Los Angeles PBS Affiliate Plans To Drop PBS Bye-bye Big Bird, farewell Frontline. Southern California PBS fans were shocked when local station KCET announced plans to cut its ties with the public television powerhouse. KCET says dues to PBS were too expensive, so it will switch to independent programming in 2011.
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Los Angeles PBS Affiliate Plans To Drop PBS

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Los Angeles PBS Affiliate Plans To Drop PBS

Los Angeles PBS Affiliate Plans To Drop PBS

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And finally this hour, public TV viewers in Southern California will soon have to look elsewhere for their favorite PBS programs. The second most watched public television channel in the country says it can no longer afford the network's hefty dues.

From member station KPCC, Alex Cohen reports.

ALEX COHEN: Each month, more than four million viewers tune into KCET.

(Soundbite of TV show, "NewsHour")

Mr. JIM LEHRER (Anchor, "NewsHour"): Good evening, I'm Jim Lehrer. The rescue operation in Chile...

(Soundbite of TV show, "Sesame Street")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

COHEN: Come next year, KCET won't be getting to "Sesame Street" or the "NewsHour" or any other PBS show. Station president Al Jerome says cutting the cord to PBS is all about the bottom line.

Mr. AL JEROME (President, KCET): Over a four-year period of time, our PBS dues increased 40 percent - from roughly $5 million a year to $7 million a year.

COHEN: Those fees, Jerome says, are based in part on how much money the station has raised. A few years back, KCET received a huge windfall -$50 million - to produce two child care programs. But Jerome says they weren't allowed to spend any of that on PBS dues. So the station cut its budget where it could.

Mr. JEROME: However, when the economy went into a downturn and we were losing contributions like every other nonprofit organization, we were not able to raise those dues, and we began a period of intense discussion with PBS. PBS was intractable.

Ms. PAULA KERGER (President and CEO, PBS): It's really important to understand that one of the principles that we've operated on is a system of equity.

COHEN: Paula Kerger is the president and CEO of PBS.

Ms. KERGER: That's what I think caused the problems with KCET because they wanted us to follow a different path than we do with the other stations, and that, we just couldn't do.

COHEN: KCET says its gearing up to function without PBS shows. The station plans to fill its airtime with more locally oriented programming, like one of their current Emmy Award-winning shows "SoCal Connected."

(Soundbite of TV show, "SoCal Connected")

Unidentified Woman: Good evening. Tonight, we take you deep into the national forest of Southern California. But it's not nature scenes we're after, it's crime scenes.

COHEN: But many KCET fans are wary of the move.

STAN: It's absolutely ludicrous.

COHEN: Shortly after news of the split got out, one viewer named Stan weighed in on a local radio talk show.

STAN: I can't think of anything dumber than what the station I've supported for many, many years is doing.

COHEN: He said come next year, he's more likely to tune into KOCE, a smaller PBS station in nearby Orange County. The station and several others in Southern California have promised to air all the shows KCET drops. With other places to go for PBS programming, it's unclear who will be watching or donating to KCET come January.

But analyst Marty Kaplan with the University of Southern California argues that PBS programs may not be as valuable in today's media landscape as they once were.

Mr. MARTIN KAPLAN (Media Analyst, USC's Annenberg School of Communication): Before cable and certainly before the Internet, you need to turn to PBS to find, for example, nature programming. But these days, there's, you know, a handful of History Channels and the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, lots of competition.

COHEN: Kaplan says KCET could fare quite well offering Southern California news that goes beyond freeway chases and celebrity gossip. He also suggests the station should fill the air with the work of independent filmmakers and documentarians, which he says shouldn't be too tough to do in the region that's home to Hollywood.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

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