Susan Lacy, founder and e.p. of American Masters at WNET in New York, is leaving PBS Oct. 18, headed for premium cable giant HBO.
Lacy created PBS’s iconic cultural biography series in 1986, and will exit after signing a “very nice multiyear deal” to produce biographical films for the subscription channel’s documentary division.
“This is a career evolution, not a defection,” Lacy told Current. “I love PBS, I loved my time here. I weighed this decision for very long time — longer than I’d care to say. But I finally realized I’d regret it if I didn’t take this opportunity.”
“Susan has left an indelible mark recording our nation’s collective history,” PBS President Paula Kerger said in a statement. “She recognized long ago that the history of our country isn’t told only in the stories of our political leaders, but must also be seen through the eyes of our artists, musicians and dancers.”
American Masters won 26 Emmys under Lacy, most recently during the Sept. 16 Primetime Creative Arts Emmys ceremony, where it was cited as outstanding documentary or nonfiction series.
The HBO position allows her to be a full-time filmmaker, a role she relishes but rarely has the opportunity to take on. “When you run a whole series for 27 years, the chances are few and far between when you can direct,” she said.
“I wasn’t looking to leave,” Lacy added, “I wasn’t thinking about it at all. I always assumed I’d be taken out of here toes first.” She arrived at producing station WNET in New York City 35 years ago this month.
Lacy said it’s impossible to point to one favorite film; she’s most proud of “the extraordinary body of work that’s a real archive of our cultural history.”
Creating those documentaries has been an expensive proposition, particularly when paying for third-party content. “If you’re profiling singer Ella Fitzgerald,” Lacy said, “you can’t do a vérité film. You pay for everything you see and hear.” Licensing costs have risen dramatically as distribution platforms have proliferated; meanwhile, sales of DVDs are plummeting, shaving that source of revenue.
Lacy said the program “still hasn’t made up the loss” of annual funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, which plunged by 85 percent in 2012 to just $50,000. Support from PBS “has been consistent” over the years, she said, “but never adequate to produce a lot of these films,” which can cost between $1 million and $2 million.
“Funding is hard these days,” she said, which is something she won’t have to think about while producing for HBO.
In her statement, Kerger added that PBS was “very sad to lose her leadership and vision” for the series, “but will continue to build on her legacy with an ongoing commitment to American Masters.”
Lacy said the fall season and 2014 schedule is “pretty much in place,” with docs on rocker Jimi Hendrix, composer Marvin Hamlisch, authors J.D. Salinger and Alice Walker, photographer Dorothea Lange, playwright August Wilson and ballerina Tanaquil LeClercq, a muse to choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins who was struck down with polio early in her career.
“Every executive producer brings their own stamp to a series,” Lacy said. “I’m not sure what the future stamp will be, but it will be interesting, and the show will survive.”
Jason Seiken, innovative chief of PBS digital media, is leaving the public broadcaster in October.
Seiken will become chief content officer at the Telegraph Media Group in London.
PBS President Paula Kerger told public TV executives in a Sept. 12 email that Seiken has done “a truly extraordinary job” over his nearly seven years at the public broadcaster.
Kerger added that “on a personal level, I know that this move makes the most sense for Jason and his family, as they have been interested in moving back to London for some time.”
Prior to his work at PBS, Seiken was based in London as AOL’s European vice president. Before that, he was the founding editor-in-chief of washingtonpost.com.
Seiken will be heading up the largest non-tabloid newspaper in the United Kingdom and running its 500-person newsroom. Editors of both the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph will report directly to him.
“This appointment is vital to the future of our business and in achieving our ambition to become the foremost English-language multimedia news and content provider,” said Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of Telegraph Media Group, in a statement. “There could not be a better person for this crucial role than Jason Seiken.”
In a statement, Seiken thanked Kerger and her deputy, C.O.O. Michael Jones, “for embracing change and encouraging innovation across the organization. PBS is truly a special organization and I will miss the dedication and passion of my colleagues across the system.”
Under his leadership, PBS launched local-national digital initiatives including the COVE video site and Bento platform toolbox for stations.
