Monday, May 02, 2005

40 Community Members weigh in on PBS

E-mails came in regarding PBS. Of the three hundred and seventy-four that arrived after this morning's post which dealt with PBS, forty wanted to be quoted. There's not one answer and there's a wide range of opinion in the community. (E-mails that arrived this morning are not included in the count because they largely dealt with "Can you believe this?" and not with what part of the article in this morning's Times that they couldn't believe.)

Those not wishing to be quoted more often than not favored PBS. (I won't try to do a percentage. My math is horrible. Check my math on forty members being quoted below.) If my outrage over the story and offering my opinion inhibited anyone from expressing their own, I apologize. If I had it to do over, I would just highlight the story and ask for input. (Shirley also noted that I was asking the community to respond on this quickly considering that some members have expressed they don't check this site until the evening. That is correct and my apologies for that as well.)

Erika e-mails that she loves PBS "as bad as it is." She wonders if that's the "appropriate" attitude to have but feels that the NewsHour, "despite it's many faults including being right, not leaning right, being right," still allows a bit of hope because it's a "conversation."

Marcia feels that PBS is "totally, completely f**ked . . . [and] needs to go!" Marcia points out that on a "shoe string" budget Democracy Now! is better able to inform viewers (listeners, readers) than the NewsHour.

Liang brings up the budget in her e-mail and wants to know where the money goes? "International journalism does not abound on PBS. [. . .] Foreign correspondents from newspapers are brought on to discuss what they are seeing. I doubt the NewsHour pays for The Christian Science Monitor or The New York Times to station their correspondents in Iraq, for instance."

Ben notes the budget in his e-mails as well. He wonders why "long ago," Masterpiece Theatre wasn't replaced with something more regional that "really was plays and not imported mini-series?"

Various people note the issue of plays.

Lynda remembers "when a network was doing plays in the 80s on live television. I remember Sally Field doing one. What is PBS's reasoning for not doing something similar?"

Lynda's remembering when NBC did a series of plays (including Sally Field in the lead role of A Member of the Wedding). This was during the early eighties (1980?) when NBC was dead last and willing to experiment. Sally Field (and others participating) didn't clean up (in terms of paydays) but did it out of love for the project (play) and a desire to bring live performances and plays back into people's living rooms. It's hard to believe PBS couldn't mount something similar today. Once aired live, PBS would have be able to build their own library of "Masterpieces" to air as "Best of"s, not to mention they could make some profit from the sales of videotapes and DVDs.

But as Lewis points out, they wouldn't even need to go with big names: "Chicago has a strong theater scene. I do not understand why PBS isn't utilizing local theater companies to put on plays. Make it a fifty week series, one week to spotlight an area in each state. If there was concern of fees to put on A Streetcar Named Desire, most of those areas have a regional playwright or two who is trying to establish his [or her] name and would probably be willing to cut a deal for the attention that could result from having his [or her] play aired on national television."

When an idea blooms in the community, every member seems to be on a similar page because Alabama e-mails on the same topic with a twist. Alabama feels that in the age of "contests for mediocre singers, why doesn't PBS do a play-fest. They hold a play contest. Twenty aspiring playwrights are picked and each week there are two things aired, the play and the backstory on putting it on."

Which would be similar to a Project Greenlight for plays. [Project Greenlight being the screenplay/director contest on HBO largely associated with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.]

Lynette e-mails that the "cultural scene here [San Francisco] is huge and I always wonder why we aren't recognized for our arts. Symphonies across the country would benefit from PBS doing a series where you got a city highlighted here or there. I don't understand why they don't do that. You're looking at giving local PBS stations the responsibilities of filming the special and everyone sharing them across the country. I'm sure the local areas would love to be involved in a national program since the biggest complaint I hear in my area is that everything is top-down.
This would be local stations filming content and providing it for the national audience."

Jimarcus wonders why, when his local symphony, performs a free show outdoors every spring, his PBS never bothers to air it? "Since it's for the public and the park fills up quickly, it seems to me this is the sort of the program they could do for little money but would bring a lot of pleasure to viewers."

