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The Business Side of PBS


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#1

dcalley

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Posted Mar 16, 2006 @ 6:39 PM

It's fundraising time at PBS and once again I wonder how showing Barry Manilow concerts can possibly be the best way to make money. Why not show Bleak House again and give the Bleak House DVD as a gift for a pledge of $100? Are you a regular PBS viewer alienated by the crap they put on during pledge drives? Are you someone who's actually given money during one of these pledges? 'Fess up. We'll be nice.

#2

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Posted Mar 16, 2006 @ 7:48 PM

It's nice to have a place to rant about this. My PBS affiliate received a kajillion dollars from Joan Kroc's estate a couple of years ago, but they still do 3 or 4 weeks of pledge programming every 3 months. Plus, they show commercials. They're not the same commercials we see on other stations, but they're not PSAs or promos. They're commercials for cars and cereal and stuff. I mean, what are they doing will all this money that they still need my money? And I hate most pledge programming -- all those ancient rock and folk and soul groups crawling out of the woodwork to relive their 15 minutes of fame while the people in the audience sway back and forth mouthing the words with sappy looks on their faces. And FYI, I'm in my 50s -- these are my people -- and I still hate it. And why can't they have a pledge drive for only a weekend or a week? Why must it be so endless and disruptive? I like some of the regular programming on PBS and I like the idea of PBS, but I'm not sending them $$$ these days for all of the above reasons.

/End of rant. Thank you.

Edited by indigo4, Mar 16, 2006 @ 8:02 PM.


#3

dutchsofa

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Posted Mar 16, 2006 @ 8:35 PM

Yeah, we're having pledge drives. Pledge drives that have made it so the Monty Python special that I should be seeing hasn't aired. I'm pissed. No Graham Chapman, but rather a dismal display of self help programs and bad concerts. This does not make me want to help them out...

#4

Rinaldo

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Posted Mar 16, 2006 @ 8:39 PM

I've stopped subscribing to or supporting PBS, and I'm quite willing to tell them why if they ask. They've stopped paying even lip service to the idea of offering programming that doesn't appeal to the largest possible market, stuff that "you can't see elsewhere." Classical music? gone. Live theater? gone. And if you bring it up when they're calling for your money, they protest that they do, after all, show lots of Charlotte Church and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Which DON'T COUNT. They're just another network now, and not a particularly good or useful one; and certainly in no way deserving of special handouts or prestige.

#5

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Posted Mar 16, 2006 @ 11:56 PM

I think the fact that I refer to pledge time as their "Beg-a-thon" tells you my attitude about them. They sometimes lure me in to watching with the specials that only seem to be on during the pledging. I will give them some credit, though, for inclusion of people pertinent to the shows during pledge breaks, like with the Fawlty Towers and Monty Python specials.

But that brings up a recent complaint of mine, and I see I'm not alone. After airing two Python specials one Wednesday without pledging, then another two the following Wednesday with pledging, they haven't shown the final two yet. And with my favorite members, too, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam. For me it was a missed opportunity, since all 3 nights coincided with the long VM break. Are they showing four of those specials just as an ad to get the other two for their pledging? If so, it's as venal, imho, as network/cable TV advertising.

Now we have commercials on PBS, and commercials in the movie theaters. Advertising's gotten way out of hand in recent years, even for advertisers!

Edited by Mibbitmaker, Mar 16, 2006 @ 11:57 PM.


#6

MissMoneyBags

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 8:11 AM

I actually volunteered at a local PBS affiliate's beg-a-thon once! I was one of the "operators standing by." The majority of the phone calls were pranks -- including a couple of pervs who wanted to know "which operator are YOU? Heh heh heh." Another guy pledged half a million dollars in food stamps.

Anyway, I was fifteen at the time, so I didn't really get any inside poop. But there are some people who are very loyal to the concept of public television. The non-prank calls included a lot of 98-year-olds who were hellbent on getting their Laurence Welk fix. Say what you will, they were very determined to send in $10 and get their tote bags.

#7

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 8:18 AM

Hear, hear! I would love to have more classical music and dance programming. If I have to see Wayne Dyer one more time... honestly! WPBA, ATL's public station, must air his stuff every other day, or at least that's how it seems to me. I support public broadcasting, but it does seem like the arts programming has taken a backward slide.

#8

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 8:27 AM

I will give them some credit, though, for inclusion of people pertinent to the shows during pledge breaks, like with the Fawlty Towers and Monty Python specials.

Yeah, but Terry Jones was halfheartedly urging support for PBS in London (it was specifically mentioned), far removed from any PBS station. What does a Brit know or at least care about PBS? That's like an American shilling for Red Nose Day. At least KPBS did show all the MP Bests even if the last two were interrupted by pledge breaks. (I thought the Bests were dull anyway -- a million old familiar clips, some present-day hamming, and not that much interesting info.) And when was the last time PBS actually showed Python? I first saw it on MTV (uncut!).

