Let’s do it: PTV Weekend is worth trying

A debate on the proposed PTV Weekend experiment for two-nights-a-week advertising on public TV
For the plan, below: Mike Hardgrove, president of public TV station KETC in St. Louis. Against the plan:  Fred Esplin of KUED in Salt Lake City. What could have motivated Larry Grossman, a man with unimpeachable credentials in public television, to propose a programming scheme for the industry based on that most despised of funding sources advertising? Could it be that he acquired, as a result of his tenure as president of NBC News, a disregard for the dangers of unbridled commercialism?

Critics arise as PTV Weekend plan gets some ink

Lawrence Grossman’s PTV Weekend proposal for experimentation with a two-night commercial network for public TV stations — described for the first time in major newspapers this month — drew opposition and questions from several well-placed individuals. FCC Chairman Reed Hundt criticized the plan June 9 at the National Press Club. The proposed experiment with advertising on public TV is “an idea we ought to just reject out of hand,” he said. “Once you make public broadcasting commercial, you’ve lost it.” Bill Baker, president of New York’s WNET, a station whose market would be important to the proposed advertiser-supported programming, said PTV Weekend is “a wrong-headed concept at the wrong time,” which “could be very deleterious to the whole concept of public television.”

‘Something was very wrong’

Four days before the May 27 airing of “Innocence Lost: The Plea,” Frontline’s third documentary on the Little Rascals child-abuse case in Edenton, N.C., the prosecutor announced she was dropping all remaining charges in the long and troubling legal action. For producer-director Ofra Bikel and her colleagues at Frontline, the decision brought a rare sense of gratification. Over the past seven years, Bikel’s persistent scrutiny of a prosecution she had come to believe was unjust has made a big difference in many people’s lives. Whether the effect has been for the better or the worse depends on how close you live to Edenton, and which side of the Little Rascals case you want to believe. “It’s not very often that a television program can set people free,” commented David Fanning, Frontline’s senior executive producer.

Let’s not do it: PTV Weekend is a bad idea

A debate on the proposed PTV Weekend experiment for two-nights-a-week advertising on public TV
Against the plan, below: Fred Esplin, general manager of KUED in Salt Lake City. For the plan: Mike Hardgrove, president of public TV station KETC in St. Louis. If we take up Larry Grossman’s proposal for PTV Weekend, we will do to ourselves what Newt Gingrich tried but failed to do: commercialize public television. This is a bad idea that won’t work — and shouldn’t.

If you love ‘This American Life,’ you really love it

This American Life is unlike anything on public radio. But what would you expect from a man who once devoted an hour of Talk of the Nation to an imaginary presidential inaugural ball? The iconoclastic weekly program, on the air nationally since June 1996, already is a success by several objective measures — most notably, a Peabody Award in its first year. (“Holy cow, I’ve never seen that before!,” says an impressed producer.) Within 10 months, 111 stations picked up This American Life, including the big stations in nine of the top 10 markets (D.C. is the holdout). Recently, CPB’s Radio Program Fund gave the show a three-year $350,000 award — about twice what the show was seeking.

PTV Weekend: Notes on Questions, Concerns, Strengths and Benefits

James Fellows, long active in public TV’s national leadership and founder of Current, analyzed the PTV Weekend proposal, when it was published in June 1997, on behalf of the Hartford Gunn Institute, a fledgling organization he was trying to launch as a planning agency for the public TV system. See also the PTV Weekend proposal and Current’s coverage of it. The Hartford Gunn Institute is an independent entity that is interested in analyzing and encouraging promising opportunities in public broadcasting and telecommunications. It has no organizational or financial interest in the outcome of the research work which it undertakes. At the request of Lawrence K. Grossman, former President of the Public Broadcasting Service, The Hartford Gunn Institute was commissioned to explore with key leaders in public television their questions and concerns concerning the strengths and benefits of what has come to be called PTV WEEKEND.