Brad wonders why anyone should bother defending PBS because "it's not just that they won't stand up for themselves" but also that "they create the situation where they have to battle this battle every budget cycle. It's insane. If they stood up just once, PBS members would and Congress would get so many e-mails, calls and letters that they'd lay off at least for a few years."

Francisco writes in to note that when he was a child he could learn from PBS but that he doesn't learn now "from cartoons to Arthur and Miguel & Maya. They are cute stories but this isn't The Electric Company, Zoom or Sesame Street and I wonder why the cartoons air at all?"

Devon e-mails about the cartoons but feels that they are worth airing because, unlike cartoons on the other networks, "I can let my children watch and not to worry that they're getting all these fights, bullets and explosions."

Elaine notes that PBS "did their part in cheerleading us into war so I won't be signing up to defend it." Elaine recommends that members utilize FAIR's archives to do some research on PBS' problems over the years "before rushing to take up the cause of PBS."

Lloyd e-mails that if his local NPR didn't air Democracy Now! he wouldn't care about NPR or PBS at all. But due to the fact that this allows him to listen to Democracy Now!, he feels that members should "realize not everyone has a [sattellite] dish so if PBS and/or NPR go under, I'm not sure where those of us without a dish would get our daily Democracy Now?"

Roy notes that Independent Lens is his favorite PBS feature (this is a series that airs a different documentary each week) but "I'm really upset when I hear the news of what is being turned down."

Kara's also bothered by what doesn't get aired. Specifically, "no programming revolving around labor. PBS is public television, not corporate television. I won't defend that piece of s**t that can give us investing tips but can never program for unions or what about when they turned down Danny Schechter's weekly program on human rights years ago? A weekly series on human rights around the globe was 'too controversial' for PBS so why should I shed any tears?"

??? feels "they've caved so many times that I don't feel like defending them. I'll defend them and the result will be that they'll just turn around and cave again. I have issues to support that people will actually fight on. The timid tabbys of PBS brought this on themselves. I just feel if I got mobilized with others on this, I'd be breaking my back for nothing because they'd sell out everyone going to the mat for them. They always do."

Dominick notes "60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II got attention for programming last year. Why aren't those sort of stories on PBS? I don't see the point in fighting for them when they're so cowardly."

Maria feels that PBS is "too watered down. It once mattered but it stop mattering a long time ago. I'll let my kids watch. Not because it's educational but because it's inoffensive. I'm talking about the cartoons which are feel good cartoons like the Smurfs used to be. But if I have time on the weekend or at night and turn it on it's Suzie Orman. I am so glad you named her this morning because I see her on my PBS station more than I see Big Bird. I'm sick of that cheap infomerical airing constantly. I think PBS should be ashamed."

Beth feels she could go "either way. I think it should be so much more than it is, like it used to be, but I'm just worried of how much worse things would get if PBS wasn't around."

Juan praises PBS for "showing An American Family and that's really it. They should be delivering strong American programming. But everything else they offer that's not news comes from England."

Billie notes that in her area there were two specials that may have only been regional "one was on Lady Bird Johnson's contributions to ecology and the other was on JFK's assassination. Those were strong programs and the JFK one was produced by my station [Dallas PBS station]. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Lady Bird Johnson one also came out of Texas. To me, those were strong programs and I wish there were more like them. But because of those two programs, two years ago, I think. I would sign a petition or do an e-mail to save PBS. It's really a shame that I can only think of two programs that make me care."

Susan feels that the "various music specials are all recorded at one time. I love Judy Collins but I'd prefer a concert with Judy Collins. Not five 'Americana' specials that appear to be based on one concert that's been cut up to give you a bit of this, a bit of that. There was a special that I liked on the Mamas and the Papas but I was so disappointed to discover that it was on DVD and had been for at least a year before PBS aired it. The one hour concerts make me very upset because when they had Alanis [Morissette] on, they bleeped her lyrics."

Domingo also feels that the music specials "are worthless. Whether its a repeat of a HBO concert or something else, it's as though I've seen it multiple times already. Do they not know how to put on their own concerts?"

