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Los Angeles PBS affiliate KCET exits network fold to go independent

Al jerome 
KCET, the Los Angeles PBS member station, has decided to break away from the public broadcasting network and become an independent station.

Starting in January, station officials intend to replace such iconic PBS fare as "Charlie Rose," "NewsHour," "Sesame Street" and "Masterpiece" with news and documentaries from Japan, Canada and elsewhere, along with old feature films. (KCET will continue to carry PBS programming through the end of December.)

The drastic move comes after a months-long battle over the dues KCET must pay the national organization. Last year, the dues totaled nearly $7 million, or almost one-fifth of the station's $37-million net operating revenue. Station officials say that amount is far too high. PBS, fearing that a reduction in the sum could lead to demands for similar discounts from other member stations, refused to budge.

"After four decades as the West Coast flagship PBS station, this is not a decision we made lightly," said Al Jerome, KCET's president and chief executive, in a news release. "We have been in discussions with PBS for over three years about the need to address challenges that are unique to our market as well as our station."

"As an independent public television station, KCET will be committed to investing in Southern California by developing, acquiring, producing and distributing content across all media platforms," he added. "We will continue to offer the KCET audience programming from leading national and international sources. Some of these series are currently on our air."

Yet a divorce could prove painful for both parties. Independent broadcasting outlets found themselves in perilous times even before the recent recession hit. Without recognizable series to promote, KCET will likely find it difficult to gain traction with viewers. Moreover, the station will find it tough to produce or buy shows that generate strong ratings as program costs keep escalating.

A pullout isn't good news for PBS, either, as it signals "to other PBS members that affiliation isn't that important anymore," according to Jeffrey McCall, a media expert at DePauw University.

It also increases doubts about the long-term future of public broadcasting. "PBS certainly does not play the essential role it once did in the nation's media landscape," McCall said. "For years, PBS provided things that couldn't be had from the traditional networks," including public affairs and educational programs.

"Now, with cable outlets, not to mention the Internet, the public doesn't rely on PBS for such fare."

-- Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET

Photo credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times 

 

 

 

 

 
Comments () | Archives (124)

NO!!!!!
This is very sad. I grew up on KCET/PBS and it's still my go-to station for some of the best in television. Sure, the pledge drives can drive me up a wall, but I've been willing to put up with them in exchage for Masterpiece, Ken Burns' series, Antiques Roadshow, Live from the Met, Live from Lincoln Center, and countless other programs.
Old movies and foreign news can be had in a lot of places, but KCET was an oasis.

This is incredibly sad and angering news for me. I grew up in a part of Santa Barbara county where KCET was our only access to PBS programming. Sesame Street was a constant companion in my childhood. I learned to love the news because my mom would turn on the Newshour while she made dinner and every Sunday night we were there watching Masterpiece Theater. My parents start many sentences, "I saw on Charlie Rose..." They are longtime members of KCET. They have put the "public" in public television for decades and I feel like their sincere interest in receiving and supporting PBS programming is being ignored by KCET.

I will never watch them again, nor give them another penny. The only reason to watch KCET was Nova, Frontline, Masterpiece, and the other excellent PBS programs.

Al Jerome is a smart guy. I've known him for years. He once headed up the NBC stations. He's right on target for making this decision. PBS charges way too much for its programming--considering there are multiple PBS stations in the LA area carrying the same thing. KCET now has an opportunity to reinvent itself. They can still get many of the series that PBS carries directly from the program suppliers--who will do great deals because they want their programming seen in LA on the major (once) PBS outlet.

Bad move. They've lost me as a loyal viewer and annual contributor.

Big Mistake. I think KCET will lose a lot of support. All the years I enjoyed Masterpiece and the NewsHour, who is going to want to watch the foreign news networks? KCET is shooting themselves in the foot.

KCET has just committed suicide. RIP.

Bad. Very Bad. I've read recently that KCET only has a handful of actuall employees who each make around $200K more or less. Shades of Bell. I'm sure each one of them thinks that they're underpaid and that they could make more elsewhere - yeah right. In a town full of unemployed tv folks KCET could cut more than half of its payroll and actually add valuable personnel. Looks like we'll be in for more infomercials which seems to be their preferred choice of programming. KCET is becoming a joke and they have nobody to blame but themselves.

Tragic. I think the problem has been Al Jerome's leadership or lack thereof. KCET should have never ended up in this situation. It used to be the best PBS station and is now only a shadow of what it once was.

Wow...it's pretty shocking there. It'll be like WGBH in Boston or WNET in New York City breaking from PBS. The big question now, who become the "main" PBS outlet in town...KLCS or KOCE?

More content from China, please!
We are missing out on what 1/6 of Humanity is doing.

Demographics are changing. Instead of continuing to push "Europe" down our throats, how about playing some documentaries on Mayans, Aztecs, Inca...?

You know, stuff from THIS CONTINENT??

That's a shame.

About the only things we really watch on KCET are News Hour, Masterpiece and BBC World News.

I hope they survive.

I will not give them another $. What is KCET without PBS? What is KCET thinking? Are they out of their minds? This is really unbelievable. I don't know what I'll watch now.

If the big three networks are having a hard time in the age of new media, I can't even imagine how difficult it must be for the PBS affiliates. My guess is others will follow suit and PBS might find itself completely irrelevant shortly. It's a shame too because it signals the end of public educational television in favor of "corporate" educational television. I'd be ok with that if corporate educational channels stuck to it, but instead we see programs about UFOs and angels.

I've preferred KOCE for years as KCET became too much like an impersonal network and less like a local PBS station.

This is an outrage!!-Let's form a committee to get a court order to immediately stop the end of PBS programming on KCET and replace Al Jerome with someone who understands that the ONLY REASON KCET should exist it to show Public Broadcasting Network shows!! Any attorneys out there will to file the lawsuit pro bono?

What a horrible idea!

Hope they don't beg for money.

What happens to Huell Howser?

So sad, I won't be able to get my daily fix of Liberal Bias, might have to start watching MSNBC.

 
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