Seiken also established PBS Digital Studios, a web-only production unit that won five Webby Awards in its first year. The viral Auto-Tune “Garden of Your Mind (Mr. Rogers Remixed)” hit No. 1 on YouTube within two days of its June 7, 2012, release; since then, 9.2 million viewers have watched the music video.
This year, PBS received seven Webby awards for its online work, topping all media companies.
Seiken also saw local potential in online content, and exhorted member stations to embrace a more videocentric future. “We have it in our power to invent a new golden age of public television,” he told the crowd at the 2012 PBS Annual Meeting in Denver, “but to do so requires that we reactivate our entrepreneurial DNA.” Some three dozen general managers, dubbed the “Digital Entrepreneurs,” coalesced around his proposal to jumpstart low-cost local video production.
PBS will undertake a national search for Seiken’s replacement, Kerger said. In the interim, Jayme Swain, v.p., strategy and operations, and Jon Brendsel, v.p., product development, will lead the digital team.
Five NPR Board members begin new three-year terms in November.
Incoming member directors are Kerry Swanson, station manager at KWSU in Pullman, Wash.; and Connie Walker, president of WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., who was elected after serving out the unexpired board term of former WMFE President José Fajardo, who left the board last fall. NPR Board Chair Kit Jensen, c.o.o. at WCPN in Cleveland, won a second term.
New public directors include Chris Boskin, a former CPB Board chair whose involvement in pubcasting includes serving on the board of Northern California Public Broadcasting, licensee of KQED in San Francisco; and Fabiola Arredondo, managing partner in the Connecticut-based investment firm Siempre Holdings and a member of the board of Sesame Workshop, producer of PBS’s Sesame Street. Arredondo previously directed international distribution for BBC Worldwide and was a managing director of Yahoo! Europe.
On a separate election ballot, Public Radio Satellite System representatives ratified the NPR Board’s election of Nick Kereakos, v.p. of technology and operations at American Public Media, and Bari Scott, e.d. of SoundVision Productions in Berkeley, Calif., as non-board members of the Distribution/Interconnection Committee. Their three-year terms also begin in November. The D/I Committee oversees the rate structure and policies guiding operation of PRSS and makes recommendations to the NPR board.
Elections were conducted through electronic balloting by authorized representatives of member stations (so-called “A-Reps”) for 30 days beginning in mid-July.
NPR’s board has 17 directors. Ten member directors are top managers at member stations who are elected by their colleagues. Five public directors are selected by the board and confirmed through votes of member stations. The NPR president and chair of the NPR Foundation also hold seats.
Dolores Sukhdeo has been appointed president of WPBT-TV in Miami.
She succeeds her former boss, Rick Schneider, who takes over this month as c.o.o. of WETA in Arlington, Va.
Sukhdeo joined the Miami station in 1998 as v.p. for facilities services, and rose to c.o.o. in 2003. She began her television career in 1990 in the international newsgathering division of Disney/ABC News.
She also serves as president-elect of the board of the International Women’s Forum of South Florida, and chairs the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Board’s Nonprofit Business Committee. Sukhdeo is a member of the Professional Leadership Council for Florida International University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“Dolores’ great experience both within WPBT2 and in our community makes her the natural choice to lead our organization,” said Jack Lowell, chair of the WBPT Board of Directors.
KCUR-FM is using a two-year $320,000 grant to develop a three-person community engagement team.
Leading the effort at the Kansas City, Mo., station is longtime pubcaster Ron Jones, program director of WDET-FM in Detroit. The position marks a return to KCUR for Jones, who served as its program director from 1988–93.
The team, funded by the local William T. Kemper Foundation, will include a community engagement reporter responsible for creating and coordinating broadcast content; and a social media producer to create, coordinate and share online content on topics such as the arts, entrepreneurship, neighborhoods and community diversity.
“A community that is engaged in healthy dialogue is essential to our democracy,” said Nico Leone, KCUR g.m. “It is our obligation as a public media outlet to step in where we can to help generate and advance this dialogue.”
