‘Charlie Rose,’ ‘NewsHour’ short-term orphans in new PBS world


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Most Southern California viewers who want to watch PBS programs shifted on New Year’s Day from KCET to KOCE, or ‘PBS SoCal,’ as the Orange County-based station now brands itself.

The switch, triggered when Los Angeles’ KCET dropped out of PBS’ network in a dues dispute, has caused a few bumps in programming and annoyed a small but committed public TV audience.


I noted in my ‘On the Media’ column how awkward some of KCET’s new programming is--particularly the evening news delivered by Japan-based NHK. One producer of a prime-time PBS show showcasing film, ‘Independent Lens,’ has expressed frustration at the show being moved to yet another PBS affiliate.

But most of the gripes since the Jan. 1 shift come from old viewers trying to chase their favorite programs to their new home at KOCE. Take the ‘Charlie Rose’ program, for instance. KOCE has not had room in its lineup for the late-night talk show. KVCR, another public TV station, has ‘Charlie,’ but not all cable systems carry that Inland Empire-based station.

‘I’m just sick about it,’ said Teri Duncan of West Hollywood, who made the Rose show a nightly habit. ‘It’s an intelligent show with great guests. I am so upset about this whole fiasco.’

The problem stemmed from KOCE’s obligation to save time in its late-night schedule for tele-courses--academic offerings from Coastline Community College, which sold the station to KOCE’s current operators. Those tele-courses filled the time that normally would go to Charlie Rose.

But KOCE chief executive Mel Rogers called late in the day Wednesday to say that, because of budget cuts, Coastline would no longer offer the televised courses. So ‘Charlie Rose’ will get itself a midnight time slot on KOCE starting Jan. 17.

Another hiccup in public television programming left portions of the Inland Empire and the Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs, without ‘NewsHour’ at the start of 2011. Linda Strome of Palm Springs e-mailed me to complain that her Time Warner reps--including a call center in India--didn’t seem to have a clue about what happened to PBS’ mainstay news show, long hosted by Jim Lehrer.

‘The voice of reason is precious to us all,’ Strome said.

KOCE’s Rogers told me that the ‘NewsHour’ blackout should be solved by Wednesday evening as Time Warner, the dominant cable carrier in inland communities, agreed to add KOCE to its lineup. The news show should pop up in its typical 6 p.m. time slot. The show will appear for digital Time Warner customers in the Coachella Valley on Channel 130. Analog cable customers in that area will have to wait until Jan. 24 to get ‘NewsHour,’ which they will find on Channel 8.

Rogers said he thought the transition of PBS programming had gone fairly smoothly, given how little time KOCE had to adapt to becoming the dominant affiliate in the region.

That doesn’t mean everyone is satisfied, though. Among those still campaigning to get on the KOCE schedule are the San Francisco-based producers of ‘Independent Lens,’ a series that offers a diversity of voices and perspectives via independent film. The show was moved to KLCS, the public station operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

‘It’s hard to understand why they would take this program, which is the cornerstone of diversity and independent storytelling in the PBS prime-time schedule, and put it at a secondary station,’ said Dennis Palmieri, director of communications for the company.

Palmieri said though KLCS reaches fewer viewers, the biggest concern was breaking ‘Independent Lens’ from the rest of PBS’ prime-time lineup. He said the show and its younger viewers help expand interest in PBS.

KOCE’s Rogers said it’s inevitable with a large and unwieldy menu of offerings that no single public TV station can handle everything. He suggested that the stations in Southern California need a degree of specialization and that KLCS might find one niche focusing on the arts.

It may take longer, though, to warm public TV viewers--many of whom are older and set in their ways--to the new reality in Southern California: Their favorite PBS programs will be spread over multiple stations.

--James Rainey