Lawrence Grossman’s PTV Weekend proposal for experimentation with a two-night commercial network for public TV stations — described for the first time in major newspapers this month — drew opposition and questions from several well-placed individuals. FCC Chairman Reed Hundt criticized the plan June 9 at the National Press Club. The proposed experiment with advertising on public TV is “an idea we ought to just reject out of hand,” he said. “Once you make public broadcasting commercial, you’ve lost it.” Bill Baker, president of New York’s WNET, a station whose market would be important to the proposed advertiser-supported programming, said PTV Weekend is “a wrong-headed concept at the wrong time,” which “could be very deleterious to the whole concept of public television.”
James Fellows, long active in public TV’s national leadership and founder of Current, analyzed the PTV Weekend proposal, when it was published in June 1997, on behalf of the Hartford Gunn Institute, a fledgling organization he was trying to launch as a planning agency for the public TV system. See also the PTV Weekend proposal and Current’s coverage of it. The Hartford Gunn Institute is an independent entity that is interested in analyzing and encouraging promising opportunities in public broadcasting and telecommunications. It has no organizational or financial interest in the outcome of the research work which it undertakes. At the request of Lawrence K. Grossman, former President of the Public Broadcasting Service, The Hartford Gunn Institute was commissioned to explore with key leaders in public television their questions and concerns concerning the strengths and benefits of what has come to be called PTV WEEKEND.
In May 1997, former PBS President Lawrence K. Grossman put forth results of a study backed by the Markle Foundation. He proposed a compromise on corporate support: Public TV would be permitted to raise needed production money by selling on-air advertising two nights a week. James A. Fellows examined the issues in an analysis published by the fledgling Hartford Gunn Institute. Current also carried several news stories on the project’s origins. Current’s June 23, 1997, issue described the PTV Weekend (a.k.a. P2) proposal and featured a debate on the experiment between two station leaders.