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Ed Waffle

Even less decent programming on PBS?

16 posts in this topic

With apologies to Watermill who, it seems, has an even worse set of PBS stations than does Southeast Michigan.

This is from an opera list to which I subscribe. It is from the list owner of Opera_L, a person who does not make mistakes on subjects such as this.

I would think one could substitute "ballet" for "opera" and still be accurate.

The post is as follows:

I'm not sure about the future telecasts, but the word I heard was that money

was not as much of an issue as everyone thinks it is.

According to my source, the bigger issue is that PBS is less interested in

giving opera telecasts airtime. (Of course, money must figure as part of the

equation, but the source assured me it's not the sole issue.)

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I think Ed raises an excellent point. There's a similar problem in publishing: the powers that be do not like/know about/value opera and ballet. It's not on their radar screen, as the current saying goes.

If I may give a personal anecdote from my travails of finding a publisher for my book, one editor of an excellent medium-sized press that did publish arts-related books, rejected the proposal with this a note saying kind things, and that the book should be published, "but it needs an editor who likes ballet, and that is not I." (My absolute favorite rejection letter said that the book was so good, the editor didn't want to deny an editor who was a ballet enthusiast the pleasure of working on it, and so regretfully passed on the proposal.) I don't think this is a unique experience.

I think a lot of the statements that one reads about how ballet or opera -- or modern dance -- have no relevant to "the people" are made by a few people -- I hate to call them "elites," but that's the position they hold -- to whom the high arts are not relevant.

If I were doing educational outreach programs, I'd add, to those (much needed) programs for underprivileged youth, some bootcamps for the privileged, the ones who will be donors and arts managers when they grow up!

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I'm wondering what "PBS is less interested in..." means, exactly? Because of exceptionally poor ratings (which is fundamentally a money issue)?

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I think even in our own homes, people don't like the unfamiliar.

Ballet (and even Opera) have a hard sell in getting people to watch something on a 20" screen (60 inch maximum) that is being done on a stage twice that size. Sets play an important "character" too.

I don't necessarily think it's the people that "elite" but perhaps the art form of ballet that is.

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But PBS is supposedly NOT commercial -- I think it's gotten confused between "being in the public interest" and "mass market." The news programs are still good -- and definitely not Tabloid TV. But their "arts" programs are more and more aging rockers. It ain't art, and it ain't today's pop music. It's just popular programming aimed at the Baby Boomers. Growl.

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According to their website, they only use "noncommercial" television and media.

I always thought they were "commercial" more like a "board"

And should PBS be the "standard" for getting out the arts to the public? They make no mention of the arts specifically.

Let's say we could have a 24/hour ballet channel, would people watch it (after an extended period of time)

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Originally posted by Calliope

Let's say we could have a 24/hour ballet channel, would people watch it (after an extended period of time) [/b]

Yes.

Actually I would like to have a total of four channels:

1) Ballet, 24/7

2) Opera, 24/7

3) Boxing, 24/7

4) News--for wars, revolutions, terrorist events, etc.

If so, I would probably watch a LOT more TV than I do now, which is just about none.

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Originally posted by Alexandra But their "arts" programs are more and more aging rockers.  It ain't art, and it ain't today's pop music.  It's just popular programming aimed at the Baby Boomers.  Growl.

I will stop posting (I hope) on this thread after this, because I am not really rational about either PBS or our local outlet here in Motown. They are both execrable.

I don't watch it for news--that's why God gave us the New York Times nor for entertainment. I will confess to not liking the music that Alexandra references when it was new, and still don't, so recycling it is makes no sense.

What really tore it for me was a was a show on a weekend evening (this was before four hour blocks of Antiques Roadshow ruled its airwaves) that had country music concerts---"Live from Austin" or something like that.

Country Music, programmed every week? Apparently there weren't enough commercial outlets for this dreck.

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Ed, with reference to the four channels you have selected, I hope that by the time we have 24/7 for ballet, we will also have no need for the 4th channel that you mention there. After all, if we can get everybody dancing again, who will have time for war and terror? That is my hope anyway.

This is a great thought Ed, dance 24/7, thanks for this vision of the future. I hope it happens soon.

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My husband -- who's also a Ballet Dad -- just finished researching and writing up a report for PBS about their children's programming. I sent this thread to him, because he knows public broadcasting really well, and has put a lot of time into thinking about how it could better serve its audience. Here are his comments:

I think they are right to some extent, that public broadcasting has

become too oriented on the bottom line of ratings and sponsorships,

and therefore has lost some of its stature as the alternative that

presents what commercial media will not or cannot.  Without the kind

of adequate and steady public support enjoyed by other public

broadcasters -- BBC, e.g. -- the margin for error on risk-taking is

very slim.

But those people who want a 24/7 ballet channel aren't seeking the

public interest, either.  [Treefrog's note: Ed, I know you weren't advocating that PBS take on this role.] What people seem to want from TV is not the

famed 500-channel universe, but the 1-channel universe -- the "me"

channel: what I want, when I want it.  Digital TV may get close to

that, offering a more Web-like model where you pull in what interests

you, and through the ability to "multiplex" channels -- PBS Arts, PBS

Kids, PBS Science, etc.  Channels like Discovery already simulate that

with multiple cable channels -- Animal Planet, Discovery Health,

Learning Channel, etc.

