America Revealed and the Problem of PBS
I can’t say that I’m a fan of PBS’s four part series hosted by Yul Kwon called America Revealed. The production values and cinematography are gorgeous, almost like what you will see if you watch Planet Earth or any of its spin off programs. My problem with the series is that it provides an uncritical look at American infrastructure. That Dow Chemical is a primary underwriter is equally problematic (even if their funding came post production with no editorial input). However, corporate editorial input is not need for the program. The thesis does a nice job of emphasizing a business friendly message on its own. But, a review of America Revealed is not the topic of this post. The problem of PBS, and television in general, is.
I’ve blogged about the problem of PBS before. PBS is a mixed bag when it comes to programming.It is key to remember, as Michael Gettler (PBS Ombudsman) has oft stated, that PBS is a distribution service. Each station that carries PBS programming is independent. Now, some stations do produce their own programming for local and national consumption. With this in mind, it is not difficult to see that PBS varies, sometimes wildly, when it comes to the quality of programming.
Has PBS declined in quality over the years? That is a question of taste, to be honest. And it raises the question of nostalgia. Am I nostalgic for the programs of the past? And do I hunger for those programs of the past that I’m too young to have seen? I don’t know, but some of that may play into my attitudes towards the current state of PBS.
I loathe much of contemporary television. My favorite programs are usually edutainment or infotainment (with the occasional scripted television series thrown in). My frustration is, partially, a recognition of the fact that PBS’s commercial competitors have declined even worse than PBS seems to have.
I mean, come on, how many hours of History’s programming is devoted to reruns of Pawn Stars? And hell, History International has become H2, the dumping ground for crap shows that History no longer airs. So, I guess the slim sliver of shows with an international focus is even more marginal. And Discovery? For all of the channels in the Discovery family, you have to be lucky to catch anything worth your time on Science or Planet Green.
And for arts programming? PBS is your only bet. Why? Because how many years has it been since A&E (Arts & Entertainment) and Bravo went into the pits of repeats and crap reality shows? I want foreign film. I want more avant garde cultural programming. And damn it all, I’m not getting it.
Okay, I get that PBS has a lot on its plate. There is an insurmountable amount of slack that needs to be picked up. I also get that my tastes as a viewer are in the minority. How many people actually watch the kinds of shows I enjoy? More than you think, but less than I’d like. Certainly not nearly enough to keep the good stuff on. Even the old exile of digital has given way. Now where do we find it?
People’s tastes have become more crass, more geared towards cheap reality. Is it possible for a counter programming movement to work? I don’t know. Is it possible that, with the improvement of online streaming, that the good stuff can find a niche on the web? I hope so.