NEW YORK - This week on his newsmagazine show, Bill Moyers interviews Bill Gates.
But not about computers. About global health.
In a special edition of "Now with Bill Moyers" (airing Friday at 9 p.m. EDT on most PBS stations), the Microsoft multibillionaire reflects on terrible numbers like these: 11 million children die every year from preventable diseases; of the 5 million babies who die within their first month, 98 percent are from poor countries.
"What do these statistics tell you about the world?" Moyers asks him.
"It really is a failure of capitalism," replies Gates, who's channeling a huge chunk of the wealth it brought him to help fix its inequities.
In the vast universe of television talk, an extended chat with Gates isn't unheard of. Nor is an interview with gadfly media mogul Barry Diller, whom Moyers interviewed about his surprising opposition to media deregulation by the government.
Still, the cumulative view "Now" offers is unique in its depth and far-flung reaches. "Now" doesn't give you the world in 22 minutes; for its audience of 2.3 million, the world is a weekly work in progress.
"Our mandate from PBS was to tell stories nobody else is telling and put on people who have no forum elsewhere," says Moyers, a veteran journalist who, since "Now" premiered in January 2002, has strived to blend breaking-news currency with a contemplative pace.
Before that, he and his wife, Judith Davidson Moyers, had spent 15 years making long-form documentaries on topics including campaign corruption, the power of myth, drug addiction and modern dance.
Pausing for a moment in the Public Affairs Television offices they rent at Thirteen/WNET's Manhattan headquarters, the 68-year-old Moyers calls himself "an old horse in a new race. It's been invigorating."
Particularly invigorating has been the search for fresh ways to cover the Iraqi conflict.
The week bombs began falling on Baghdad, "Now" examined a sitting duck for terrorist reprisals in the United States: any of the countless tanks that hold toxic substances in chemical facilities across the nation. So far, little has been done for their defense from sabotage that could harm millions.
On the same program, Moyers invited war analysis not from a military expert but from a moral philosopher, Alan Wolfe, who's director of Boston College's Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life.
"Is there a distinction here between the political issue and the moral issue now that the war has begun?" Moyers asked.
"Absolutely," said Wolfe. "Politically, I do not think that Mr. Bush can lose. Morally, I don't think he can win."
Another week, Daniel Zwerdling, one of several National Public Radio News correspondents who also report for "Now," profiled Bob Ricker, former executive director of a firearms trade group who, now a star witness for the other side, is blowing the whistle on his former employers: An industry he says knowingly sells its weapons to criminals.
This was a report that matched "60 Minutes" at its best. But the evening took a decidedly unconventional twist as poet Coleman Barks recited three poems by 13th-century Islamic poet Rumi. ("Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing is a field. I'll meet you there.")
"We have made poetry part of our journalistic beat," Moyers noted as he introduced the segment.
But despite his soft-spoken, erudite style, Moyers routinely butts up against governmental and corporate abuses on "Now." To some observers, especially those who remember Moyers' insider role in the Johnson White House, this might suggest "Now" has a liberal tilt.
Moyers replies that "Now" isn't liberal, just sometimes defiant.
"People think that the news they don't want reported should be written off as ideological," he says. "Our program is grounded in a journalistic ethos, not an ideological ethos."
In any event, the "Now" mandate to report stories few others are reporting has included one looming issue that straddles ideologies: the June 2 deregulation vote by the Federal Communications Commission that, led by Chairman Michael Powell, will likely approve further concentration of media ownership - to the special delight of media owners.
"The powerful corporations that own most of our newspapers, TV and radio want even more power over what you see, read and hear," said Moyers on a recent report. "But the last person they want to know what they are up to is you."
Among the few who do know are his viewers.
"There's still a substantial audience for coverage of ideas," says Moyers and, every week, he meets that audience on a field called "Now."