Monday, December 18, 2006

PBS pledge breaks


Will PBS ever show the James Taylor concert when they’re not doing a pledge break? Or anything decent for that matter? It seems that PBS is either groveling for money or showing a FRONTLINE where we learn that DDT is bad.

But when it’s piper paying time, expect to see the old black & white heavily medicated Judy Garland variety special, the surviving geriatric kings of Doo-Wop, a documentary on the Mama’s & Papa’s (shown on an endless loop in New York because Mama Michelle Phillips once participated in their pledge break), and a black & white Roy Orbison concert that looks like one of Dick Clark’s old home movies.

It’s pretty clear who they’re aiming at – the disposable income rich baby boom generation.

I have some questions.

Who are these pitch people that the local stations get to do these pledge breaks? In L.A. they’re not even recognizable on a Stephanie Edwards level. It’s too bad Dr. Gene Scott is no longer with us. He could’ve gotten on there, filled their quota in two hours and still brought in enough extra to fund his new chapel ice skating rink.

At what point are they going to realize WE’VE HEARD THE SPIEL? For thirty years now. And some of it no longer applies. They say PBS is commercial free. Uh… not really. In addition to the pledge breaks (which usually drone on for at least ten minutes), the underwriters manage to sneak in commercials during their shows. PBS also claims they’re the only educational channel on the dial. Not so anymore. Now we have the Hitler Channel…I mean, HISTORY CHANNEL, DISCOVERY CHANNEL, BIOGRAPHY CHANNEL, ANIMAL PLANET, FOOD CHANNEL, local access, and numerous other informative alternatives.

I’m still a proponent of Public Broadcasting and would love to see it succeed. But a new campaign is necessary. So here’s what I propose: PBS should realize their audience is baby boomers, and go right for them. Instead of stressing education and lack of commercials, what about saying this?

Look around, baby boomers. All of the commercial networks HATE YOU. They don’t give a shit if you’re watching. In fact, they’d rather you DIDN’T watch because you’re pulling up their precious average age. Do you think you will EVER see Roy Orbison on ABC? Fuck no. (I think you can still say fuck on PBS) They’ll rerun EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT first. The only mama & papa you’ll see on ABC are Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith. Face it, War Babies, you’re obsolete, irrelevant, just taking up space. We’re the only network you have left. So give generously, boomers, or face 500 channels all covering Lindsay Lohan’s rehab attempt. Is that what you want?? The choice is yours but hurry. These Doo-wop groups are dropping like flies.”

Short of Dr. Scott I think that would work. And they wouldn’t have to give out tote bags either.

Maybe then, just once, I could enjoy the James Taylor concert without clutching my wallet.

32 comments:

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I love the Doo-Wop shows. When the pledge breaks come on I just change channels.

Zach said...

If they put on a show called "These Doo Wop Group Are Dropping Like Flies" I'd go for the pledge package that comes with the poorly mastered DVDs.

mcp said...

The Roy Orbison concert was orginally done by HBO and is famous for being the last time k.d. lang wore a dress.

PBS did a country special that was like the Doo-Wop show. The difference was that while some of the acts were older than dirt they still had their voices. Most of the Doo-Wop acts were younger but sounded like frogs.

One thing about PBS documentries vs. the A&E networks (A&E, Biography, Hitler) is that when PBS does a biography about a music performer they don't cheap out with music rights or clips.

As for the pledge breaks, it could be worse. In the UK, the BBC charges for a yearly TV Licence 131.50 Pounds for color (colour) or 44 Pounds for black and white cheap bastards. And you don't get a tote bag. But if you're blind you only pay 50 Percent of the full licence fee. I wonder if they can get the black and white licence?

sparkylulu said...

When I was 12 the pledge drives were driven by broadcasts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail......Must have seen that a dozen times or so it feels.
Is PBS redundant now? Feels like it

Anonymous said...

Okay, it must be said:

Your use of DDT of an "absolute evil" we're all tired of hearing about, as if it were as true as the laws of gravity, is just plain weird. I'm no DDT salesman, but the statistics on theoretical lives saved, versus actual lives lost to malaria, is shocking, appalling, and not in the "absolute evil" camp. Your post actually credits why the age-camp you try to succor is largely ignored as too "set in their ways".