#9

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 11:05 AM

Actually, a lot of the Brits whose shows are on PBS, will do a spot for them.

What gets me mad is they will show something totally different in the time slots. Such as Brit coms, they'll show those horrible self-help gurus...I want to see a comedy, not Susan what's her name telling me what to do with my money! (I know. Don't waste it on PBS.) I basically don't watch PBS when during pledge month because they don't show anything I want to watch or it's so loaded with begging, it's horribly cut up.

#10

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 12:07 PM

PBS was a good idea when you only had your choice of 3 networks and a few local stations. But now, with satellite and cable and 400 channels and whatnot, why is the government still funding this? I read last year that the average age of the typical PBS viewer is 58. Fifty-eight. So here's my plan: the government should sell it to the AARP for a token dollar. Call it the Senior Network (or, the Senior Moments Network, hah hah hah).

There's no channel for the senior citizens' market. And it's a big market, with money to spend. You'd hardly have to change a thing about the programming (Andrea Bocelli, Lawrence Welk, doo-op reunion concerts), just move the kids' stuff to Nickelodeon or Disney, if they want to run it.

Edited by Sarcastico, Mar 17, 2006 @ 12:09 PM.


#11

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 12:56 PM

Last night, we tuned in to PBS because they were playing folk music, and the kids were still up and there was simply nothing else appropriate for family viewing. Plus, we kind of like folk music. When we tuned in at about 20 minutes til the hour, they were doing the begging. It went on and on, and then we thought they returned to the concert. Played HALF a song! Then went back to begging. At 10 til the hour, they returned to the concert. Played ONE song, and went back to the 'operators standing by.'

ONE song! Sigh. Is it really like this now? I remember a few minutes at least between interruptions during Peter Paul & Mary's Christmas concert.

And, I've seen the commercials, too. Not feeling the urgency to help them out any more.

#12

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 4:50 PM

The problem is, PBS has lost so many of its corporate underwriters--Exxon no longer backs Masterpiece Theater, for instance. That makes PBS much more dependent on donors than they used to be. So it's kind of a vicious cycle.

I have two PBS stations and I get confused about which does which, but I believe it was MPT that had the skin care woman during the pledge breaks. At first I thought, well, she's giving general advice and not hawking her products but then it turned out she was. On the other hand, they've been replaying old Julia Child shows, as in the black-and-white ones from Boston, and using the huge DVD sets of those as premiums.

#13

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 4:56 PM

Yes, it is the money beeging time of year (as it's referred to in my house). If, by some strange twist of fate, they air something I'm actually interested in seeing, I record it so I can see the program sans the half hour begging breaks. It helps, and it's fun to be able to bypass the local PBS station's aged, personality-less staff asking for MY support.

#14

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 5:03 PM

I wouldn't mind the beg-a-thon - in fact, I might even give it some money myself - if they just conducted it less ineptly. Pissing off viewers, making them feel guilty, and pulling disingenuous bait-and-switches is *not* the way to endear yourself to a skeptical public.

The half-hour begging breaks are BORING! And they don't draw in viewers - they send them away! So even viewers who might have been inclined to donate are driven off immediately.

I swear to God - when I tune into PBS to watch something and find out it was really just a big ploy to get my money, I refuse to donate out of spite.

#15

Rinaldo

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 7:24 PM

The problem is, PBS has lost so many of its corporate underwriters

They deserved to. I know, the corporations didn't withdraw on grounds of "deservingness," but I can't think why PBS should feel entitled to special underwriting, when it no longer offers anything out of the ordinary. Let it die. (And 15 years ago I could not have imagined ever saying such a thing.)

Edited by Rinaldo, Mar 17, 2006 @ 7:24 PM.


#16

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 8:04 PM

I don't know. I just finished watching the PBS Newshour. We have CNN and Fox and MSNBC up all the time at my office--24 hours a day--and I don't think any of them do anything as good as it. And forget the networks. The same can be said about "Washington Week" and "NOVA" and "The American Experience." Yes, there are "roundtables" on cable news networks, but they're all about ego. And the various science and history channel do pretty shabby science and history, let alone pretty shabby productions, when compared with those shows.

#17

dcalley

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Posted Mar 17, 2006 @ 8:07 PM

But there are some people who are very loyal to the concept of public television.

I'm one of them but have never given them money. It's my mother's fault for telling me that they bugged her all the time after she became a member. (And I don't have that much money to give.) I think I need to send them a money order or something so they can't trace me. I'm in my late 20s and watch MT, Mystery, and other stuff as it comes up.

