Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, joins Chicago Tonight to discuss her vision for the future of public media, the challenges PBS and its member stations face with fundraising and editorial control, and how public media can grow and build their audiences.
The 44-year-old Public Broadcasting Service has more than 350 member stations, including WTTW. The nonprofit system distributes a mix of educational and scripted shows, targeted at both adults and children. It's not quite a TV network in the traditional sense, with a complicated mix of funders and program producers.
PBS has seen runaway success in recent years with shows like Downton Abbey, and other scripted dramas like Wolf Hall, Sherlock, and Mr. Selfridge. (Much to the likely chagrin of PBS and its affiliates, Downton Abbey will be ending after its upcoming sixth season.) PBS has also faced criticism in recent weeks, after it was reported that actor Ben Affleck pressured the producers of the genealogy-focused show Finding Your Roots not to include information that an ancestor of his owned slaves. PBS and New York-based member station WNET say they’ve launched an investigation into the matter.
PBS was also criticized in a New York Times op-ed last month for de-emphasizing docu-series like POV and Independent Lens, a charge PBS CEO Paula Kerger and the producers of those programs fervently deny. Kerger sees educational TV as a big opportunity for PBS, as more and more cable networks focus their efforts on reality shows.