BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now yet another effort to get the Arab world to like us -- an armload of big ticket Hollywood talent including some of the folks who brought us Star Trek and The Shawshank Redemption have signed on to bring American style programs and through them American style values to the Muslim world. The programs will be funneled through a non-profit group called Al Hakika [sp?] which means "the truth" in Arabic. It's led by former Reagan administration ambassador at large Richard Fairbanks and includes such diplomatic heavy hitters as James Baker, Lloyd Cutler, Henry Kissinger and George Bush, Sr. Now when White House advisor Carl Rove went to Hollywood last year, prospecting for talent for much the same reason, the movers and shakers there soundly rebuffed him. But according to Ambassador Fairbanks, the creators of Al Hakika have had far more success in Tinseltown.
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Well, we have been embraced for one good reason, and that is that we went to the working level and we didn't go to the CEOs. We started having conversations with some of the producers and writers and directors who produce both the television and movies that are the world standard; they got excited on an individual basis, and we've been working with them as individuals.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I'm just wondering -- we follow the foreign press pretty closely on this program, and it seems pretty clear that efforts by the Bush administration since 9/11 to improve America's image abroad have not gone very well. What do you think Al Hakika offers that the efforts by the younger Bush haven't been able to pull off?
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Well I think you have to give the administration a little more rope, and I think there's a new undersecretary of state, Charlotte Beers. She and the secretary of state, national security advisor, the president -- they're thinking through ways to have the government do a better job.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But ambassador, it's precisely Charlotte Beers' efforts that seem to be slammed so roundly in the Arab press, so I ask again, what do you think Al Hakika will do that these other efforts haven't?
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Well we have a different idea. Obviously we are private sector. We're a not-for-profit, and I think that will make it easier for us to be nimble. Easier for us to get on the air quickly, and easier for us to have credibility and to appear on the local media which people are already watching out there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But you still have the same problem over there -- getting on to the stations where Arab nations can hear you and sending a message that they're willing to accept!
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Well, now, that's where I think we don't have that problem that, that the government does. The government is thinking of trying to set up a new American television network. We on the other hand are, are planning to begin on the media that is already there, extant in the Arab world, and that is popular.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now I understand you've got something like a Crossfire in the works, and another is a sit-com about a first generation Arab-American family sort of My Big, Fat Greek Wedding in a Mosque? What other programs have you got going?
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Well I don't want to over-promise. We have a lot in the conception stage. We haven't begun any of them. We intend to have a program that would be like the old Route 66 -- that would have a couple of Arabs come to the United States, travel around, record their impressions of what life is like, and then a number of other dramas; some other sit-coms and also a children's program which we've been promised some assistance from the Children's Television Workshop.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Is there anything in the history of these efforts that really leads you to believe that the programs will result in a changed perception of America in the Muslim world?
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: No, this is no magic silver bullet. I know that there are a variety of people in the region. There are a variety of thoughts. That's why we're speaking with a variety of programming ideas, and there is no one affair which is going to change the view of the world as perceived in the Arab world of America. We are hoping to make a contribution to that, to make people think, and to provide a way of viewing the United States that is not available now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What kind of timeline is involved here? Is it possible that your programs will coincide with a declaration of war on Iraq?
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Well we wouldn't, unfortunately, be able to be on the air that quickly if as expected a war were to begin this winter.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And if it is during or after the war, you're going to facing a much longer and rockier road to improved public relations in the Middle East.
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Well not necessarily. Certainly depends on what kind of outcome we have, if there were to be a war. We are not going to be able to walk away from that part of the world or any other part of the world. We're going to have to deal with it, and it seems to me that whether things are getting better or they're getting worse, this part of the world will still be important to us and this effort is worth undertaking.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Ambassador, thank you very much!
RICHARD FAIRBANKS: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ambassador Richard Fairbanks is founder of Al Hakika Television, and a former ambassador at large under President Reagan. [ROUTE 66 THEME MUSIC UP & UNDER]
ANNOUNCER:Al Hakika presents the new Route 66. The adventures of the sheltered Todd Sharif [sp?] and streetwise but kind Buzz Malek [sp?] --two Arab-American students taking a year off to explore the famous highway. We join our heroes fresh from their release from an Albuquerque holding cell where they were able to reconnect a world-weary prison with his alcoholic father. The boys are on their way to Amarillo, looking for some relaxation and a Halal Restaurant.
BUZZ: I'll tell you Todd, I've been in local jails and holding cells up and down this dusty road, but that was the swingingest!
TODD: Mmmm. I could have done without the pork chops. [POLICE SIREN]
BUZZ: Uh-oh, Daddy-o - we got company.
TODD: That didn't take long. Buzz, let me do the talking this time. [CAR DOOR OPEN & CLOSE]
POLICEMAN: Mm-mm-mm! That's a pretty nice 'Vette you boys are driving.
TODD: Is there a problem, officer?
POLICEMAN: Well, son it's like this. When the waitress in the restaurant two towns back asked if you want your tea hot or cold, what'd y'all say?
TODD: I said gee, hot.
POLICEMAN: That's what she said -- jihad. I'm afraid I'm going to have to take you in for some questions. [ROUTE 66 THEME MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
ANNOUNCER: Join us next week as Todd and Buzz get roughed up by a teen who it turns out has a shocking secret in his past. [ROUTE 66 THEME MUSIC FADES OUT]