CPB will have not just one but two longtime journalists as ombudsmen, the corporation announced April 5. Ken Bode, former host of the PBS staple Washington Week in Review, and William Schulz, retired executive editor of Reader’s Digest, will monitor public broadcasting content and serve as liaisons for complaints. Appointed for two-year terms, they will cover journalistic programming whether CPB puts money into it or not, but Chairman Ken Tomlinson, formerly a longtime colleague of Schulz’s at Reader’s Digest, told Current they won’t weigh in on entertainment and educational programs — the Buster lesbian-mommies flap, for example. The ombudsmen will initiate their own reports and consider concerns raised by the public and government officials. They will decide which broadcasts or complaints to discuss and post their reports on CPB.org.
From Saturday’s Washington Post, TV critic Lisa de Moraes offers her take on CPB’s Friday evening announcement of President Kathleen Cox’s impending departure: “One of the things you learn as a cub reporter at the Podunk Independent is that when a company puts out a news release at 5 p.m. on a Friday … something big and unpleasant is up. Or, more usually, someone’s out.”
What you are about to read may sound familiar—like the strategy in public radio, with its emphasis on serving a core audience—but it’s an evolution in the thinking of the LeRoys, prominent audience consultants for public TV stations and co-directors of TRAC Media Services. Public television’s cume fell below 50 percent in the 2001-02 season. The portion of the viewing public that samples it in a week — as high as 59.2 percent in 1991 — was down to 47.8 percent a decade later. Fewer and fewer homes are sampling public television’s fare and they’re viewing it less. When cumes and gross rating points decline, stations can lose membership and support.
“Imagine laughing and learning with Elmo, Big Bird and even Oscar any time of the day,” says Sesame Workshop President Gary Knell in a Washington Post story on the launch event for PBS Kids Sprout, the digital programming service for preschoolers in which the Workshop and PBS hold an equity stake with Comcast and Hit Entertainment. As the deadline for public TV stations to sign affiliation marketing agreements with the digital service neared, the Boston Globe reported that WGBH was negotiating for special provisions that would allow it to keep operating its local digital preschool channel.
The Baltimore Sun profiles “Gerry from Pikesville,” an 81-year-old retiree who has made regular calls to Diane Rehm, Talk of the Nation and local talk shows for almost four decades. “I get a lot of e-mails about Gerry,” says WYPR-FM host Marc Steiner. “People love him and say we should have him on as a guest, and other people say can’t you shut him up?”
“Total subscribers at XM and its competitor, Sirius Satellite Radio, will probably surpass eight million by the end of year, making satellite radio one of the fastest-growing technologies ever — faster, for example, than cellphones,” reports the New York Times.
Barry University intends to transfer ownership of WXEL-TV/FM in Palm Beach, Fla., to New York’s WNET and a community foundation established by WXEL’s local supporters. “WXEL is turning from being university-owned into being community-owned,” says Richard Zaretsky, president of the Community Broadcasting Foundation of Palm Beach County.
“[T]rue diversity won’t come from propping [Ed] Gordon or [Tavis] Smiley up in shows that stand as islands of black culture in a sea of white-focused programs,” writes St. Petersburg Times columnist Eric Deggans. “Public radio needs to stop transcending or targeting and integrate a little more.”
Another PBS Friday night show will sunset in June — Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered. Producing station WETA in Washington cited Carlson’s relocation to MSNBC, where he soon will host a nightly program, as the reason for the PBS show’s demise. But, during its year on the air, Unfiltered didn’t secure an underwriter. The Washington Post speculates on whether Carlson will drop his “conservative cliche” bow-tie for his new MSNBC gig (scroll down to second item).
Houston’s KUHT decided not to affiliate with the new digital cable service in which PBS holds an ownership stake. Advertising on the yet-to-be named service for preschoolers violates the noncommercial safe haven that KUHT provides for local audiences, John Hesse, station manager, tells the New York Times.
Tonight’s episode of Now, says the Washington Times, is “a heartbreaking half-hour, albeit one that could restore your faith in the ability of television — or at least PBS’ corner of it — to tell stories that matter.”