As cume slips, duo aims to keep PBS ‘relevant’

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?

PBS to develop proposal for public affairs channel

Backed by a $200,000 Knight Foundation grant, PBS will develop a proposal for a public affairs channel — working title, Public Square — that public TV stations could air on DTV multicast channels, the network announced Jan. 8 [2004]. The channel would offer “sustained electronic journalism” that contrasts with other networks where “sleaze repeatedly trumps substance,” said Hodding Carter, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, in a news release. “You might say what CNN’s potential seemed to be at the height of its potential is where we’re going,” Carter told Current. Repeats of PBS public affairs shows on the new channel could bulk up the programs’ audiences, cable-style, but Public Square would also need exclusive programming, said PBS co-chief program executive Coby Atlas.