APTS preps proposals for ‘American Archive,’ copyright legislation

While the Association of Public Television Stations and its member stations’ activists will be busy enough fighting off the cutback of more than $140 million just proposed by the White House (separate story), the group is working on a slate of new longer-range proposals to take to Congress. ¶ Notably, public TV will seek additional funding for an American Archive project that would preserve and catalog programs and clear rights for long-term public access, APTS President John Lawson said in an interview. ¶ APTS will also ask for changes in copyright law to ease clearance and expand rights for educational uses, he said. ¶ Lawson spoke with Current editors in APTS’ offices in downtown Washington. Current: By Feb.

Media veteran brings wary revolution to a fortress of tradition


In the 1980s, Peter Gelb produced 25 Metropolitan Opera broadcasts for PBS. Now, as the Met’s general manager, he runs the red-carpeted center of the opera world. The first media guy to run the hallowed New York institution has begun an ambitious but carefully modulated makeover of the Met. He’s putting its operas on more media platforms than ever before but using electronic media to reproduce the gilded in-theater experience. He’s bringing in a new breed of directors for fresh staging but relying largely on the beloved music of the past.Hired two years ago, Gelb was off to a running start in August when he took charge.

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?

‘What we try to do . . . is say something new’

“The best of American television can be traced to this one man,” said NovaExecutive Producer Paula Apsell, referring to her boss and the latest winner of CPB’s annual Ralph Lowell Award — Peter S. McGhee, who retires this month as v.p. of national production at WGBH, Boston. McGhee accepted the medal at the PBS Annual Meeting in June as recognition “of my work, and of your work, of all our work,” he said in acceptance remarks. He has overseen and in many cases launched some of public TV’s most ambitious documentaries as well as enduringly popular entertainments — no less than a third of the PBS schedule.He worked in public TV nearly four decades, since four years after earning his master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University. McGhee joined National Educational Television, New York City, in 1964 and moved to WGBH in 1969, becoming manager of its national production effort in 1975. Since then he has helped build on the earlier successes of Nova and Masterpiece Theatre while launching Frontline, American Experience, Antiques Roadshow and numerous landmark limited series.

Twin ITVS goals: capturing diversity on videotape, getting it seen

Last year was a good year for the Independent Television Service. ITVS had weathered its first 10 years as a funder and presenter of independent productions for public TV. It was feted with retrospectives at museums and film festivals across the country, which highlighted such fare as The Farmer’s Wife, La Ciudad, First Person Plural, The Devil Never Sleeps and Still Life with Animated Dogs. And it brought in a new executive director, Sally Jo Fifer. Having worked nine years as executive director of the nonprofit Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), Fifer was uniquely qualified to steer the difficult course between stations and independents.

PBS President Pat Mitchell: ‘I think I’ll be learning every day of the year’

Since she was hired as PBS president early in February [2000], Pat Mitchell has met with 60 or 70 of public TV’s managers, and station board leaders as well, in trips to stations and at the APTS Annual Meeting. To oversee station relations, she hired the network’s former board vice chairman, Wayne Godwin, away from Cincinnati’s WCET (he starts work this week at PBS). And she’s expected to announce further initiatives starting next weekend at the PBS Annual Meeting in Nashville. Mitchell, a longtime producer in commercial TV, was previously head of Time Warner’s CNN Productions, based in Atlanta. She still has yet to pack her household and move to the D.C. area.

With funding as shaky as ever, the craft of historical documentaries hits new highs

Current: There was a long period when TV critics regularly wrung their hands over the death of the long-form documentary. Now PBS has several strong documentary series, and documentaries are the basic material of several cable networks. Some documentaries like Hoop Dreams have been hits in theaters. Should we stop wringing our hands now? Judy Crichton: The truth is there was always an enormous appetite for nonfiction television, and we now know how to do these films a great deal better than we ever knew before.