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Monday Night Football, Then Postgame Show ... from Moscow

August 29, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ ABC’s Monday night football joust will be followed up with an extraordinary postgame show - from Moscow.

The stars will be Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, live and taking questions from U.S. viewers in an ″ABC News Town Hall″ telecast moderated by Peter Jennings.

Some viewers may look for a play-by-play analysis of last week’s failed coup. Gorbachev, the Soviet president, was able to recover the Kremlin due in large part to resistance led by Yeltsin, the president of the Russian republic.

Rick Kaplan, executive producer, said Thursday that questions will be asked by members of a studio audience here, and in Philadelphia, Miami, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles, and possibly five other cities.

He said he’s also trying to line up as questioners various administration officials in President Bush’s vacation retreat at Kennebunkport, Maine. He hopes Bush will join in, he said, ″but I doubt that he would.″

He said the unprecedented meet-the-Americans telecast will start sometime between 12:15 and 12:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, depending on the length of the game between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, and could last more than an hour, possibly until 2:30 a.m.

The video session is another example of telediplomacy, the use of television by world leaders to sway public opinion while getting messages to their foreign counterparts.

Some may find it odd that two leaders of a superpower aren’t going live in prime time in the Eastern United States.

It also may seem odd that they’re waiting for a 9 p.m. EDT football game to end before they address somewhat more important issues.

″They didn’t want it to be any earlier than 7:30 a.m. their time,″ ABC News Vice President Joanna Bistany said. ″That’s their bottom line.″ That time in Moscow is 12:30 a.m. EDT in this country.

″They wanted to do it live,″ she said.

ABC News President Roone Arledge has been after Gorbachev to do a ″Town Hall″ meeting since 1987.

But it was officials of Gosteleradio, the Soviet radio-TV agency, who first proposed a live interview with Gorbachev, though on a different kind of ABC program.

Bistany said that soon after the coup attempt failed last week, the Soviets asked ABC if it might be the ideal time for Gorbachev to appear on one of the network’s ″Capitol to Capitol″ specials.

ABC has periodically aired the two-way forums since 1987. Arledge proposed instead that both Gorbachev and Yeltsin appear on a ″Town Meeting,″ taking questions from U.S. citizens, Bistany said.

Representatives of Soviet TV and ABC’s Moscow bureau relayed the request, and the two leaders in Moscow agreed to it on Wednesday.

″I couldn’t believe it,″ she said.

The Gorbachev-Yeltsin broadcast will have one notably capitalist aspect to it - commercials. There won’t be many, Bistany said. To avoid interrupting the flow, ABC is ″under-commercializing″ it, she said.

Though Monday’s superpower ″Town Hall″ will appear after midnight in the East, when audience levels are well below those in prime time, it may still get a good audience, she said.

ABC’s preceding telecast of the battle between the Super Bowl-winning Giants and the powerhouse 49ers probably will draw a huge audience and a large chunk will stay tuned, Bistany said.

″I think we’re going to have a great lead-in,″ she said.

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