DAVID BIANCULLI

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TOM BRINKMOELLER

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DAVID SICILIA

NOEL HOLSTON

JONATHAN STORM

 
 
 
 
 
PBS Pledge Drives Worse Than a Bad Habit
December 5, 2015  | By Tom Brinkmoeller  | 22 comments
 

As a former smoker, I can tell you that what once was acceptable, then shown to be a tar-and-nicotine-paved path to no good, is a tough and awful habit to break.


The people who run PBS are similarly addicted to an awful habit. Trouble is, no one to date has convinced them they should stop. That addiction is to the once-acceptable, now detestably unhealthy way the network's stations raise money several times a year. We're in what they call a "pledge period" now, as any usually devoted PBS fan can tell you, and it smells worse than an overflowing ashtray.

Let's start with the bait-and-switch issue. There are programs perennially shown during these trips into bad ideas that one would never think of seeing during any ordinary time watching a PBS affiliate. There are self-help, lose-weight, make-money learn-to-play-a-piano programs one might expect to see late at night on a Fox affiliate that has even less to show after midnight than it has before. (21 Days to a Slimmer Younger You with Dr. Kellyann, top, left.)

One doesn't expect to see this kind of programming on a network otherwise known for high quality. Most of those who love regular PBS programming are appalled by these programs and their deviation from the norm. As a result, loyal fans are lost, at least temporarily. And the people who are attracted to these misfits may cough up some money, but they may not be pleased when the drive is over and Suze heads south for another couple of months to be replaced by science shows, Brit dramas and how-to shows -- all of which inhabit a plateau totally dissimilar to shows that have the words "wheat belly" in the title.
 
Then there are the pleasant special shows, usually performance-oriented, that should last an hour but usually take twice as long. (Steve Martin and Edie Brickell in a Great Performances pledge special, left.) Why? Because the allegedly brilliant minds that are responsible for shows like "Nova" and "American Masters" think punctuating a good program with endless pleading for money makes sense. Compare it to buying a car. You go into a showroom and either like what you see and think it's worth the cost or you don't. A sales person may try to browbeat you into capitulation. He may disappear for inordinate amounts of time to check a fact with a manager, and may forget to return your keys that they borrowed to appraise your car. But they don't want to give up. Such tactics might work on the dimwit characters of endless failed sitcoms, but they are insulting to the typical fan of the normal PBS quality level. It's an insult thrown regularly throughout each broadcast year at people who have proven their loyalty.
 
These and other tasteless tactics of PBS pledge drives are as out-of-place and gauchely mistaken as a platter of White Castles on a Downton Abbey banquet table. That these judgment errors continue unchanged and unchallenged isn't easily forgiven. Public radio stations with which I'm familiar don't rely on stunts and bad manners to receive support. So why is the larger sibling so clueless? 

Going back to the top of this rant, there once was a time when smokers were welcomed almost everywhere and no one thought of challenging such negative behavior. Today the smokers who persist not only are not welcomed, they are treated as the worst and most undesirable of creatures by many. 

Please, PBS, clean up your act, break the habit and treat your fans with the respect they deserve. Because right now you stink.

 
 
 
 
 
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22 Comments
 
 
Marion Strauss
The worst fundraising evening ever. Who are these people?
Jun 12, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Aurilla Woodburn
It seems that fund raising is more frequent and more irritating. Programming for a younger millenial and gen-X audience might draw funds from a different group. Boomers need to be exposed to life-giving new ideas as well as memories. The Lawrence Well audience is nearly gone.
Ken Burns, Nature, History, Masterpiece... Fabulous!
Mar 12, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
robert kinzie
Dear PBS, Your special on Ken Burns was antcipated with many high expectations! however, the program was a disaster. The culprit was not Ken Burns but rather pbs mindless, endless fund raiseing.By my rough calculation there were 40 active program minutes verses 50 funding missives. These appeals for donations were particularly disruptive because of the nature of the documentary you were showing. Any coherance was lost, your funding appeals destroyed the program. I must thankyou however for making Anne of a Thousand Days more interesting then it should be.Watching Richard Burton lopping off his wifes heads was more enjoyable then knowing about sustaining fund raiseing donation.As a matter of fact I would have joyfully donated 13.00 to keep good king Henry on the air.In the future would you kindly publish the schedule of your fundraiseing spots and their length so we can organize ourselves to avoid your annoying drivil from very sincere and commited schills. We can always find OTHG
Mar 8, 2017   |  Reply
 
