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Citizen-journalist Moyers signs off

NEW YORK -- "I was just in the editing room, working on the last piece," Bill Moyers says. "I thought: 'I've done this so many times, and each one is as difficult as the last one.' Maybe finally I've broken the habit."

It hasn't been so much a habit for Moyers as a truth-telling mission during his three decades as a TV journalist. But come next week, he will sign off from "Now," the weekly PBS newsmagazine he began in 2002, as, at age 70, he retires from television.

"I'm going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee," says Moyers. "We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don't have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people."

For that, his absence after the Dec. 17 "Now" will be all the more keenly felt: Moyers's interest has always been the American people.

A humanist who's at home with subjects ranging from the power of myth to media consolidation, from drug addiction to modern dance, from religion to environmental abuse, Moyers has produced hundreds of hours of diverse programming on issues that others shortchange, sidestep, or simply fail to notice. And through it all, he has looked upon his audience not as targeted consumers, or as voters split along a Red State-Blue State divide, but as his fellow citizens.

He's a citizen-journalist with a robust background, this Texas native who, early on, earned a divinity degree (he's an ordained Baptist minister) then served as special assistant to President Johnson, and for several years was publisher of the Long Island newspaper Newsday.

In 1971, he came to public television as host of "This Week" and "Bill Moyers' Journal," and, next, joined CBS News to do similarly civic-minded programming.

Then in 1986 he and his wife, Judith Davidson Moyers, became their own bosses by forming Public Affairs Television, an independent shop that has not only produced documentaries such as "A Walk Through the 20th Century," "Healing and the Mind," and "A Gathering of Men with Robert Bly," but also paid for them through its own fund-raising efforts.

"Judith and I will take several months to catch our breath," says Moyers during a recent conversation at the soon-to-be-vacated office he rents at Thirteen/WNET's Manhattan headquarters. "Then I will think about the Last Act -- capital L, capital A -- of my life."

He does have one immediate project: a book he will write about his years with Johnson. But he has no TV ventures in mind.

With his days at "Now" ticking down, Moyers voices pride in that series, which, upon its premiere three years ago, he envisioned as "a flexible format for ideas and conversation, reportage and debate." Now reaching 2.4 million viewers weekly with its breaking-news currency and contemplative pace, "Now" will continue with his worthy co-host, David Brancaccio, taking over. (It airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on WGBH).

"It has gained traction," says Moyers -- if only by default, in an era where most TV journalism gravitates toward the sensational or trivial. "As the networks have raced to the bottom, it is very easy to stand out if you just do good journalism. We've been trying to do good journalism, and it filled a real void."

Carol Burnett helps 'AMC' celebrate

Carol Burnett, an avowed fan of ABC's daytime drama "All My Children," will help the soap celebrate its 35th .

The multiple Emmy winner and comedy legend will reprise her role as Verla Grubbs on Jan. 5, when "All My Children" marks the 35th anniversary of its 1970 premiere. She previously played Verla, the stepdaughter of Phoebe Wallingford (Ruth Warrick), in 1983 and 1995.

"We are delighted and honored to count Carol Burnett as a fan of 'All My Children,' and to have her join in the 35-year celebration by returning to Pine Valley for this special day is a real treat for all the fans of the show," says Brian Frons, president of ABC Daytime.

On Boston.com

What's the sound of No. 1? Go to www.boston.com/ae/music to hear samples from the discs that top Globe critics' lists.

Talk of the dial

Noon WUMB-FM (91.9) -- "Live At Noon." Guest: Interview with singer Rod Picott.

Other radio highlights

8 a.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- "Classics in the Morning." Butterworth's The Banks of Green Willow; Vivaldi's Oboe Concerto in d.

9 a.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- Mozart's Symphony No. 40.

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