Spare that living tree

The little town where I grew up — Manning, S.C. — was small enough that we could walk to church on Sunday. My Sunday School teacher was a Southern matriarch named Virginia Richards Sauls, one of nine daughters of a South Carolina governor. Miss Virginia, as we called her, never tired of telling us the great stories of the Bible. Her favorite was the Parable of the Talents. In that parable, a rich man leaving on a journey entrusts his property — measured in what were called talents — to his three servants for safekeeping.

Arts on public television: signatures of past, present and generations to come

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein wowed a lunchtime audience at the Public Television Annual Meeting in June 1994 with her personal testimonial for public TV, relating her experience in terms far more vivid than the bland, generic phrases usually used to describe and defend the medium. Wasserstein received the Pulitizer as well as a Tony and other awards for her play The Heidi Chronicles in 1989. From the podium at the PBS conference, Wasserstein looked out on a vast dark room full of noshing broadcasters ... When WNET invited me to speak to this intimate little luncheon in Orlando today, I jumped on a plane because I had nightmare visions of an imminent merger, and Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse hosting the MacNeil/Lehrer Report and Charlie Rose opening his show by singing, "Be my guest, be my guest . .

‘The difference is that public TV serves a country, not a market’

This article is based on remarks by Marshall Turner, then chair of the CPB Board, at the board's Jan. 27, 1994, meeting. Turner is an engineer and partner in the San Francisco venture capital firm of Taylor and Turner Associates and a longtime board member of PBS and KQED-TV/FM. Some say that the advent of new media — in particular, the challenge of cable television — has decreased the need for public broadcasting and its partial federal support. The opposite is true.

To bring exuberant life to the country’s most important public space

When President Clinton had just taken office in 1993, Current asked an assortment of outside-the-Beltway people connected with public broadcasting to write open letters to him about the field's public-service potential. One was Jill Godmilow, an independent filmmaker then in residence at the University of Notre Dame. Her films have included "Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman" and "Waiting for the Moon" (for American Playhouse). President Clinton:

I'll start with a quote from the German filmmaker and television producer Alexander Kluge: "If I look through the window — a television window is something like an artificial window — then it represents what's going on in the world. In former times, people looked onto the marketplace.

To empower active citizens with knowledge, locally as well as nationally

When President Clinton had just taken office in 1993, Current asked an assortment of outside-the-Beltway people connected with public broadcasting to write open letters to him about the field's public-service potential. One was Bill Kling, president of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul and founder of American Public Radio. Dear President Clinton:

I know that as a listener to public radio around the country, you know its national programming well. At a time when the spirit of a new national agenda is high, the mission of public radio fits well into the public understanding and assimilation of that agenda just as it has for every administration since Lyndon Johnson's.

To serve as a catalyst in making our cities work

When President Clinton had just taken office in 1993, Current asked an assortment of outside-the-Beltway people connected with public broadcasting to write open letters to him about the field's public-service potential. One was Bob Larson, then president of Detroit's public TV station, WTVS, and originator of the local City for Youth outreach project and the national Nitty Gritty City Group. Mr. President:

Your messages to the American people have reflected a fundamental commitment to reconciliation — bridge-building that both creates understanding and celebrates diversity. Please consider the potential of public broadcasting as a means of renewing community in our land. Already, at the beginning of your administration, the treasures of public television were evident in the Washington ceremonies: in the inaugural parade, characters from programs that have so passionately nurtured the minds and spirits of our children; and the magnificent presence of Maya Angelou, who recently graced the national PBS schedule (in "Maya Angelou: Rainbow in the Clouds") to tell a story of healing in the city.

We should charge ahead — with thought and civility

The producer of Eyes on the Prize and other major PBS documentary series keynoted the PBS annual conference in San Francisco in June 1992. [He died in 1998.]

I have warm memories of the last time I addressed this body. It was in St. Louis, my home town, and I came to receive an award for Eyes I. The meeting was in the old Union Station building in downtown St. Louis — now a fancy hotel.

Local programs: our niche, and it’s a mile wide

In the spring of 1991, a management consulting firm advised public TV to shift its spending from local to national programs. Current asked Jack Willis, president and c.e.o. of KTCA, Minneapolis/St. Paul, to revisit that suggestion. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study was meant to be provocative, and there is much in it that I find worthwhile — the challenge to the status quo, the need for a qualitative rating service, a reexamination of resource allocation and the call for joint ventures. But I believe the report's most fundamental and controversial premise was wrong — the notion that local production, with few exceptions, is not valued by our viewers and should therefore be sacrificed for the national schedule. This premise is not supported by BCG's own data, which measure value by ratings and pledge donations.

‘The only place where you have a measure of creative control’

Documentary-maker Ken Burns told why he's continuing to work with public broadcasting at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles in January [1992]. During a question-and-answer session, a writer asked him: "Ken, for this project, as well as your others, you've found a very appreciative home at PBS. But now, with all your success, have the commercial networks tried to lure you away? Have they made offers to you?''

There have been a lot of very, very generous offers and ideas. But the fundamental reason why I don't intend to move is that this is not only my home — and being a historian, one kind of honors the past and where you've been — but this is the only place on the dial where you can be free of commercials, where you can have a measure of creative control over your project, a lack of interference; where you can have a strong relationship with an underwriter that develops over time, in the case of [General Motors], where you can really forge these kinds of relationships; where we can go and we can say we're thinking about doing this, and you can actually accomplish it.