Category: KCET

TCA Press Tour 2011: PBS chief says talks that failed to keep KCET in network fold went down to the wire

Paulakerger The standoff that led KCET-TV to bolt from PBS may have been much closer to a resolution than viewers realized.

The station left the network earlier this month after months of disputes with PBS over dues and other issues. Speaking Saturday at the TV press tour in Pasadena, PBS chief Paula Kerger told reporters: "I believed until the very end that we were going to come to an understanding."

According to two sources familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity, by the end of negotiations, the amount that KCET and PBS differed on was only $750,000, a sum that could plausibly have been raised in a single pledge drive.

Instead, KCET embarked on an uncertain future as an independent public broadcaster. Appearing before reporters Saturday, Kerger spoke without recriminations.

"I think that they believe that there is room in Los Angeles for a different type of public station," she said. "And that’s the path that they’ve embarked on. And I really, truly hope that they’re successful, because if they are, it will just further serve the people of this community.”

Meanwhile, Orange County's KOCE -- now doing business as PBS SoCal -- is off to a brisk start as the primary PBS station in Southern California.

Station head Mel Rogers said in an interview the station had suffered no major hiccups in its first week as the area's major PBS carrier. Ratings are already experiencing increases -- including for the Sunday showing of "Masterpiece," the signature 40-year-old drama series that PBS SoCal took over late last year. 

“We went from a 0.3 or 0.4" household rating "on Sunday night to a 1.2," Rogers said. "It tripled."

-- Scott Collins

Photo: PBS chief Paula Kerger spoke at the TV press tour Saturday. Credit: PBS / Associated Press

KCET-TV's ratings plunge 50% in first week after PBS exit

Aljerome The early figures are in — and KCET-TV's departure from PBS is looking like a ratings disaster for the Los Angeles-based public broadcasting outlet.

For the first four nights this week, KCET averaged a 0.3 household rating, according to the Nielsen Co. That's a whopping 50% decline compared with the 0.6 rating recorded the same period last year, when KCET featured the familiar lineup of PBS programs. An average of 22,000 viewers tuned in to KCET during prime time this week; last year at this time, it was 41,000.

The picture is even worse when ratings for the entire broadcasting day are considered. KCET is delivering a 0.1 household rating, compared with a 0.3 rating last year. KCET is now averaging just 10,000 viewers throughout the day.

KCET left PBS effective Jan. 1 after months of disputes over dues and other issues. Ironically, one of the reasons for the split cited by KCET President and Chief Executive Al Jerome was the rating erosion seen by PBS programming. Because KCET is an independent public broadcaster and does not sell commercial time the way an ad-supported network does, ratings are less critical than membership support. However, low viewing totals suggest a lack of interest that could ultimately affect membership and pledging efforts.

The station has replaced signature PBS shows such as "Nova" and "Antiques Roadshow" with repeats of British series such as "Prime Suspect," as well as documentaries and news programs imported from Japan, Canada and elsewhere. 

Station officials provided their own comparison — including figures from Saturday, the first PBS-free day, and Sunday — that showed ratings had declined only 23% compared with last year.

But spokeswoman Cathy Williams wrote in an e-mail: "We think it is much too early to evaluate the ratings, particularly since we're coming off a holiday weekend."

— Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: KCET President and Chief Executive Al Jerome in his office in October. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.





How did L.A. lose its major PBS flagship affliate?

KcetStarting Jan. 1, KCET-TV Channel 28 is severing its relationship with PBS to become the nation's largest independent public TV station. Los Angeles' flagship PBS channel will begin airing local programs, BBC repeats, news and documentaries made elsewhere, as KOCE-TV Channel 50 in Orange County carries most of the PBS shows for Southern California.

If major cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., can sustain a PBS player, why not Los Angeles?

In our Sunday Calendar feature, Melissa Maerz and Scott Collins look at KCET's dilemma. Critics complain that the station could have done much more with its resources. Howard Rosenberg, former television critic for the Los Angeles Times who now teaches at USC, noted that "you have this great creative community in Los Angeles, and KCET did very little to capitalize on the local entertainment industry." Meanwhile, insiders point to the complicated financial and power structure of the PBS-affiliate structure.

You can read more about why KCET split with PBS here.


Tavis Smiley -- KCET relationship ending badly

KCET divides new programming into themed blocks

KCET exits network fold to go independent

Photo: The KCET building on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times


KCET shuffles executive ranks as PBS signoff looms

Mare_cropped.jpg Just days away from signing off PBS and setting out as the nation's largest independent public broadcaster, KCET-TV is switching chief financial officers amid a larger management reshuffling.

Deborah Hinton, the station's longtime financial chief, is expected to step down at the end of the month, to be replaced by Camille Gonzalez, who is currently the controller. According to one insider, Hinton had expressed a desire to relocate and her move is not necessarily directly related to the station's pending change. Hinton could not be immediately reached for comment.

KCET, based in Silver Lake, announced earlier this year that it would leave PBS after months of disputes over dues and other issues. Starting next month, the PBS schedule will be broadcast in Southern California on KOCE-TV, based in Orange County. 