Robert Kinzie
To finish my last sentance which my skill or gremlins prevented letters from typing. We can always find other programing that is equal or often better on BBC CBC etc. Thaqnkyou PS Please Please Please stop telling us the program will return in a few seconds.Tell us its back in 10 minutes or whatever. It,s this kind of endless lying that has across all media programs, advertiseing etc thats partially led to the general lack of trust thats led to trump.
Mar 8, 2017
 
 
 
M fleck
It seems after pledge drive all the employees go on big vacation? And another thing I've seen along in wilderness 17 times.
Dec 12, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Andrew Boneparth
For the most part, the negative comments regarding the pledge drives are myopic and callous. You naysayers should be ashamed of yourselves, most of all you Tom Brinkmoeller. The artistry presented in the pledge shows are of the highest quality by any standard. Find some other socially disgraceful thing in this world to put your judgement on - and your money on. Don't pick on the non-profit that presents the stuff that you like and that comes to you on the backs of those who care enough to give their money and time to make it possible. If you have a problem dealing with the "begathon" make a donation for the Passport to let you stream the series episodes you missed while you wait for the new season. You're watching PUBLIC TV. Maybe if you'd open your wallets like you open your big mouths maybe some of begging can be minimized. Or get your butt into the local PBS station studio during pledge time and take pledges over the phone. Meanwhile enjoy NBR, PBS Newshour, etc. regularly.
Dec 7, 2016   |  Reply
 
diana
I found this website trying to find out how many weeks per year pbs has pledge drives. I still have no idea because my question was not answered, but I do know in my viewing area it's going on 3 weeks in a row and the programing they offer is horrible. As far as I can tell, Andrew Boneparth must be a democrat, because he certainly can't handle someone having a different opinion than him. The person that wrote this article has an opinion and chose to put it on the internet, that is her perogative, you have no business telling her what she should do or not do, or how she should handle her dislike of "begathons". You have no idea if she donates money to pbs or not. She probably donates more than you do. That's my opinion, so don't bother telling me what I should do or not do, because I do what I please, speak my mind as I see fit, just as you do. Your opinion does not have an effect on my life what so ever.
Dec 12, 2016
 
 
 
chip kotzmann
Great comments and my sentiments exactly. Since they insist on changing programming during pledge drives to throw in some old classic productions (e.g. I Claudius or Death of a Salesman) or do something really innovative like collaborate with one of the local theater companies and televise a decent play. At least that might bring in a few new eyeballs rather than chasing most of us off to our ROKU or the drivel on most network TV.
Nov 30, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Lydia Atkins
I agree absolutely. It drives us away!
Nov 27, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Paul
I'm in Atlanta and have two PBS channels to view, GPBDT and WPBAD. It's bad enough when one channel has a pledge drive going on (which seems like forn2 weeks at a time) but when both have drives going simultaneously I wanta blow my brains out. This is GPBDT's lineup for today: Suze Orman/Financial Solutions; 21 Days/Slimmer Younger You; Age Fix w/ Anthony Youn, MD; Fuhrman's End Dieting Forever; John Denver: Country Boy; and The Highwayman Live. This is WPBAD's current lineup for today: Suze Orman/Financial Solutions; Eat Fat, Get Thin w/ Dr Hyman; Age Fix w/ Anthony Youn MD; Eat to Live w/ Joel Fuhrman; Magic Moments/50's Pop; R&B 40: A Soul Spectacular; The Highwaymen Live; Eat to Live w/ Joel Fuhrman; The Pain Antidote/ Dr Mel Pohl, etc. I also notice that they rarely do live drives anymore. They're all pre recorded. I even recognize some pre recordings from several years ago. None of this makes me want to pledge.
Aug 21, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Ingrid Fordham
If only the avalanche of new technology could invent a system which allows for regular programming to continue once one has made a contribution. I, for one, have had it with "The Carpenters", James Taylor, Suze Orman, the diet "doctors", etc.etc., all of which have appeared for years. I, for one, turn to commercial channels, or turn off the TV. I bet PBS would double their pledge money if we could just contribute and be done with it.
Jun 16, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Peter Schorer
The president of KQED, San Francisco, makes well over $400,000 a year, including bonuses, perks, etc. His staff is no doubt equally overpaid. A first step to reducing the number and length of pledge drives would be to cut the salaries of these free-loaders by 50%. The head of a ho-hum PBS TV station simply does not deserve more than $200,000 a year. -- Peter Schorer
Jun 6, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
jerry
oh my god. for years I've complained about these dreadfu, tediuos disruptive l begathons - only to receive pithy, angry emails from staff - I mentioned the obvious 'bait and switch' and they went ballistic, blocking all future comments. just saying. sorry, not sending in anything!
Mar 15, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
David Daniels
Right freaking ON !! And how long do the drives last - used to be a week but now....I am a long time contributor - and am used to just tuning out during this period, but to turn on the tv tonight and see it still going on made me angry.
Mar 15, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Marg M
Our local PBS station(s) in Syracuse, NY (WCNY) has been pledge drive-free for many years now! I was skeptical at first that they could make it work, but however they're doing it, they have been very successful!
Dec 10, 2015   |  Reply
 
