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PBS in trouble?
February 17, 2005 5:21 AM   Subscribe

PBS in trouble? NYT link.
posted by yoga (50 comments total)

 
PBS contributes very little, and wouldn't be missed. The interesting programming it distributes is produced by third parties (local stations, the BBC, the Sesame Workshop, etc.) or by self-sufficient production offices that could easily become independent (the News Hour). The local affiliates could continue to acquire the programming from the producers without the bureaucracy of the network.
posted by MattD at 5:30 AM on February 17, 2005


I'm among the 15% of Americans who do not subscribe to cable or satellite television and I also watched mainly PBS as a child. It will be a sad day when it finally gives up the ghost.
posted by melt away at 5:50 AM on February 17, 2005


Well, I would miss PBS a great deal, but it probably does need to be streamlined. I just hate to see it maligned in this day and age where " educational" is deemed " elitist".
posted by lobstah at 5:53 AM on February 17, 2005


what lobstah said
posted by Cassford at 6:54 AM on February 17, 2005


Matt D, where will those programs go now? how will they be treated. cable might play nicely with them on some distant obscure channel. networks will either reject it or suck it up and rip it to shreds.

what would sesame street look like punctuated with adds? what would fox have done with pour old mr. rogers?
posted by es_de_bah at 7:45 AM on February 17, 2005


in other words, won't someone please think of the children?
posted by es_de_bah at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2005


Everything old is new again. PBS goes through this identity crisis every 10-12 years. It survived gay characters on "Seasame Street" and it survived the Teletubbies. "Masterpiece Theatre" has been sadly hit or miss over the last few seasons but what can you do? This too shall pass.
posted by gsh at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2005


It’s true that the BBC and others provide quite a lot of the best programming on PBS, but that is no reason to see it go under. Public service broadcasting is vital – I so wish that there was an American equivalent of the BBC – fully independent, yet generously publicly funded world class multimedia broadcaster (yes, I am a supporter of the dread Licence Fee – though I am sometimes upset how it is spent!). There is more to America than Friends, Extreme Makeover and Barbara Walters but the media landscape rarely shows it. Yes, there is cable etc but as it is subject to commercial pressure, rather than a public service mandate, it is no way equivalent.

PBS has done a lot of good for a lot of Americans I’m sure, when I lived in DC as a child I was able to watch great BBC programmes and co-productions such as Nature, Frontline, NOVA and many, many others. What is sad is that it is a vicious circle of money – the last time I visited the US and tuned into PBS, the production values were shoddy and the schedule soft and unappealing. The rest of free to air was a wasteland of sugared, ironically challenged nonsense. No money=poor production values=no hits=no popular mandate to ensure survival. It is true that PBS must make friends with the filth in power and should avoid needlessly provoking them – but I am sure the definition of public service broadcasting used by many in Congress would be 24 hour evangelical telemadrassa of some kind, its spewings only interrupted by stock footage of tanks, missiles and marching…

… The market is an important part of culture generation, but if culture generation in the States is left solely to the market, the end of any relevance will come even sooner.
posted by The Salaryman at 7:51 AM on February 17, 2005


MattD, PBS contributes EVERYTHING. It is the place where culture and science live. From being a little kid watching the gamut from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers (where else did you get such gentle lessons on being a nice person?) to the more advanced Cosmos and I, Claudius raptly (yeah, the latter was a bit mature, but my mom figured that I was able to handle history, and you know what? she was right... it spurred my interest in it), to the likes of the recent NOVA series The Elegant Universe on string theory and Darwin on, well, Darwin and his theory of evolution. It has never failed to feature and push worthy material that never seems to show up anywhere else on the 500 channels of American garbage we have.

As much as I love a number of shows on Comedy Central and HBO (and hell, even F/X gets a nod for the incomparable Shield), I can easily say PBS is the one station I'd choose over any other for my desert island pick. The Discovery Channel and TLC can't even begin to compare with the thoughtful science programs PBS has both produced and aired.

I've been watching thisdeveloping for a while, but it still makes me sick as hell. Way to go, destroying yet more of great American culture in the name (only) of market forces. What the hell kind of rationale says that culture and mores should be determined by market forces? A bankrupt one, that's what. Should PBS be hammered for 'pushing' evolution and not offering equal time to the farce that is Intelligent Design? Get off the propaganda-crack and smee the roses before they're deemed cost-innefective and replaced by a patented strain from Monsanto.

For a tiny, miniscule fraction of what is spent on far less helpful things (can anyone say "multi-hundred-billion-dollar missile defense that hasn't yet had one real success and doesn't actually address likely vectors of WMD attacks?), PBS has helped educate millions on so many valuable subjects. For a tiny drop in the bucket that could be taken from things like over 300 billion dollars spent on the Iraq Debacle, we could keep it afloat as a matter of national pride and utility. Hell, we don't turn over maintainance of the public roads to market forces, do we? What about public libraries? That this is even a debate is a truly sad joke. It goes in line with the 'communist' labels thrown at attempts at municpal broadband, a utlity sorely needed in many under-represented areas of the country. This doesn't help America... it hurts it.

God DAMN is this depressing. People, if you love PBS, call your representatives immediately and lobby forecfully on its behalf. Tell them if its been valuable in your life.
posted by the_savage_mind at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2005


There's a serious problem with PBS in that it gives even-handed, in-depth coverage to political issues, at least relative to the coverage provided by the radical right-wing MSM.

In a country run by the ultra-radical right, that's tantamount to begging for your government funding to get cut, and to get slammed publicly by its fundie leadership.

There's no place for non-sensationalist, non-pandering, commercial-free media in our "democracy".

Give those hippies the axe, run 'em out of town.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:10 AM on February 17, 2005


MattD, if PBS is dissolved and if (as the tone of the article seems to indicate) government financial support for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting is restrained, I'd expect that public television programming would devolve into two or three major market content producers (Boston's WGBH for Frontline, Nova and the Antiques Roadshow; New York's WNET for American Masters and the Newshour, and DC's WETA for their monopoly on Ken Burns), and that most of the smaller former member stations, now forced to rely purely on fundraising or local corporate underwriting, will instead adopt advertising as a means for survival. Thus markets like Austin, Minneapolis, Iowa, etc. will basically turn into a broadcast version of Discovery/History/Animal Planet. That means less Ken Burns / Frontline / Nova programming and more shallow edutainment pop documentaries.

The program distribution functions of PBS are definitely dysfunctional and need some sort of rehab, but let's not confuse the need for interesting, accessible programming with the need for lowest common denominator programming. There has to be a better way to get PBS to adapt that doesn't involve cutting their funding and forcing them to be "more exposed to market competition" because that usually leads to adoption of the latter instead of the former.

on preview what Salaryman said.
posted by bl1nk at 8:10 AM on February 17, 2005


Oh noes! Congress is going to stop spending other people's money in support of the television shows that I like!
posted by trharlan at 8:14 AM on February 17, 2005


Trharlan: Yes. And it sucks that Congress is going to stop spending other people's money in support of the television shows that I like. So what's your point?
posted by Bugbread at 8:18 AM on February 17, 2005


Oh noes! Congress is going to stop spending other people's money in support of the television shows that I like!

Oh noes! Congress keeps giving other people's money to Bush in support of wars I don't like! Etc. etc.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:19 AM on February 17, 2005


But where will Riverdance go?

No really, PBS is in need of a shakeup. I worked for about 4 years at WNET, the New York station, one of the best (and best funded) PBS stations in the country. And while the experience was pleasant and friendly, it struck me what an ancient, stodgy, bureaucratic mess the place was.

You think PBS isn't subject to market forces? Of course it is. They already worry about things they shouldn't have to, like ratings, or politics, or advertising. Everything is tailored to appeal to corporate funders, or little old blue-haired ladies with grant money. Trying to actually accomplish something risky or outside the mainstream, in that environment, was torture.

I definitely think PBS should have its place in the media, and public broadcasting is vital (especially the children's stuff - watch Nickelodeon lately? Jesus.) But they do need to be shaken out of their collective slumber and put to better use.
posted by fungible at 8:24 AM on February 17, 2005


My point is that if you like PBS so much, why don't you write them a check? Usually, when people value a good or a service, they pay for it.
posted by trharlan at 8:27 AM on February 17, 2005


It is the place where culture and science live.

I'll give you science (well, apart from Gary Null), but PBS lost a lot of cultural cred with me when it started moving towards Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, and that guy from Styx as worthy of heavy coverage. Where's the PBS of Alive From Off Center and Trying Times, of American Playhouse and Tales from the City? Gone where the flippin' woodbine twineth, that's where.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:29 AM on February 17, 2005


I love PBS. My fellow co-workers and I are going to operate the phone bank for a couple hours during their next pledge drive.

Any way we could trade PBS for MTV?
posted by dios at 8:31 AM on February 17, 2005


I feel like there is a shoe in my face.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 8:37 AM on February 17, 2005


My point is that if you like PBS so much, why don't you write them a check? Usually, when people value a good or a service, they pay for it.

Nice strawman. What if some of us already do this?
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:43 AM on February 17, 2005


Frontline is easily the best show on television. Without it we are fucked. Nothing else compares. Please try and think of something better. If anything, PBS needs to give up on the Charlie Roses and the Jim Lehrers and get more with the Amy Goodmans of the world. Production costs will certainly be cheaper.

If they are in trouble I will be donating to ensure this stays on the air.
posted by destro at 8:53 AM on February 17, 2005


I don't have cable either. I mostly despise broadcast TV and never watch it (except for SCRUBS and Lost).

Frontline is nothing short of brilliant. And NOVA. As is much of the WGBH stuff. PBS is worth funding for them alone.

As matter of fact after Frontline and Leher airs they should just shut down for the night.

Why? Our local PBS affiliate (KCTS) here in Seattle sucks shit. I bet I'm not alone in feeling this way.

If I have to see that frigg'n Ken Burns thing on Jazz again or another idiotic cooking show I'm gonna scream. There are tons of opportunity for local programming they could do on the cheap. But I guess that moronic hit "Antique Roadshow" is a money maker so they play that five times a day.

Some people say PBS is staffed by completely bat-shit disorganized PC addled elitist hippies? Um. Weeeell. I worked at our local PBS affiliate for a few months and they also used to be steady clients for a number of years. I don't know about anywhere else but that actually was the case here. I know there have been shake-ups lately but the programming doesn't show it.
posted by tkchrist at 8:56 AM on February 17, 2005


My point is that if you like PBS so much, why don't you write them a check? Usually, when people value a good or a service, they pay for it.

Nice strawman. What if some of us already do this?


Straw man? Have I mischaracterized your argument or position?

And it's clear that not enough people do this, because if they did, then PBS wouldn't be in trouble.
posted by trharlan at 9:04 AM on February 17, 2005


When I was growing up, there was a long period of time wherein my parents either didn't want to pay for cable or didn't have the funds to be tossing however much per month in the general direction of the television and so, PBS it was. It's still referred to as "The Channel" (in reference to the time when it was the only channel) in my parents' house and while they've broadened their horizons to include TLC and Law & Order, I would easily put PBS as their most watched network.

Myself, I'm one of those bad people who is easily suckered by Comedy Central and "Ancient Egypt" week on the Discovery channel. I still can't stand Jim Lehrer.

I suppose I have no point, but I would be sad to see PBS go.

There's a state TV channel here in Iceland that I suppose could be considered the equivalent of PBS in the US - though when I think about comparing the two, Icelandic state TV doesn't even come close. Sure they show lots of different stuff, but the documentaries on PBS alone blow the equivalent over here out of the water.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:06 AM on February 17, 2005


The highway system, public transportation, secure prisons for criminals, transparent (or at least translucent) government, and public television are all valuable goods and services and are all paid for in large part with our tax checks.

If you don't like public television, you should. It is good because it seeks to educate and enlighten with programs intended for and accessible to all of us, while most other TV seeks to tickle the senses or tweak the sensibilities of viewers without offering much new information to anyone. Most network and cable TV is funded by advertisers and is, understandably, a vehicle for advertising. PBS is funded by grants, taxes, and pledges, and is a vehicle for research and its results, public services, and civic education.

Rearrange your priorities so you value PBS, and you will be a better American. Continue to underfund and devalue it, and all Americans will, sadly, have no choice but to sink to your level.

Or is that the aim?
posted by breezeway at 9:12 AM on February 17, 2005


PBS is the best network on television. HBO might be close, but nothing is even close to third place on that list. It's really that simple, lack of pressure to please advertisers produces the highest quality programming that exists.

The desert island comment is exactly right.

This would be a serious loss to the US public. It would be a moment of great sadness for a nation that once valued something other than market values. I would feel a tremendous sense of shame if a bunch of insecure Republicans caused this country to let PBS whither away while celebrating The Style Channel's ability to fit a market demographic.

Tax me more, fine. Get rid of all of the political content and keep Frontline, Nova, National Geographic, Masterpiece Theater, Ken Burns, American Masters, Nature, Mystery!, Antiques Roadshow, all the history documentaries, fine. But don't oppose such quality programming. It makes me sick to think a people wouldn't want such programs made in and shown in their name, as their messages to future generations.
posted by ontic at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2005


Have I mischaracterized your argument or position?

Private funding of PBS has nothing to do with the debate about whether public funding should be contingent on the current political bent in Washington. Your strawman comment has nothing to do with this question.

And it's clear that not enough people do this, because if they did, then PBS wouldn't be in trouble.

PBS is in trouble because they are not toeing the party line. Read the link.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2005


i was going to say almost exactly so many things that have already been said... this is sad. i want my kids to grow up with mr. rogers like i did. i want them to discuss the wonders of nature and the universe with me, like i did with my dad. i want them to know culture and history and art and science and critical thinking, before consumerism bowls them over, before peer pressure and mtv take over, so that some day down the road they'll remember what really matters and go back to it.
posted by blendor at 9:32 AM on February 17, 2005


And it's clear that not enough people do this, because if they did, then PBS wouldn't be in trouble.

If I made an "eat shit, a billion files can't be wrong" comment, would I be elitist and out of touch with the heartland?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:39 AM on February 17, 2005


I'm having flashbacks to Newt Gingrich going after PBS.

And yes, PBS is home to such radical liberal programming as Tucker Carlson Unfiltered, Wall Street Week with Fortune, The McLaughlin Group, McLaughlin One on One, Tony Brown's Journal. I can see why the Republicans are complaining.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2005


I will miss Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese cat.

posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2005


"The biggest problem we've got is the structure we've got," Alberto Ibarguen, the chairman of PBS and the publisher of The Miami Herald, said in an interview yesterday. "It assumes a lot of government funding, continuing heavy levels of corporate image advertising and no competition. But in the world we're in - the world of increased cable competition, less and less government funding and cutbacks in corporate image advertising - it's a significant problem if that's your business model."

"Read the link," indeed.

So, Alex, it looks like PBS has a revenue problem and a competition problem. I chose to concentrate on the revenue problem. It's no secret that PBS is viewer-supported. So, naturally, I made the point that if PBS is so important, then viewers like the gimmegimmegimme crowd that kicks around on Metafilter should step up and mail some checks.

It's not a straw man at all.
posted by trharlan at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2005


If you don't like public television, you should.

Do yourself and the world a favor. Don't tell us what we should like. It's pedantic and patronizing.
posted by jonmc at 10:06 AM on February 17, 2005


If I have to see that frigg'n Ken Burns thing on Jazz again or another idiotic cooking show

I love the cooking shows most of all. Frontline & historical/scientific documentaries a close second. Ken Burns doesn't do much for me, either, though his "Civil War" really was worth watching.

Did anyone watch that 6-part series on Auschwitz recently? That was amazing and would never be produced or shown on a channel that was completely driven by market forces.