PBS, now, is in the difficult position of having to be a generalist

channel in a niche-programming world.  Why tune to PBS and hope for

arts when you can tune to Bravo or A&E; why tune to PBS for science,

when you can tune to Discovery; why tune to PBS for kids' programming,

when you can tune to Nick?

The answer is depth, quality and consistency, when PBS is doing it

right.  "Dance in America," one strand of "Great Performances," has a

20+ year tradition of excellence; Ovation, the arts channel is still

struggling to get going after a decade of trying...it's in about 25

million homes, or a quarter of US households.  Guess where the top

arts producers will go with their best ideas?

PBS only succeeds when everyone is happy some of the time, and unhappy

some of the time.  Don't the country music fans have an equal claim on

air time?  (By the way, the country program referred to, "Austin City

Limits," is no Shania-come-lately.  It's been on PBS for well over 20

years...about as long as "Great Performances.")

I think the person was on track who asked how many people would watch

24/7 dance, after an initial fascination period.  You'd have to

stretch the quality pretty thin to get that much programming.

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Thanks, treefrog. It's nice to be reminded of all the things PBS still does, and does well, in spite of everything, and it's also worthwhile that the fundamental difficulty is and will remain unreliable public funding. And it's worth bearing in mind that PBS must be many things to many people. Ed, you like boxing and think country music is dreck. Others may enjoy country music as experts and connoisseurs in the genre, and regard boxing as a barbarous business. It takes all kinds.

I would also add that I appreciate the lack of commercials more than ever. For example, Monty Python's Flying Circus episodes appear regularly on my cable channel, BBC America – but with lengthy breaks that chop up the continuity of the shows, which were originally broadcast on the BBC sans interruption and were shown that way over here when I first began watching them on PBS. They, and some other British shows originally seen on PBS, do show up on cable channels, but chopped up ruthlessly to make room for commercial time. I also noticed this when I was watching the Trocks on Bravo. Now, if only they would show the Trocks on PBS once in awhile….

However, not all of PBS' problems can be laid at this door. I am disturbed that the thinking of market-minded apparatchiks does seem to be taking over. I don't regard either "Antiques Roadshow" or "Austin City Limits" as examples of such thinking. But there's a difference between "something for everyone" and "our surveys show that people aren't interested in that."

I also think that "niche" programming, in television and elsewhere -- the "My News," "My This," "My That" syndrome -- is a potentially disastrous development. But, time will tell.

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I think that one problem of "niche-programming" is that it can't really make people discover new things: only ballet fans would subscribe to a ballet channel, only boxing fans to a boxing channel, etc. If there are some arts on a "general" channel, then some people might have a look at it by chance and start appreciating it. Also, not all people have satellite or TV channels (in France, I think that less than 30% of the population subscribes to it).

By the way, there is a French cable channel, Mezzo, which is devoted to classical music, jazz opera and dance. In fact there's far more music than ballet, but that's not too bad. I have no TV (and my parents don't get it), but if I had one I would perhaps consider subscribing.

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Exactly. I hope it will be the case that people will channel-surf and encounter things they might not have gone looking for, but who knows.

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We have a super channel in our area. It is called simply "Arts". They show short (under 15-20 minutes) films, opera, recitals (of the piano variety), ballet and other dance forms. It really is quite nice, my daughter loves it! She gets to see Dame Fonteyn or Alvin Ailey every now and again as well as "current" dancers. I know they have a website, they mention it occasionally for "donations", I will write it down next time I see it and share with anyone who would like it. This is a non-commercial channel, but not affiliated in any way with PBS, we have 2 PBS stations in our area, every once in a great while there is something of interest to us there.

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Within the San Francisco Bay area there are 4 PBS type stations and one of them plays Classic Arts Showcase for approximately 3 hours throughout the day/evening. Last night was a film clip of Alexandra Danilova with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancing a Massine ballet. This was from the 1940's and recently there was a clip featuring the Divertissement from the Midsummer's Nights Dream DVD that Pacific Northwest Ballet recorded.

There are opera singers, orchestra concerts, old film clips, in fact, just about anything that could qualify as something artistic (a documentary from the 1920's on the different architectural styles of apartment houses in Los Angeles now probably all gone, alas). These are only shown in 5-10 minute intervals with a nice short biography at the beginning and end of the segment. Unfortunately, the station alternates with DW TV and sometimes unexpectedly something like the Australian Ballet's Snowflakes will be cut off to start the "news of the hour" for Germany (in English).

There was a good point brought up about PBS having lost its way. After all, it was their mission for many years to produce Opera, Dance in America, etc., and hope to draw people in, not grasping for ratings so they can get bigger advertising bucks. In the meantime the other channels were created to grab as many of the higher rated shows as possible, such as Discovery, History, A&E. I'm hoping PBS will return to their "bread & butter" products.

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The juxtapositions on Classic Arts Showcase are sometimes surreal, aren't they? The channel is very much reminiscent of Forrest Gump's remark about the box of chocolates.

I do hope PBS does return to form. They've always had money problems, but I don't think it's nostalgia that makes people think it used to be a lot better. There are things that public television can do just as well, and in fact much better, than History Channel, A&E, et al.

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