New York-based PBS station WNET is pulling the pubcaster’s doc strands ‘Independent Lens’ and ‘POV’ from its Monday primetime line-up on channel Thirteen and moving them to Sunday evenings beginning January 5, a WNET spokesperson has confirmed to realscreen.
‘Independent Lens’ – which traditionally runs at 10 p.m. on Mondays across all PBS stations – airs on the pubcaster between October and June, while ‘POV’ is broadcast in that same time slot from June to October.
In the new year, the two strands will begin airing on WNET’s secondary channel WLIW21 on Mondays at 10 p.m. – which was the strands’ original primetime slot on Thirteen – with repeats broadcast during an 11 p.m. slot on Sundays on Thirteen. According to a spokesperson, the station will encore its Friday night arts programming on Thirteen on Mondays, in place of ‘Independent Lens’ and ‘POV.’
The doc showcases will follow PBS’s Masterpiece series – under which British period drama Downton Abbey airs - on both stations.
“The arts genre is a key interest to our audience and a significant driver of financial support,” a spokesperson told realscreen. “Additionally, research shows that Thirteen’s Monday night audience — which is the night Antiques Roadshow is broadcast — is strongly aligned to arts programming such as ‘Great Performances,’ ‘American Masters’ and others.”
‘POV’ executive director Simon Kilmurry said his team was informed of the changes late last week, but says the decision is troubling because the WLIW21 signal covers only 50% of the territory covered by WNET.
“It could likely affect the ability of audiences to find these films – after all, they have watched ‘POV’ on WNET for 27 years,” Kilmurry told realscreen. “It will likely affect our ability to get press coverage for the films, and it could affect our ability to secure the type of high-quality, Emmy Award-winning films that ‘POV’ is known for.”
Kilmurry added: “Public media has been a home for independent docs and this is a golden age for the form, so it’s troubling that the biggest media market in the country is not embracing the work as we hope.”
Stephen Segaller, VP of programming for WNET, defended the move. In a statement, he said: “We work with independent filmmakers to create all types of films for WNET through various program strands— ‘Great Performances,’ ‘American Masters,’ ‘Nature,’ ‘Secrets of the Dead’ and many others. And in every case we hope to put their work in the most advantageous possible place to attract the widest audience and the most attention.
“In this case, we simply want to schedule ‘Independent Lens’ and ‘POV’ in time slots where the series will have a chance of getting a still larger audience. And we hope the same thing for our arts programming. We are now going to carry ‘Independent Lens’ and ‘POV’ on two stations instead of one, and we are scheduling it on the most-watched night – Sunday – and second most-watched night – Monday – following the most-watched series on PBS [Masterpiece] on both stations.
“It was a strategic decision that we believe will benefit both the series and independent filmmakers we so value, and we’ll review this plan in six months to evaluate how it’s doing.”
Sally Jo Fifer - president and CEO of ITVS, which produces ‘Independent Lens’ – was not available for comment but said in a statement that ITVS’s senior VP of national productions and strategic partnerships Tamara Gould will be traveling to New York on Monday to meet with staff from WNET, PBS, and POV to discuss the scheduling shift and its impact on programming.
PBS last encountered backlash from documentary makers in late 2011 when the pubcaster moved the two doc strands from Tuesday to Thursday nights, when high ratings are harder to come by due to more local programming. In response, Chicago-based production company Kartemquin Films united various indies in forming an ad hoc group that lobbied against the changes, ultimately compelling PBS to move the strands to Monday nights.
The present iteration of the group is known as the “Indie Caucus” and continues to operate as a collective voice representing independent filmmakers among broadcast, programming and funding partners in public media.
The group – which consists of filmmakers such as Dawn Porter, Katy Chevigny and Steve Bognar - posted a statement on its website on Friday (December 19):
“PBS champions these series as the premier platform for independent voices and diverse stories on public television,” it reads. “This move by WNET amounts to the removal of independent voices from primetime TV by the station, and marks a suppression of remarkable yet marginalized American voices and their audiences. Putting these documentary series back on Monday nights on Thirteen is crucial to serving WNET’s mandate to be a truly public TV service.”
In addition, the group is calling for concerned viewers to take action against the changes by either signing a Change.org petition, writing to PBS CEO and president Paula Kerger in support of point-of-view documentaries, and/or contacting WNET president and CEO Neal Shapiro and asking for the strands to remain on Thirteen’s Monday night line-up.
The full statement from Indie Caucus can be found here.