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Protesting Filmmakers Cry Victory, But How Will PBS Resurrect Indie Docs?

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by Anthony Kaufman
March 23, 2012 9:37 AM
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After PBS was aggressively petitioned by independent documentary filmmakers last week (see my article "The PBS Debacle") over changes to their programming schedule, the New York Times is reporting that the public broadcasting company has agreed to find a new home for the two long-running series, P.O.V. and Independent Lens, that were effectively banished from regularly scheduled spots. But while Kartemquin Films, the company that launched the protest, is rejoicing along with many in the nonfiction creative community, it remains to be seen where the two doc showcases will land.

According to the Times, a PBS spokeswoman said that the broadcaster and the two programs had "agreed to alternative scheduling options" for next year's season (to be announced in May). While PBS is certainly trying to save face, it's hard to see how they can recover from the misstep. In my reporting, I was shocked to discover that P.O.V. and Independent Lens were on Tuesday nights at 10pm, nationally, for 25 years and 10 years, respectively. Why break something when it's not broken?

Based on my knowledge of the negotiations (and Kartemquin just confirmed this on Twitter), PBS is likely to slot the two programs in another non-Tuesday slot, but they'll commit to consistent national primetime carriage of the programs (rather than let local programmers do with them what they willl). I guess this offers doc makers the consistency of programming times and dates that they need for a national event-type broadcast, but it still doesn't compensate for pushing them off the Tuesday nights they've consistently had--and built an audience for--over the years.

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