Future of ‘Nevada Week in Review’ remains cloudy

“Nevada Week in Review” is not dead, but it has been on life support since July. That’s longer than expected when it was announced the Vegas PBS show was taking a “summer hiatus.”

Frankly, I thought 2015 was the year the nearly 34-year-old weekly news discussion show would succumb. Thought I’d be writing its obit.

For more than a year, the show struggled through various guest hosts who displayed their own political views. None matched the neutrality and objectivity that host Mitch Fox demonstrated during his 28 years as host. But in March 2014, Fox left to go to work as spokesman for the city of North Las Vegas.

Replacing the guy who made it look so easy has not been easy.

Guest hosts included Jon Ralston, Steve Sebelius, Elizabeth Thompson, Glenn Cook, Gary Waddell and the last one standing, Patricia Cunningham.

General Manager Tom Axtell assured me he has not pulled the plug on the show. He is even considering expanding the station’s news coverage by possibly starting a nightly news show.

But first, he must find a host.

Axtell said he offered the host position to four people, who all said no. He’s trying to pluck someone from one of the television stations that have been sold, hoping to nab someone whose contract wasn’t renewed. But so far that hasn’t worked.

Still, he’s waiting on contract renewal discussions for three more potential hosts employed in broadcasting.

“We’re actively looking,” he said. If locals don’t work out, he will advertise. “It is my desire to keep it going.”

Axtell said the job can be either part time or full time. “If full time, the person will help develop a potential civic journalism web product and a regular weekly news program with contributions produced by high school students in broadcast journalism programs.”

He wants a host who can be objective on the weekly show, and handle the difficult task of serving as moderator for political debates in this significant political year.

You’d think Ralston, who hosts “Ralston Live” on Vegas PBS, seems a natural, but he expresses his opinions in no uncertain terms in his blog, Ralston Reports. Some candidates refuse to appear on his show and would refuse to appear on debates.

Axtell needs a host who political figures believe will treat them fairly, Axtell said. “I don’t want candidates saying: You’ve got a guy with a pre-existing bias.”

Axtell tried to handle the bias claim last election cycle by having left-leaning Review-Journal columnist and blogger Sebelius and right-leaning consultant Thompson both question candidates.

Sebelius is not available because he’s doing “Politics Now” for KLAS-TV, Channel 8.

Another problem Axtell cited with the rotating guest hosts was that “some hosts could not get quality guests.” He preferred working journalists rather than bloggers, political consultants and PR people.

The show ended on a sad note following a downward spiral. The low point fell when Cunningham was only able to find one guest instead of the regular four. She often asked reporters for their opinions instead of their analysis, a no-no. Columnists can spout off, reporters don’t have that luxury.

Fox made hosting look easy, but said it really wasn’t. “More work went into it than people realized,” he said.” Since it was filmed on Friday nights, if he didn’t have his guests lined up by Wednesday at the latest, people had already made plans.

On air, he became a traffic cop, making sure everyone was brought into the discussion and no one hogged the show. Some tried.

His own bias wasn’t revealed because he was focusing on asking the questions, not spouting his views.

“Nevada Week” seldom mentioned crime stories. On Fox’s watch It was about the Legislature, local government, gaming, business, education and the environment. Serious subjects.

(Disclosure: I was a panelist over many years and was asked about hosting, but declined because of my travel bug in semi-retirement.)

A few people told me they watched “Nevada Week” every week because it was their only source for news, little realizing they were breaking a news woman’s heart. Fortunately, movers and shakers tended to watch faithfully.

The first show aired Oct. 2, 1981, and the first host/producer was Scott Craigie, a teacher at the time who had the political savvy to eventually become former Gov. Bob Miller’s chief of staff.

Other hosts included respected reporters Myram Borders, David Kelley, George Knapp, and a few others whose names are lost to memory.

For a while, Fox and Claudia Collins alternated hosting duties, until she left to work as a professor at UNLV. Collins said the first year, the Review-Journal “would not participate because of fears that reporters might express opinions.”

But later that policy was reversed and the newspaper ended up sponsoring political debates with the public television station.

Las Vegas Review-Journal Publisher Jason Taylor has had discussions with Axtell. “I have not committed to anything, but historically I have seen great mutual benefits partnering with the local PBS affiliates,” Taylor said.

Axtell said he is observing KPBS in San Diego, which produces a successful nightly television show, to see if Las Vegas audiences would be interested in a nightly news program.

If there’s no need for such a show, he won’t pursue it. “There has to be a demand,” he said.

But he knows there’s interest in reviving “Nevada Week.”

Axtell just can’t find the right person. Yet.

— Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrisonn

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