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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)


While I cannot speak for others, every time in my life that I have moved to a new location I have always scanned the cable line-up cards or channel listings in the local papers for the station(s) designated as PBS not as IND. Had I not grown up watching KCET, and I was new to the Los Angeles area, KOCE, KVCR and KLSC would be the channels added first to my favorites list.

KCET's break from the PBS system is sad news indeed, although not unexpected. Last month when the channel announced it was moving Masterpiece out of the Sunday night line-up, and relegating it to the more competitive Thursday prime-time slot, I had the impression that the discussed break from PBS was already a foregone conclusion.

I do hope KCET is able to survive as an independent public television station. With this said, if KCET's new Sunday replacement for Masterpiece – showing “classic” movies that can be seen on any number of channels such as TCM – is an indication of the direction the station will be taking in the future, it does not look promising.

This is an embarrassment. Time to donate to KOCE and the other public stations in the area and demand that they broadcast the full slate of PBS shows. I need my Frontline and my Three Tenors singing Christmas music! I really believe that if KCET had sounded the alarm earlier, they could have raised the money. Maybe some of the celebrities who live in this town could help raise the money. Just a thought...

I predict KCET will become months/years-old British shows sandwiched by "Pacifica"-like "news" and "information" programs. They can get programing straight from "The Guardian." Wooo-weeee!!! 10:10 "public service announcements," George Galloway's "Respect TV", "the Free Mumia Hour," "Michael Moore Reports!". etc. Seems like a perfect fit for the westsiders watching this.

Tragic. PBS programs were the only reason I tuned into KCET. Say good bye to me, KCET -- and good bye to my annual membership check.

This is a brilliant possibility for KCET and one that could change the face of television. Like indy films and indy record labels, a small start-up that has no corporate ties and that need only answer to its own and its employees futures...this could be very interesting indeed. I'll be watching.

There are three other stations in the market and any one or all of them can share the cost of providing PBS programming to the LA market. But it is also true that that the programming with the PBS label has moved away from its strengths. It needs Doo Wop oldies and mind shifters as pledge masters instead of looking to its real audience of drama enthusiasts, parents, lovers of docs, history and science and intelligent viewers for just about anything intelligently presented for the funds it needs to operate.
So the commercial managers at KCET and the crowd pleasers at PBS need to get their heads back on straight.

The article failed to mention that KCET (based on an article I read in the LA Business Journal) requested that it be allowed to switch from being a full-service member of the PBS network to a limited-service one. I believe that KOCE in Orange County is at that level. But PBS refused KCET's suggestion.

PBS is just being graspy and greedy.

However, I think KCET will become overly marginalized if it doesn't somehow join a consortium with KOCE and KLCS and borrow at least a few of the major PBS programs run on those channels.

NO! KCET and PBS should compromise to keep PBS programming available to SoCal. What is there that cannot be worked out? Who are these people working for? Who is actually making this decision? Is KCET bankrupt? The reason to watch KCET is the PBS programming. We can watch old movies on Netflix and Hulu and cable. Get real and get back to PBS! If the Board was selected to look after the station, they should be working with PBS, not ruining this local PBS station. Doesn't make any sense.

I still cannot believe this is happening. It's like a bad dream or something. No more NOVA, Nature, Masterpiece, POV!! I didn't need cable BECAUSE I had PBS, but now what am I supposed to watch at night?! Americas Next Top Model?!
I cried over this!! Now I'm just PISSED!

It's about time!

For now, PBS should be a series of national digital cable stations. In the near future, it should *all* be streamed on the internet.

The entire business model changed quite awhile ago, but nobody realized it.

Gee documentaries from Japan, Canada and elsewhere.....sounds riveting. Guess I'll have to wait a couple extra weeks to watch Masterpiece Mystery on local PBS channel 58 in the future.

what a shame, one of the largest cities in the country can't even support a full menu of pbs programs! we need charlie rose, leher, bbc world news, nova, frontline, history detectives, as all the other "create" type shows (toh, atk, lidia italy, etc). Is 1/5 of the budget appropriate for the license? It sounds appropriate to me. Pbe as an institution needs support and this large city should be one of those that should be all in. so cal connected is nice, and so is huell' houser, but really how much of the rest of the 4/5 of the budget can it take to produce 2 programs when compared to the dozens upon dozens licensed frompbs? the notion that we become a koce producing a local "real orange" or endless jim doti fluff just won't cut it for viewership. It's really not that much of a draw. kcet should reassess their budget carefully. a strong central pbs (with cpb financial support) is best in the long run. we can't strive to relinquish a nytimes (or old latimes) like position to become a mediocre 'daily breeze" type of news outlet.
I'll offer one constructive idea - the electricity broadcast bill must be on the order of 10's of thousands (if not 100k) per year. kcet (and other npr and non profit radio) should encourage a new method of "fund raising" whereby households "going solar" are encouraged to install excess panels (taking advantage of federal discount credits) and make a pledge to transfer excess energy kwhrs to their favorite public radio or tv station. previously, excess production was "lost" for the consumer so there was an incentive to install less panels than needed. now we can have an incentive to try to produce more than households utilize.

