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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)

Wow...truly a poor decision.

rtots, are you joking about centering a station around Huell Howser? Really? You've got to be joking.

This is truly bad news but I think it's been a long time coming. Times change and KCET as well as PBS doesn't seem capable of staying ahead or keeping up with trends.

What I question is how they propose to make money and support themselves with the new format. Unless there's been a relaxation of FCC regulations, or a change in KCET's licensing status, educational licensees have limitations for airing commercials and selling ads. Do they think the public will continue membership to support them with an untried format; and can KCET survive long enough for the public to embrace the new programming?

This is a huge risk, time will tell. I wish them well.

There are a few people here who have forgotten that 'public' means as much of the public as possible. While I would rather listen to a car alarm than Lawrence Welk; there are others who enjoy that sort of music.

If the short-sighted folks at KCET make the same mistake as the networks and the LA Times and try to cater to the younger hip set, they will fail. As has been mentioned, they are just as likely to steal their programing on the Net.

The best and only way to protest is to withhold contributions and not patronize their new sponsers, if any.

PBS's windbagging liberal bias turns off 80% of potential viewers, so I suspect this was inevitable. As much as I enjoyed some of the shows, wading through the begathon morass during their best shows was always insulting, especially after having to watch the commercials up front too. About as exciting as a Jerry Lewis telethon. The fact that tax money was spent on this was just insulting.

No doubt MSNBC will undergo a massive revamp as soon as anyone with a calculator finally figures out their numbers as well. It's a business, not a hobby.

Welcome to the real world - you know profit and loss instead of agenda and contempt.

Look PBS was a scullery maid for the left from its inception 'cept now the well done run dry and whadda' ya' know nationally admired icons like Tavis Smiley suddenly realize when push comes to shove the more butt kissin' Charlie Rose get's the 'green light' cause cuz' Rose doesn't stand for nothing 'cept what Buffett and Gates say he does.

Take down the left and the stranglehold they have on the 4th estate and universities - better yet shut down law school that degree trash that hire Ramona Ripper Ripstonka for accolades.

"For years, PBS provided things that couldn't be had from the traditional networks. Now, with cable outlets, not to mention the Internet, the public doesn't rely on PBS for such fare."

From my observations, the power of PBS is that even in the face of countless cable channels it still provides a tremendous amount of programming that cannot be found elsewhere in terms of both content and quality. It makes it even more dumbfounding that some of the smartest people producing television today seem to be making more and more dumb decisions of which losing KCET is among the biggest to date.

I hope that this is not another nail in the coffin of PBS, but I fear that unless the management of the network stops its self-destructive business and programming decisions it seems to be making in recent years we who count on such programming to maintain our sanity in a world of MSNBC and FOX will be without the network we have learned to rely on.

PBS is about the only TV programming we watch. Where else will we be able to find an intelligent news program like the News Hour? Without it, and Washington Week, Masterpiece Theater, Nature, Nova and other PBS programs, KCET can kiss goodbye to the funding we have given them year after year after year.

So tell me... it was going to cost $7M to keep PBS programming going. How much will they lose by dropping PBS. My guess is far more than $7M. RIP KCET. It was nice knowing you.

David Sams Said: Al Jerome is a smart guy. I've known him for years. He once headed up the NBC stations.

Yeah, look how well NBC is doing. Apparently, Al is taking lessons from the L.A. Times and Tribune. After subscribing to the paper for 10+ years, I discontinued this past spring. Why? Because they laid off all their news people and shrank the number of pages. Yesterday I noticed - the physical size of the paper is so much smaller, too.

Rose, Nova, Nightly News, Business Report, et al. I've become addicted because channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 have worthless, phony, talking heads who either never got a journalism degree or threw theirs in the toilet and defecated on it years ago.

And their management has no clue of what the 4th estate is. They're only clued into the profit motive. All they care about in their community is how much money they can bilk it for.

Tonight on channel 5 I saw a "profile" commercial of one of their anchors. She talked about her friends, her cat, her hairdo (or whatever). She never mentioned her degree, her background or her interest in journalism. They make me sick (station management and these losers).

To add fuel to my fire: They talk to John and Ken on the news. Another couple of prevaricators with no regard for facts.

I think the best local news guy is Frank Buckley on channel 5 but clearly, he is sickened by the quality of the news he reports and constantly has a look on his face of "what the f--- are we broadcasting here, there's real news to report."

So now KCET joins Tribune and all the other crappy news outlets in this town.

You can kiss off "contributions from viewers like me."

This is really terrible, since I watch "Charlie Rose," "POV" and occasionally a few other shows on KCET. I know things are tough but if employees of the station are making as much as one reader stated (around $200,000 a year), then perhaps they should have cut their salaries in an effort to continue to be part of PBS.

Goodby to KCET, without the News Hour, Charlie Rose, Frontline, Nova, Masterpiece Mystery, and other quality PBS shows to numerous to name as far as I am concerned, they might as well join Fox.

I will miss Wall Street Weak

KCET will be just another crappy foreign language station within a year.

As KCET points out, almost all of PBS' programming is available FREE on the Web. Why should they pay $6 million per year when the content is available to viewers from PBS.org whenever they want? KCET has recognized it needs to invest in local content to be relevant.

I have a DirecTV satellite dish and receive a bunch of PBS channels, and KCET is the one I seem to watch the least. KOCE Huntington Beach, KVCR San Bernardino, KLCS Los Angeles and KDOC Irvine serve up most of the stuff that KCET does. In fact I'm watching Masterpiece Mystery on KLCS right now. Great Performances and Sesame Street run on KVCR. BBC World News is available nightly on BBCAmerica. British comedies are a staple on KOCE. Personally I can't stand Huell Howser's Hee Haw voice and won't miss him AT ALL. KCET has systematically alienated its core viewership over the years. But if you get a satellite dish you can still get most of the PBS you love. If we got the PBS national feed in exchange for losing KCET, it would be a big gain in my opinion.

There will nothing left but "popular" programming. You can write me off as a viewer. Let daytime trash, like Opra, pay for it.

Wow...this is terrible news. We need Sesame Street and Charlie Rose! Will they air on another channel or are we just out of luck? That makes me really sad!
My kids still watch Sesame Street...even the 7 year old! (mostly the 2 year old..but the 7 year old watches and pretends he isn't!)....not good news for us!

While everyone seems to be mad at Mr. Jerome, and KCET's management, I think half the blame should be on PBS.
I listened to AIRTALK on KPCC and they described, in detail, the situation. It seems as if KCET were penalized for raising too much money, and PBS is being unreasonable in inflexible.
Who knows what will happen, I feel as if there is not enough local programming about the Los Angeles area, maybe this will give local creators a platform.

How long before the LA cable companies pull KCET off their prime channel placement? Moving KCET into the teens, twenties, and thirties with the other independant stations will simply hasten their bankruptcy.

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