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PBS’ reality check

Pubcaster's Mitchell plans update of 'Family'

PBS will continue to mine the reality TV genre that it introduced in 1973 with “An American Family” and that has recently been revived by CBS’ “Big Brother” and “Survivor.”

During her first visit to the semi-annual Television Critics Tour Assn. confab since joining the pubcaster four months ago as prexy and CEO, Pat Mitchell said she is hoping to create a new version of the seminal series “Family,” which tracked the Loud family during a year of emotional ups and downs.

Mitchell, who was previously president of CNN Prods. and Time Inc. Television, said the project is still in its infancy but that she is determined to make it happen. Unlike the original show, a new version of “An American Family” would focus on more-diverse families from around the country. “It would remain true to the mission of PBS,” Mitchell said. It would also rely on the resources of various local public TV stations.

PBS has recently found success with the British import reality series “1900 House,” and there has been talk that the pubcaster will create an Americanized version, which would likely be called “Frontier House.”

Mitchell said she is also in discussions with filmmaker Gregory Nava about bringing “American Family” (no relation to “An American Family”) a weekly drama about a Mexican-American family, to PBS. The pilot for the series was set up at CBS, but when the Eye net passed, it gave Nava permission to shop it elsewhere.

Responding to feedback from the creative community that PBS is difficult to infiltrate, Mitchell decided to set up regionally based programming chiefs in Miami, Los Angeles and the Midwest. Public television veteran Gustavo Sagustume, currently general manager of WLRN/Miami, and Jacoba “Coby” Atlas, a vice president and supervising producer of CNN Prods., have been given veep of programming titles and will be based in Miami and Los Angeles, respectively. A search is under way for a Midwestern programming chief.

The VPs join John F. Wilson, PBS’ senior veep of programming, on the programming executive team. Along with Mitchell, the four execs will meet weekly as “a commissioning and greenlighting team.”

By September, PBS Online will have a description of the greenlighting process, which Mitchell hopes will make it easier for new talent to approach the channel.

Mitchell is also using her extensive cable background to start conversations with cable networks such as CNN, BET, HBO, Sundance Channel and Showtime about ways they can pool their resources to produce original programming as partners. “If we can partner with foreign companies, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do it within our borders,” Mitchell said.

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