PBS: Acting like a network as well as service

By David Bauder

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 29 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

PBS will aggressively mine anniversaries as programming hooks. This fall brings an "American Masters" special on Billie Jean King 40 years after her "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match with Bobby Riggs and a show on "War of the Worlds" 75 years after the radio program incited panic.

As with other networks, the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination will be given attention. PBS' programming will include a four-hour portrait of Kennedy, a "cold case" look at evidence in the shooting and a minute-by-minute recap of the killing from the firing of shots to when CBS' Walter Cronkite reported Kennedy's death.

That's what Hoppe means when she talks about thinking like a network instead of just a service, anticipating the interests of viewers. There's a difference between waiting to see what work producers will offer you and actively going out with some of your own ideas.

PBS is also trying to bring more consistency to a schedule that encompasses several genres. Programmers call it "flow," and in this case it means concentrating science programming on Wednesday, arts on Friday, with more history and news-oriented shows on Monday and Tuesday.

"I'm so delighted that she's in this job and really trying to help us become more timely, to bring more context in and really look to refresh what new genres we could bring to public television," Kerger said.

While there's much on cable TV that PBS doesn't want to emulate, Hoppe said the competition has pushed public broadcasting to be more innovative. She considers "Antiques Roadshow" an example. The success of miniseries like History's "Hatfields & McCoys" and "The Bible" is pushing PBS to get into that genre, with the first project under development involving the Civil War.

The system's crown jewel, "Downton Abbey," returns for its fourth season on Jan. 5. You'd have to look back two decades to Ken Burns' "The Civil War" to find a series as important to PBS.

The hope is that it doesn't exist in a vacuum, that some of the interest created by the series can be transferred to other things on the schedule. Programs on Henry VIII's palace and "Secrets of Chatsworth" were clearly aired to appeal to Anglophile "Downton" fans, and this fall will see documentaries on the Tower of London and Scotland Yard. Same thing with some British dramas, like "The Midwife" and "The Bletchley Circle."

"If we could look back in 10 years and say that was a real turning point for PBS in terms of its perception in popular culture and being cool and hip — the first of many new hits for PBS of that sort of magnitude — that would be awesome," Hoppe said.

Online: http://www.pbs.org

David Bauder can be reached at dbauder@ap.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http:bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.

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