Tom Brokaw is going on a road trip

March 11, 2009 10:09:32 AM PDT
NBC's Tom Brokaw never claimed he was retiring when he left "Nightly News" after the 2004 election. He's almost as visible on TV as he was before.

Brokaw has signed on for a USA network project that will have him traveling along U.S. Highway 50 in the coming months, reporting on the economic crisis and Americans' reaction to the first year of President Barack Obama's administration.

He'll even get behind the wheel every now and then.

This is after filling in on NBC's "Meet the Press" for half of last year following Tim Russert's death, and frequently appearing alongside Brian Williams during coverage of high-profile events like the inauguration and election.

"What I've learned is it's pretty hard to shift my motor into a lower gear," Brokaw said.

However, Brokaw, 69, said he's careful to make sure his schedule isn't all work and no play. This year he's been hunting, skiing and fishing, and he just returned from a bike-riding trip to South Africa.

"My generation - all of my friends - we've been in touch with each other and we've kind of made this unspoken pledge, that the best way to stay alive is to stay alive," he said.

Brokaw's road trip along Highway 50 is an unusual foray into news for USA network. Some of his pieces will appear on NBC News programming before "Highway 50: A Road Trip Across Obama's America" is aired next year, around the first anniversary of Obama's inauguration.

Political reporters often refer to the highway that stretches from Maryland to California as the spine of the country because of the political and ethnic diversity represented along its route, the former NBC "Nightly News" anchor said.

"I have felt for a long time that we do an inadequate job at covering Washington from the outside looking back, rather than Washington looking toward the rest of the country," Brokaw said. "If there is anything from the early stages of the Obama campaign that is, if you will, a strong theme, is that they wanted to knit the country together again. So we're going to go out and take a look at how they're doing."

Potential stories include the relationship between the banker and car dealer in a community, and how it has changed because of the economy; the suspicion with which many gun owners hold the new president; and the relationship between race and quality of education, he said.

Brokaw won't be on the trip the entire time, but said he's looking forward to driving part of it.

The network said Wednesday that "American Character: A Photographic Journey," a USA-commissioned book with illustrations from the nation's top photographers, will be published next week.

The book dovetails with USA's "characters welcome" slogan. It's also a personal passion for Bonnie Hammer, president of NBCU entertainment and a former photography student.

The photographers were given free range to shoot the story. Jeff Dunas chronicled summer months in Los Angeles; Sylvia Plachy did portraits of Americans raised in Mississippi; Eric Ogden shot portraits of Michigan musicians; and Dawoud Bey did a cross-section of Americans near Chicago's Columbia College.

"Ultimately our goal is to be the pulse of America, one way or another," Hammer said.

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