Paul Kerger entered 2020 planning to spend a lot of it celebrating PBS’ 50th anniversary. However plans change.
“It definitely just isn’t the way in which we thought we might be celebrating our 50th anniversary,” the PBS CEO mentioned throughout a Q&A Wednesday for Variety’s Digital TV Fest. “Once we began this yr, we had been going to actually do a variety of wanting again and a variety of wanting ahead. And in some ways I really feel that every part that we’ve executed over the past 50 years has ready us for this second.”
Kerger spoke at size about how the identical forces which have dramatically impacted almost each nook of American life — the coronavirus outbreak, the protests that adopted the killing of George Floyd by police — affected PBS and the way the general public broadcaster responded. She emphasised the function of media as a “connector” in a time of isolation and as a trusted supply for information, info and academic content material.
She additionally highlighted how PBS moved rapidly after faculties started to shut to develop sources for fogeys compelled into roles as house educators.
“We had been initially often called instructional tv,” Kerger mentioned of PBS. “And so in that function, our objective is to ship content material that’s not solely of curiosity to an grownup viewers, however with a specific focus on service to younger youngsters and households.”
As faculties and workplaces had been starting to close down in March, Kerger was contacted by Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified College District. Along with local-station group PBS SoCal, they developed a schedule aimed toward selling distance studying for kids — one that will go on to function a template for different PBS native stations as they carried out comparable efforts.
Kerger additionally turned to considered one of PBS’ most well-known companions and creators, documentarian Ken Burns. After Main League Baseball’s season was shut down, Burns contacted Kerger to see if PBS would have an interest in rebroadcasting his collection “Baseball.” However with instructional efforts on Kerger’s thoughts, dialog quickly turned to a different landmark Burns movie, “The Civil Warfare” — in addition to to different Burns documentaries protecting topics such because the Roosevelts and World Warfare II. That dialog led to a reconfiguring of PBS’ Thursday-night schedule with programming targeted on historical past.
“The entire discussions which have come after George Floyd’s loss of life, in addition to every part that we’ve executed going again to the start of the COVID scenario, we’ve simply been attempting to actually combine new content material that we’re producing in addition to content material in the archives,” Kerger mentioned.
One such effort is with the multi-platform documentary collection “American Portrait,” which options content material sourced from native public tv stations and viewers. A earlier episode tackled the affect the coronavirus pandemic, whereas one other is about to focus on Floyd’s loss of life and the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter motion.
“Once we had been the best way to mark our 50th anniversary right here, one of many tasks that we targeted on is a challenge, which is definitely our first, really large digital-first challenge,” Kerger mentioned. She added, “‘American Portrait’ was envisioned as digital-first with a major broadcast element. And the concept of it when it was initially conceived was to create each a digital map the place individuals may file both video or via nonetheless photos or via phrases the reply to a few prompts that actually get on the coronary heart of who’re, and to share a chunk of their lives that will exist in this digital type, however then can be reimagined right into a collection of primetime broadcast specials.”
In getting down to sort out this historic second via its programming, Kerger indicated that she understands the facility that PBS wields as considered one of America’s most trusted establishments.
“I believe it’s a very powerful of all of the property of public tv if one may name it an asset — the belief the American public locations in us has been paramount, and it actually can be fully intertwined with how we’re funded,” Kerger mentioned. “Individuals contribute to their public tv stations domestically as a result of they belief them. They belief them that they’re going to supply correct info, that they’re going to play an vital function in the lifetime of their group. And so for us, it has been very a lot on the coronary heart of what we’ve stayed rooted all these years … Belief is one thing that may be very rigorously earned over time and could be misplaced in a second if one isn’t vigilant.”