Why does my PBS station have such bizarre programming during pledge drives?

I am utterly baffled by this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde phenomenon. I usually like the programming on my PBS station (WTTW) when it’s in its “normal” phase of its life-cycle, but it turns into an alien creature during pledge drives.

They are perpetually re-running the same old tired Wayne Dyer (in past years it was other quackery), senior citizen oldy rock shows, Ethnic group pseudo-documentaries, self-improvement specials, recorded concerts, and on and on and on. Not a single showing of “Nova” or any other production of PBS excellence to be found.

What is going on? There was a point a few months ago, when they were showing something so odious and just plain wrong (I can’t remember what it was, but it was some type of misinformation), that I was compelled to call the pledge line to express my frustration and tell them that I would never pledge while PBS shows such material during their pledge drive, since I thought PBS had a mission to educate, rather than to spread ignorance.

Why would a station with a certain type of programming CHANGE that programming during their pledge drive??? It makes no sense! Someone please explain the twisted logic at the core of this strategy? If someone is used to watching PBS for a certain thing, and then gets the opposite of that thing, why would they feel like pledging? Conversely, if PBS gets all their pledge money by exhibiting their alien new-age oldy-rock Riverdance and Yanni phase, why don’t they just keep that programming year round?

The same reason that network programming changes during sweeps month. This is the time they want the most viewers and to get them to send in money, so they use the programming they think will do the best.

FWIW, I’m with you. I rarely watch my PBS affiliate (KETC) during pledge drives, and turn off my local public radio during theirs. I don’t care for the programming and I hate the insipid request for money so they can keep bringing us more programming “like this.”

I don’t know about the Wayne Dyer stuff, but those oldies concert shows are produced expressly to be used during pledge drives, and have buffer periods built into them so that they can cut to the in-studio hosts begging for bux without causing the shows to run long, or end at odd times. Doesn’t the nebbishy guy who produces all of them come on camera and refer to public television fundraising during the concerts? Could have sworn I remember that. Nova and other more serious programming, on the other hand, is designed to fill the whole programming hour, whatever that clocks out to on PBS stations.

I assume they also believe (probably rightly) that people are more likely to pull out the plastic and make a pledge if they’re suffused with the nostalgic glow of having just heard a couple of the songs they used to make out to, even if (maybe especially if) the performers and the viewers are both old enough now to have grandkids of making-out age. At least, they’re more likely to pledge (and pledge more) if they’re feeling that than if they’re feeling outraged or shocked or horrified or righteously indignant at whatever they’ve just seen on Frontline.

Ok, but then how do you explain the pseudo-scientific new age quackery self-help shows they put on?

I’m talking about people who always speak in half-truths like Dr. Weil, and that indian guru doctor whose name escapes me at the moment.

Why would PBS think their viewership likes this stuff? Where do they get their information?

…or do you think that people tune in just for the pledge drive shows and ignore the rest of the year?

“Frontline” makes me want to pledge. Wayne Dyer makes me want to puke.

Well, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the self-help stuff is also produced to be pledge drive-friendly. Also, though I’m purely hypothesizing here, the self-help programs are all pushing some vision of how to make positive changes in your life, and the Suze Ormonds and Andrew Weils and Wayne Dyers and all the rest have demonstrated a remarkable ability to sell their particular vision, to convince the viewer/reader that it’s within their power to achieve whatever it is that they want to achieve. The effect may be quite transitory – it may not last past the end of the program for many people, but while the viewer is charged up by the presenter and feeling better about themselves and their prospects for success in the world is probably a pretty effective time to hit them up for a contribution.

And yes, I do think that the people who end up watching that stuff and being sufficiently energized by it to pledge probably are different groups than those who regularly watch PBS programs the rest of the time. Those who watch for PBS-style programming are likely to pledge regardless of what they run during the pledge drives.

Not at our house. I was all set to send in a cheque to MPT, until they decided to show Judy Garland and Abba concert shows during the time when my Brit-coms and Red Green (the ONLY Canadian show I can get here) usually run. Perhaps next time around.

It’s the tele-marketer complex. The viewers that pledge are mostly older genaration people for some levels of programming. Let’s don’t forget to cater to them as well! :smiley:

It’s public TV. Let’s don’t exclude anybody with a checkbook. Let’s rake in all the money that we can . . .

To put it simply, they do it because it works. If it did not work, they would not do it. It costs more to put on that type of programming, but it brings in more money.

