New York’s WNET delays plans to move documentary showcases out of primetime

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New York’s WNET is reversing its decision — at least temporarily — to shift independent documentaries from primetime on its main channel to the secondary WLIW on Long Island, which reaches a far smaller audience.

After filmmakers objected to the change, WNET and PBS said they will undertake a four-month “listening tour” across the country with representatives from the affected shows, Independent Lens and POV, along with stations to get input from producers and other stakeholders.

“PBS, WNET, ITVS, Independent Lens and POV are working together in partnership over the next four months to develop a national strategy to raise the profile for independent film on public television and to reinforce PBS as the home for indies,” WNET and PBS said in a joint statement released Monday.

WNET and PBS said that while the listening tour is under way, WNET’s channel Thirteen will continue to air the shows at 10 p.m. Mondays.

After producers of the showcases revealed news of the proposed change last week, the station confirmed that it was planning to move the programs starting Jan. 5 to run repeats of arts programming. The showcases would air at their national carriage time of 10 p.m. Mondays on WLIW and at 11 p.m. Sundays on the main channel. WLIW’s monthly cumulative audience is roughly 2.3 million viewers, compared to Thirteen’s 4.8 million, according to WNET.

After the outcry from filmmakers and the Indie Caucus, a liaison group between producers and public TV, representatives of ITVS, POV, PBS and WNET met at WNET Monday to discuss the proposed change. All organizations declined to answer questions from Current after the meeting.

Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films, founder of the Indie Caucus, said its members are “thrilled with this development. We are letting the independent producer community and their constituencies know the good news.”