Originally published: October 13, 2010
Last updated: October 13, 2010 - 6:14pm
[Commentary] After Jan. 1, 2011, KCET will present itself anew, as an independent community-supported station whose programming particulars exist so far mostly as empty phrases: "high quality professionally produced programming representing the genres our audience expects from us drawn from national and international sources," "content acquired and produced specifically with our audience in mind," an "exciting and challenging journey."
It is a "work in progress," KCET Chief Executive Al Jerome posted on the station's website, to be realized in concert "with the local creative community, which is world renown[ed] as the source of great entertainment." KCET has always struck Lloyd as something of an underperformer in terms of its productions, especially as compared with busier, nationally recognized cousins such as Boston's WGBH and New York's WNET. And its on-air pledge drives, which more and more often seem to be built around music from the far end of the Boomer generation, can make the station seem sclerotic and out of touch. It also strikes him as strange that at no time before the announcement of this impending divorce did management address the station's supporters (and those hitchhiking viewers who might have become supporters), and say, "We're in a crisis, and if you believe in what we're doing here, we need your help to continue" — that would seem to be Nonprofit 101 — rather than announcing the split as an accomplished and irrevocable fact. But perhaps that would have been to chance a failure more telling — to be rejected by your audience — than that of being unable to convince a remote and powerful corporation to cut you some slack. That rejection is, of course, still a possibility.
If, as the station has claimed, the economic downturn had made it difficult for KCET to raise the money PBS demanded from it, will it be any easier, without the lure of an "Antiques Roadshow" or "American Masters," to raise the money to realize this unrevealed new vision? One can easily imagine, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor, a vicious circle of diminishing returns, in which cheaper programming leads to fewer pledges, which in turn leads to even cheaper programming, which leads to fewer pledges. Rather than being asked to pay for more of what they know they want, viewers are, for the moment, being asked to buy a pig in a poke, to put faith in a plan proposed by people in whom they have no convincing reason to put their faith.
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