Top executives at the Public Broadcasting Service on Tuesday entered the fray over the "indecency oath" that Congress has imposed on recipients of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, saying that PBS would "fully support" any producer who refused to sign such an oath.
"I would be very surprised if our producers would sign that," Neil Mahrer, PBS executive vice president and chief operating officer, told a news conference at the Century Plaza hotel.
Producers who lost or risked NEA funding by refusing to sign would receive the full support of PBS, said programming chief Jennifer Lawson. The noncommercial network might attempt to provide funding to producers who sacrifice grants by taking a stand, but it was more likely to help them look for alternative sources of revenue, she said.
"It's difficult to make promises, in that we are always scrambling for funding," Lawson told the gathering of TV critics and writers here for meetings with network and cable officials about the fall season. "But I think we would do all that we could to provide the moral support if not the financial support."
Still, Lawson and Mahrer stopped short of actually urging producers to refuse to sign an oath, or of saying that PBS would refuse programming made after an anti-obscenity pledge was signed.
"This may sound like a cop-out, but the truth is that the Public Broadcasting Service does not produce any of its own programming," Mahrer said. "Our producers are the ones who would make a decision whether or not to sign."
Currently, six public-television series--"Live From Lincoln Center," "American Masters," "Great Performances," "Point of View," "Alive from Off Center" and "American Playhouse"--receive a total of approximately $7 million in NEA funding each year.
None of those producers has yet been affected by the "decency standards" advocated by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and other conservatives, but many fear that their work will be constrained in the future, Lawson said.
"We are concerned about the kind of chill factor, a chilling effect on creativity" that might occur should the guidelines and oath be continued beyond the current fiscal year, as Congress is considering, Lawson said.
She cited as an example a documentary recently broadcast on "Point of View," called "Metamorphosis: Man Into Woman," about a person going through a sex change. That program might not receive funding were the NEA to restrict its support, and producers, fearing a withdrawal of money, might not even attempt to produce such programs, she said.
Meanwhile, the assembled reporters also were told Tuesday that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will fund or partially fund six new series, including an educational game show for children based on the popular computer game, "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"
Dan Marbury, director of the corporation's Television Program Fund, said that the organization would spend $4.1 million on the programs, which are planned for prime-time broadcast in 1991 and 1992.
The first new series to air will likely be "Carmen Sandiego," which is designed to teach children about geography in a game-show format and is scheduled to run for 26 weeks in 1991. (The "Carmen Sandiego" computer game also has been licensed by DIC Enterprises for development as a children's cartoon series.)
"The History of Baseball," to be produced by public station WETA in Washington, D.C., will focus on aspects of the game that are typically ignored, said Lawson, such as discrimination against women and blacks, and the gradual incorporation of the nation's melting pot population into the game as fans and players.
"Cracking the Code" is a biology series consisting of eight 60-minute programs, with "Nova" executive producer Paula Apsell in charge of production.
"The Other Side of the News," scheduled for 1991, will be produced by pioneer television news producer Fred W. Friendly and Columbia University Seminars on Mass Media and Society. The nine-part series is designed to tell the story behind gathering the news and to offer criticism.
"The '90s," a series designed to help vieweres question traditional news perspectives and find alternative ways to get information about the world, is the only one of the new series that might run later than prime time, said Lawson. The show might be better suited to late night, she said, because it will deal with fairly controversial topics.
Finally, "Critical Condition" is an eight-part series on the future of medical science, to be produced by WETA and WNET in New York.