The FCC is continuing to scare PBS into not showing anything remotely objectionable by threatening fines they cannot handle as well as the major networks can.

The FCC also found that the Martin Scorsese-produced documentary "The Blues: Godfathers and Sons" was indecent because it aired profanity. Aired on a non-commercial, educational channel in San Mateo, Calif., it contained "numerous obscenities, including the F-Word, the S-Word and various derivatives of those words," the FCC said. The station was fined $15,000.

Source

I still think there's a place for PBS. Not everyone has cable.

I do think the old pledge drives were less obnoxious--shorter breaks, more use of the phone number on the screen to get their point across silently during the show. I am annoyed that they still call themselves commercial free when they do show commercials, but at least they're not during programs.

Yes, News Hour is excellent.

Edited by dcalley, Mar 17, 2006 @ 8:07 PM.


#18

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Posted Mar 18, 2006 @ 2:12 AM

I actually volunteered at a local PBS affiliate's beg-a-thon once! I was one of the "operators standing by." The majority of the phone calls were pranks -- including a couple of pervs who wanted to know "which operator are YOU? Heh heh heh." Another guy pledged half a million dollars in food stamps.

My father used to be an programming executive/interview show host on TVO a.k.a. Ontario PBS, and during Whore-a-Thon (which we called it my house), he'd be doing the begging thing at least 3 times a week. And me and a whole slew of my friends would always be lured to answer the phones with free pizza and a chance at 0.005 seconds on TV.

The WORST time to be a phone taker? When the children's shows are on. Little tykes asking "Can I talk to Polkaroo? Are you Polkaroo?" and me calmly asking them to put Mommy or Daddy on the phone. We also got a large number of run of the mill pranks, and TONS of ranters (I was a phone operator when a new government had taken over and was slicing and dicing the station's budget). And the only people who gave money? Parents of small children whose spawn had been pushing for the toys you get when you donate, and old people with voices so raspy and frail I was always worried I'd filled out their forms wrong.

That being said, it was an excellent (and usually fun) experience, and to this day it looks fantastic on my resume. And then there was the time my dad gave me his pass-card, and my friends and I snuck into the storage area and played with the costumes and props from all our childhood favorite shows.

#19

parabolic

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Posted Mar 26, 2006 @ 5:09 AM

PBS keeps getting its government funding cut. That's why they have more pledge drives and basically have ads now. I really do not like the ads. But I don't think PBS over all is as rich as people think, and in a lot of cases they are not accumulating more money, but just trying to replace what has been cut.

#20

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Posted Mar 26, 2006 @ 3:33 PM

As much as I love Frontline and POV and Independent Lens, PBS will never see a another fucking cent of my money and here's why:

I once had a job that paid me a decent salary and I thought it would be a good idea to donate to the station because the station was linked to NPR in the city I lived in and hey, I'm helping two organizations for the price of one, right?

Cut to a year later and I'm not working, going to school full-time and I don't even have a pot to piss in. PBS beggers call me and ask for a donation. I kindly explain to them that I can't this year due to me being in school and not working and being on a strict budget (which was the truth). Beggar on the phone snorts, "Fine, whatever" and says something else very rude to me, that I can't remember, then the bitch hangs up in my face! If that's how you encourage people to donate money then you can fuck yourself before you get another cent out of Clichekitty.

Four years later and I'm still pissed about that.

#21

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Posted Mar 26, 2006 @ 6:14 PM

Aw, clichekitty, that's just one snotty bitch. She doesn't Speak For PBS.

God, the pledge drives are still going on here. How many weeks is this now, and what did they do with the money Joan Kroc left? I don't want to see Andre Rieu (whoever that is) Live From Dublin, even without begging breaks.

Little tykes asking "Can I talk to Polkaroo? Are you Polkaroo?"

Hee! I'm sure it was annoying for you, but over here, soooo cute.

Edited by Angora Deb, Mar 26, 2006 @ 6:14 PM.


#22

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Posted Mar 27, 2006 @ 12:18 AM

I dunno, there is one exception to all this...

Red Green pledge drives are usually pretty fun, especially if you live in a place where there's a big market for it (Twin Cities). Sometimes Red and Co. have been known to create specials for just that reason (and back at TPT, they're having the annual Duct Tape Contest sponsored by 3M (in-studio!) and they check up on the various entries as the pledge wears on). With other shows, the pledge just plods by, but interweaving the actual entertainment in with it was just genius.

I am really going to miss Red Green...

#23

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Posted Mar 27, 2006 @ 12:34 AM

Really, I don't mind the pledge drives. I love PBS; I grew up on Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow and all of those shows, and now I love their documentaries (the recent Windsor Castle one and last year's Auschwitz one in particular are better than anything I've seen the History Channel cobel together). It's that kind of first-rate enter/edu-tainment that they need to show during the drives if they really want to bring in the cash. I'd rather watch Big Bird sing the alphabet again than Michael Crawford sing anything from Phantom again.

Edited by dutchsofa, Mar 27, 2006 @ 12:34 AM.


#24

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Posted Mar 27, 2006 @ 5:30 PM

I love PBS and the shows it offers. No one does better documentaries and cooking shows.

For those of you who are annoyed by the pledge breaks just thank jeebus this isn't Britain where you are forced to pay a "television tax" to pay for the BBC. At least here it's a choice.

#25

mediumdog

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Posted Mar 29, 2006 @ 6:43 AM

I'm in the broadcast area of three (3!) PBS stations. Two of these stations, to judge by their signal strength, are powered by car batteries. One of them goes off the air for a few hours every night. The three stations don't have a common network-type schedule. I think you can get a monthly schedule for each station with a donation to each station. But for the most part, you learn your lessons during the hunt.

I watch quite a bit of PBS, but they don't make it easy. One of the stations runs nature shows overnight Tuesday. They're the cheapest 70's things I've ever seen. They all have the Casio theme music. I saw one about the robin; it featured footage of the robin's greatest natural enemy, the house cat. I'm not making this up. Another show was about seals. The explorers went to an island that was supposed to have seals, but they couldn't find any, so they went swimming. They were headed to another island when I finally turned it off.

So you want to get rid of PBS? Fine by me. If not, and you want to fix it, let's try this:
- network schedules (especially primetime)
- non-overlapping service
- something better than pledge drive weeks
- no more "Protect Our Funding" psa's
- shows people like during non-pledge period
- shows people haven't seen a dozen times during pledge period

But seriously, if you want to shut it down, I wouldn't mind.

#26

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Posted Mar 31, 2006 @ 7:53 PM

I still like to believe that there are children out there with less-than-ideal education situations who watch and learn from the PBS Kids programming. Take that away and they'll watch paternity tests on Maury and not learn about nature, good manners, life and death, history, literature, etc.

#27

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 5:00 AM

I still like to believe that there are children out there with less-than-ideal education situations who watch and learn from the PBS Kids programming. Take that away and they'll watch paternity tests on Maury and not learn about nature, good manners, life and death, history, literature, etc.


dcalley, have you read Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point"? He wrote a chapter about how much research went into creating Sesame Street and Blue's Clues. In his notes he mentions a study that shows children who watched Sesame Street did better in school regardless of family income. It was quite interesting and I would like to read that actual study. Personally, I credit Sesame Street with my entire intellectual development. Sure my parents read to me and took me to the library and what-not but Snuffy and Big Bird were really my biggest influences. :)

But enough about me and my love for Sesame Street. I get two PBS stations, but tend to watch the one from the larger city because it has a wider variety of programs. I usually enjoy the 'American Experience' and 'Independent Lens' shows because I've always been a fan of documentaries and PBS seems to be about the only place to find them. One thing that I've noticed about the pledge drives, and that makes me laugh, is how the 'gifts' change as the target audience grows older. For instance, say 10 years ago, a gift would be a Glen Miller cd. Then came early doo-wop, now there are 60s music collections being offered. I can't wait until I'm middle-aged and PBS is offering compilations of 'gangsta rap' to donors.

#28

parabolic

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 9:28 PM

For those of you who are annoyed by the pledge breaks just thank jeebus this isn't Britain where you are forced to pay a "television tax" to pay for the BBC. At least here it's a choice.


Hm, perhaps that's why so many of the programs we get on American PBS are in fact British programs (lots of miniseries like Bleak House, Daniel Deronda, etc., "As Time Goes By," many of the documentaries.) I'm not complaining; they are often great.

I guess another factor is that each local affiliate chooses its own programming. I think each station to pay for the shows, so stations in smaller markets may get less interesting stuff. I've never seen a lot of the things described here by people bored with their PBS affiliates.

#29

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Posted Apr 2, 2006 @ 12:37 AM

My father, mentioned above when I talked about my time spent answering phones at TVO, was briefly a writer on Sesame Street in the early 1970s. From what I understand, it was a large group of highly educated and creative people, utilizing stacks of research while on insane amounts of drugs.

Children's television makes so much more sense when viewed through the lense of the spoilered knowledge, I must say.

I can take or leave most of the adult programming on PBS and TVO, but when I spawn? I will do as my parents did, and only allow the consumption of granola-y television! Well, I'll let my children watch other things too, but still.

Also, TFO (TVO in French) was the most awesome thing ever when I was a little girl in French immersion. Trés chic!

#30

dcalley

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Posted Apr 3, 2006 @ 5:23 PM

dcalley, have you read Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point"?

No, thanks. It's on my hold list at the library now (love the library!)