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AZ Illustrated to go 'on hiatus,' new Metro Week to debut

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AZ Illustrated to go 'on hiatus,' new Metro Week to debut

The flagship news program at Arizona Public Media will be off the air through the summer, and a new weekly program on local public affairs will begin June 6. "Metro Week" will be produced and hosted by reporter Andrea Kelly.

AZ Illustrated will — at least temporarily — end a three-decade run. The latest incarnation of the show, with themed nights Monday-Friday featuring nature, science, public affairs, arts and political coverage, has flagged in the ratings with viewers younger than 50.

The new show, Metro Week, will begin June 6, bumping back another public affairs program, Arizona Week, by a half-hour on Friday nights. Metro Week will air at 8:30 p.m. The shows will change order for a Sunday-morning replay, beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Kelly's 30-minute show "will delve into a key local news story from the week and feature a journalists’ roundtable discussion of the primary and other top stories," a press release from AZPM said.

Metro Week "offers a new opportunity for AZPM to provide stronger and more in-depth local news and public affairs coverage," Michael Chihak, AZPM's news director, said in the release.

In the place of AZ Illustrated, the public TV station's The Desert Speaks series will be broadcast Monday-Friday at 6:30 p.m.

When AZ Illustrated returns, it'll be a once-a-week half-hour broadcast.

The program "will go on a broadcast hiatus effective the first week of June," said the release from AZPM's Sue DeBenedette, and the station "will work over the summer months to research, develop and produce stories for the re-launch of AZ Illustrated in the fall."

"The series is being redeveloped into a weekly 30-minute program that will showcase three to five character-driven “mini-documentaries” in each episode. The four to seven minute ‘mini-docs’ will combine lush, stunning photography; crisp, powerful editing; and sensitive character development to tell the best science, nature, arts, culture, and public affairs stories in Southern Arizona," the release said.

The "evolution of our weekly series ... represent our strategic decision to heighten the quality, depth and focus" of the station's programming, said AZPM General Manager Jack Gibson in the release.

Bill Buckmaster, a former host of the program when it was known as Arizona Illustrated, was reserved in his comments on the changes.

"Arizona Illustrated was Tucson's iconic news program with a storied history that began in 1980," he said. "I am proud of my contribution for 23 years as host of the show. I will miss its nightly presence in the community."

Buckmaster left AZPM in late 2010, and founded his eponymous radio program early the next year.

A revamp of the show in early 2013, after a hiatus of about a month, saw AZ Illustrated shorten its name and lengthen its roster.

The switch-up, orchestrated by Jackie Kain, then the station's chief content officer, found the program with five hosts — Maria Parham of the Arizona Daily Star talking public affairs on Mondays (later switched to Wednesdays); Jane Poynter (later replaced by Alan Fischer) with Tuesday's science-focused program; a nature-centric show on Wednesdays with Georgia Davis (later bumped to Mondays); arts on Thursdays with Elizabeth Burden (recently hosted by Debi Chess Mabie); and Tucson Weekly and Roundtable regular Jim Nintzel talking politics on Fridays.

As tangled as that sequence is to follow, the public seems to have found it even more difficult. Ratings for the shifting slate never caught on widely (last summer, at best just 10 percent of the program's viewers were under age 50. Chihak pointed out Friday that the 2013 ratings for the program were up 12 percent over the average for 2012), and Kain was unceremoniously dropped from AZPM's staff in April 2013.

Tune in Friday to see this reporter discuss the week's political doings on one of the final AZ Illustrated roundtables before the hiatus.

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