Jess (The Third Estate Sunday Review) notes that when he was "a kid, Carole King had a great special on PBS. It was done for PBS. It was aired live, or that's how I remember it. What happened to those days? I'm sick of the canned specials with an audience seated at little round tables applauding politely."

Zach feels like his PBS station has "really strayed from its purpose. Between Antique Roadshow and some dopey reality show, its become like the lowest grade basic cable station that I avoid like the plague. I watched for Bill Moyers. For NOW and for his intelligent interviews with the likes of Joseph Campbell. Now when I happen to land on PBS, I flip the channel quickly because it's all this junk appealing to hobbyists."

Marci feels PBS has grown "hideous" but has a "personal attachment to it even now that means I'll lobby for it with e-mails, phone calls, letters, faxes, whatever I'm asked to do."

Tamara also uses the adjective "worthless" to describe PBS but wonders "how much more worthless TV would be without it? I think it would be a great deal more worthless. I wish PBS was better and that it served the people but even half-assed it is doing a better job than ABC, NBC or CBS."

Lilly wonders how anyone can not defend PBS? "It has huge problems but save it and then try to address the problems."

Rick also e-mails that "problems or not PBS is needed!"

Cedric e-mails to note PBS's problems with inclusion. "Where are the people of color, where are the women. Why is Jim Lehrer still hosting the NewsHour? Shouldn't they have passed it on to [Margaret] Warner or someone else by now? Outside of the children's programming, it's pretty much impossible to find people of color or women in non-traditional roles."

[Cedric also caught that I mispelled Jim Lehrer's last name -- I wrongly spelled it "Lehren." Thanks for catching that Cedric. I've corrected it.]

Gore Vidal is God says he's "sick of it all. They have commercials from their 'sponsors.' Every few years they need something more and yet the quality continues to go down. Before PBS was created, I lived in Boston and we actually had public television. PBS isn't public television. It's done a lousy job of serving the public and of representing the public. Were it not for the MacArthur Foundation, I'm not sure that there would be anything at all worth watching on PBS these days."

Durham Gal also notes the MacArthur Foundation and wonders why more foundations aren't helping with programming "instead of Exxon or some investment company or drug company? The corporate monies compromise PBS and have led to current problems just as much as has their failure to respond to attacks strongly. They could ignore the attacks but they cave instead.
If they're going to respond at all they need to do so strongly."

Theresa wonders why PBS is "always needing saving? Is PBS ever going to save itself or keep expecting others to save it?"

Heath echoes that comment when he notes, "I'll fight again, like always, but I'm really getting tired of it. Seems like after each battles PBS is less and less worth watching."

Campbell e-mails in to note that the Democracy Now!, I'd sign up for the thirty dollars a month pledge where they automatically take it out of your account each week. I tried to put my money where my mouth was. But I was told Democracy Now! was 'too political.' It's that attitude that makes me shrug my shoulders and long for the day when I can stop fighting to save a network that means less and less to me with each passing day."

Abhilasha's problem with her PBS station is "that everything worth watching airs at midnight or later. If I happen to be up, I can find something worth watching but during my normal viewing hours, it's all useless programming. I don't know if they shove the 'controversial' stuff on at the late hour but any documentary worth seeing or special that's actual news seems to air after midnight where most people will never see it."

Micia thinks PBS is worthless "to anyone who can afford cable but I wonder if people in this country grasp that not everyone has cable? With cable rates skyrocket, economy tanking, and
areas still not served when you can afford it, a great deal of people depend upon PBS."

Shawn feels that "caving has resulted in PBS not caring about anything and no one caring about PBS. It's a vicious circle."

Enrico weighs in that "PBS has betrayed the public trust and the service it owes to the public of informing them. They could address controversial errors in a 'balanced' manner by offering someone from the real left and from the right, or real right because maybe we don't see people from the real right on PBS, and that would be a great dialogue for the public to have and take part in. Instead we get 'specials' pushing books, books on tape and other nonsense which is just infomericals passing for programming. If that's how it's going to be, bring back the Hair by Lori informercial because at least Cher shuddering when she saw the root of the hair that didn't use Lori products made me laugh."

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