Still, I LOVE Cheers and Frasier.

Anonymous said...

I wondered how Michelle Phillips ended on there once. I figured there seemed to be two competing Mamas and Papas documentaries produced around the same time. One is very intelligent, provides alot of material as to how they vocalized, song structure and the like, also John's lifestyle, etc..and one is hers.

Watch PBS telethons is kind of badge of honor, in the order of knowing the lines to Rocky Horror. I know that Roy Orbinson special (costello, tom waits, bruce...was a great one) inside out, the mentioned Mamas and Papas, and that Judy concert, and so on..

But what I am always amazed at is the hosts ongoing, breathlessly upbeat talk, talk, talk. It is truly an art form.

Anonymous said...

if pbs would show Lindsay Lohen naked in rehab I would pay heaps

Anonymous said...

What the PBS don't tell you is that even if you give in and decide to donate, it doesnt end there. You will receive more junk mail from them than you can imagine. I've been there. Each one asking for more money, because this year it was really, really tight! So it doesn't matter whatever amount you give. If you were generous and figured that is the one time you do so, forget it. Phone calls, mail and ultimately, the suspicous feeling your name has been given onto other charitable foundations.

If they just said, for 1000 dollars, you get a chip that blocks the telethon, and you won't hear from us, no mail - for a year - they'd get their quota.

Tom Quigley said...

I've noticed that on the last few of those "Doo-wop/Oldies/Folkies/Sixties" revival/reunion shows, T.J. Lubinsky has been adding canned applause during the performances. Guess he figures all those audiences with arthritic hands and fingers can't clap loud enough for the mics to pick up the sound... Maybe what they should be offering for a pledge reward is a case of maximum-strength Tylenol...

John Deckard said...

Amen. I was just diatribing with my wife about this yesterday. In NYC, it feels like they're running pledge drives all the time.

I have just about given up on PBS. The programming is all about selling nostalgia to the people with the deepest pocketbooks. The last few weeks has been the endless replaying of documentaries of Beverly Sills and Victor Borge. And if I have to see them playing "Over Italy" one more frigging time... Here's a thought- maybe, instead of sending PBS pledge 'talent' to Europe to make pledge snippits, why don't they try using that money for a little programming.

It's bad enough having the Supermarket of the World and oil rigs funding most of the major programming, but the programming is just about D.O.A. The whole beast is starting to look a little too corporate and top-heavy.

Not that I'm bitter or anything...

DrBear said...

At least Wisconsin's Public TV is a bit hipper - a special on Blue Man Group drew their biggest pledge drive audience.

SharoneRosen said...

our local cable carries three different PBS stations... and I've only seen the Blue Man special once, ONCE!!!!! MORE BLUE MAN! What I have found over and over and over is 5 pasty Irish girls (the Celtic Woman women) in ballgowns singing in small, wispy, reedy voices in front of a castle sounding all the world like a talented middle school choir. Where do I send my money to make it stop????

Anonymous said...

I volunteered at a PBS pledge drive a few weeks ago and I can tell you.. yes, they reserve certain programming for pledge drives. The one I did, though, they were showing something that skewed much older than you're thinking - all my callers were 75+.

You have to understand that when they stop the pitch and start the show up again, THE CALLS STOP. Dead halt. We were all chatting around the snack table until the next pledge break. It doesn't matter that we've all heard the pledge speech, it doesn't matter if they flash the phone number during the program - people only call when there's a talking head on the screen telling them to and they can see the workers taking other people's calls in the background.

PBS does this because it works. They're not stupid. I thought the same thing until I did it myself - and you'd be surprised how many people call to get the dvd version of the special they're already watching. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing (last poster again) -

anyone doubting the necessity of PBS on television today has never seen FRONTLINE.

Also AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and many other documentary programs.

They do an awful lot of quality programming when they're not begging for money. If you're sick of pledge drives, how about convincing congress to kick in more dough?

gary said...

Just wondering:

If the "P" in PBS actually stands for PLEDGE, what does the "B.S." stand for?

Oh nevermind, I think I've got it.

Tom Quigley said...

RE: What I have found over and over and over is 5 pasty Irish girls (the Celtic Woman women) in ballgowns singing in small, wispy, reedy voices in front of a castle sounding all the world like a talented middle school choir....

