Pubcaster chief defends Carlson

PBS topper Pat Mitchell on Thursday vigorously defended the pubcaster’s decision to give conservative commentator Tucker Carlson his own Friday night show, saying it wasn’t an attempt to bow to the prevailing powers in Washington and take a turn to the right.

Opening up the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Los Angeles, Mitchell also revealed that it was outgoing Motion Picture Assn. of America CEO-prexy Jack Valenti who encouraged her to apply for his job.

Mitchell said she withdrew her name for consideration after going through one round of interviews with Hollywood studio chiefs. She immediately informed the PBS board of directors and member stations that she wanted to stay where she was.

“It reminded me of what I loved about this job,” Mitchell said.

‘Unfiltered’ issues

A substantial part of Mitchell’s appearance at TCA was spent answering questions about Carlson’s new half-hour show, “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered,” which bows this fall at 10 p.m. ET. Carlson will keep his gig at CNN, where he is a political analyst and co-host of CNN’s afternoon political shout-down “Crossfire.”

“There is no agenda here,” Mitchell said. “We have to be for everybody.”

Mitchell and Carlson, who spoke at TCA later in the day, said “Unfiltered” would be markedly different from “Crossfire.”

Conservative politicians have long criticized PBS for being too left leaning. Mitchell has earned a reputation for being able to smooth the way with Republicans lawmakers on Capitol Hill — lawmakers who have the power to approve or kill PBS funding.

Mitchell said if anything, PBS is simply trying to widen the tent and express a wide variety of opinions. But she was repeatedly questioned as to why PBS would hire someone who already has a spot on the airwaves if the intent was to provide a forum for more diverse voices.

Without revealing the identities of three other people making test pilots, Mitchell said Carlson’s pilot was by far the most interesting.

“Unfiltered” is being exec produced by veteran news producer Steve Friedman, who has exec produced NBC News’ “Today” and “Nightly News.” Recently, he also consulted on Dennis Miller’s new talk show on CNBC.

Carlson said he didn’t know–and didn’t care–whether there was some master plan on the part of PBS in signing his show, which is being produced by WETA in Washington. He agreed that he is conservative on most issues, but said he recently had an about-face regarding the war In Iraq, in part prompted by a visit to Baghdad. He said he now believes that the Bush administration is reckless when it comes to Iraq.

Carlson said he has no interest in becoming a “self-grandizing” talk show host along the lines of Fox News Channel’s ultra-conservative Bill O’Reilly.

“I have no respect for that,” Carlson said.

Other highlights of PBS’ upcoming season:

  • PBS and acclaimed series “Nova” will produce science magazine “The Y Factor,” hosted by TV journalist Robert Krulwich and set to bow in January.

  • The 2005-06 season will bring three new “Mystery!” series, including four new episodes of the popular “Miss Marple,” based on the books of Agatha Christie; “Malice Aforethought,” a black comedy; and “Jericho,” an original detective story set in the 1950s.

  • In October, PBS will present “Broadway: The American Musical,” a six-part series hosted by Julie Andrews.

  • In January, PBS and documaker Ken Burns will present “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” the story of the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world.

PBS continues its presentation today at TCA. Up next, over the weekend, is NBC.

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