Meanwhile, Al Jerome, the president and chief executive at KCET, unveiled a raft of other management changes, entailing the creation of an office of the president. Mary Mazur, currently the station's programming chief, will become chief operating officer, a newly created position. Her old job will be filled by Bret Marcus, currently one of her lieutenants.

Susan Reardon, the station's general counsel, will be tapped as the chief development officer, where she will be charged with crucial revenue tasks including fundraising and membership marketing. Her role as general counsel will be assumed by June M. Baldwin, who is now the director of legal and business affairs.

Finally, Gordon Bell, who has overseen engineering and operations, will be bumped up to senior vice president.

"KCET has a very multi-talented group of senior executives, giving us the flexibility to restructure our team to better serve our needs as we become the nation's largest independent public television station," Jerome said in a statement.

-- Scott Collins

Photo: Mary Mazur will become the new chief operating officer of KCET. Credit: KCET




New schedule at the ready, KOCE-TV gets rechristened as PBS SoCal

KOCE-TV is about to get a name change.

The Orange County station, set to become the primary Southern California carrier of PBS programming Jan. 1, will be rechristened as PBS SoCal, acknowledging a signal that will be beamed across an immense swath: Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura counties in addition to Orange County.

"It will be under this PBS SoCal brand that we will begin to move forward with the expanded PBS content on our operation," PBS SoCal president and chief executive Mel Rogers said in a conference call with reporters Thursday morning.

The move comes as the existing PBS station in the area, Los Angeles' KCET-TV, prepares to sign off as a member station and will forge a path as an independent public broadcasting outlet.

Rogers said that the new name amounts to a branding effort because the station's call letters will remain the same and in fact will appear every hour on-air as mandated by the FCC. PBSSoCal4CGrad  

But station executives saw the change as a necessary step in getting local viewers to see the Orange County outlet — which previously carried just one-fourth of the regular PBS lineup — as the primary provider for the area.

"I've envied those markets where they've done it and made it geographic," Rogers said of the name. "I just think it's a better way to market yourselves."

The station also revealed a programming lineup that hews closely to the familiar PBS schedule (see below), with one important difference: Because of previous programming commitments, PBS SoCal will not carry "Charlie Rose." Instead, the popular talk show will appear on KVCR-TV, the secondary PBS outlet in San Bernadino.

"We hope to have him on in a matter of months," Rogers said. "It's probably my favorite show, so it's personally painful."

Meanwhile, the station will relocate soon from Huntington Beach to Costa Mesa, a move that was planned long before KCET broke away from the network. "We will also have some physical presence in Los Angeles eventually as well," Rogers said.

But Orange County residents shouldn't worry that the station has lost interest in their neighborhoods, Rogers said.

"We're obviously not going to be able to focus on Orange County anymore, but we're not going to begin ignoring it either," he said.

Following is the outline of PBS SoCal's new schedule:

Sun.: "Nature," "Masterpiece."

Mon.: "Antiques Roadshow," "American Experience." "Tavis Smiley" at 11 weeknights.

Tues.: Specials plus "Frontline."

Wed.: "Nova" and specials.

Thurs.: "This Old House" plus two hours of Huell Howser specials.

Fri.: News and public affairs shows, plus British comedies "Keeping Up Appearances" and "As Time Goes By."

Sat.: Lawrence Welk and "Great Performances."

— Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Tavis Smiley (here interviewing Robert Duvall) will move from KCET-TV to the newly rechristened PBS SoCal. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times.





Review: 'Doc Martin' on KCET

Clunes As KCET bumbles toward a post-PBS identity, due to take full effect Jan. 1, the station already is offering a preview of its future self. The first clear signal, announced even before the announcement of its decision to go "independent," was the transfer of the British-import anthology "Masterpiece" (formerly "Masterpiece Theatre") to Thursday to make room for a low-budget Sunday-night slate of old movies; beginning this Thursday, it will be paired with a separately imported U.K. series, ITV's "Doc Martin," and this, at least, is an excellent decision.

I've watched the four seasons of this delightfully frustrating series on DVD from start to finish over the last year or so -- all have been released domestically by Acorn Media -- and am very much a fan. (A side note: KOCE, which is expected to become the area's primary PBS station, also will begin airing "Masterpiece" on Sunday night, in its usual slot, with the premiere of Steven Moffat's Sherlock Holmes update, "Sherlock.")

"Doc Martin," much of which also has been available online and has previously aired on other public television stations, stars Martin Clunes (Richard Burbage in the film "Shakespeare in Love") as Dr. Martin Ellingham, a brilliant London surgeon who develops a crippling aversion to the sight of blood and retreats to a job as the GP in the Cornish fishing village where he spent his summers. It's easy enough to see it as a replay of "Northern Exposure," another show about a big-city doctor in a remote small town full of oddball characters, with a similar, prickly, opposites-attract tentative romance at its core. But we could as easily jump back to the 1983 Scottish film "Local Hero," or to any number of like comedies.

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