Chief Operating Officer Bob Ottenhoff is leaving the No. 2 position at PBS after eight years working for Ervin Duggan and the previous president, Bruce Christensen.
News of the change, already circulating in heavy rotation at the PBS Annual Meeting when Duggan announced it during the June 6 opening session, mystified station executives and even some PBS Board members. It added a new story element to what one former board member called “a range of colossally uninformed mispeculation” that Duggan was either (a) confidently moving ahead, (b) soon to lose his own job, or (c) both. High-ranking board members said nothing. Beth Wolfe, PBS’s chief financial officer since 1988, will take oversight of Ottenhoff’s departments, with the new title of chief administrative officer.
PBS will look at theater, arts and nonprofit executives to fill its long-vacant position of chief program executive, President Ervin Duggan told reporters in a Washington press briefing in January. Several candidates for the job from the commercial media world had possessed the “skill sets” that PBS is seeking, but are making “stratospheric salaries” between $600,000 and $700,000, plus stock options, and won’t work for PBS, where all salaries are capped by law at about $150,000, Duggan said. He believes PBS can find “the instincts of the impresario” and lower salary demands among nonprofit leaders [November 1995 article on search] . Jennifer Lawson, the former chief program exec, resigned last February after Duggan announced plans to hire an executive above here.
PBS put forth a new framework for thinking about its relationship with member stations last week, asserting that they’re all in the same boat, endangered by common competitors and capable of saving themselves through collective action through PBS. For PBS, the timing of the Fall Planning Meeting could hardly have been better, since many station executives were favorably impressed with the recent $75 million Reader’s Digest Association program deal. President Ervin Duggan laid out a “station equity model” that will guide the network’s actions and pledged that PBS will add 50 percent to the funds wielded by its chief program executive by the year 2000 — an increase from $110 million to $160 million. The Reader’s Digest commitment amounts to one-quarter of that gain, he said. The station equity model calls for “pointed, strategic, coherent” management by PBS of the system’s brand, program rights and other national assets of the stations, Duggan said in a Current interview after the Nov.
PBS’s chief program executive is a high-profile job that comes with a salary cap, a heavy workload and no excess of resources. But for seven months the c.p.e. has been a high-profile vacancy; the network is still seeking a permanent successor for Jennifer Lawson, who left the job in March with her deputy John Grant. Though many station programmers are pleased with the performance of the interim proprietors of the National Program Service, mainly former No. 3 programmer Kathy Quattrone, they eagerly await word that a new program impresario has been hired. So much about the future of public TV depends upon the distinctiveness, noncommercial values and viability of the NPS, and the c.p.e. is largely responsible for safeguarding those assets.
The little town where I grew up — Manning, S.C. — was small enough that we could walk to church on Sunday. My Sunday School teacher was a Southern matriarch named Virginia Richards Sauls, one of nine daughters of a South Carolina governor. Miss Virginia, as we called her, never tired of telling us the great stories of the Bible. Her favorite was the Parable of the Talents. In that parable, a rich man leaving on a journey entrusts his property — measured in what were called talents — to his three servants for safekeeping.
As PBS’s fourth president, FCC member Ervin S. Duggan, 54, will take the lead of public TV at a time when momentous developments seem near. The field’s biggest ventures beyond single-channelhood are just ahead, along with the high promise, high cost and high-definition of digital technology. And the stations, at their fall planning meeting in mid-November, appeared ready to begin talking seriously about restructuring for that future. Good thing that Duggan enjoys “that feeling of flying out off the cliff, and floating, and testing my wings,” as he remarked Dec. 1 , at the press conference where his election was announced.