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NBC's Tom Brokaw hits the road in search of American characters

March 11, 2009 | 11:31 am

Tom Brokaw is hitting the road in search of American characters afflicted by the recession.

In an unusual promotional tie-in with USA Networks, the NBC newsman will film a series of documentaries at various towns along U.S. Route 50, a fabled highway that spans the nation from Maryland to California. The segments will run on various NBC News platforms as well as USA, the cable network owned by NBC Universal, although the exact details are still being worked out.

"I had been working on an idea about how to tell the story of the transformation of America ... from the ground up, from the outside looking in, as it were," Brokaw said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. "I looked at a couple of highways" as a framing device for the stories.

"Highway 50 had been used in this form in the past, and I was very familiar with it," Brokaw added. "We'd been doing work for History Channel and for Discovery, but USA came to us and said, 'Hey, we'd like to be in on this.' " Americans buffeted by the recession gripping the world economies are particularly eager to have their tales heard, Brokaw said.

Brokaw's effort, officially announced on this morning's "Today" show, is tied to USA's Character Project, "an ongoing artistic initiative to celebrate the extraordinary people, from all walks of life, who make this country unique," according to a news release. The initiative itself is an outgrowth USA's marketing slogan, "Characters welcome."

Brokaw, whose World War II history, "The Greatest Generation," became a phenomenal bestseller, was enlisted to write the foreword to a USA publishing tie-in, "American Character: A Photographic Journey," a book featuring work by top photographers, including Mary Ellen Mark and Sylvia Plachy.

But Brokaw downplayed the association between the work he'll do on the highway and USA's marketing machine. Asked about the link between the slogan and his project, Brokaw replied, "It's a dotted line at best."

-- Scott Collins 

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