SBTVC: What exactly is it that you do over there again? You work in public television?
PBS GUY: I work on the business side of producing some of the shows on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). I basically make sure that we don’t overspend our budgets and use the money in the proper way as to not get busted by whoever gave us the money.
Which public television is it? Like Wayne’s World style or NPR tote bag style?
I have worked in both. Public access was a trip. A bunch of weirdos who all thought they were talented TV stars producing stuff that literally no one watches. Picture every fucking weirdo in town, give them an inflated ego and then put them in front of a camera. That’s what it was. It was real small budget stuff, volunteers from the high school and senior center, that sort of thing. One time I went away for a three-day weekend and came back to find that the channel was down for three days. Not a single call. Since then, I graduated to real public television which is the one always showing the Celtic Singers and shit.
What is an average day like for you?
If we are in production, it’s usually answering a lot of questions from producers about how things have changed and we need to reallocate a bunch of the budget in order to fit in to the new parameters. Then I go through invoices from our freelancers, camera guys, sound guys, etc., and try to pick out what they’re lying about. Did we go into overtime? Was there a meal penalty? Does their math add up? Usually they coordinate and lie about the same things, but when they don’t, that’s when you can bust them. Most of the time they are honest though. A lot of television is just prepping a bunch of shit and waiting for it to break down, and then you scramble to get it done somehow. It never goes as planned, ever. When we’re not in production, we’re coming up with new ideas, which is cool but also frustrating because sometimes you know you’re busting your ass on a project that is never going to take off.
What’s a good day for public television? What’s the big score? What is everyone working toward?
Money is ultimately the name of the game. You are constantly trying to get it. There’s a big misconception that most of the money comes from either the government or “viewers like you.” That’s not necessarily true. That’s just a cute branding thing for stations to make viewers think that they’re supporting Frontline or Nova or Antiques Roadshow. When you call in and pledge, that goes to the local station you’re watching, not to any of those shows. They use it for member services, events and local programming. Very little goes into actual production. Most of the money actually comes from corporations or charitable foundations (rich people). Juice companies, insurance companies, financial services, etc. all give support for a little promo at the beginning and usually an event involving some of the talent from the shows so they can plug their own stuff. Half the time is spent trying to get one of these companies to give you money for a show about travel or cooking or what have you. I do have to say though, once a company gives the money, that’s it, they have absolutely zero editorial input into the finished product.
Is it full of liberal weenies like me?
Out of the hundreds of people I’ve met, I’d say maybe like 5% of them are conservatives but even they’re not the stereotype of a conservative. They all believe in evolution and obviously don’t mind money going to the arts, but they might hold a few conservative positions. There could be more but if I were conservative and I worked there, I’d probably just keep it under wraps. There’s not as much political talk as you would think though.
Who are the pussies you have to deal with over there?
It’s always the people in any department that doesn’t have to do with actually making programming. They’re always bitching about the rules and you can’t do this or you can’t do that. Sometimes you just want to scream that the programming is the reason we’re all here, so just change it to suit us, but you know vis-a-vis the old hippies you can’t really hurt anyone’s feelings ever, so everyone just has to deal with it.
The other frustrating thing is when they put out for new ideas it always comes back to who our viewers are (old people), but they refuse to do anything that would bring in younger people. It’s funny too because you look at NPR and see what they’ve done and they pretty much have their finger on the pulse of what well-off, liberal 30-somethings want and they’re swimming in money as a result. They’ve made huge leaps in the past 10 years while public television has just kept on doing what they do. It’s not that public television doesn’t attract that crowd, but they could bring in so much more.
What’s an after-work outing like for the public TV crew? Do you go to vegan, fair-trade yoga cafes? Or is it just like a regular beers and whatever deal?
The place where we work is close to one of the biggest townie Irish joints in the entire world. I always thought before I worked there that afterwords, everyone goes to some cool place I’ve never been with awesome cocktails and everyone is young and good looking and discussing literature and foreign policy, but the truth is it’s all ice cold Buds and potato skins, while recapping the last 30 Rock or whatever else normal people are into. After a few rounds, the older people all get into their Prius and the younger kids onto their bikes or the bus and we regroup at around 10 A.M. the next day.
Be honest, is there a liberal conspiracy going on over there at PBS and NPR and places like that to steal our guns and make us gay?
I wish, but I don’t really find that to be true. I think that they are trying to educate people and engage people in order to cultivate some feeling of community or society. A lot of the programming is absolutely fascinating. You watch a show like Frontline and you realize there should be more programming like that, programs that actually explore a topic in some sense of depth rather than just feature people on opposing sides trying to bullshit you to believe their side. PBS realizes that there’s a market for the people who want more and they feel it’s important. They really do. They try to program in a way that engages people and gets them talking and evaluating and arguing and exploring. It’s not just this sense of “Hey, let’s keep their attention for 22 minutes so we can keep moving some shitty products.” They really believe in having a role in getting the conversation started without trying to argue one side or another. There should be more people who give a shit and I think they’re trying their best to reach them.
Do you think there’s a future for public television? How long before it dies off? What’s going to replace it?
It’s tough to say. There’s always going to be people who are a bit elitist in their viewing, people who want to hear how rockets take flight or what is happening in Pakistan, and right now public television and radio is one avenue for them to see and explore that. Obviously television is drastically changing and in the next few years, I think television and the traditional model for content distribution are going to go through changes just like print and music and movies. People who are under 25 don’t watch cable, some of them don’t even get broadcast despite owning HD televisions. They just download stuff through BitTorrent or watch it on the web or stream it to their televisions through a bunch of computer shit that I don’t understand.
The whole model of how you get content is going to drastically change but I think public television does have an advantage in that ultimately, people trust it. PBS is regularly ranked as one of the top trusted sources in news. As corporate conglomerates grow and become more intertwined with the creation, distribution and flow of information that we see/read, I think PBS can step in and pick up a chunk of people who are able to recognize that and want something more.
A lot of my liberal friends are always telling me to watch Rachel Maddow or Olberman or whatever, but it’s all just shit. It’s just spin and talking points and noise. Turn on CNN, watch it for an hour. It’s all bullshit. You don’t really learn anything. It’s like reading the headlines, you get a sense of what’s happening but you don’t actually explore anything in-depth. PBS does and that’s where they can really be an alternative.
Originally published on Street Boners and TV Carnage