Although programming on public television may benefit from a strike-caused delay in the start of the networks' fall season, PBS hasn't "scrambled to cash in" on their shortage of new shows, PBS programming chief Suzanne Weil said Tuesday.
Weil, who along with PBS President Bruce Christensen addressed journalists who cover television at the semi-annual press tour here, joked that PBS program development moves so slowly that "we would have had to find out the writers were going to go on strike (this year) when the last contract was signed (in 1985)."
She noted that PBS in recent years has unveiled its new shows one by one throughout the fall and said that strategy will hold this year despite the 154-day strike by the Writers Guild of America.
"We figured we could never compete with the networks, so we started to stagger our new programming, and that's a good strategy no matter what," said Weil, senior vice president of programming at PBS.
Weil pointed out that some of the non-commercial network's new programming always makes its debut in September so that it is available for use in schools.
While PBS was never celebrating the strike, she said, she expects public television to gain viewership in the fall. She predicted "more channel flipping" because viewers "won't be expecting much from the networks," and said she hopes some of the "flippers" will stop at PBS.
PBS' fall schedule is "a little heavy on public affairs and Americana" due to the upcoming presidential election, Weil said, but she maintained that the network's 10 new series and host of new specials indicate PBS' commitment to original programming and represent an attractive alternative to the networks for the strike-weary TV viewer.
These are the PBS series for fall:
"Canada: True North" (beginning Sept. 3): A four-part series on Canada, its people and its national identity.
"The Ramona Stories" (beginning Sept. 10): Based on the books by Beverly Cleary, the series charts the escapades of 8-year-old Ramona Quimby and her family. Sarah Polley stars.
"Bill Moyers' World of Ideas" (beginning Sept. 12): This series of half-hour programs features Moyers in conversation with philosophers, scientists, artists and others with "something of value to say about who we are and where we're going." Guests will include Sovietologist Suzanne Massie, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, historian James MacGregor Burns, former Columbia Pictures president David Puttnam and actor Robert Redford.
"The Theban Plays" (beginning Sept. 16): A modern staging of Sophocles' tragedy of King Oedipus with Sir John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle, John Quayle and Claire Bloom.
"Global Rivals" (beginning Sept. 20): Explores the roots of Soviet-American conflict with scholars, political leaders and experts from around the world.
"The American Experience" (beginning Oct. 4): David McCullough hosts a series of individual films that "tell the stories of authentic Americans." Episodes include "San Francisco Earthquake 1907," "Eric Sevareid's 'Not So Wild a Dream' " and "The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter."
"Fueling for the Future" (beginning Oct. 9): Hodding Carter Jr. hosts a four-part exploration of America's energy-use habits and energy alternatives for the future.
"The Mind" (beginning Oct. 12): This series will use computer graphics, photography and human-interest stories to examine the links between the brain and behavior, from the same team that produced the earlier PBS series "The Brain."
"CE News Magazine" (beginning Oct. 13): A prime-time news magazine whose reporters are teen-agers and younger, from the Children's Express reporting team.
"The Power of Choice" (beginning Oct. 15): Follows comedian and juvenile counselor Michael Pritchard in his work with teen-agers in high schools across the country.