Jan 31, 2011

Ebert's new show finally arrives in Seattle

PBS member station KBTC in Seattle/Tacoma is picking up the new Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies. Why is that news? Because some local viewers were mightily peeved that Seattle's KCTS decided not to run it – one of the few pubTV stations that passed on the popular critic's latest program. KCTS programmer Randy Brinson told a Seattle Times blogger that the decision not to carry the show was based on "scheduling logistics and financial reality." In another word, pledge. It would "get pre-empted on a regular basis, as a normal course of events due to our occasional pledge programming." Which would annoy viewers, Brinson said, because the movie reviews are time-sensitive.

Al Jazeera English still on in U.S. despite Egyptian turmoil, distributor MHz reports

MHz Networks is alerting its 31 pubcasting affiliates nationwide that the shutdown by the Egyptian government of Al Jazeera's bureau there does not affect broadcast of Al Jazeera English programming on Worldview. Some media were erroneously reporting that Al Jazeera English's shows in the United States were also blacked out.

If you didn't attend Sundance, "storyfication" is the next-best thing. Sort of.

Did you miss the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 20-30 in Park City, Utah? Yeah, us too. Fear not, ITVS social media wizard Jonathan Archer "storified" the Tweets and other posts of ITVS-related events and adventures at the famous fest. One featured Tweet: "Glazed. Chocolate chipolte. Powdered. Plain. Homemade donuts. Great food at HBO party." Oh fine, rub it in.

Guam PBS audit by government agency sets goal of transferring to community licensee

Guam's Office of Public Accountabilty has released an audit of PBS Guam (PDF) that sets a longterm goal of converting it to a community licensee "to alleviate dependency on the government of Guam." Government of Guam appropriations, 38 percent of station revenues, increased from $596,000 in fiscal 2009 to $610,000 in FY10.

The audit shows a revenue decline of $2.6 million due primarily to a one-time $2.5 million grant to purchase and install a digital tower in 2009. The station also ended FY10 with a decrease in net assets of $204,000.

Tony Geiss dies at 86; longtime Muppet composer, lyricist and creator

Tony Geiss, composer and lyricist for Sesame Street for almost 40 years as well as a creator of several Muppets, died Jan. 21 in New York City of complications from a fall. He was 86.

He's at left in the photo, speaking with fellow Sesame Street writer Lou Berger and Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente on the set. (Image: Sesame Workshop)

Geiss won 22 Emmys for scriptwriting and songwriting. He created the Honkers Muppets and, most recently, Abby Cadabby. He was a co-creator of Sesame's "Elmo's World" segment, composing its theme song (which has been viewed more than 25 million times on YouTube). He also co-wrote the feature film "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird," in addition to several other films.

His writing credits include working with David Frost, Bill Cosby and Groucho Marx.

A post on the Sesame Workshop blog called Geiss "a major force on the Sesame Street writing team for 40 years."

Nicholas Anthony Geiss was born in New York City on Nov. 16, 1924, and grew up in the West Village. His wife of 60 years, the former Phyllis Eisen, preceded him in death in December 2009. His New York Times obituary lists survivors including an extended family as well as "admirers of all ages, who joyfully sang along with his songs without knowing their author, nourished by his creative brilliance."

A memorial service took place Jan. 27 at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City.

See a 2004 interview with Geiss for the Archive of American Television here.

Signal expansion delays and disappointment in Tampa

Problems with signal interference from the U.S. Coast Guard's emergency communications system has stymied launch of Tampa's new full-time classical music service, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Since purchasing the license to 89.1 FM in Sarasota last fall, pubcaster WUSF-TV/FM has been broadcasting its new classical service WSMR at 30 percent power; the signal doesn't reach far beyond Sarasota, disappointing expectant music lovers in Tampa. "The Coast Guard is huge and we don't want to get in the way of a life being saved," says JoAnn Urofsky, g.m. "But I'm still not sure why this stalemate happened."

Future of "Need to Know" uncertain; PBS says it's "evaluating the series carefully"

PBS has not yet decided whether to renew WNET's newsmag Need to Know, which replaced Bill Moyers Journal in May 2010 (Current, March 22, 2010). PBS said in a statement to the New York Times that the show runs through June 2011, and it is currently "evaluating the series carefully."

Stephen Segaller, station v.p. for content, and Shelley Lewis, Need to Know e.p., sent an email to programmers December 3 thanking them for their feedback on the show. Apparently some of those comments had zeroed in on co-hosts Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham. The note, obtained by Current, said in part: "It’s fair to say (as some of you have) that Alison is far more comfortable in the anchor role than Jon, and Jon is a far more comfortable guest on other programs than he was (at first) as anchor on his own. We continue to work on ways to make 'that Jon' the Jon who appears in our studio every week." The email noted that Meacham is a "unique asset," adding, "He’s in the Skip Gates category as a public intellectual, and who else on the PBS roster is?"

Timing has also created challenges for the show. "The launch of the show in late Spring, followed by two pledge periods in four months, was a huge handicap. In hindsight, we would all probably have been smarter to launch in September. But happily, the past two months have seen the audience build back steadily."

"In sum," the message concludes, "we are working flat out to make NTK the new current affairs show that PBS, we and all of you need it to be. And happily, viewer reaction is getting ever better. By late summer, we were no longer receiving angry e-mails about Bill – or very few."

In a review of the show, longtime pubcasting producer Louis Barbash wrote in Current: "Based on the evidence of its first four episodes, Need to Know can be too deferential to big names, disinclined to probe and press them. ...  But Need to Know is also capable of compelling storytelling, able to spot and focus on the small story that illuminates the big one, and capable, too, of thoughtfulness, insight and tolerance."

Exclusive content deal for Center for Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity, the nonprofit investigative news center helmed by public radio veteran Bill Buzenberg, has a new contract to provide exclusive stories to Newsweek and The Daily Beast. A feature on the effectiveness of digital mammography, featured in today's Web and print editions of Newsweek, is the first CPI investigation to be published under the editorial partnership. “The value of incisive investigative reporting is going up," says Buzenberg, executive director of the center, in a news release. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us to provide quality journalism to a new audience and to get paid for our work.”