Today is a departure from my typical posts, but I wanted to rant about PBS for a bit. For those who do not know, PBS is the American version of public broadcasting. The thing is, PBS relies on viewer contributions in addition to a limited amount of government, corporate, and philanthropic funding. Now, my feelings about PBS are mixed. I still believe that PBS’s children’s programming is still the best out there (hell, Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood is still excellent). But, I think in some areas, PBS is falling severely behind in some of its mission.
My big beef is increasingly PBS’s public affairs programming. PBS lost out when it canceled Now and Bill Moyers’s Journal. Both programs were amazing in their indepth reporting (Now) and interesting and surprising conversation (Bill Moyers, of course when is any conversation with Bill Moyers not interesting?) I cannot say much about Need to Know, except to say that it is a pale successor to both shows. And do not get me started on The Newshour. It lost me during its “coverage” of the health care reform debate and the Honduran Coup. The only leg up it has on its competition is the occasional arts coverage.
Speaking of the arts, this is where PBS does still maintain some relevance. Earlier in this century and in the 1990s, I may not have said that. I mean Bravo had some decent arts coverage when it was actually a good channel. When it aired indie and foreign film, had documentaries on the arts, etc. And the same is true of A&E. I freaking miss Breakfast with the Arts and all of the lost cultural programming that A&E had. You know, when it was Arts and Entertainment?
Art 21 is an excellent show. It should be on far more often than its biannual seasons. And to be honest, PBS really should focus far more on the arts.
Is PBS still relevant in history and science programming? Much like with the arts, it is a difficult question. When Discovery, National Geographic, and History are actually doing what they should, PBS does come up short. Each of those three channels could devote a massive amount of time on subjects that PBS simply does not have the time to cover. But, right now, all three cable channels are devoted to crap. And good luck trying to find anything decent on digital. History International has basically become, like Bravo, a dumping ground of shows no longer rotated on History.
I like Swamp People, but I would also like stuff like Engineering an Empire, Battles BC, and television like that.
Is PBS still relevant? I think its relationship is inverse to what its cable competitors are doing. The children’s programming, as stated earlier, still excellent (although it could target older kids). And its art/history/ science programming is still very much needed as the cable competition chases the all important reality dollar. My frustration is not that PBS is irrelevant, but that it can do so much more and does not. It needs to be bold to succeed, but given the current climate, boldness is seriously lacking.