Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sadness Over the Changes at KCET

KCET, one of the two last remaining TV stations in Hollywood, is now on the move -- and likely looking for cheap digs elsewhere in Southern California.

That's because the station -- which dropped its long-time PBS affiliation at the end of 2010 -- is selling its Sunset Boulevard studios in order to raise some cash. The property, first built in 1912 as Monogram Pictures, is being sold to Scientology, which plans to expand its production output there. (Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, although the property is said to be worth nearly $15 million.)

KCET president Al Jerome attempted to put a brave face on the move: "We are now implementing Phase Two of our transformation from a PBS affiliate to an independent public media center for the 21st century. New facilities and equipment will allow us to augment the quality, award-winning content that our fans love."

This is the first we're hearing about a multi-phase plan for KCET. Was Phase One the act of dumping PBS? Like I've said before, that should have been the ultimate act of last resort -- the nuclear option. Sell the studio. Downsize the staff. Cut all expenditures to the very minimum. But don't get rid of PBS. Then, when times improve, you can bring back staff and restore budgets. But it's tough to do that without the power of PBS. I have a hard time believing that there was any positive in (a) dropping PBS and (b) selling its 40-year home.

KCET's diet of mostly reruns (including 40-year-old kids shows and decade-old British dramas) coupled with a few bright spots (mostly SoCal Connected and its use of international news reports) still feels like a stopgap measure to temporarily fill the PBS void. Hopefully we'll start to see more local-oriented original fare as time goes on, and hopefully KCET will have the funds to do that.

Meanwhile, the Scientology statement is equally mysterious: "It is a perfect fit, in both size and location, for the expansion of the Church of Scientology's production of religious and social betterment audiovisual properties, and we welcomed the unexpected opportunity to acquire it."

I fear that the money generated by the sale of the KCET lot won't go far -- $15 million would cover only about three episodes of a network primetime drama, for example -- and then KCET will not only have little to show for it, but will no longer have a flagship home.

As for TV in Hollywood, just a decade or so ago the area was home to KABC, KCBS, KCAL, KCOP, KTTV, KWHY, KTLA and KCET. Now, it's home to just KTLA and KCET... and once KCET leaves, only KTLA is left. And if plans are ever firmed up to move KTLA in with the Los Angeles Times downtown, that will leave no one. Quite a change.


Will KCET Ever Reunite With PBS? (January 2011)

Our Modest KCET Proposal (October 2010)

What's In Store for KCET Once It Dumps PBS? (October 2010)

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