Thursday, June 16, 2005

Should we fund PBS?

One of my favorites, Peggy Noonan, in the Opinion Journal:
Conservative argue that in a 500-channel universe the programming of PBS could easily be duplicated or find a home at a free commercial network. The power of the marketplace will ensure that PBS's better offerings find a place to continue and flourish.
This I doubt. Actually I'm fairly certain it is not true. And I suspect most people on the Hill know it is not true.

We live in the age of Viacom and "Who Wants to Be a Celebrity," not the age of Omnibus and "Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts." A lot of Democrats think that left to the marketplace, PBS will die. A lot of Republicans think so too, but don't mind.

At its best, at its most thoughtful and intellectually honest and curious, PBS does the kind of work that no other network in America does or will do. Sumner Redstone is never going to pay for an 11-hour miniseries called "The Civil War"; he's not going to invest money and years of effort into a reverent exhumation of the rich loam of American history. Les Moonves is not going to do "Nova." Bob Iger is not going to OK a three-part series on relativity theory. Jeff Zucker isn't going to schedule a calm, unhurried adult drama like "Masterpiece Theatre." They live in a competitive environment.
Why, as she says, would this be a "ratings disaster"? Because the majority of people don't want to watch it! Peggy's argument seems to be that because she feels these projects were/are worthwhile, you and I should help her pay for it. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would come up with a list of "worthwhile" projects to which she would object. Come to think of it, she lists them in her column. Someone obviously felt Bill Moyers was worthwhile.

I don't think that what she suggests is possible, anyway. The liberals who run PBS are too entrenched to be replaced, and too out of touch to realize that her suggestions are the only way to save the network.

Personally, I like her ideas. Yeah, I agree with her list of "worthwhile." But I don't think it should be government funded. I bought a copy of the Civil War series by Ken Burns. But those who aren't interested shouldn't be expected to pay for it.

If it is indeed worthwhile, make these projects and put them on a pay cable channel. I agree that a lot of people would want to see Brad Pitt do Hamlet. But didn't Mel Gibson do that one already?