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Cross the format of “This American Life”...

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Times Staff Writer

Cross the format of “This American Life” with the feel of “Saturday Night Live.” Add Emmy-winning news correspondents, Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winners. Assemble it with a joint “Nightline” and Oregon Public Broadcasting production team, and you’ll have something resembling

the new PBS series “Life 360”--the cornerstone of the network’s redesigned prime-time schedule.

Hosted by ABC News correspondent Michel Martin, “Life 360” tackles a theme each week by examining it through documentary, personal narrative and musical lenses. “It’s an eclectic mix--it’s got point of view,” Martin said, differentiating “Life 360” from network newsmagazines by its use of first person. “ ’60 Minutes’ would profile some of our contributors, but they would have to do their monologues in the context of the profile. We don’t have to do that.”

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The first episode, “Six Degrees of Separation,” which premieres Oct. 5, juxtaposes a short film tracking a handful of people saved by one soldier in Vietnam with a reading by author Ron Suskind and an animated segment by ABC News’ Robert Krulwich that mathematically shows how the atoms in Julius Caesar’s last breath may have been inhaled by almost everyone since the Roman Empire.

“We want everyone watching to be surprised and amused,” said Janet Tobias, “Life 360’s” executive producer. “By basing the show on themes, I think it’s a blend of news, entertainment and great storytelling. I don’t think that this exists on television.” In the same vein as Ted Koppel’s openings on “Nightline,” Martin will begin each episode in front of an audience “riffing on the theme, sharing her personal experiences to lead into the pieces,” Tobias said.

“It’s all part of Pat Mitchell’s [president and chief executive of PBS] efforts to revitalize PBS, and I think there is a huge untapped audience on Fridays that we can catch,” she added.

Other PBS programs include:

Documentary

“Local News ... One Station Fights the Odds ...”: Tracks the political and ethical pressures faced by a local TV station trying to gain in ratings without compromising its mission. Five-part series begins Oct. 11.

“P.O.V”: “5 Girls” follows three years in the lives of five teenagers from different Chicago neighborhoods as they battle racism, classism, holding on to traditions and coming out to parents. Oct. 2.

“American Experience”: Wraps up Ric Burns’ seven-part special on New York by tracing that city’s history from the 1929 stock market crash to the present day. Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. “Frontline”: “American Porn” investigates the $10-billion porn industry and how multinational corporations like Marriott and AT&T; profit from it. Oct. 4.

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Arts and Culture

“American Masters”: “Goldwyn” tracks the life of the golden-age filmmaker with Dustin Hoffman narrating. Oct. 7.

“Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records”: Profiles Sam Phillips, the man behind the pioneering success of the legendary record label. Nov. 28.

“ExxonMobil’s Masterpiece Theatre”: The Season opens with an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” performed by the Royal National Theatre, Oct. 8. Peter MacNicol, JoBeth Williams and Brent Spiner star in Eudora Welty’s “The Ponder Heart,” Oct. 15. A British family drama on the eve of World War II, “The Cazalets,” in three parts, begins Oct. 22.

Science

“Nova”: “Searching for Safer Cigarettes” investigates the technology, benefits and competition involved in creating cigarettes that reduce toxic emissions. Oct. 2.

“Sex: Unknown” tells the story of a man who was castrated at 2 years old, raised female and later reclaims his male identity. Oct. 16. “Russia’s Nuclear Warriors” profiles the rank-and-file men at the helm of Russia’s nuclear arsenal to show how patriotic duty overrides poor pay and hard work. Hosted by Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner. Nov. 6.

“Evolution”: Eight-hour series combines drama and documentary to revisit the context of Darwin’s discovery and investigate the applications of evolutionary theory. Sept. 24-27.

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“Nature”: Treks to Africa in an eight-part special highlighting the continent’s history and ranging landscapes. “Africa” began Sept. 9.

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