PBS chief rejects Mitt Romney’s call for Big Bird ads


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The head of PBS has a message for Mitt Romney: Keep your mitts off Big Bird.

Paula Kerger, president and chief executive of PBS, dismissed the GOP presidential candidate’s recent suggestion that public broadcasting raise revenue by carrying ads. ‘Big Bird’s going to have advertisements, all right?’ Romney was quoted as saying last month. PBS has been a favorite target for conservatives, who have long criticized the network for taking federal subsidies while allegedly pursuing a liberal agenda in much of its programming.


Speaking to reporters Wednesday at the semi-annual TV press tour in Pasadena, Kerger said that Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit PBS stations from accepting the sort of commercials Romney evidently envisions. She added that PBS and its shows such as ‘Sesame Street’ could not survive in their current form without a continuing partnership of federal and private support.

‘I’m not in the same business as anyone else who will stand on this stage,’ Kerger said, alluding to broadcast and cable executives scheduled to appear at the event. ‘If your decisions are driven by Wall Street, you’re going to make different decisions, that’s all.’

She specifically cited the example of the cable outlet History, which has expanded its programming to encompass reality shows such as ‘Pawn Stars.’ Kerger said that such popular fare had little in common with PBS fare such as Ken Burns’ recent documentary ‘Prohibition.’

The kerfuffle comes at a time when PBS is getting ready to launch the second season of one of its biggest hits in years, the British period drama ‘Downton Abbey.’

‘Downton Abbey’ can lure back ‘people who haven’t been to PBS in awhile,’ Kerger said.

The success is inspiring PBS programmers to look for shows with similar appeal, but Kerger still struck a note of realism. ‘Our income is not suddenly ratcheting up’ due to the popularity of ‘Downton Abbey,’ she said.

PBS has also faced challenges from restive local stations. A year ago, KCET-TV in Los Angeles cut ties with the network after months of squabbles over dues and other issues and was replaced by KOCE-TV as the Southern California PBS flagship.

‘I think they’ve done an extraordinary job,’ Kerger said of KOCE. Viewership has gone up, though she admitted some difficulties in helping audiences find the new homes for PBS shows. ‘It’s an evolving story but we have a wonderful group of people who are working incredibly hard.’


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