Previously, Jones served as v.p. of programming, WBEZ, Chicago; p.d., WGBH-FM, Boston; g.m., WERS-FM, Boston; and p.d., KANU-FM, Lawrence, Kan.
President Obama on Sept. 12 announced his intent to nominate David Arroyo to the CPB Board. Arroyo is s.v.p. for legal affairs at Scripps Networks Interactive, where he has worked since 2004. Previously he was an associate at the global law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Arroyo also is a former chair of the Board of Latino Justice (formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund) and in 2012 was recognized by the Imagen Foundation as one of the most influential Latinos in entertainment. Arroyo’s nomination, Obama’s sixth for the CPB governing body, requires Senate confirmation.
In other CPB Board news, directors unanimously re-elected Patricia Cahill as chair and Elizabeth Sembler as vice-chair during a Sept. 16 meeting at headquarters in Washington, D.C. Cahill was appointed to the board by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in August 2009. She is an assistant professor of communications studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and former g.m. of KCUR-FM, the university’s pubradio station. Sembler was appointed by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate in October 2008. She served as director of engagement at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg, Fla., and director of Kesher, a Jewish after-school program at the Ben Gamla Hebrew Language charter school in Clearwater, Fla. Sembler has served on the board of WEDU-TV since 1993 and was its chair from 2001–03; in 2006, she joined the board of the Association of Public Television Stations.
Collin Campbell, who created Freakonomics Radio in 2010 at WNYC, started work on Sept. 3 as managing editor for broadcast at KPCC in Pasadena, Calif. The role incorporates traditional p.d. duties with shared leadership of the cross-platform content team.
Campbell will supervise news and show producers and hosts, oversee program lineup decisions and lead development of new programs. In an email to KPCC staff, Executive Editor Melanie Sill said Campbell will be Southern California Public Radio’s “listener in chief.” Campbell joined WNYC in 2003. He served as e.p. of Freakonomics Radio, a weekly podcast that grew into a series of hourlong specials hosted by economics writer Stephen Dubner. Previously, Campbell was senior producer and co-creator of The Takeaway during its early years as a morning drivetime program. Earlier in his career, he reported and produced for WNYC, produced at KPCC and KALW in San Francisco, and worked for AOL Time Warner and the San Francisco Chronicle.
George Weston, chief technology officer at KSFR-FM in Santa Fe, N.M., has stepped in as interim g.m., succeeding Bill Dupuy, who retired this month. Also, news staffer Dan Gerrity, who has been with the station since 2002, is taking over as news director. And joining KSFR as associate news director is Tom Trowbridge, formerly of pubcaster KUNM in Albuquerque, N.M.
WETA in Arlington, Va., has hired Jeff Regen as development v.p., responsible for soliciting contributions from individual donors across all giving levels.
Previously, Regen was v.p. of Merkle Inc., a nonprofit customer relationship marketing agency based in Columbia, Md. Before that, he worked at M+R Strategic Services, headquartered in Washington, D.C., where he created a new department that integrated fundraising efforts across multiple media channels, the first of its kind in the nonprofit industry.
He also spent six years as v.p. of online marketing and communications for Defenders of Wildlife.
WUCF TV, the PBS station at University of Central Florida in Orlando, has hired Rita Echeverria to direct finance and accounting.
She arrives at the station after two years as the assistant director of finance and accounting for the university’s College of Medicine-Regional Extension Center.
Previously, Echeverria spent more than 17 years as an accountant for real estate management companies, an auditor for medium- and large-size CPA firms, and a controller for a real estate developer.
At WUCF, Echeverria will oversee all aspects of the station’s finances, including its operating budget and revenue streams.
Susan Lacy made a wise move. HBO now has surpassed PBS in the quality of Documentrie Films. They now make the Documentry Films that are interesting and engaging to watch. PBS does not. They have become cheap and relay heavily on BBC or British shows for their content. PBS does less then half of their own original productions due to budget cutbacks and people just do not have the money to give during the pledge drives. How many times can you watch Dowton Abby before it wears thin?!