Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Meet the Cast of 'Desperate Housewives - Africa' + the Characters from the American Original They Each Play (Premieres in 2 Weeks) Meet the Cast of 'Desperate Housewives - Africa' + the Characters from the American Original They Each Play (Premieres in 2 Weeks) Netflix's 'The Getdown' Directed by Baz Luhrman Has Found Its Female Lead Netflix's 'The Getdown' Directed by Baz Luhrman Has Found Its Female Lead Meet the 3 Leads for the Next 'Star Wars' Movie (John Boyega Is One of Them) + Watch New Teaser Meet the 3 Leads for the Next 'Star Wars' Movie (John Boyega Is One of Them) + Watch New Teaser Quentin Tarantino's 'H8ful Eight' Gets a Teaser Trailer (Samuel L. Jackson, Belinda Owino) Quentin Tarantino's 'H8ful Eight' Gets a Teaser Trailer (Samuel L. Jackson, Belinda Owino) Here Are the Cities & Theaters in Which Patrik-Ian Polk's Award-Winning Drama 'Blackbird' Will Open Here Are the Cities & Theaters in Which Patrik-Ian Polk's Award-Winning Drama 'Blackbird' Will Open Trailer: Pilot Project 'First Gen' (The Trials and Tribulations of Being a First Gen Nigerian-American) Trailer: Pilot Project 'First Gen' (The Trials and Tribulations of Being a First Gen Nigerian-American) TV One Shores Up 2015-2016 Slate with 8 New Series, 16 Original Movies + New Production Partnerships TV One Shores Up 2015-2016 Slate with 8 New Series, 16 Original Movies + New Production Partnerships 'Walking Dead' Creator Says Rick and Morgan's Reunion Will Be "The Spine" of Season 6 'Walking Dead' Creator Says Rick and Morgan's Reunion Will Be "The Spine" of Season 6 Abderrahmane Sissako's 'Timbuktu' Quietly Grosses Over $1 Million in USA Box Office - Rare for an African Film Abderrahmane Sissako's 'Timbuktu' Quietly Grosses Over $1 Million in USA Box Office - Rare for an African Film Rumorville: Ernie Hudson Circling T'Chaka Role in Marvel's 'Black Panther' Movie Rumorville: Ernie Hudson Circling T'Chaka Role in Marvel's 'Black Panther' Movie Watch Cuba Gooding Jr. Wield a Gun and Snort Coke in his Underwear in Clip from 'Big Time in Hollywood, FL' Watch Cuba Gooding Jr. Wield a Gun and Snort Coke in his Underwear in Clip from 'Big Time in Hollywood, FL' People in Chicago Are Not Happy with Spike Lee’s 'Chiraq' People in Chicago Are Not Happy with Spike Lee’s 'Chiraq' Check Out the First Trailer for HBO's New Dramedy Series 'Ballers' Starring Dwayne Johnson Check Out the First Trailer for HBO's New Dramedy Series 'Ballers' Starring Dwayne Johnson 'Tales of the Grim Sleeper,' on Serial Killer Who Murdered Black Women for 25 Years, Debuts April 27 on HBO 'Tales of the Grim Sleeper,' on Serial Killer Who Murdered Black Women for 25 Years, Debuts April 27 on HBO Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

PBS, 'Spies Of Mississippi', And The Business Of TV Programming Based On Racial Viewing Habits

Shadow and Act By Emmanuel Akitobi | Shadow and Act February 11, 2014 at 11:15AM

While I empathize with filmmaker Dawn Porter and frustrated viewers regarding the PBS Black History Month scheduling flap, I think some more important questions to be posed are . . .
13
Bottom Left: Dawn Porter, filmmaker (Spies of Mississippi)
PBS Bottom Left: Dawn Porter, filmmaker (Spies of Mississippi)

While I empathize with filmmaker Dawn Porter and frustrated viewers regarding the PBS Black History Month scheduling flap, I think some more important questions to be posed are, "Why do we still categorize the content of this programming as black history, and not American history?  Why can't we see this programming year-round?  Why must it all be lumped into the month of February?"

