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August 1976 - News Magazine Program '28 Tonight,' Hosted by Clete Roberts, Debuts

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Clete Roberts
Clete Roberts

In August 1976, the award-winning news magazine program "28 Tonight" premiered. Hosted by former KNXT-TV (now KCBS) and KTLA-TV anchor Clete Roberts, the weeknightly program, aired reports and documentary segments on local affairs and issues.

In July 1976, KCET Programming Director Chuck Allen created KCET's first news and public affairs unit and hired KCET's first News Director to produce a news magazine show to air Mondays thru Fridays. Gail Christian, a female African American news reporter from NBC, was hired for the job.

The program, called "28 Tonight" was envisioned to be a "capsulized version of '60 minutes.'" The new department would treat news more aggressively than all previous teams, with emphasis on investigative programming.

"28 Tonight" became a ratings hit, and viewership even surpassed that of PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre."

Among "28 Tonight's" most notable reports was a piece on the lending practices of Mechanics National Bank and two of its principals regarding loans under the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration programs. Participants claimed mortgage lenders were "redlining" poverty areas when considering applications for loans under those programs.

Although the bank and its principals received an ample opportunity to review the "28 Tonight" segment and comment on it, they refused. Their counsel instead demanded a full retraction threatening to sue KCET if it wasn't forthcoming. The station refused to relent, believing the program had reflected responsible journalism.

"28 Tonight" also featured the 1976 Lynnel Littman-directed documentary segment titled, "Number of Our Days," based on an anthropological essay by Dr. Barbara Meyerhoff. The documentary portrayed elderly Jews living in a retirement community Venice. That documentary won the Academy Award for Documentary Film (Short Subject) in 1977.

Co-hosts Tom Thompson, Susan Friedman, and Bob Navarro were added in 1977. The program ran until 1980.

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