing of ownership limits for Big Media by the Federal Communications Commission.)

Tonight's Now investigates the Food and Drug Administration and its drug-approval policies. Whistleblower David Graham, a senior FDA official, tells Brancaccio that his agency's regulation standards have been gutted, putting lives at risk.

Formerly an hour, Now henceforth is a compact 30 minutes because of budget limitations.

It has also gained new wanderlust. Previously based at Thirteen/WNET headquarters in Manhattan, Now will be anchored by Brancaccio from wherever a current assignment has taken him.

Finally, differences in the reporting style of its hosts, past and present, will be evident.

A distinguished journalist for more than three decades, Moyers was also special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson and deputy director of the Peace Corps, as well as an ordained Baptist minister. Drawing on that rich background, he often augmented his reporting with pointed analysis.

"If you have the life experience and the resume that Bill Moyers has, you're entitled to share your conclusions, I think," says Brancaccio, 44.

"People want to know how Bill, in the end, puts it together."

Post-Moyers, however, Now viewers will be left to draw their own conclusions. "I won't wrap it up with the finality that Bill is able to.

"I am very plainspoken," Brancaccio adds, drawing a contrast to Moyers' celebrated silver tongue. Item: "Last spring, I was doing a profile from a crummy little town in California. I described it in the piece as "a crummy little town.'

" "Crummy' is not a Moyers word," he says.

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