Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 25: PBS Needs New Direction

By Sylvia Gurinsky

When you've got powerful people who don't like you beating up on you, your strategy should not be to upset the powerful and less-powerful people who do like you.

That's what PBS - a constant target of funding cuts by the right wing - has been doing - usually with its frequently-inane programming for pledge drives, and now with an experiment to interrupt programming to run - well, they call it promotion/underwriting, but conventional wisdom calls it commercials. Four times per hour.

You know, similar to the networks PBS is not supposed to be like.

So far, PBS is arguing that it will be a one-night experiment to see whether the network can "improve the flow between shows." Oh, come on.

But that's a small problem compared to stations across the country complaining about PBS fees or being sold to entities that have dropped PBS entirely. Los Angeles lost the long-running KCET as a PBS station earlier this year. Orlando may lose WMFE, which is being bought (pending FCC approval) by a religious broadcaster. In or near both areas, as things currently stand, several stations could run various PBS programs, but wouldn't pick up the entire PBS schedule. There are good people in Orlando trying to change that city's situation.

But all the Andre Rieu marathons in the world won't solve those concerns. Unlike National Public Radio (now officially known as NPR), PBS doesn't have a single savior with big pockets. And those with the biggest pockets - especially Big Oil, one-time major sponsors of PBS programming - went off to get richer and greedier, essentially abandoning support of such PBS staples as "Masterpiece Theater."

PBS leadership, both at the national and community level, needs to come up with a serious action plan to reach the PBS goal of covering 100 percent of the country. It would be better to have one station do everything in a community, rather than having multiple stations not do enough. Also, the Internet is now a viable tool, both for programming and fundraising.

And for heaven's sake, leave the programs alone. Uncut and uninterrupted quality programs are what separate PBS from everyone else.

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