KCET focusing on community fare

Slate is an eclectic mix of shows

With major market stations having largely abandoned local programming, PBS affil KCET is betting big on the notion that auds are still interested in community-focused fare.

Los Angeles pubcaster is hoping to remake its primetime sked so that it airs at least one hour of original, locally focused programming at 10 p.m. every weeknight for a total of 200 hours. Station recruited broadcasting vet Fred Silverman to help design the programming, which will air under the banner “Celebrate Southern California.”

Sked is a decidedly eclectic mix of fare, ranging from a newsmaker interview skein hosted by former KABC anchor Lisa McRee to a sort of “American Idol” for SoCal high school students. Nights will be themed to focus on different aspects of the community: people, performance, city politics, entertainment.

Initiative kicked off Saturday with a weekly Saturday movie showcase featuring gems from the Warner Bros. library. Martin Sheen is hosting the series, which will air at 10 p.m. to allow films to air unedited (Daily Variety, April 18).

KCET prexy-chief exec Al Jerome said that while the station still has a role to play as a supplier of national programming for PBS, it wants to solidify its roots as a local broadcaster.

“We saw that there was a real gap for positive, entertaining shows that reflect our community,” he said. “We thought we ought to look for ways to devote an hour a day in primetime to celebrate the things that are happening in Southern California.”

Once they decided to go forward with the initiative, Jerome, along with KCET exec veepee of programming and production Mary Mazur, turned to Silverman for help shaping the programs. Trio already had a connection: Mazur and Jerome both had worked for Silverman before at some point during their careers.

“He was instrumental in putting together these schedules and concepts, and then marrying our talent to these ideas,” Mazur said.

Silverman already had been thinking about the concept of local TV in the digital age. With all stations set to go digital within the next two years, broadcasters soon will have the ability to offer multiple channels of programming.

Silverman thinks that could lead to a resurgence of local programming as stations look to stand out. “I think that’s where it’s heading in the next five years,” he said. “We want to reinforce the fact that this is about KCET, and you can’t find these shows on other PBS stations.”

After a year of development, Silverman and KCET settled on these theme nights:

Mondays: People-focused shows will include the interview skein “Strictly Personal,” which McRee is expected to host 10 weeks a year. “It’ll be a mix of celebrities and interesting non-pros who have done something of an outstanding nature,” Silverman said.

Silverman also wants to launch a “College Bowl”-style quizzer featuring local university students competing over 10 weeks. Other programs include an hour focusing on hometown heroes and a user-generated skein in which audiences submit videos of their family life.

Tuesdays: City-themed programming including KCET-commissioned documentaries, a voice of the people show and a series of town hall meetings.

Most ambitious project may be “If You Ran the City,” which would team mayors from around the L.A. area with ordinary citizens to brainstorm solutions to city problems. “It’s a different approach to the community affairs show,” Silverman said.

Wednesdays: Arts and performance shows will include centerpiece program, “Curtain Call,” which will offer TV adaptations of L.A.-area theater productions, including college and community theater.

KCET is also hoping to launch its “Idol”-esque talent competition on this night, as well as a showcase for young filmmakers.

Thursdays: Leisure activities is the theme hre, with offerings that will include an hourlong entertainment guide.

“It’s a weekly resource for what you can do in and around your town,” Mazur said. “It’s not about duplicating what’s on ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ ”

Thursdays also are intended as the home for a SoCal edition of “Check, Please!,” a restaurant review show based on a format that originated at Chicago pubcaster WTTW. Each seg has three foodies visiting the others’ fave restaurants and then debating the merits of each eatery.

Fridays: Silverman is hoping to use this night to develop a series of interactive quizzers and contests that would open up new revenue streams to KCET and offer cross-promotional opportunities.

Mazur said KCET’s next focus will be securing funding for the Thursday entertainment guide. Station already has coin in place to shoot a pilot for “Check, Please!”

Timetable for rolling out the other programs depends on how quickly KCET can raise sponsorship coin. Silverman thinks the whole slate could be in place by the end of 2008.

Jerome isn’t ready to commit to any dates yet. “We’re optimistic we can make this work,” he said.

There’s also hope that the new localized programming initiative will itself open up new ways for KCET to raise coin as it seeks to lessen its reliance on pledge drives. During the Saturday film showcase, for example, KCET will be selling DVDs of the Warners titles, getting a cut of the money generated.

“We’re looking for another way to raise money within the community,” Jerome said.

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