Rob Lorei admits it's an odd sight to see politicians he often covers as a journalist coming together to raise money that helps fund his public television show.
But as Lorei closes in on his 11th year hosting local PBS affiliate WEDU-Ch. 3's signature public affairs show Florida This Week, the spirit of cross-party cooperation embodied in the program's latest fundraising event seems an embodiment of the respectful environment he creates onscreen.
Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink and Republican political consultant Adam Goodman worked together to develop "The One Night…That We're All Together," a taping of two special episodes tonight featuring a Who's Who of past guests raising money for WEDU's public affairs shows.
"They both know what dire straits (public television) is in…and they wanted to show they could work together on a project and not be at each other's throats," said Lorei, laughing. "I tried to stay out of it…so when I need to ask a tough question, I can."
Charging $250 per ticket, WEDU hopes to raise up to $60,000 from the event, which would help offset the $100,000 annual cost to produce the show, said the station's general manager, Susan Howarth. Each Friday at 8:30 p.m., Lorei presides over a panel of four guests, often evenly divided between those with connections to the GOP and Democratic parties, along with area journalists.
Production on another well-liked public affairs show, Jack Perkins' A Gulf Coast Journal, was halted when the foundation which covered its $250,000 annual costs decided to end funding, Howarth said. Now entering its 20th season, the political talk show just earned its first Emmy nomination, she added.
Still, why would a succession of big names such as Sink, Goodman, former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker and state Senator Tom Lee line up to raise money for a political tlak show?
"Public broadcasting is one of the few places where you can have a civilized discussion with people," answered Howarth, noting that WEDU still hopes to present a program on arts and culture in partnership with several public TV stations nationwide in early 2013. "I think the people who participate in it like that."
That collegial atmosphere is important for Lorei, who also oversees news and public affairs programming at Tampa community radio station WMNF-FM. At a time when most politics shows thrive on conflict and controversy, Florida This Week offers a friendlier debate (full disclosure: I regularly participate in the show as a journalist panelist, though I will not appear in tonight's fundraiser).
Lorei took over the show -- then called Tampa Bay Week -- in 2001 after it was sidelined briefly by a lack of funding, succeeding creator Syl Farrell.
"I owe a lot to Syl," said Lorei. "But the show used to focus more on Hillsborough County and we take look at the bigger picture, looking at Tallahasse and across Florida for a wider audience."
Tonight's event will include panelists such as Goodman, Sink, state house member Darryl Rouson, WTSP-Ch. 10 reporter Mike Deeson and more. (Full disclosure: I am among the journalists who regularly appear on the program, though I am not participating in this evening's program.)
Taping begins at 5:30 p.m; the episodes will air at 8:30 p.m. Friday on WEDU.