Tom
Thanks, Marg M, for the tip. With your help, I was able to do a follow-up story about WCNY.
Dec 18, 2015
 
 
 
Michael F
I am ever so grateful that the widows of departed industrialists and hedge fund managers have chipped in to support dear old Inspector Lewis and James Hathaway. And yet there's something about traveling down a river whilst wearing an exquisite outfit designed by Ralph Lauren that just makes me want to scream like that animated young lady at the beginning of each episode of Masterpiece Mystery. These adverts for overpriced river trips and designer goods are getting a little long in the tooth but I'll take them over the endless days and nights of wheat belly lectures, financial advice and doo-wop shows.

I love the regular PBS programming but there is just so much quality programming available to viewers nowadays. Honestly, if I were PBS, I would tap Mark Zuckerberg on shoulder. He and the Mrs. may be interested in underwriting some children's and science programming with this LLC they've just established.
Dec 9, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Jim
PBS and TCM are my go to stations. TCM airs classic movies without commercial interruption. You never see a fund drive. They do push the TCM movies on dvd, cruises, wines and an assortment of other items. That's Ok. I am perfectly fine with that. You have to bring in money somehow to support all the people that work there and the enormous amount of money it takes to run a station such as theirs. They do it so effortlessly and seamless. They take the time in between movies to air their products but in a tasteful manner. Please PBS. Think about your image during these times of horrible programming you have on every night. Take a page from TCM and do it in doses throughout the day and evening. You have a tremendous following and I am sure if you want to sell Downton Abby products before or after the show we would all understand that better than a 6 week barrage of boring programming.
Dec 8, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
I use public radio much more than public TV and find that both media in begathon mode to be completely different. Sure,radio's money needs are far less than TV, but TV begging goes against all logic.
Someone will experience a show and, if satisfactory,will return. After a period when a habit can develop and the medium asks for help,the user is more apt to contribute. Like it,help it. With public TV,the opposite is true. Hankering for a good Charlie Rose interview after current events leave you needing some common sense from those smarter than you? Sorry,Suze wants to shame you into wise spending habits. Followed by the Faux Pink Floyd Experience to loosen the wallet. Charlie Rose-online or wait till next week. Meanwhile,public radio may use a clip show during pledge time to highlight what the show does best on a regular basis. Hmm,which makes sense?
Also,check how much the boss of your local station gets and ask if that's right.
Dec 8, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Chris W.
Couldn't agree more - have been wondering for a couple years now what was up with this near constant begging for money by PBS. The weird thing is that my local NPR station does 3 fundraising drives of 14-20 days spaced out every 4 months and the PBS station o+o by the same entity [KQED in SF] has a near continuous begging cycle. Does PBS dictate this to the local affiliates ? What can we do to get PBS to modernize their approach ?
Dec 6, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Christina S.
I couldn't agree more. We call these fund-raising periods "begathons" and in my local area, it seems like there's a begathon every 4 - 6 weeks. I remember when it used to be 2 or 3 times a year. You're right - the programming is horrendous.
Dec 6, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Mark
Totally agree. I stopped giving to PBS years ago, instead I give my PBS money to NPR. They seem to know how to integrate fundraising into their regular programming. The people who run PBS are idiots when it comes to fundraising. According to the PBS ombudsman, PBS actually rents out their airwaves during these pledge drives to the charlatans such as Suzie Orman and others. They have got to find a better way.
Dec 6, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Mary Prodger
I agree completely. Why they think I'll donate when one of my "must watch" shows, Gwen and her crew is preempted is absurd! Get real PBS.
Dec 5, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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