A few years back, I had several friends who worked at PBS. I volunteered to be on-air talent during one of the pledge drives and spent a great deal of time at “The Station” during the drives. These PBS people work their butts off during these things- they last like two weeks and many of the staff are expected to work 12 hrs. everyday till it is over.

I agree that the programming you are describing is crap. But it is hard to believe how intensely and insanely popular that crap is. There are a lot of people who want to be “dazzled” with special programming during pledge. They are expecting a sort of “programming gift.” Kinda like you expect to be treated a little different or get something special on Mother’s Day, the donors want a little something special during pledge week (My girlfriend at the time was in Membership, so I had a great deal of contact with the donors).

I cannot figure it out myself, but people loved John Tesh and Yanni and that bearded quack and the Indian dude (I actually kinda liked that Riverdance stuff). Sometimes it bordered on cult like. These higher profile shows offered lots of tie in merchandise that could be used as “premiums” for becoming a member. The stuff was simply much more marketable than the mechandise that could be created around the show “Frontline” and other more serious fare. When they did a special on Elvis and brought out the cheesy merchandise, the phones started ringing and the money started pouring in.

It is hard to imagine how these intelligent people get so freakin’ insane about getting their prizes for their membership as soon as possible. It is hard to believe how serious the demand was for the stuff- but it was there.

I know that the local station was constantly in a budget crisis. They had virtually no money to put on local shows. I believe that they somehow had to “buy” programs from other stations in order to air them. I am guessing that they don’t have those big time production concert shows all the time because they would be just to expensive to produce on a consistent basis and no one would be able to afford them. They trot them out for pledge only and I am guessing that the talent donate a lot of their time (John Tesh did a local promo for PBS before one of his concerts- he is a nice guy and a big supporter of PBS).

Thanks for the interesting analysis. I do believe that this quasi-deceptive practice turns off viewers like me who like their regular programming and might otherwise contribute.

So… what’s your talent? :smiley:

Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe was being used as pledge programming (complete with hat-in-hand breaks) on a local PBS station here a couple of weeks ago.

The question, then, is why they don’t play that intensely and insanely popular crap all the time.

Because there’s not enough of it, Thank God!

For example, the Lawrence Welk people only produce one pledge special a year (usually around August for the next March pledge). That’s why you’ll see their stuff recycled over and over.

I don’t like it either, and I’m on the air doing some of the begging!

My station has found a terrific labor-saver. When they rerun one of those crapfests they rerun the pledge breaks, too–some from several years ago. I’m waiting for dead people to start asking for money; that’ll drag the money out of oldsters!

“Didn’t that Asian woman die last year? OH MY GOD! She’ll haunt us forever if we don’t pledge! Quick, Myrtle, hand me th phone.”

Something kinda like that happened last drive. I’m available Saturday nights which pretty much puts it in Welk mode, like it or not.

Anyway, I’m pitching the great claronet solo coming up from Henry Cuesta and if you pledge at just the $40 level you get the quarterly Welk Family newsletter (hold up to camera) where you can read the latest happenings with the band and there was Henry Cuesta’s obituary.

This to me seems an illogical, circular answer. If there’s demand, they make the shows. If people like Nova, there will be funding for it. Isn’t that the way the the tv market works?

On what data does PBS base their pledge drive programming decisions? Did someone do some research or are these all assumptions? Do all PBS stations suffer from this pledge drive split-personality, or are there some who still provide sane programming during pledge periods?

Deepak Chopra? God, I hate him.

I believe it all started back in the early 1990s. At the time, I was in college and interning at the local PBS station. They started running the Ken Burns Civil War documentary nonstop and they broke all their pledge drive records.

Frankly, I couldn’t stand the Ken Burns crap.

Fortunately, they also spent an evening running Fawlty Towers.

Part of P.B.S.'s problem, and it’s true when they’re not having pledge drives – is that a lot of the programming they used to depend on have been captured by cable networks like B.B.C. America, A&E, the Discovery Channel, etc.

So they’re left with a lot of crap like that foul antiques auction and those fraudulent motivational speakers.

Hmmm - the only stuff I remember being run consistently during pledge drives are those “Visions of Italy - Southern Style” or “Visions of Provence”, etc. Now, those will always get me to sit down and watch, especially since we bought a plasma screen TV. However, I don’t remember any of that other dreck you mention. Maybe different regions of the U.S. show different stuff.