An even bigger question could be, "Why didn't Washington, DC-based PBS member-station WHUT (the HU stands for historically black Howard University) air Porter's Spies Of Mississippi last night?"

I called WHUT this morning to inquire as to whether the civil rights era-set documentary would air at any time this week, and the gentleman to whom I spoke didn't seem to be familiar with the title.  Anyhow, it's not on WHUT's online programming schedule, so I don't expect to be able to view it on that station.  Clearly, if a PBS station run by Howard University isn't airing Spies of Mississippi, then some other motivation, besides an aversion to Black History Month programming, is being employed.

To be fair, it's probably safe to assume that a majority of blacks in this country likely aren't regular viewers of PBS anyway, because PBS doesn't regularly air programs that appeal to them (or any other racial/ethnic minority in America, for that matter).  That's not a knock on PBS; I'm just calling it how I see it.

So, if blacks aren't watching during the month of February, and a large portion of white viewers tune out during the so-called "black-themed" programming (and we can safely assume that a lot of them do, based on how "black" shows typically perform in TV ratings elsewhere), then how many viewers are there left to watch?

Probably very little; and the ratings will reflect as much.

Because of this, I can almost understand why some PBS member stations would opt out of airing the Black History Month schedule, from a business standpoint.  They want to continually appeal to the viewers who add to the public and private funding they already receive from government and corporate entities.  This is really no different than how regular network and cable TV networks operate.  It's a simple business model that has helped sustain an industry which is more concerned with commerce than it is art.  I wish it wasn't that way, but it is.  That's why the lives of some of our more beloved TV programs sometimes are sometimes cut short, despite viewer outcry.  Commerce and art don't mix well because commerce, in our present society, will almost always win in any struggle between the two.

That's, at least, my own rationalization for why PBS member station WETA likely decided not to air Spies Of Mississippi and other Black History Month programming.  As for member station WHUT, of Howard University, not airing the film--I don't know what to make of that.  Maybe a representative from HU will reach out to S&A with an explanation.

So, what needs to happen now?

I think it's great that Porter and others are reaching out to stations like WETA and are asking for answers.  If these stations were unaware of their viewer's interests in seeing more diverse programming, they're not anymore.  The best way to affect change is to first ask for it.

What I would like to see change with a lot of these PBS member-stations, is the propensity to segregate the programming on their schedules.  Why not mix it up a little?  Why can't we see programs with more diverse casts, like British series Death In Paradise (a personal favorite), aired alongside Downton Abbey and Doc Martin?  This past month, in the U.K., the Sara Martins-starring murder mystery series was averaging more than 6 million viewers every week.  Doesn't it make business-sense to push a show like that in prime-time?  I think I may have caught Death In Paradise on a local PBS member station once or twice, at around 11PM.

It's not an exact science, but I believe that if viewers hesitant to diversifying their viewing palette are exposed to a wider array of programming--all of the time--they may begin to feel that all of the programming is for them; as opposed to this sentiment of, "Black History?  That's for black people; change the channel."

Let us not forget that the subject of programming such as Spies Of Mississippi is still recent history.  Despite what many believe, racial attitudes in America have not changed that drastically in the past 50 years.  A large portion of PBS' and other network's viewership is comprised of people who were present during that moment in history, are set in their ways, and likely haven't changed much since.  If the viewers aren't willing to change, then it's up to the networks themselves to do so.  So, c'mon, PBS, mix it up!  Stop scheduling your 2014 programming to the suitability of attitudes from 1964.  You only stand to benefit from it.

So, yes, Dawn Porter and others have great reason to be upset that some PBS member-stations are not airing Spies Of Mississippi and other Black History Month programming during the month of February.  But for those member stations that do air the programming this month, let's continue to remind them while it's appreciated, it would be appreciated more if that same programming is scheduled to air every month.


This article is related to: Documentary, Dawn Porter


Shadow & ActNewsletter