The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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KCET dumped PBS, now holds door open to remarriage

January 18, 2011 |  7:04 pm

AlJeromeKCET KCET's New Year's break from the PBS system and its move to become an independent station seemed quite final and irreversible.

But in an interview published in a trade publication, the hard-charging head of KCET's board held out the possibility that KCET might one day return to PBS.

Huh? Given the hard feelings at the public network that seems a bit like NBC offering to make nice with Conan O'Brien. But perhaps nothing is eternal in love ...and television.

Speaking to Broadcasting & Cable, KCET Chairman Gordon Bava was asked if the station might return to the public TV network's "fold." His response: "That is certainly a possibility. We have not terminated our relationship with PBS, we have suspended it indefinitely. We aren’t sure PBS is willing to accept that distinction, but that is our express intention. So that when the dust settles and we see maybe in a couple of years what the future of PBS holds and its role will be, we certainly would be open to returning on a reasonable and sustainable basis."

KCET stunned many people in the small and insular public broadcasting world when it said last year (to The Times, incidentally) that it would break with the dominant public TV network. Bava and station Chief Executive Al Jerome said KCET simply couldn't afford to pay the roughly $7 million in annual "dues" levied by PBS.

Bava also says in the Broadcasting & Cable interview that he thinks many other public stations will be in danger of closing down if the federal government cuts funding--as congressional Republicans have proposed.

The stations have already been losing support rapidly, Bava said, adding: "In this era of budget cuts and eliminating government services and a reluctance to increase taxes, the viability of the system is in question."

Bava told the trade publication that public TV may, like the auto industry, have to be retooled in order to justify its taxpayer subsidy. He suggested a "new grand bargain" between public TV, Congress and the American people.

With KCET out of PBS, the vast bulk of PBS programming now comes to Southern California via Orange County-based KOCE. KOCE Chief Executive Mel Rogers previously expressed puzzlement about KCET's flight from PBS. On Tuesday, Rogers told my colleague Scott Collins that he found Bava's remark about a possible return to PBS "curious and surprising.”

PBS execs could not be reached. But given Bava's previous tough talk about PBS and its fees, he must have stunned a lot of people by holding the door open to a renewed relationship with KCET. I doubt many of the people in charge at PBS would welcome a second marriage.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: KCET Chief Executive Al Jerome, who helped engineer the public television station's flight from the PBS network. Now the chairman of the KCET board, Gordon Bava, has held open the door that KCET might someday return to PBS. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times