PBS’ Kerger remains concerned about funding

Pubcaster's topper says there are 'implications for country' if money is denied

On the opening day of the summer Television Critics Assn. tour, PBS president-CEO Paula Kerger said there are “real implications for us as a country” if the government eliminates funding for the pubcaster.

Net also announced at the BevHilton that longtime documentarian Ken Burns has produced another historically based project titled “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” which will air in 2014. The seven-part, 14-hour film will weave the stories of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Burns’ “The Dust Bowl” airs Nov. 18 later this year.

As for PBS’ often precarious funding, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has previously stated he believes PBS should be ad-funded, not kept financially solvent by the feds.

“We’re not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird is going to have advertisements, all right,” Romney said late last year on the campaign trail.

Kerger, expecting the question about how PBS will remain financially solvent if Romney is elected, said: I’m not sure there’s a press tour where I haven’t talked about this issue. It’s disappointing to me the value that people place on public broadcasting. In the same week where we were awarded 58 Emmys, the question of whether investment is appropriate is disappointing.”

Kerger said 15% of PBS’ funding comes from the government, the rest from private donations. If that 15% were to be eliminated, the net’s topper was concerned many stations that carry PBS — specifically ones in more rural areas — could go dark.

“At end of the day, I know it’s not my voice that is going to make a difference, but the voice of constituents,” she said.

Focusing on upcoming programming, net announced “Cuban Missile Crisis — Three Men Go to War.” On the 50th anni on the event that had the world on the brink of nuclear war, the special will air at 8 p.m. Oct 23, immediately followed by “Secrets of the Dead: The Man Who Saved the World,” which reveals the story behind a Russian submarine that refused to fire a nuclear missile during the crisis between Russia and the United States.

The huge success of British aristocratic drama “Downton Abbey” was accelerated by social media, said Kerger. While also giving credit to the show’s cast, script and production values, Kerger compared the “Downton” phenomenon to that of PBS’ 1981 miniseries hit “Brideshead Revisited.”

Said Kerger: “People came together,” in talking about “Downton” — both literally, in watching episodes in groups, and discussing on Facebook and Twitter. “It hit at a certain time and people were able to talk about it with social media.”

As for greenlighting more dramas that might resonate as well as “Downton,” Kerger was hesitant to say PBS would put significant resources aside when many other networks are offering quality programming as well.

“There are drama challenges. It’s expensive, though we’ve been able to forge some co-production arrangements,” she said. “We have spent a lot of time looking at the overall media landscape and figuring out where the gaps and market failures are. We need to focus on what we think can make a difference, like children’s programming.”

With that kid focus being a major component of PBS’ daily lineup, Kerger said, “We have to think about the images children see” when asked about how the Colorado shootings would resonate with those who are too young to understand the gravity of the situation.

When addressed about why Fred Willard — arrested last week for suspicion of lewd conduct in an adult theater — was fired as narrator of the new show “Market Warriors,” Kerger said the series was in mid-production and couldn’t wait to see how the actor’s legal situation would unfold.