Sunday, March 06, 2005

Whatever Happened To? (#2 of a Series)

Whatever happened to PBS Pledge Weeks where the programming was actually worth watching?

One of the annoyances about PBS are Pledge Weeks, those periods when your local (and in the case of Canada not so local - I get two stations one in Detroit and, thanks to digital cable, one in Spokane) stations try to raise the money they need to meet operating expenses. Or, as the stations put it: "Pledge now to help keep public television alive in (insert name of city here). Without your generous pledges this service may not survive." Which, on the whole seems a worthy enough goal. There are good, worthwhile shows on PBS that a commercial network wouldn't put on, and although they don't occupy a lot of my viewing time there are a few that I don't miss. Too bad they don't show them during the beg-a-thons.

It wasn't always that way. Originally PBS here came from Fargo North Dakota, except for a few weeks when their transmitter blew down and we saw shows from the mothership in Boston. The Fargo station seemed to raise all of its money through bake sales because they never seemed to have Pledge Weeks. Believe me the cheap quality showed (but it was still better than the NBC and CBS stations we had at the time - the CBS station in particular looked as if it was been broadcast out of a tin shed on someone's farm with AV equipment the local high school had tossed out). When it finally dawned on someone at the CRTC that using stations that were 100 miles from the cable head-end in areas where summer electrical were as common as mosquitos wasn't really serving the public, we got stations in Detroit on our cable system. So did, and does, most Canada. The PBS station in Detroit, WTVS was our first experience with Pledge Weeks. The interruptions were annoying, but the programs shown during the Pledge periods were usually first rate. It was like that for a long time, a mixture of important new programs, old favourites and marathons of regular programs. It's hard to remember today but the first runs of the major Ken Burns series The Civil War and Baseball both occurred during PBS Pledge Weeks. And then there were the marathons (usually presented with a warning that if you don't pay for it you're going to lose it). My favourite was Doctor Who complete with denizens of the Detroit and Flint Dr. Who clubs - in costume - answering phones and always racking up huge amounts of donations. Of course the station would never tell anyone how much they needed to raise unless of course they didn't raise it.

Somewhere along the line things changed. Today, Pledge Weeks on PBS are not only longer - officially two weeks but the Detroit station usually follows the two weeks with one week of "Best of Pledge" which given what they show is an oxymoron of titanic proportions - but also create the feeling that one is watching a station that is primarily populated with infomercials. I always get the feeling at the end of a current Pledge Weeks show that I am expected to sign up for a self-help course or buy the set of CDs and DVDs that are being hawked. Consider some of the "highlights" from the current set of pledge weeks on WTVS Detroit:
  • Ageless Skin, Secrets from Dr. Denese

  • John Tesh: Worship at Red Rocks

  • Suze Ormond: for the Young, Fabulous & Broke

  • Stig Rosen: This is the Moment

  • Heart of Pilates

  • California Dreaming: The Songs of The Mamas and Papas

  • David Carradine: Tai Chi for the Mind and Body

  • Gary Null: Power Aging

  • Art of Health with Gary Null

  • Andre Rieu: Live in Tuscany (on tape)

  • Daniel O'Donnell: Encore In Branson

  • Dr Wayne Dyer: The Power of Intention

  • Christianne Northrup M.D. (Actual show title is Mother-Daughter Wisdom: Creating a Legacy of Physical & Emotional Health)
This might not be so objectionable if it were the one station but this sort of line-up is also on the Spokane PBS station KSPS (check the schedule for the week of March 6) and WGBH Boston.

The major question I have is simply this: why does PBS think that this sort of programming will get money from me? For me, this sort of programming is so far removed from what I expect from PBS, not to mention what I actually watch on PBS that it is more likely to get me to abandon the station than it is to get me to support it, and the longer it runs - the Best of Pledge showings - the more it angers me. Are they being paid to put these things on? I don't know but if the trend to longer pledge periods and more pledge periods continues, someday they could lose me as a viewer no matter how much I like This Old House.

No comments: