My love letter to Public Television

Nothing I have ever done or will ever do could come close to matching what PBS has done for millions of American kids and now adults. We came to TV just after Newton N. Minow indicted commercial television producers in May 1961 at the National Association of Broadcasters. And we reaped the benefits I think somewhat disproportionately. But oh, what larks we had.

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The days I spent watching educational programs on PBS I think gave me an interesting way of seeing the world. And I am not alone:

Exposure to Samuel Beckett, art-appreciation documentaries, “Masterpiece Theatre,” and grade Z film gave me the rudiments of an aesthetic education. And a good thing, too, because nobody in the local school system would have used the expression “aesthetic education,” or considered it worth offering.

via Views: The Plug-In Syllabus – Inside Higher Ed

Those were golden halcyon days watching the weird shows fly by. I remember seeing Firing Line briefly and Steve Allen’s program and Dick Cavett’s program. I’m not saying I ‘watched’ them, but I would see them in passing hoping to find a repeat of Sesame Street. My parents would watch Masterpiece Theatre religiously, which I hated because I wanted to watch what else was on Sunday nights. Usually it was NBC’s Police Story or some other violent, low-brow entertainment.

Now all that old TV “content” can be recycled to the public airwaves of the Interwebs. All that was old is new again. Which means I should try tracking down all those old episodes of Omnibus that made the transition from BBC to PBS. Sometimes I think PBS and BBC should have formed up a single International Media conglomerate and shared more costs in preparation for the large scale media consolidation of the ’80s. And certainly they could have hedged their enterprises somewhat against the proliferation of Satellite and Cable TV networks.

Oh, if I could  just get the BBC for several hours in the evening or even during the day. I would watch Emmerdale or Eastenders, I would even watch Tesco commercials. Doesn’t matter to me. Too much of what we watch locally on TV is a kind of bubble like prison, meant to reinforce, nay indoctrinate one in the predominant culture. And more choices hasn’t helped as the media owners don’t let the media flow freely cross international borders.

Welcome to Internet U, via Video

I was raised on the most successful initiatives from Public Television, or ETV as it was previously known (E standing for Educational of course). Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Reading Rainbow were my bread and butter as a kid. And yet while those educational programs were major successes, television’s promise of bringing education and instruction to a wide audience was left largely unfulfilled in the United States. Proponents of educational TV faced the harsh realities of the large amounts of funding required to create and maintain television programing placed upon them. The need to satisfy the large …
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As a kid I watched PBS a lot. One reason being in the 1970s funding for PBS kids shows and educational programs was better than it is now. As kids we would watch hours of programming and then we would be rewarded, REWARDED with a fund-raising drive once a year. The reason I say rewarded is PBS went out of its way to entertain and bring in new viewers. They would air special programs especially for the fund-raising drive. I remember one year they aired Woodstock as the centerpiece of one year’s fund-raising campaign. That was the cool part, you never knew what they would pull out to reward us when they were asking for money. And what did we get in return?

WGBH, the Boston superstation for PBS and WNET 13 in New York would crank out the jams. Some of it was experimental, some of it was just downright good. There was Sesame Street, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Electric Company, Zoom and eventually 3-2-1 Contact. And even in school our teacher’s would fire up the TV in the days before the VCR to show us certain science programs different times of the week. Sometimes it would be a reading program, or a science program. At one point during the Carter Administration, all the kids were encouraged to learn the Metric System. So for about one year we watched  a program once a week to teach us the metric system. Turns out we didn’t go metric.

After school was good too. We had a TV show produced by a “local” TV station in Sioux Falls, SD. It was hosted by the weatherman on KELO-TV. It was called Captain 11. I knew kids who had gone down to Sioux Falls and gotten on the TV show. And there was also a drawing for a prize on each episode. It was a giant plastic tootsie roll with tootsie roll lollipop candies inside. I never saw any of my friends on that show. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. I saw every Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and a few Our Gang short films along the way. Why I spent more time watching TV than I can even add up. It’s a lot that’s for sure.

Super-jet Dinosaur Fun-monkeys

TidBITS: Welcome to Internet U, via Video

Doug McLean

I was raised on the most successful initiatives from Public Television, or ETV as it was previously known (E standing for Educational of course). Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Reading Rainbow were my bread and butter as a kid.

via TidBITS Just for Fun: Welcome to Internet U, via Video.

I couldn’t agree more I too grew up with Educational Television as a child. In fact in the Northeast corner of South Dakota there was a huge transmitter just outside our little town. It was a PBS tower and sometimes that was the only station we could get. In between days at school and dinner time I watched re-runs of Gilligan’s Island or old Hanna Barbera cartoons on Captain 11 on KELO-TV. Those were the days. I used to thoroughly hate the adult shows my parents watched like Masterpiece Theatre. They must have seen every episode of Upstairs, Downstairs three times. But then I too loved watching repeats of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Sesame Street. I was one of the chief beneficiaries of Newton Minow’s speech to the National Association of Brodacasters back in 1961. For me television might have been a vast wasteland, but there were some bright shining spots along the way.

Potential Energy (K sub p)

What do you do when you see a TV show that motivates you to question the decisions you have made? Do you just let it pass? Or do you recognize yourself in the lives you’ve been watching, and DO something about it.

Many people will get the reference. Suffice it to say another title could have easily been, “Carpe Diem”. That story by Saul Bellow was definitely as much an accusation as it was an illustration. Anyone who felt as though they identified with the central character should realize they too might be big oafish losers. I know I recognized a little of myself in that story. And in similar ways Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” has similar tendencies to lay blame on his environment. He tries occasionally to break free of his boring life. But he’s unmotivated. What really motivated me to write on this topic was a big long series on PBS called “Carrier”. Some years back in the early 1990’s PBS’s NOVA did a one special on an Aircraft Carrier called ‘Super Carrier’. The term itself is a term the Navy applies to a Carrier with a certain displacement or ‘mass’. Originally the increase occurred around the time of the first Nuclear powered carriers whose displacement reach 65,000 tons. That’s a total of 130million pounds of metal. Wow. To move that much mass requires steam generated by 2 Nuclear reactors, running night and day. But more interesting is the large crew required to make this thing work as designed. The nuclear reactor helps considerably in make space for armaments and fuel for the jet aircraft on board. So you can show up on someone’s doorstep with 60 aircraft and enough bombs to get someone’s attention. But the crew that it takes to make that happen is absolutely stunning. 5,200 people on board to make our national threats real. But I digress.

The whole point of the PBS NOVA special was to show how complicated the whole system was. And what impressed me the most was the absolutely grueling schedule of cyclic flight operations. Launch, Recover, Launch, Recover. You have day shifts and night shifts always tending to the planes keeping them maintained, moving them, arming them. And in all of that you might have gotten a vague sense of the Individual. In the NOVA Super Carriers program you began to recognize individuals and learned their titles and jobs responsibilities. You learned a little about the shirt colors on the flight deck. They even interviewed a guy whose sole responsibility was cleaning bathrooms. He was the most bitter of anyone they interviewed as he wanted to be doing something else. In his own words he didn’t know he was going to be cleaning bathrooms when he joined the Navy. But every job is important on the Aircraft Carrier. But what’s more important are the individuals behind those jobs. Which brings us up to the present.

Reality TV shows have become very fashionable, inexpensive entertainment. But what’s more real? Is it the ‘staged’ reality of putting dissimilar people in a confined environement? Or more likely is it more real to follow people whose job it is to work in a confined environment for months on end? It’s obvious that the Carrier series on PBS decides the latter is more real than Reality TV shows. There’s even a reference to CBS’s ‘Survivor’ and how contestants in that show are so sad about being away from their families for 39 days. The fellow that was speaking pointed out Navy crew spend 6 months on the ship and in one extreme example he pointed out the Abraham Lincoln had been on tour for 305 days (essentially a 10 month deployment). And in all of this the commitment stays strong to do a good job. But not just that for some it is an opportunity to raise one’s state in life which brings me to the actual point of this whole posting.

Imagine you had the worst childhood, you had so many strikes against you that the world has given up on you. And out of some sense of self actualization or curiosity you say, “Hey maybe the military is the way to go.” But not just any branch, but one with a reputation of traveling. The one branch whose old advertising slogan was, “See the World”. That attractive message still lingers to this day as a siren song to the lost souls here in the U.S. And I’m not just talking minorities but poor white folks as well, meaning there’s no discrimination when it comes to REAL (and not imagined) hard luck stories. I sat in wonder for 5 nights straight watching what these people do on the U.S.S. Nimitz. Every night we got to hear the stories of a wide range of folks all serving on the same tour. And what caught my attention more than anything were the folks who had the saddest stories of growing up in bad family situations escaped into the Navy. And rather than just sit and bide their time and get their pay, they wanted to better themselves. They sought promotions, more responsibility, more pay, the whole American Dream. And it appeared for all intents that it as actually HAPPENING.

Which leads me to take a long hard look at myself, the way Saul Bellow made me look at myself. I looked back over all the years between May 13, 1996 and today. I had untold advantages compared to people whose stories I watched on the show ‘Carrier’. And what did I do? In the time of those people being deployed back in 2005 to when they returned, some got promoted. I got promoted once in the Fall of 1996 and plateaued ever since. I worked on projects. I worked on training events. I moved offices. I put services into production. But here I sit behaving myself like Baseball Pitcher in a Bull Pen, waiting. So I’m doing something, albeit in a more benign, passive way. But I am trying to effect a change. I have untold reserves of time, and energy. It’s time now to raise the threshold to comfort level and upset the equilibrium I once enjoyed. Here we go. Check the track. Track Clear? Launch Aircraft.