After negotiations, PBS moves “Independent Lens,” “POV” to Mondays

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Independent Lens and POV, the PBS series at the center at a dispute about public TV’s commitment to independent film, are moving to Monday nights, PBS’s highest-rated evening.

The schedule change, which takes effect Oct. 29, will be the second in a year for the documentary showcases. After PBS uprooted the indie film series from their longtime Tuesday timeslot last October, station carriage and viewing audiences dropped in the new Thursday-night slot  (Current, March 12).

This latest move to Mondays at 10 p.m. (Eastern) will position the shows to begin winning viewers back. Ratings powerhouse Antiques Roadshow leads PBS primetime on Mondays, and PBS will be putting a lot of promotional power behind Market Warriors, a new series slated for 9 p.m. that will become the lead-in for indie films.

Ratings for Mondays in Nielsen metered markets scored 42 percent above the PBS primetime average of 1.09 last fall, according to audience analysis firm TRAC Media Service. Thursday nights, by contrast, scored 24 percent below average. Independent Lens has languished in its Thursday timeslot, its ratings plunging at one point more than 40 percent over the previous season.

For the new scheduling plan, PBS and producers agreed to create a multiplatform film festival for mid-2013 to showcase independent filmmakers. “Much like we’ve done with the PBS Arts Festivals,” said PBS Programmer John Wilson, “we’ll use the film festival to shine a brighter light on independent work.”

“We are thrilled with PBS’s decision to move the programs to Mondays as part of an overall strategy for independent programs,” Simon Kilmurry, executive director of POV, said in a statement from PBS. “Filmmakers and viewers will benefit from a public television experience that fully embraces the power and impact of independent documentaries.”

Sally Jo Fifer, ITVS president, said: “By broadcasting indies’ mission-focused stories on Monday nights, we hope that more PBS viewers will have the opportunity to engage in the community and educational activities that independent films inspire.”

The scheduling outcome is the result of months of high-level negotiations among representatives from PBS; POV; and the Independent Television Service, producers of Independent Lens. Talks intensified after Chicago documentary house Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams, Interrupters) posted an online open letter to PBS expressing concern over the Thursday timeslot; among more than 1,000 signatories were veteran newsman Bill Moyers, activist Michael Moore and Oscar winners Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Barbara Kopple (Harlan County). Drawing on that support, Kartemquin established a permanent PBS Needs Indies Steering Committee, in partnership with the International Documentary Association, to work as a liaison between filmmakers and PBS.

Gordon Quinn, a founder of Kartemquin, reacted to the new schedule in the statement from PBS: “We are happy that PBS has chosen this exciting way forward and we stand ready to support the new strategy and PBS in every way we can.”

See the next issue of Current, coming May 14, for further coverage.

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