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Pat Mitchell from CNN/Time Inc.

For the first time, a producer leads PBS

Originally published in Current, Feb. 7, 2000
By Karen Everhart Bedford

PBS's new president is Pat Mitchell, departing head of CNN Productions and Time Inc. Television, whose appointment was ratified by the PBS Board on Feb. 4 [2000].

She is the first producer to take PBS's top job, and is as comfortable in front of cameras as behind them, having performed in numerous on-air roles. Her major projects for CNN included the Peabody-winning Cold War, a 24-part documentary series that she executive produced with Jeremy Isaacs, and Millenium: A Thousand Years of History, also supervised with Isaacs.

A search committee reached an "enthusiastically unanimous" decision to recommend Mitchell as the best candidate for the post last week, said Wayne Godwin, committee co-chair and president of WCET in Cincinnati. The committee conducted a second round of interviews with its final slate of candidates the week of Jan. 28.

PBS officially introduces Mitchell as its president on Feb. 7, at a press conference in Washington. She also will meet with PBS staff at Braddock Place that day, and participate in a teleconference with member stations.

"Different people want different things out of this position," said Godwin, and Mitchell is a professional who is "very close" to delivering the total package of desired qualities.

"She has a marvelous, marvelous passion for PBS and public television," and has worked in both broadcast and cable television, he elaborated. "She's seen as a synergy-builder, listens remarkably well, and places a high value of appreciation on member stations and their relationships to local communities." Her role in producing high-profile documentaries has included exposure to the "planning and execution of new technologies."

The search firm Heidrick and Struggles Inc. managed the search for PBS, according to Godwin. The committee met with 10 candidates in two rounds of interviews. Godwin declined to say how many applicants were in the committee's final pool.

Mitchell had experienced what was probably a professional disappointment last summer when Time Warner decided not to pursue a new Turner channel for women that she had been tapped to head. Geraldine Laybourne's Oxygen Media--backed by Oprah Winfrey, TV producer Marcy Carsey, Paul Allen and America Online--had already been announced, joining Lifetime in the niche. The Oxygen cable channel launched last week.

At CNN/Time Inc. Television, Mitchell developed, commissioned and supervised production of original nonfiction programming for CNN, TBS Superstation and other Turner/Time Warner outlets. Over the past five years, her division oversaw more than 400 hours of documentaries and specials, and 88 hours a year of National Geographic Explorer and other natural history programs. For CNN, she was executive producer of the Sunday night documentary series CNN Perspectives. Previously, Mitchell headed production of two of CNN's Newstand programs, televised newsmagazines based on Time Inc.'s magazines Fortune and Entertainment Weekly.

Mitchell joined TBS in 1992 from VU Productions, an independent production company at which she developed series, specials and documentaries such as Women at War: Voices from the Frontlines for A&E, and Shattered Lullabies for Lifetime.

Her television career began at Boston's WBZ-TV, where she produced news specials and anchored, reported and hosted a program for women. Mitchell went on to work at all three broadcast networks. She was the first woman to host her own national talk show, Woman to Woman, which she executive-produced for her own company. In 1984, the show won an Emmy as best daytime talk program.

Swope: PBS needs "consensus builder"

Mitchell succeeds former PBS President Ervin Duggan, who left the job last October after five-and-a-half years. Duggan charted a course for PBS to operate more like a "modern media enterprise" by capturing more back-end revenues from programs, establishing the PBS Sponsorship Group to coordinate underwriting sales for national programs, and expanding PBS efforts in the Internet and DBS.

But his efforts to strengthen PBS "on behalf of its member stations" were regarded with distrust by some station executives, and tensions over local/national issues became untenable last year under his leadership.

The PBS presidency is a "burn-out job," interim President John Swope told television critics during the January PBS Press Tour. Duggan "took it very seriously. He was very committed, very passionate about it. I think that probably contributed to his burn-out."

Swope told critics PBS needs a "consensus builder" as its next leader. "I think if we can concentrate within public television on our common goals--on a commitment--that we have so many very talented committed people both at PBS and our member stations. If we can concentrate on what we have in common and our common goals, instead of spending time on our disagreements, I think we can do very well in the future because we have so much public support."

During the PBS Board's retreat in Key Largo last weekend, where the search committee presented its choice of Mitchell, board members and more than a dozen station executives were to discuss strategic issues, which were a major stumbling block in Duggan's relations with board members.

Mitchell was expected to join the board and its guests for dinner Saturday night, according to Godwin.

Web page posted Feb. 8, 2000
Current: the newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee

Incoming PBS President Pat Mitchell headed doc production for CNN and Time Inc. (Photo: Mark Hill for CNN. All rights reserved.)


Predecessor Ervin Duggan resigns, September 1999.