There are those would probably say that their music "sounds so ethereal that you swear that it's being carried on the breath of Enya" (or maybe on the wind of Enya).... They played the same damn thing at least three times last week on the local PBS station here in Rochester, NY... I then decided what for me would be the perfect Irish-themed Christmas party: a case of Guiness, a personal command performance by Celtic Woman -- and a stripper pole....

Mary Stella said...

The holiday PBS begathon is the only time I get to see American Ballet Theater's performance of The Nutcracker, with Mikail Baryshnikov. I don't care that it was filmed 25 plus years ago.

I don't know why PBS runs their fund drives in December. My credit cards are so tapped from shopping, I don't want to donate at this time of year. On the other hand, maybe they think that my cards are already out of my wallet for online shopping, so they'll hook me on an impulse donation.

They'd have better luck between Christmas and New Year's if the pitch said, "Donate now for the charitable tax deduction before it's too late."

Anonymous said...

At least they're not replaying "The Civil War."

Anonymous said...

Gene Janson, long time Chicago PBS pledge drive host, recently died--while performing onstage in a Gore Vidal play:
http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=local&id=4635363

We get endless repeats of some European pops-type orchestra. He must be the Arthur Fiedler equivalent.
Mercifully, have not seen the Peter, Paul & Mary special yet this year. At one point PP&M dive in amongst a choir for a super, super peppy "We wish you a Merry Christmas." The expression of the choir members around them is priceless. Maybe they ad libbed that part.
Also it is painful watching the audience try to clap along in time to the folk numbers. . .
---Me

benson said...

Not to sound like Little Johnny Sunshine, but PBS's Antiques Roadshow spawned one of the funniest Frasier's ever...

Veneer!

Anonymous said...

I worked at a PBS station in Michigan for three years and, believe me, everyone in the lower ranks of the station asked the same questions you did. Management could trot out the fact that every year that same damned Lawrence Welk special made mad money alongside the latest Riverdance/Three Tenors/Charlotte Church ripoff and so we were "treated" to the same noise every year. Not that this (or the fact that they signed our checks) kept us from sniping every single one of these shows as they spooled out. And, believe me, when the night involves hearing "Ave Maria" somehow performed in the same fashion across four different concert "specials..."

What made it more maddening is that the station was based on the campus of a college, so while they may have been targeting a very fruitful market, they were also ignoring the students who probably would have twigged for a truly unique show. Sure, Charlotte Church was closer to "our" age, but come on!

Then again, I still have a hard time working up the enthusiasm to spend $75 for the DVD of a program that I know I'll be able to find for $20 on Amazon if I just wait six months. It happens practically every time.

Will Teullive said...

PBS seems to be big on running bad 70's British sitcoms like "Are You Being Served?" and "Good Neigbours"

Bad dental work aside..these shows really bite.

Here's an idea...How about dropping some Benny Hill on our non-cultured asses?

I might even send in a buck or two during pledge time.

hobbster said...

Pledge drives are the pits as far as I'm concerned -- but apparently they work.

I've enjoyed PBS since childhood, watch a few PBS shows regularly, and have contributed a couple times. However, there is 99% of the time NOTHING on during the pledge drive that I remotely care to watch (in 30 years I may feel differently). I don't think they've shown the Blue Man Group special here in Denver. But of course the shows I do like to watch are NOT on for what seems like the month or more duration of the pledge drives. So they're not doing much to get more of my dollars.

Don't even get me started on the not-a-commercial commercials.

Oh, and bonus: here in Denver we have two, count them two, local PBS stations (one decidedly more liberal than the other). You guessed it -- they run their pledge drives concurrently.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Hitler Channel... did anyone catch that new special last week on deciphering Hitler's silent home movies? It involved new technology that specifically analyzes what he & his henchmen were saying & then allows us to clearly hear the dialogue. More fascinating than anything I've seen lately on the networks, that's for sure. Now if they could have only invented that technology during "The Osbournes."

mcp said...

In defense of the '70s British sitcoms such as "Good Neighbors" (original title "The Good Life"), I think these are what PBS should show. That is, late on Saturday and Sunday nights. I learned to appreciate British comedy from my local PBS station showing "Good Neighbors," and "To the Manor Born." Of course this might explain my strange sexual attraction to Penelope Keith.

