DO YOU CONCUR?: PBS needs TLC

During the Oct. 3 U.S. presidential candidate debate governor Mitt Romney said he would like to defund the Public Broadcasting Service. It was a calculated move to turn this into an issue, to drag PBS into the partisan debate, and begin a conversation about the value of public broadcasting. Maybe that’s not necessarily such a bad thing.

Matthew Froese
LANCE WRITER

During the Oct. 3 U.S. presidential candidate debate governor Mitt Romney said he would like to defund the Public Broadcasting Service. The argument can’t be made that it was an entirely off the cuff remark as the debates are heavily scripted. It was a calculated move to turn this into an issue, to drag PBS into the partisan debate, and begin a conversation about the value of public broadcasting. Maybe that’s not necessarily such a bad thing.

Now hold on, this isn’t going to turn into the Ron Paul crazy hour; the government has a role in our lives and if you disagree you’re in denial. The thing is, a conversation about PBS is a lot better than PBS slowly dying out. In Canada, we’ve watched CBC threatened and its budget cut so many times that it doesn’t even seem to affect us. PBS needs some publicity and a line in the sand drawn more than it needs to be ignored until it quietly disappears. Frankly, for as many good things as there are about PBS, there are also plenty of problems.

I’m a big fan of PBS; I grew up on it.

As a kid I watched their educational children’s programming featuring minimal amounts of the creepy kid-directed advertising so common to privatized children’s TV. Shows like Bill Nye, Reading Rain¬bow and Arthur helped shape me and many of the kids I grew up with. PBS continues to air great new kids content too. WordGirl and Martha Speaks, two relatively new shows, demonstrate potential. Now that I’m older, I still watch PBS. Nova and Nature are my favourites (If you like learning about octopuses or volcanoes as much as I do, you should watch those shows.)

Stations like Discovery Channel, History Channel, and The Learning Channel were supposed to provide free market, private alternatives to the sort of material PBS produces and airs. If you’ve watched any of the programming on these channels you’ll know that they have failed. TLC is a great example of this; initially conceived as a home for educational and instructional programming it has devolved into the place to find some of the most lowest common denominator reality shows on the dial. I’m not ripping on these shows, there’s nothing wrong with watching the occasional bit of trash. However, TLC and the other channels changed their programming in the chase for viewership and ad dollars. It proves, without funding other than advertising the sort of programming that PBS provides eventually disappears.

All the same, PBS is in many ways broken. For 75 days of the year, the station airs annoying, aggressive pledge drive programming to fill the hole in its budget. PBS itself seems embarrassed by this necessary evil. They air direct-to-DVD type material during pledge drives; seemingly not want to sully the best of their content with tote bags.

Additionally, PBS’s funding shortfalls have forced its management to constantly focus on the bottom line instead of new and innovative programming. With the exception of Downtown Abbey (which is only half PBS anyway) all of PBS’ successful shows are old.

PBS is important, and it needs saving. But it has needed saving for a while and a little bit of well-managed publicity is what it needed― that and a great villain to save itself from.

Thanks Mitt.

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