Bill Moyers tackles 'Creativity'

Creativity is more than a television series for Bill Moyers. According to him , ''It has become a personal crusade.''

From his new office deep in the bowels of the West 57th Street headquarters of CBS News - called the ''Creamery,'' because some say that's what the building used to be -- Mr. Moyers says: ''I really do believe that most of us have untouched capacities to create. Society must start thinking differently about creativity -- not only of the Michelangelos, Picassos, Faulkners, and Bellows, but of that kid walking down the street'' -- he points through one of the few windows in the Creamery.

In the introduction to the initial segment of his new 17-part WNET/NY series ''Creativity'' (PBS, starting tonight, Jan. 8, and running 16 Fridays thereafter , check local listings for premiere and repeats), ''Creativity can be nurtured so that most of us in our own particular way can affect the quality of the day.''

Often called ''the conscience of American television,'' Moyers has now once again moved that conscience from Public Broadcasting to Columbia Broadcasting. It is a route he has taken before, but this time at CBS he figures he will have access to a much larger audience . . . and much larger sums of money to help him reach those multitudes.

For the moment at least, this former Johnson press secretary and publisher of Newsday seems happy to have made the decision, although reportedly there have been recent moments of agonizing over whether he had done ''the right thing'' for both himself and the American public.

Before his ties to PBS are completely cut, however, there is his new ''Creativity'' series, and a Mortimer Adler series based on Adler's new book ''Six Great Ideas.'' For the Adler show, Moyers has shot a series of six seminars based on the concepts of liberty, justice, equality, goodness, truth, and beauty, which will be aired soon on PBS. He is also preparing for CBS Cable ''A Walk Through the 20th Century,'' which will utilize authentic newsreel footage of the time.

Otherwise, he is devoting himself mostly to comment and analysis on the ''CBS Evening News,'' an occasional investigative piece there, and some appearances on the morning news and on ''Sunday Morning,'' as well as appearances on an occasional ''CBS Report.'' But what he is looking forward to most is a half-hour ''Moyers Journal'' on which he will be able to focus on anything he feels is worthwhile. Amazingly, Moyers claims that the powers that be at CBS have promised him that sooner or later he will be given such a show.

''I'd like a half hour that could be dropped in in marginal periods in prime time. I'll settle for 13 weeks to experiment in the summer just as Cronkite did with 'Universe.' I'm not pressing that now, since they have asked me to spend the first six months here on the 'Evening News With Dan Rather' '' (which, incidentally, is now enjoying its highest ratings since Cronkite departed). Moyers makes it clear that if at the end of three years, that special half hour has not been given him, he will move to more understanding airwaves, perhaps even PBS.

After watching or sampling all of the 17 segments of ''Creativity,'' this previewer has come away with the impression that it is simultaneously one of television's most glorious failures and a grand success.

From the very beginning ''Creativity'' acknowledges that it has set an impossible goal for itself -- to define creativity, to discover a formula for it , to expose what makes creative people create. Moyers and his superb staff of producers, directors, and writers from the very start admitted that there is no royal road to creativity. But by interviewing creative people, examining creative acts, they felt that perhaps there was something we could learn about creativity. While the series is not a disaster, it has managed only to introduce some fascinating people involved in a wide variety of work. It is a kind of ''Bill Moyers Creative Journal.'' We need lots more of that kind of ''failure'' on TV.

From the initial segment, which features Maya Angelou's poignant return to her roots, to the final segment which concentrates on New York's famous High School for the Performing Arts,'' the real strength of ''Creativity'' lies in Moyers's probing questions, rational comments, understanding nods, attentive ear , and occasional incisive observations. Whether he is dealing with the work of traditional or way-out artists, the place of garbage in our society, or the history of the tomato, Moyers manages to extract the juice from the pulp. He finds almost uncanny revelation about self-discovery in the words and facial expressions of those to whom he goes for help in his impossible task.

If there is any conclusion by Moyers, it is that ''creativity happens in the minds of the creators; time and space are focused to a single point. There is no single universal ingredient.'' To most viewers, however, the conclusion may be that the most creative individual on camera in all the 17 ''creativity'' segments is Moyers himself.

Does he have pangs of regret for having left PBS -- after all ''Creativity'' was done there, not at CBS?

''If you've been married to somebody for 20 years and you separate, you never get over the separation, you never forget the experiences. Public Broadcasting shaped me, gave me freedom to grow, allowed me to come to maturity in this business. A large part of me will always be there. And a large part of Public Broadcasting will always be part of my makeup.

''I think PBS has been an important force in this country. When I was in the Johnson White House and we were thinking about starting Public Broadcasting, we saw it as providing some paths through the wasteland that was commercial television.

''Now, think what would the cultural and intellectual life of this country be now had it not been for Public Broadcasting in the last decade with its positive education of leisure time?

''I look back on my years at PBS with immense pride and sensitive camaraderie. Eight years of my life! They gave me what every journalist yearns for -- freedom.''

Will Moyers find his people among the mass audiences he hopes to get on CBS?

''Most people think my audience is intellectuals, but it is not. It is people-to-people out there. Real people who may not be able to define their intellect but who don't want to see it downgraded either.''

''This is the most wonderful medium, next to the printing press, that God ever allowed to be invented. Television has an endless horizon. You can sail it as far as your imagination will take you and into as many different ports as you care to go. You can do commentary, documentary, drama, comedy, Shakespeare, conversations with George Steiner and Saul Bellow.''

Might we look back some day in the future and wonder at what we thought of as television in the 1970s?

He nods vigorously. ''It sounds trite, but I think television is like life. I think that we will discover one day that television is so much like life, that perhaps it is life. Television is everything -- one experience one day, another the next. How many sensations bombard you in the course of one day? We have been thinking too narrowly of news and public affairs -- TV must include family, thinking, ideas, education, entertainment, everything. It is the human experience.

''I maintain that there is now more good television available than there is time to watch. But, if you looked at it all, you'd be a passive spectator of life, not a participant. I'm not sure I want to make a case that there ought to be more good television because I am afraid that we'd stop being participating citizens.

''But the trick is to be selective. Choose carefully from among what is available. Good television does what a good book does - spurs the imagination and creates images in your mind that compel you, the individual, to cross boundaries that have psychological 'no trespassing' signs on them. That happens when you have good television.''

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