PBS responds to Norman Lear indie doc op-ed

Executives for PBS, WNET, ITVS and 'POV' issued a joint statement after the TV legend (pictured) took the pubcaster to task over moves to take docs out of primetime in a New York Times op-ed.
April 8, 2015

Executives for PBS, WNET, ITVS and ‘POV’ have issued a response to TV legend Norman Lear (pictured), who accused the American pubcaster of neglecting its mission and mandate in an April 7 op-ed for The New York Times.

In the article, the All In the Family and The Jeffersons producer criticized PBS flagship station WNET for threatening to move independent documentary strands ‘POV’ and ‘Independent Lens’ out of primetime.

“This is much more than a scheduling change; it could devastate independent documentary filmmaking,” he wrote. “Moving the films out of primetime means fewer reviews, and less publicity. It also threatens funding: When filmmakers apply for grants from foundations or philanthropies, the promise of a robust distribution platform is crucial. The proposal also sends the signal that non-fiction films on challenging subjects are less important to PBS and WNET than costume dramas.”

He went on to explain that independent film on public television is an important outlet for minority filmmakers and diverse voices not typically heard in American media.

Following the publication of Lear’s op-ed, ITVS president and CEO Sally Jo Fifer, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger, ‘POV’ executive director and executive producer Simon Kilmurry and WNET president and CEO Neal Shapiro issued a joint statement promising to keep independent docs on the primetime schedule.

“We appreciate his passionate support for the independent film series ‘POV’ and ‘Independent Lens’ on public media,” the statement reads. “Last year hundreds of hours of independent productions appeared in the PBS primetime schedule – and this will not change. No other media outlet provides such a wide-ranging and accessible showcase. Our organizations firmly believe that independent film is a vital way to present a diversity of voices and explore complex issues – which are the fundamental principles of public media’s mission.

“We are working collaboratively to ensure that ‘POV’ and ‘Independent Lens’ reach the widest possible audience,” they continued. “This includes a primetime placement on local stations’ broadcast schedules, as well as distribution on digital platforms.”

In December, New York-based PBS station WNET announced plans to pull ‘POV’ and ‘Independent Lens’ from Monday nights in primetime on main station Thirteen to make room for arts programming. The series would shift to secondary channel WLIW21 at 10 p.m., with repeat broadcasts at 11 p.m. on Sundays on Thirteen.

Following an outcry from filmmakers, the channel promised to keep ‘Independent Lens’ in its time slot for the time being. The station then embarked on a nationwide listening tour with teams from PBS, ITVS, ‘Independent Lens’ and ‘POV’ to develop a strategy to raise the profile of independent films on public TV. The issue was also raised during the Sundance Film Festival and last month’s SXSW conference in Austin.

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