BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Jane Lynch, the villainous cheerleader coach on Fox’s Glee, will have a guest-star as an animated supervillain on a movie-length episode of WordGirl, PBS’s vocabulary-building kids series. Lesli Rotenberg, PBS s.v.p., children’s media and brand management (above), announced Sunday (July 31) that Lynch will supply the voice of a character who uses mean words as secret weapons in an episode to air next year, aimed at helping kids deal with verbal bullying.Other PBS Kids news during the annual summer Television Critics Association press tour:Sesame Street, entering its 42nd season this fall, will include parodies of the Iron Chef cooking show and Glee. In addition, Elvis Costello will perform a duet with Elmo, “Ate My Red 2.”The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, introduced last fall, is tied with longtime fave Curious George as the second-most watched kids show on PBS. Both have a 4.8 Nielsen rating with children between the ages of 2 and 5.Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who plays Elmo on Sesame Street, said the popular puppet is based on his parents.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — TV’s Dr. Gregory House will reveal a little-known specialty this fall: a talent for singing and playing jazz piano. Hugh Laurie (right), famous for playing the cranky doctor on the hit Fox show House, told journalists Saturday (July 30) at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that he doesn’t consider himself the equal of the best jazz musicians in New Orleans, but he wasn’t about to pass up the chance to tape an episode and cut an accompanying CD for Great Performances. The show, “Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk — A Celebration of New Orleans Blues,” is scheduled for Sept. 30.An opportunity like this “is not going to come my way again,” Laurie told critics.
The interim general manager of Daytona State College’s WDSC-TV, which recently dropped PBS membership, is resigning in September. “I believe the television station is a critical component of Daytona State College and its future,” said Bob Williams in a statement, “and I believe it is important for the college to find the best person possible to lead WDSC in this new and important role.” WDSC’s Director of Educational Services Andrew Chalanick will oversee daily station operations until a permanent general manager is hired.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — More than two months after raising the prospect of primetime promotional breaks within programs, PBS is still studying the idea. PBS President Paula Kerger said Saturday (July 30) at the annual Television Critics Association press tour that viewer testing is ongoing at a Nielsen research facility in Las Vegas. Information from that research will be considered along with feedback from public stations, she said.Proponents of the idea say the promotional breaks will give viewers more information about upcoming programs and allow the audience to from one program to the next, all without reducing the actual amount of program content. Opponents warn that such a move goes against the decades-old PBS tradition of not interrupting programs except during pledge periods.PBS will benefit from knowing more about the preferences and expectations of viewers whether or not the new research leads to changes, Kerger said.Earlier in the press conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Kerger reported that primetime viewership had increased more than 7 percent over the previous year and viewing by children, ages 2 through 11, was up 23 percent.
PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler has written an interesting column on PBS arts coverage. Namely, why PBS, with its rejuvenated focus on the arts, hasn’t run any programming about “one of the biggest stories in the art world,” the ongoing controversy over the famous Barnes collection of paintings moving from its original Philadelphia home to a modern facility away from the city’s museum district. “Is the broader PBS silence in any way reflective of the fact that two powerful, institutional forces in Philadelphia — the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Annenberg Foundation, who were important advocates, fundraisers and financial backers supporting the move of the collection to Philadelphia — are also important financial contributors to various PBS offerings?”
The Seattle PostGlobe, which launched in 2009 as an early online nonprofit newspaper venture with help from public broadcasting station KCTS 9 in Seattle, is closing, it announced today (July 29). “Donations have fallen off. Ads have generated no meaningful revenue — ever,” writes Sally Deneen, co-founder and curator. “We began with no startup money. We obtained no grants.
Among the student-operated college stations to be converted into mainstream public radio FMs this year, the hand-over of Bryant University’s WJMF to WGBH’s 90.5 All Classical differs in one major way: the complete absence of an organized protest by students, alumni and other station supporters, according to Radio Survivor.After looking into the deal, reporter Jennifer Watts discovers one reason why the management agreement sparked so few protests: with a 225-watt signal, WJMF’s student-programmed broadcast service was oriented to the Bryant campus, and the station never developed a strong following in the larger community of Smithfield, R.I. “An indication of this is the fact that WJMF is currently on ‘auto pilot’ over the summer while students are on break,” she writes. “To me, a lack of live DJs for extended periods of a station’s program schedule indicates that a station isn’t using its FM airwaves to their fullest potential.”In addition, managers from WGBH in Boston went to great lengths to convince student managers that the operating agreement was in their best interests. Benjamin Roe, managing director of WGBH Classical services, tells Watts: “[W]e thought it was very important to actually be able to visit the student body and the students and have a discussion in person so that it wasn’t something that was kind of abstract, but really talking about what kind of relationship [we] could ensure between the school and with WGBH.”