Sesame street isnt all that; Mr. Rodgers is dead yet they continue to show his shows .. the best children's shows were never PBS output anyway.

This all started when a guy from commercial TV was brought in and spent money like a drunken sailor- otherwise normal operating procedure for commercial TV. Rather than fire this moron and tighten their belts, they do the most ignorant thing possible and drop the only reason people watch the station in the first place.

I would strongly recommend that KCET clean house and fire all who have parented this ongoing fiasco.

I can't believe it! PBS programming is far superior to the mindless stuff that's on cable TV. Even the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, History Channel, etc. has become mindless junk. We need to stop this from happening!

Sad news. Channel 28 has been a part of my life for a long time. I'm worried about replacing it. Whoever McCall is, he knows nothing about what I value in television programming or management. KOCE is a poor shadow of its former self - a music/pop psych outlet and not a very good one at that. KLCS and KVCR do a good job as far as they are able but I wonder about their funding. The network fare gets more and more ridiculous, the commercials are increasingly vulgar and mean spirited, the news comes neatly packaged for size, not content, and those of us who still recognize the difference are less and less able to do anything about it. I'm glad I've collected tapes and DVDs of PBS programming over the years. They will be loved but melancholy souvenirs of better days.


I am saddened by this, but I think it's a good move. I do not have cable/satellite and I watch all my TV via the Internet and over-the-air. I already watch my favorite shows like Frontline online. For PBS programming, I tune to any one of KLCS, KVCR, KOCE, or KCET. It's ridiculous for KCET to pay three times what KOCE did for essentially the same programs when a lot of the quality programming is being given away on the Internet free anyway.

I am not sure if KCET will survive this transition, but it is clear that the status quo was no longer viable so they had to try something. With all of the talent in LA maybe they can come up with some good original programming. Unlike others, I actually liked the Sunday night movie idea. Also, the idea of news from Canada or the BBC instead of News Hour sounds good to me. There's a lot of good programming out there that we rarely see and here is a chance to see some of it. Good idea, but we will have to see how they execute it.


Al Jerome and top KCET management need to go.

100% Poor leadership, money management, forecasting, and fund raising over these last few years!

He was a total failure at getting the mega rich to cough up their fair share during these last few years. So we get repeat broadcasts and longer commercials, and the lovely info-commericals on KCET!

KCET needed to have a CEO who was a corporate insider that rubbed elbows with the top wealthiest 5%. These are the type of people that could have got KCET over the current funding hurdle. Jerome is basically hitting up the wrong people... the middle class and poor for funding money. You see where that has got KCET. In deep Hot Water!

Hope he is enjoying that 400,000 salary. Enjoy it while you can!

Those of you talking about how stupid Al Jerome is, getting court orders to stop the separation and/or that you're not going to give any more money to KCET need to grow up. Too many people like you are part of the reason why this country is in the shape it is
You have the opportunity to help decide what programming will be shown on this station, meaning shows that you like, and help make it successful. They made a business decision, either accept it and help them or shut up and leave. I'm sure they'd love to show everything that everybody likes, but there's this annoying little thing called reality that prevents it.
Yes, I like watching Newshour, Nightly Business Report, Nova and BBC; I don't have (or want) satellite or cable, so KCET is one of the few channels that I get and I enjoy being able to watch shows that, in most cases, have hosts with an IQ that's higher than their shoe size.
I also enjoy watching the foreign news channels, because I get to actually see what's going on in the world instead of Lindsey Lohan's latest freeby from jail and the latest person to get kicked off Dancing with the Stars, not to mention getting to see what actually happens instead of just what gets through editing Stateside.
There's always the possibility of being able to work a deal with PBS to get certain shows, they are funded with public money, so there's no reason they should be denying access to their content. If they won't, there may be other programming that covers the same subjects.
Give KCET a chance and see how it goes, if it still don't like it after six months or a year, then vote by changing the channel and not sending money. Grow up and quit with the "I hate the stupid man!!!" tantrums.

too bad. so much great stuff on PBS.

KCET should at least check out bringing in some of the great Canadian TV shows and movies that are often far better than US products.

 
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