The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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KCET's post-PBS incarnation still unfocused [Updated]

December 7, 2010 | 12:15 pm

Charlie RoseKCET will ring out 2010 on Dec. 31 with “Live From Lincoln Center,” a performance of the New York Philharmonic with piano virtuoso Lang Lang.

Exactly what will happen after that remains to be seen, as L.A.’s longtime public television leader continues to scramble to solidify its programming in its post-PBS incarnation. Station executives told The Times in August that they would drop out of the public TV network, deeming the dues too high.

Several insiders at the station told The Big Picture this week that they’re worried about how long it’s taking to finalize the new lineup. They would like to be promoting the new programs to viewers anticipating the loss of public TV favorites like “NewsHour,” “Antiques Roadshow”  and “Nova.”

But Mary Mazur, executive vice president and chief content officer, said planning remains on track for  “a really strong schedule.”  She said a final schedule should be ready by the end of the week.

Mazur stressed that not all programs after Jan. 1 will be new. Among those returning will be British programs like the spy drama "MI5" and "Doc Martin," a dramedy about a small-town doctor. Also remaining on the air will be the travelogue "Globe Trekker" and “Visiting With Huell Howser.”

[For the record, 3:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said KCET would broadcast Huell Howser's "California's Gold" after Jan. 1. That show will be on another public television station, KOCE, and KCET will air “Visiting With Huell Howser.”]

"SoCal Connected," which has won several awards for public affairs coverage, will expand from a couple of dozen programs last season to as many as 40 in its third season, Mazur said.

Filling much of the rest of the schedule (on which days, at which hours, remains unclear) will be a mix of other programs, many of them imported. The science program “Nature of Things” comes from Canada. The mainstay “NewsHour” will likely be replaced by news programs from the BBC and Japan’s NHK network.

The market will decide how much it likes the new lineup. One of the new programs will be the two-decade old “First Look,” featuring directors like Ron Howard and Martin Scorcese talking about their films. Management said the show will provide a powerful retrospective, but at least one insider worries that shows produced in 1989 could feel like retreads.

There had been talk that the independently produced “Charlie Rose Show” might remain another comfortable go-to show for KCET regulars, but KOCE of Orange County will be picking it up. The station will become the primary PBS affiliate for Southern California.

“It’s a scramble to try to nail everything down on deals and productions and to try to create something that makes sense,” said one employee, far less sanguine than executives about the changes.  Said another station worker: “We don’t have a January schedule and that’s a little bizarre, a little unsettled.”

KCET would like to produce more programs closer to home too. The station has been deluged with proposals from producers, many of them good ideas that could be attractive to viewers, according to KCET execs. The key now will be raising money, otherwise the ideas will remain just ideas -- and KCET has had a lot of those over the years.

Speaking from Washington, one PBS network insider said the KCET defection remains the talk of public television. "I don’t know anyone who can figure out how they are going to make it," said the executive, who asked not to be named. "It is so bewildering to all of us."

-- James Rainey

Photo: The respected "Charlie Rose" show will move from KCET to Orange County-based KOCE in the new year, when KCET leaves the PBS network. KCET had hoped to retain the program. Credit: Jonathan Fickies / Bloomberg

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