WNET, dastardly villain in a two-decade scheme to deprive science-fiction buffs of the coolest public TV program of all time, this summer will redeem its reputation among fans. “The Lathe of Heaven,” digitally remastered and repackaged with additional material, will be distributed to public TV stations for broadcast in June . A home video and DVD will be released in the fall. Originally broadcast on PBS in 1980, the drama inspired a cult following that never forgot the show, and never let WNET forget it, either. Fans of the program came together in an “extensive Internet community” to rage against the producing station’s “ruthless warehousing” of their favorite public TV show, and one site accused WNET of “corporate amnesia,” recalls Joseph Basile, director of program rights and clearances.
After a year of combing through PBS’s archives, Ron Hull has uncovered a treasure-trove of programs worth reviving one way or another. Though he still spends part of each week in Nebraska, where he teaches a university class in international broadcasting, Hull has made considerable progress on his special assignment at PBS headquarters in Virginia: he has read through some 12,000 old file folders, come up with 850 programs that might be useful, and begun the gargantuan task of screening the first 10 minutes of these myriad possibilities. He’s been assisted in this by Nancy Dillon, assistant director of program data and analysis. The revival prospects that he’s found could come back through the National Program Service, be syndicated through PBS Select or PBS Plus or be offered as fundraising programs. When Bob Ottenhoff, PBS executive v.p., recruited Hull for this assignment last spring, he also asked the veteran programmer to look for shows that could be released on home video, sold overseas, or packaged for a dedicated cable service. The idea was to cull the archives for programs that could find new broadcast audiences or generate new revenue streams for PBS.