I think acsenray may be on to something. The “special” programs really didn’t start to take off until after Ken Burns fought the Civil War. Prior to that if Tuesday night was a Nova night, then on Tuesdays we would pledge around Nova.
The closest thing to a “special” would be a lot of the same thing. You might get two Nova’s back to back, or all the Monty Python Flying Circus in a marathon.

There used to be three times PBS made avaliable for local stations to pledge, March, August and December. I thought this little June pledge was a local stealth attack only to see that it’s going on elsewhere, too.

What data does PBS base their pledge drive programming decisions? No idea. I’m just the hired help, or free help since it’s volunteer. But during pledge drives the stations seem to be in intense communications with each other. I’ve seen the manager pull a program because “it fell on it’s face pledging on the East Coast two days ago.”

Do all PBS stations suffer from this split-personality? The ones I’ve seen (New Orleans, Los Angelse, San Jose, San Francisco and Anchorage) are all pledging with the same stuff I pledged around the previous week. In fact it was AFTER Christmas (our local station had wound up a week earlier) when I flipped on the Los Angeles station to see how a big city PBS outlet works and got…
1 minute…actually less than one minute…of Lawrence Welk’s “Milestores & Memories.” I can almost lip synch that thing in my sleep.

What jerks my chain is that they do have a mandate to provide better programming. Quasi-New Age cult motivational speakers are well outside of that mandate … as are, truth be told, *Fawlty Towers * and *Are You Being Served? * even if I like them.

It’s something of a slap in the face to the American viewer that “Mrs. Slocumb’s pussy” jokes from 1976 are supposed to be cultivating our tastes because they’re British. Entertaining? Sure (at least the first time around). But meeting a higher non-commercial need above and beyond what you’d get from, say, Family Guy? Hardly! Smacks of elitism, part of what costs public TV viewers.

I emailed a friend of mine who works at the local PBS affiliate this thread in hopes of quoting his answer, but he just got very defensive and stated “because we can make money.” :rolleyes: Meanwhile I’m one of those people who probably would give them money if they didn’t pull this crap, but doesn’t as things are. C’mon, now, Deepak Chopra as educational TV?! :mad:

Yes, this is exactly what they showed all weekend here, “self”-help (except for that bit where you pay the guru) and Welk-O-Mania.

These comments come from TVGeek who was an engineer for our local PBS for over 8 years:
Not unlike the rest of TV, PBS is all about the almighty dollar. (this part is from me: at his station, salaried employees were required to work the pledges - because they didn’t get paid for the overtime. Since most of the employees were salaried, PBS barely had to pay anything extra for the manpower to run the station during those weeks. The only non-salaried employees were the master control operators and TVGeek , and they were there anyway for their regular shifts.)

They do get their pledge shows from trial and error. For example, our local station shows Roy Orbison’s Black and White Night over 20 times a year - every year, because it ALWAYS brings in lots of money.

At his station, in one year 75% of the operating budget came from the pledge drives. Since they’re making good money on that crap - they’re gonna keep showing it.

Dead people sell. At his station, the pledge drive guy (a complete idiot) decided to show 2001, A Space Oddessey (sp?). A week before pledge, Kubrik (sp?) died. The idiot was thrilled. It was like he won the lottery.
(by the way, this guy is always an idiot. I’m not judging him based on this one moment.)

Don’t forget the auctions. It’s not all about the pledge drives. God only knows how many hours are wasted with some dim-witted slimey middle-manager type standing in front of the camera reading from cue cards. At least with the pledge drives, you get a break from the employee with the whitest teeth and the fewest brain cells.
Some more of my own comments: the General Manager of our station and probably most other stations, is a bean counter. He has no knowledge of the actual workings of the station and in some cases, he has no interest in the legalities of some of the decisions he makes. He has never been a producer or an engineer or a master control operator, or a director, or a programmer, or any of the other jobs that actually run the station. The only reason he’s there is because he knows how to squeeze every last penny from the people in our area. Oh yeah, he’s also a chauvinistic pig.
Another point from me: TVGeek once explained to me why PBS and other stations will sometimes show the same stupid program 5 or 6 times in one day. The station pays for a certain number of airings. However, the program can be shown multiple times in one day and still count as only one airing. So, they can pay for 7 airings and still manage to show that program 20 times in one year. Perfect timing for pledge drives.

If you can’t tell from my comments, I’m very glad he got out of PBS. Partly because the pay and the working conditions suck. Partly because he works for Cox now and it makes me giggle.