What if PBS was more like CBC?: Doyle

The Globe and Mail‘s John Doyle
writes about the serious (and marginal and obscure) PBS, its loyal and
slowly growing audience, and what the next CBC head could learn from the

Doyle finds himself at a TV Critics Tour in the U.S., where, after the more jazzy TV events die down, he attends the sparsely-populated and much more toned down PBS workshop.

“You know what PBS is – the sort of public broadcaster that anti-CBC obsessives in Canada want CBC to become: a worthy provider of serious news and current-affairs programs supported by pledge drives and philanthropic organizations. A marginalized broadcaster, important as a token alternative to the frippery of commercial TV, but existing strictly on the sidelines.

“And CBC’s identify is on the agenda again, isn’t it? We have to wonder what a post-Richard Stursberg CBC might look like. Possibly less crass and closer to the traditional public television model. Less ratings-crazy, less low-brow and more challenging programs that act as a genuine alternative to conventional, commercial TV. Well, the PBS model is what some people have always wanted.”

But there are pitfalls to being PBS, Doyle writes.

“[PBS] does fine news-documentaries on Frontline. But the Frontline boss is here to tell us that Frontline is finally at the point where it can do about 26 programs a year. That’s half a year’s worth. Besides, several times a year, it seems that Frontline is making a program with considerable help from CBC’s the fifth estate.”

He adds: “Right now, PBS is actually playing a role in a chaotic and changing American media world.” He points to its “tiny hard news and business-news division” which is “finally making major investments in online information and programming.”

But, Doyle adds, “for all its gravitas and importance to an aware, thoughtful audience, though, PBS is an obscurity in the U.S. TV racket.” Meanwhile, however, the “crass, hyperventilating coverage of network TV gets bigger and louder, the PBS audience stays loyal and grows, slowly and steadily. Back in Canada I know the question is asked, “Why can’t CBC be like PBS?”

“But seeing PBS sell its wares here leads me to a more relevant question – what if PBS was more like CBC? More money in funding, a bigger news division, a sports division and the ability to make dramas and comedies. Think about it. If it happened, the coverage here wouldn’t be so insignificant and there maybe would be no melancholy at all.”