In this commentary, NPR’s v.p. of programming responds to Ira Glass’s suggestion that stations not devote prime weekend airtime to Car Talk reruns after the Magliozzi brothers retire this fall. Like Ira, I’m really excited about all the innovation in public radio today. Each of these new programs will need several things if they are to grow and prosper: an intellectual spark, real talent giving them a unique, authentic voice, money, smart plans for development, and stations willing to take a small risk. There is one other critical thing they need to grow and prosper: Car Talk. Airing Car Talk on Saturday mornings doesn’t stand in the way of innovation.
I enjoy Car Talk. I like those guys. And as a public radio lifer, I’m grateful for what Tom and Ray Magliozzi did to bring a vast audience to public radio, year after year.. … But — with all respect to Doug Berman and my colleagues at Car Talk Plaza — I think when they stop making new episodes in October, they should be pulled from Saturday mornings.
For the past four years under PBS President Pat Mitchell, the network has had two chief program executives — at headquarters in Alexandria, Va., John Wilson, a veteran public TV programmer who came to PBS a decade ago from KAET in Phoenix; and in Los Angeles, Jacoba (Coby) Atlas, a news and documentary producer who previously worked with Mitchell at CNN. In this interview they describe for the first time a new formal practice of using minimum ratings, along with other factors, to judge the success of programs. They also discuss brainstorming with producers to create new programs and the tight budgets that limit how many new things PBS can try. Atlas and Wilson spoke with Current at PBS headquarters and later by phone. This transcript is edited. Setting ratings floors
In your programming plan in the PBS budget for next year, you talk about establishing a new set of goals for judging programs. What factors will you consider?