PBS still a leader in fine arts programming
Jason Simon and Christina Baldwin star in the Guthrie Theater's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore," airing tonight on PBS.
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There was a time -- say, 10-15 years ago -- when the value of PBS was questionable. Cable networks were making inroads on what was traditionally PBS turf with A&E and Bravo and Trio swiping arts programs, including British costume dramas that in the past would have turned up on "Masterpiece Theatre."
But in the years since, Trio became Sleuth while A&E and Bravo dropped any pretense of airing arts shows, ceding the genre back to PBS.
Beginning tonight at 9 on WQED, PBS makes a concerted effort to remind viewers of its unique arts offerings with "PBS Arts Fall Festival," a nine-week series of arts programming from different American cities.
It kicks off with "PBS Arts From Minnesota: The Guthrie Theater Presents: H.M.S. Pinafore" and continues next week with the "American Masters" documentary "Pearl Jam Twenty" from Seattle.
The other installments are "Great Performances: Miami City Ballet Dances Balanchine & Tharp" (Oct. 28), "Give Me the Banjo" from the Blue Ridge Mountains (Nov. 4), "American Masters: Bill T. Jones: A Good Man" from Chicago (Nov. 11), "Women Who Rock" from Cleveland (Oct. 18), "Great Performances: Il Postino From L.A. Opera" (Nov. 25), "Great Performances: Andrea Bocelli Live in Central Park" (Dec. 2) and "Great Performances: The Little Mermaid from San Francisco Ballet" (Dec. 16).
This diverse slate of programs cannot be found anywhere else on free TV today, and only cable's little-seen Ovation even makes a stab at high culture. Creating an event to highlight these offerings is a savvy marketing move and a gift to viewers interested in the arts.
"As some of the cable companies have moved into a slightly different direction ... there is a big opportunity for public broadcasting to expand our work," said PBS president Paula Kerger in late July at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "Most people are aware that what started out for many of these other broadcasters as an attempt to copy some of the work of public broadcasting [has become something] they've not been able to sustain, and they've actually shifted.
"We were created at a time when it was recognized that the commercial marketplace was not going to meet the information needs of citizens and that there was a space for a noncommercial broadcaster that could fill in those gaps," she continued. "And even in a 500-channel universe, those gaps still exist."
PBS's commitment to programs no one else makes also can be seen in the upcoming four-part series about television, "America in Primetime," beginning at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 on WQED-TV. At a July press conference, executive producer Tom Yellin said no other network could have made the show. ABC would charge CBS an exorbitant amount to air clips from ABC shows and vice versa; but networks are willing to play nice and cut a deal when clips from their shows are used on PBS.
"We have an arrangement with each of the underlying providers who own the material to provide us with the clips without the same cost it would have been if we'd tried to do this on ABC," Mr. Yellin said, noting he and the late Peter Jennings considered making a documentary about TV after their collaboration on ABC's "The Century." "It was so expensive to even contemplate that we dropped the idea. Only PBS is the right home for this and I think it speaks to the value of public media as a neutral territory that other places can all recognize has a real value in the public discourse."
Complaints about CBS time-shifting "The Good Wife" due to football overruns have started to ramp up, and I'll give the same advice I've given in the past: Set your DVR to record longer than the show's scheduled run time.
Also, sign up to receive CBS Eye-lerts, emails sent Sunday evening that tell you what time the Sunday night shows will begin if sporting events run long. Sign up at www.cbs.com/eye-lerts.
This is TV programming at its most strange: Fox has strong buzz and good ratings for its new fall comedy "New Girl" and renewed the show for a full first season. But now the network is benching "New Girl" after just three episodes for three weeks to air an expanded "X Factor" in its place.
TheFutonCritic.com first reported this programming move and says "New Girl" will next air on Nov. 1.
Former Pittsburgher George A. Romero will serve as host for "AMC Fearfest," 300 hours of Halloween programming including the television premiere of Mr. Romero's "Survival of the Dead" (8 p.m. Monday).
"AMC Fearfest" begins Sunday night at 9 with the 90-minute premiere of season two of "The Walking Dead."
WQED-TV's local programs returned this week beginning with the second season of Rick Sebak's "It's Pittsburgh & a Lot of Other Stuff," which will now air the second Thursday of each month at 8 p.m. (WQED did not provide the information in advance of last Friday's column.)
"Pittsburgh 360" will air at 7:30 p.m. Thursday starting next week. "Experience" returns at 7:30 p.m. Monday beginning Oct. 24. "4802" returns Friday at 7:30 p.m. beginning Oct. 28. "Horizons" will air Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. starting Nov. 1. Wednesday night at 7:30, WQED will air a rebroadcast of "Experience."
Fox has renewed "The Simpsons" for two more seasons (No. 24 and No. 25) and also announced "So You Think You Can Dance" will be back for a ninth season next summer along with "Masterchef," which returns for a third year. ... ABC has renewed "Revenge" and "Suburgatory" for full first seasons. ... The CW has renewed three new series for full first seasons -- "Ringer," "The Secret Circle" and "Hart of Dixie" -- and canceled "H8R." ... CBS has canceled "How to Be a Gentleman" and will burn off remaining "Gentleman" episodes on Saturday nights at 8:30 beginning this week, moving "Rules of Engagement" to 8:30 p.m. Thursday next week. ... This week HBO renewed "Boardwalk Empire" for a third season and announced the first season will get a belated DVD release on Jan. 10. ... A new season of Discovery Channel's "Flying Wild Alaska" debuts at 10 p.m. Oct. 28. ... Syfy has renewed "Haven" for a third season to air in 2012. ... In January Current TV will add a new political show, "The War Room With Jennifer Granholm," positioning it at 9 p.m. weeknights after "Countdown With Keith Olbermann."
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about TV producers, "Dirty Soap" and "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "American Horror Story," "Breaking Bad" and "Chelsea Settles." Read online-only TV content at www.post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "American Horror Story," "New Girl" and the season finale of "Breaking Bad." Subscribe or listen at www.post-gazette.com/podcast.
First Published October 14, 2011 12:00 am