BEVERLY HILLS — PBS’ battle for funding continues in the uncertain Trump era.
With federal budget plans still uncertain, the service’s president, Paula Kerger, again made the case for the future of public broadcasting at the Television Critics Association.
While “we have longstanding support from leaders from both chambers on both sides of the aisle,” she said Sunday, “I have to assume, as all of us in public media have to assume, that anything can happen.” As Congress now debates funding (steady at $450 million, with a 2-to-1 split between TV and radio), Kerger says PBS officials don’t assume that all the members of Congress understand the broadcaster’s mission.
“Very significant decisions have to made about what gets funded, and I hope that they understand the consequence of any significant cut in funding.”
Kerger reiterated that “most funding goes to local stations, not PBS national programming,” And for stations in rural areas, the funding represents as much as 50% of their budgets.
“If that money goes away, it’s an existential crisis for those stations. So PBS will not go away, but a number of our local stations will. You will find big parts of the country without them. … There isn’t a Plan B for that.”
In other news from Kerger’s executive session, the service announced new series for 2018:
- Civilizations, a nine-part series next spring that “tells the story of art from the dawn of human history to the present day,” inspired by Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series about Western art,
- The Great American Read, an eight-part spring series that culminates in the “first-ever national vote to chose America’s most beloved novel.”
- Luna Around the World, a multicultural kids’ series due this fall.
British drama Poldark returns for a third season Oct. 1, and the “newly married” Victoria is back in January.
But nothing has surfaced to fill the void left by its biggest hit, Downton Abbey, which finished its historic run last year, though Kerger pivoted to proclaim that the latest Ken Burns project, the 18-hour Vietnam War documentary due in September, will have a similar effect on “the national conversation.”
Kerger said PBS will continue to pursue American dramas, despite the exit of Mercy Street after two seasons, with plans for Little Women and more.