Monday, October 11, 2010

What's In Store for KCET Once It Dumps PBS?



From my Monday piece for Variety on what's in store for a PBS-free KCET:

L.A. pubcaster KCET is crafting an extreme programming makeover.

Once the station drops its longtime PBS affiliation at the end of the year, gone will be staples like "News Hour," "Sesame Street" and "Charlie Rose."

But KCET plans to fill some of that void with more fare from American Public Television, which syndicates programs such as "Rick Steves' Europe," "Globe Trekker" and music specials like "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" to pubcasters.

"We will become a much bigger customer of theirs," said KCET prexy/CEO Al Jerome. Conveniently, APT is holding its next programming marketplace next month in La Quinta, Calif.

KCET will also continue its relationship with Huell Howser, whose folksy California-based travelogues already make up a chunk of the station's sked.

And according to Jerome, KCET is in discussions with L.A. public radio stations KCRW and KPCC about collaborating on TV projects. That could mean televising KCRW music concerts or KPCC interview shows on KCET.

"Combining talents with public radio makes a lot of sense," said Jerome.

KCET is likely to start airing more BBC World News fare; it already has a deal in place with the BBC to distribute news programming to public TV stations across the country.

Jerome also hinted at working on fare with the L.A. Times, expanding its weekly "SoCal Connected" newsmag and perhaps even bringing back elements from the station's old "Life and Times" nightly program. And KCET said it would also look to acquire more international programming, from the UK, Canada, Japan and elsewhere.

KCET is already moving toward more non-PBS fare, having added a package of old movies to its Sunday night sked.

Nonetheless, KCET remains mum on specific programming plans post-Jan. 1, when its PBS connection ends. Jerome was vague on specifics, but said he also plans to reach out to L.A.'s arts community to partner on some original fare.

"Our plan is to become the media partner for the many diverse, creative voices in our community with stories to tell, art to exhibit, music or dance to perform and news to report. We will partner with other public service organizations so that our viewers can learn about the good work being done, but not often reported in the commercial media," he said.

If the reaction on KCET's website is any indication, however, those auds will not be happy with the programming switch -- and that could come in a hefty blow to the station's fundraising efforts.

"Being a loyal viewer for many years this comes as a shock and shows a complete disregard for your audience," one viewer wrote on KCET's site. "In no way will I be renewing my membership with you again, and I will encourage others to do the same. All you've done is left one of the largest TV markets in the country without what is arguably the best source for quality news and science reporting. Your reasons listed are spurious, as it is ostensibly your goal to serve the public interest. This does not serve the public interest, and almost certainly will hasten the network's ruin."

Jerome admitted that the change won't sit well with many KCET supporters.

"In the beginning a lot of people who watch us will be disrupted," Jerome said. "We're cognizant of the fact that our viewership is comfortable with programs from certain genres. They want to see nature and science and documentary and children's programming, and national and international news. In our acquisitions strategy we're looking for programs we know will be comfortable to our bread and butter audience."

KCET announced Friday that it would become an independent public broadcaster effective Jan. 1.

Read more here.

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