PBS Cuts Could Squeeze Brit Fare

If Republican Newt Gingrich succeeds in shutting down the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, PBS won’t only lose out on broadcasting British TV productions – some of them, especially documentaries, would not get made in the first place.

That’s the view of Henry Becton, president and general manager of pubcaster WGBH, the station which is responsible for some 35% of PBS shows, including strands such as “Nova,” “Mystery” and “Masterpiece Theatre.”

“Most of what we do involves a foreign partner, often two or three of them,” said Becton. “If we didn’t have the money to put up our share, they wouldn’t get made.” Many of the shows which make up these three strands are actually developed and produced by the BBC; typically WGBH will put up a minority percentage of their budgets.

Documentaries for “Nova,” “Frontline” and “American Experience” rely more heavily on funding from PBS stations than does British drama, however. A loss of CPB funding would lead to serious cutbacks of such docus, according to Becton.

He thinks it is unlikely that U.S. cable channels will rescue such programming efforts, noting that such PBS mainstays as Henry Hampton (“Eyes on the Prize”) and Ken Burns (“Baseball”) “don’t get a lot of offers from cable to do what they do” and that Rebecca Eaton, who oversees drama series, competes “very rarely” with cable outlets like A&E to acquire British prods.

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