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PBS Exec Session Kicks off the 2020 Fall Press Tour

By Valerie Milano

Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 7/29/20 – PBS and Paula Kerger kicked off the 50th anniversary of PBS and its summer press tour in our new, dystopian cyberworld Tuesday. Judy Woodruff, Ken Burns and Dr. Louis Gates Jr. were on hand at the PBS executive session to assure a jittery public that PBS is still on the case and aiming its media lens at the current state of affairs and is here to help. Kerger kept the focus tight on diversity in programming and community outreach and restated the network’s long-standing commitment to keeping the “education” in educational Television. An aspect of increasing importance in a world of virtual classrooms that are unavailable to many on the lower end of the economic scale.

Paula Kerger, who has led PBS since 2006, signed a five-year extension in 2019
(Photo: PBS)

Considering the current events surrounding George Floyd and the BLM movement, Kerger spent much of her time outlining new programming relating to Black History and Community outreach. A particular source of pride is American Portrait; a digital website where people can come and share their feelings and experiences about this incredible era in American history. Some of these stories will provide content for an hour-long broadcast about the Covid 19 crisis titled “In This Together”. PBS Kids will devote a half-hour special in the fall to PBS Kids Talk About: Race and Racism addressing the omnipresent racial tensions in our country. Dr. Louis Gates Jr. will present The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song a two-part series outlining the 400 year history of the Black faith community.

It was also a comfort to know that the entire Ken Burns collection of epic documentaries would be available on the Prime PBS Documentaries Channel and/or PBS Passport.

Judy Woodruff 2018

Judy Woodruff waxed nostalgic about her years working with the twin towers of broadcast news Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer while reminding us that PBS set the standard for immersive news coverage during the Nixon impeachment hearings. Gravitas and low-key professionalism are the hallmarks of the PBS news division and are qualities somewhat lacking in the mega-decibel, pundit driven cable news universe we now inhabit.

Ken Burns gave the house bound audience some nuts and bolts insight into the challenges of production in a world where the socially intimate process of film editing has morphed into something more solitary and disconnected through the use of tele-conferencing. Burns also detailed how location shoots have evolved into lone wolf, run and gun exercises with reduced manpower and radically altered logistics.

Dr. Louis Gates gave a heartfelt shout-out to PBS and its rapid response in addressing The Black Lives Matter movement and the new racial landscape in the country as well as its history as a conveyer of facts and truth to a world starved for both.

Kerger addressed the PBS budget cut of 6.4 million in content and marketing. Clearly PBS is in hunker down mode along with everyone else. With so much of its revenue depending on public support, it stands to reason that the catastrophic economic impact of Covid-19 would trickle down to impact PBS and its budget. However, Kerger conveyed confidence that smart budgeting and a devoted public will help PBS weather the storm.