At the moment, BBC America has the rights to the Thames TV Benny Hills. I would like PBS to show the three black and white Thames Benny Hills along with his BBC work. Also, I want PBS to get the rights to "Dads Army" and "Handcock's Half Hour." These would not only be entertaining but would be educational as well because all British sitcoms are based on these two shows. They are the British "I Love Lucy" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

Anonymous said...

Do you think that PBS programming execs, or even just producers are pitched certain show-tunes heavy productions as "these would be great for heavy rotation during PBS telethons"?

Joseph Angier said...

I worked at the L.A. PBS station for a few years (but not in the pledge dept.), but I did pick up a few bits of info. Those programs you see during pledge: James Taylor concert, Doo-Wop special, even certain episodes of American Experience and Nova (with clever pledge breaks consciously stuck in the scripts), are largely financed by a special PBS pledge drive fund. In other words, producers pitch shows to this fund that can feed the pledge drive beast. And what that means is: skew older. In 1988, when I started, it was a Glenn Miller Band reunion. Today it means the Mamas and Papas. Like every other broadcaster, PBS would like to skew younger ... but when it comes to opening up a checkbook, youth don't do it (even when they like the programming). Sixty year olds are the ones that give the lion's share of donations. And I agree that the proliferation of ads-manque on PBS has become odious, but as someone who's also done documentaries for cable, I can tell you that the encroachment of ad-time is even more severe on those channels. And yes, as mcp and others pointed out, a PBS documentary is usually much higher-budgeted than an average History or Discovery Channel show. And I would argue that that difference shows on screen in the quality of the camera-work and editing, and the use of (often expensive) stock footage and music cues.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of whiners. The Jim Lehrer Newshour alone makes PBS worth donating to. Consider the alternatives.

The pledged drives do indeed suck. The Sesame Street characters could do a better job.

TCinLA said...

Actually, "A black and white night" was a humongous concert - at least it was if you were lucky enough to be there live. I was. Had a friend who was (at the time) a fellow screenwriter, in addition to being Tom Petty's Lighting and Staging Director. He called me one day and asked me if I wanted to see a "mystery concert" and told me to call an exec at HBO we both knew.

So I did and they told us when to show up at the old Copacabana at the now-nonexistent Ambassador, and...

Well, it likely helps to be a big Roy Orbison fan (I am), but when you look at who else was on that stage 50 feet away...

It's one of the few things during Beg-A-Thon I watch at least once. Now, if they'd just bring back Samantha the Fox, er, Samantha Fox as the one shaking the begging bowl... I would gladly fork over the moolah.

Anonymous said...

I live in Minneapolis, and the local PBS station used to mention "we come only three times a year" for begging. Now it seems as if it is thirty weeks a year. Not only is the programming for pledge breaks insipid, the so-called hosts are irritating dolts.
Rick Steves' programs are always featured. I always turn the channel to avoid watching that pompous anti-American ass.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Bay Area and get both KQED TV out of San Francisco and KVIE TV out of Sacramento. They both run pledge drives for two weeks every other month. That's 12 months out of 52, or 28% of their airtime.

They run the drives at the same time, so I can't switch from one PBS station's pledge-o-rama and watch the other PBS station.

And they both run the same HORRIBLE, boomer-oriented drivel during both pledge drives.

Hell, I'm 61, and I do not want to see doo-wop acts, Peter Paul & Mary, James Taylor, or any other dinosaur music acts. I do not want to see the Wrinkle Cure show, the variety of psychobabble shows they run during these pledge drives, or Celtic Women, Celtic Kangaroos, or Celtic Teenagers Who Eat Haggis. And don't get me started on those Riverdance performances. Those people look like human sewing machine needles...up,down,up,down,up,down,up,down...all the lyricism and idiosyncratic, creative charm of a mechanical punch press.

It seems as if my local PBS stations are always running pledge drives and always running crap programming. I've considered pulling my ongoing monthly donation, but then I stop and think about the shows I like and I reconsider.

I'm starting to lose the habit of turning on PBS because it seems like half the time there's nothing on worth watching.

Basta! I think PBS is being very short-sighted with their choice of fundraising programming. I can't believe anyone under the age of 50 would want to watch it.

Anonymous said...

Pledge week never ends. It is worse than having commercials.