WNED is paying the University of Buffalo $4 million to operate WBFO-FM 88.7 and two other New York stations, the parties announced today (July 28). Talks have been ongoing for more than a year (Current, March 1, 2010). The stations, which also include WUBJ-FM 88.1 in Jamestown and WOLN-FM 91.3 in Olean, will retain their call letters and frequencies. Their signals reach large portions of western New York and southern Ontario, serving approximately 90,000 listeners weekly. The university will use the proceeds of the sale to provide student scholarships and support for faculty research, it said.
In the first of an ongoing series of discussions on the future public broadcasting, the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy (CCLP) convened executives, journalists, policymakers and others in Washington, D.C., this week, to focus on funding threats to the system. The wide-ranging conversation at the gathering, presented with participation of Current, touched on topics ranging from new ideas for centralized fundraising, to financial stress on local news coverage, to diversifying audiences. CCLP will organize future meetings “on public broadcasting, its mission, and its financial and public support,” it said.More than 35 participants included Pat Butler, c.e.o. of the Association of Public Television Stations; Vincent Curren, CPB c.o.o.; Caryn Mathes, g.m. of WAMU-FM; Andy Russell, s.v.p. of strategy, research and ventures for PBS; Craig Aaron, president of media reform advocate Free Press; Melinda Wittstock, c.e.o. of Capitol News Connection; George Rivera, exec producer of eHarlem TV; Maxie Jackson, president of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters; Mark Lloyd, Federal Communications Commission office of general counsel; Kevin Klose, former NPR president; and Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Station leaders of the new Essential Public Media believe they can top the former WDUQ’s best audience numbers — in fact, by quite a bit, they told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We think the potential is there, if not to double the listenership, then to go over 200,000 to 225,000 listeners per week,” Lee Ferraro, general manager of new owner WYEP, said on Wednesday (July 27) during a meeting with newspaper reporters and editors. “It’s not going to happen overnight. We hope to be there by fall.” WDUQ averaged about 145,000 listeners per week over the past months; its record was 180,000 listeners per week in 2009.WYEP partnered with Public Radio Capital on the sale earlier this year (Current, Jan.
NPR’s Tweeter extraordinaire Andy Carvin has won a Knight-Batten Award for having “pioneered a new form of journalism” during the recent Arab Spring uprising. “By using his Twitter account as a newsgathering operation, he has demonstrated how reporting can be done remotely and created a highly engaged community of more than 50,000 Twitter followers,” said a release from J-Lab, which administers the honors funded by the Knight Foundation. (J-Lab and Current are both journalism centers at American University’s School of Communication.) The Knight-Batten Awards recognize creative uses of technology to engage citizens in public issues and showcase compelling models for future newsgathering.
A proposed auction of television spectrum has now become tangled up in the onerous ongoing debate over raising the debt ceiling, Broadcasting & Cable reports. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday (July 27) to criticize the debt-ceiling plan of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for including payments to broadcasters as part of incentive auctions that could run into billions of dollars. “Television broadcasters got the spectrum for free,” he said. “Now we’re supposed to ask the taxpayers to give them a billion dollars to give back spectrum that they owe?” Although he corrected that word to own, “his original seemed to better capture the tenor of his criticisms,” B&C notes.
Public TV ratings fave Antiques Roadshow recorded its highest-value appraisal ever on July 23 in Tulsa, Okla. Asian arts expert Lark Mason estimated that a collection of five late 17th-century/early 18th-century Chinese carved rhinoceros horn cups was worth between $1 million and $1.5 million. The owner (above, facing camera), who wants to remain anonymous, was one of 6,000 ticket holders who brought items to the Tulsa Convention Center. He told Mason he began collecting the cups (below right) in the 1970s and had no idea of their value. The second highest-value appraisal recorded by Roadshow was also Chinese: A collection of carved jade bowls, estimated to be worth as much as $1.07 million, was discovered at an appraisal event in 2009 in Raleigh, N.C. But the bowls sold at auction the next year for just under $495,000.Tulsa was the fourth stop on Antiques Roadshow’s six-city 2011 production tour.
Though it now does without PBS programs, KCET briefly recovered its role as the most-watched public TV station in Los Angeles in June. By last week, however, it was trailing PBS’s new primary outlet, Orange County’s KOCE. Now rebranded as PBS SoCal, KOCE began winning the area’s largest public TV primetime viewership in January, and continued winning through May, measured in gross rating points, according to TRAC Media Services. It was PBS SoCal’s June pledge drive — 19 days long — that brought it down, says TRAC analyst Craig Reed. Among the four pubTV stations in the market, KCET took 38 percent of the gross rating points and second-ranking PBS SoCal had 32 percent.
CPB is backing development of Essential Public Media, the nonprofit whose purchase of Pittsburgh’s WDUQ is pending before the FCC. At the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference July 14, CPB President Patricia Harrison announced a $250,000 grant to help Essential establish its digital journalism newsroom. “We are confident this will be a model for public media news operations across the country,” she said. Essential began managing day-to-day operations of WDUQ July 1, adopting an all-news format and reducing jazz programming to a six-hour weekend slot on its FM channel while it plays its syndicated service JazzWorks full-time on the Web and on an HD Radio digital multicast channel. The station’s editorial team has begun exploring possible editorial collaborations with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PublicSource, an investigative-news startup that launched with foundation backing this spring, according to Lee Ferraro, manager of Pittsburgh’s WYEP, a partner in the repurposed WDUQ.
The latest station to leave PBS is a production powerhouse, but one not fully integrated into the nation’s English-dominated public TV system. Puerto Rico TV — WIPR, licensed to Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corp., which is controlled by the commonwealth government — dropped its PBS membership July 1. The station in San Juan sometimes produces up to nine hours of content a day, including public affairs, culture, sports, music, talk and food shows, as well as the island’s only 24/7 news channel, all in Spanish. It aired only the children’s shows from the PBS lineup, including the limited number with a Spanish SAP (secondary audio program) soundtrack. The station wanted Spanish versions of the rest of the PBS Kids shows.
Fox News analyst Juan Williams is back in the news — promoting his new book Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, which tells his version of events that led to his abrupt dismissal as an NPR analyst last October.Former NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard, whose tenure of as the listeners’ representative at NPR coincided with a heavy volume of complaints about Williams’s dual news analyst roles at Fox News and NPR, has written two pieces reacting to Muzzled, which hit booksellers’ stands on July 26.On Poynter.org, Shepard fact-checks Williams’s one-sided account of his increasingly tenuous relationship with NPR brass. In the book, Williams plays the victim card by taking no responsibility for his gradually on-air diminished role, Shepard writes, but she agrees with his assertions that NPR selectively applied its ethics code to him.In a Washington Post op-ed, Shepard pens an hopeful analysis of how NPR leadership responded to the controversy over Williams, and she recommends that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation undertake a similarly painful self-examination to recover from the phone-hacking scandal.But Shepard also takes issue with one of the central premises of Muzzled: that NPR’s decision to immediately dismiss him as a news analyst exemplifies how political correctness and censorship are stifling civic discourse.Williams “is being disingenuous in calling his contract termination a free-speech issue,” Shepard asserts. “It was not because, as Williams writes, he ‘did not fit their view of how a black person thinks.’ It was a case of management snapping after years of warning him to be more careful. It was a fraught relationship that had outlived its usefulness, and NPR should have quietly let his contract expire rather than fire him over the phone.”Politico’s July 21 feature on Muzzled gives an overview of Williams’s experience at NPR, as well as his insights on the political orientation of Fox News.
A preview version of the upcoming PBS Food website went online today (July 25), according to the PBS Station Products and Innovation blog. The site is aiming to “unite cooking shows, blogs and recipes from PBS and local stations across the country.” First up are its two Fresh Tastes bloggers. Jenna Weber graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2008 and has worked as a pastry chef, bread baker and freelance food editor; she also blogs at EatLiveRun.com. Marc Matsumoto is a food blogger and photographer at websites NoRecipes.com and WanderingCook.com, whose worked has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
The vast majority of stations responding to the University Station Alliance’s most recent economic survey reported that they’re not likely to be sold or make changes in their governance structure this year. Of 141 stations responding to USA’s fourth annual survey, 88.4 percent indicated that station sales or other ownership changes were not under consideration. Only a handful of stations indicated that talks of consolidation (4 percent), local management agreements (4 percent) or frequency sales (5 percent) were in the works, according to the survey. It was conducted among public radio licensees earlier this summer; a few respondents also operate public TV stations. Almost 40 percent of stations will be receiving less direct support from their educational licensees this year, but most (72 percent) said the funding cuts have not prompted changes in their programming or public service.
“Outreach is about changing somebody else. Engagement is when you have been changed,” says Mikel Ellcessor, g.m. of WDET in Detroit. “And we have to be open to being changed as a result of these activities.”
“If you’re truly listening to the community,” he continues, “you’ll learn something you didn’t expect, and you’ll have to rethink your position or approach. We still retain the editorial decision-making and control, but we’re opening our minds to consider that there are things that matter to people that we may not know about. If we’re really listening and willing to get new information and be challenged, that’s both good reporting and true engagement.”