This from the article made me saddest of all, though:
Officials at PBS and its affiliated stations are beginning to lobby for a share of the windfall the federal government may get later this decade when public television stations and other over-the-air broadcasters stop using the airwaves to transmit analog signals, relying instead on digital signals over cable and satellite systems.

No more free TV, huh? I loathe the thought of buying cable/satellite access, and feel bad for people without enough income to afford it.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:18 AM on February 17, 2005


i want my kids to grow up with mr. rogers like i did.

For that you'd probably have to tune into this show.

Actually, questions of funding and politics aside, I think that PBS precarious position rests on a misunderstanding of how Americans (even serious-minded thinking Americans) veiw television. We veiw it as a toaster with pictures, it's something to zone out passively in front of. When I want intellectual stimulation, I'll go online or read a book. When I want to veg out, I turn on the tube.

TV just dosen't compute as a font of intellectual stimulation for many people. It'd be like taking your go-kart on your morning commute. In many people's minds TV is the mindless fun machine, and right or wrong, turning it into an educational tool isn't something many are inclined to do.
posted by jonmc at 10:19 AM on February 17, 2005


Jonmc, do you always speak for most Americans? Because it seems to me that your proposition (fun/entertainment/relaxation = mindless/passive programming) is ridiculously untrue for me and the people I know. I'm not picking a fight, I honestly think you're dead wrong.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:34 AM on February 17, 2005


When I want to veg out, I turn on the tube.

jonmc, I think the Discovery Times channel would change your mind. It, as you may imagine, is the Discovery Channel with the New York Times. The shows are extremely good, and it is really the only thing I watch with any frequency, other than The Daily Show.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:35 AM on February 17, 2005


sirmissalot: I don't claim to speak for anyone but myself, (which is why I said "a lot" and "many" not "most") but from my own experience I know I'm not alone in this. I don't doubt that a lot of the shows on PBS are good. Hell, when I was a kid my mom said I would literally lose my mind and howl like a baboon if it was time for Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street and the reception was on the fritz.

But as an adult, that's just how it computes to me. Books and the internet are for thinking, and TV is for big dumb fun, basically because TV is really good at big dumb fun, just like the 'net and books are good for serious thinking.

I realize this is an alien veiwpoint for many, but I guess that's the point of discussions, alien veiwpoints encountering eachother. Mind you, I'm not saying that my veiw of the situation is a healthy one, just proffering an explanation (actually more like one factor among many) in PBS's perennially precarious position.
posted by jonmc at 10:46 AM on February 17, 2005


i want my kids to grow up with mr. rogers like i did.

I loathed that man and his show.
Children managed before PBS and I daresay they'll manage after it's gone.

The only reason I watch PBS is for the Inspector Lynley Mysteries and I can get that from Netflix AND for the same price since Netflix offers a free trial for several weeks.

I thought FPPs with a single link to the NYT/cnn/etc were frowned upon?
posted by Jim Jones at 10:48 AM on February 17, 2005


PBS Guy: The biggest problem we've got is the structure we've got...It assumes a lot of government funding, continuing heavy levels of corporate image advertising and no competition. But [with] less and less government funding and cutbacks in corporate image advertising - it's a significant problem if that's your business model.

Tharlan: It's no secret that PBS is viewer-supported.

Quotes in the link seem to prove you wrong. Your link, though, does prove that it's no secret that PBS is claimed to be viewer-supported. Reality does not seem to match, surprise surprise.

So, naturally, I made the point that if PBS is so important, then viewers like the gimmegimmegimme crowd that kicks around on Metafilter should step up and mail some checks.

It's not a straw man at all.


If you want to make a coherent argument in Mefi, you should read the linked article and not masturbate to kiddie porn.

Nope, no straw man there either.
posted by Bugbread at 10:53 AM on February 17, 2005


I don't claim to speak for anyone but myself,

Dude, you specifically spoke for all Americans. Check out what you said:

I think that PBS precarious position rests on a misunderstanding of how Americans (even serious-minded thinking Americans) veiw television. We veiw it as a toaster with pictures, it's something to zone out passively in front of.

But this is making a mountain out of a molehill. I think you're right, many people do view television that way, but certainly not all, and I would imagine even less if there was more and better PBS programming. Just please be consistent in your arguments if you are going to make sweeping generalizations.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:03 AM on February 17, 2005


What's incoherent?

1. Article states that PBS has revenue crunch.
2. People complain.
3. I state that if it's so great, pay for it.

Further, bugbread, PBS receives contributions from individuals. PBS claims (though not in the article) to be supported by viewers. dios even claimed, in this thread, that he would work a pledge drive.

So, if you can't understand my argument, I'm sorry. But you do understand it, bugbread. You're not stupid, and my argument wasn't terribly strange.
posted by trharlan at 11:05 AM on February 17, 2005


I think we're all forgetting the cardinal rule: TV is for selling soap. That you happen to gain any transitory value from it is an added perk.
posted by Jim Jones at 11:06 AM on February 17, 2005


I would miss PBS quite a lot.

My roommate and I refuse to subscribe to cable (we allocate those funds for Netflix and World of Warcraft instead), and we both love PBS. Some nights, we'll have it on for 3-4 hours at a time.

FWIW, 'Antiques Roadshow' makes great background noise for gaming!
posted by spinifex23 at 11:08 AM on February 17, 2005


But as an adult, that's just how it computes to me. Books and the internet are for thinking, and TV is for big dumb fun, basically because TV is really good at big dumb fun, just like the 'net and books are good for serious thinking.

You forgot to add, "and newspapers are next to useless because the ink smears when you try to wipe your ass with 'em."

(Old joke, couldn't resist.)

jonmc's observations on tv habits are pretty accurate for a lot of people. For better or worse, the tube is an electronic court jester; we can look to it for insights on matters at hand, or seek escapism and demand that it fulfill the part of the fool. As for considering the net and print media being representative of "serious" insight, many would also agree. Walter Cronkite observed that the roles of various media were shifting into factions: sources (newspapers, radio, broadcast news & documentaries) that once complimented each other in fulfilling a well-rounded viewpoint, would later be divided into outlets based on audience preference. Given many choices, the closer, or more convenient options would win out, while the others would be discounted as redundant or (in terms of sensory overload) overwhelming.

To expect more would demand better habits of perception, time management, and critical thinking.
But the price of such enlightenment includes the withdrawal from cultural "shortcuts", even if such low/middlebrow fixations offer relief.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:12 PM on February 17, 2005


You forgot to add, "and newspapers are next to useless because the ink smears when you try to wipe your ass with 'em."

But, I like seeing the funnies in reverse on my butt, just like a big peice of silly putty.
posted by jonmc at 12:20 PM on February 17, 2005


This must be rubbing off on NPR as well, which seems to be pandering more to "evangelicals" each passing day.
posted by 3.2.3 at 12:28 PM on February 17, 2005


Do yourself and the world a favor. Don't tell us what we should like. It's pedantic and patronizing.

Do me a favor. Don't tell me what I should write. It's pedantic and patronizing.
posted by breezeway at 12:31 PM on February 17, 2005


then viewers like the gimmegimmegimme crowd that kicks around on Metafilter should step up and mail some checks.

The desire to get something for nothing is an economically rational behavior, and I would think a free-market champion such as yourself would understand this. It's not limited to the "gimmegimmegimme crowd that kicks around on Metafilter" (whatever that is), liberals, or whoever you favorite boogeyman is. Reasonable people can argue about whether or not being a free rider is moral or ethical behavior (although nobody who pays Federal taxes is technically a free rider in this case), but it's not a phenomenon limited to your personal opponents.
posted by pitchblende at 1:51 PM on February 17, 2005


The people who make HD TV's and want me to buy an HDTV are not gonna succeed in selling me an HDTV if PBS goes away.

I can only watch their HDTV shows if I have an HDTV. I've got no reason to buy if there is no PBS.

(hows THAT for "market forces"?)
posted by rough ashlar at 3:36 AM on February 19, 2005


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