What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?

As Congress hammers out a new budget, and Republicans continue to hammer on CPB in an effort to kill it, I am reminded of another budget battle for noncoms of over 40 years ago. In 1969, President Nixon wanted to slash noncom funding–he wasn’t so enamored of the commercial media, either–and congressional hearings were held that, not to overstate it, were essentially to determine if public broadcasting would survive.

Today, some legislators appear downright angry at public broadcasting. I would recommend that they pound some clay or some dough, or take a jog out on the Mall and see how fast they can go.

Back in 1969, Mr. Rogers, who had only been doing his show for a few years in this country, came to Washington and, on the second day of hearings, quietly secured that future with a simple expression of care for a fledgling service that would grow to enrich countless lives. If you can watch Rogers without being moved–Senator Pastore certainly couldn’t–go ahead and zero out the funding (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2883185966575573317#).

PBS was where kids back in the day went to discover Monty Python (and Marty Feldman and Benny Hill), as well as Fred Rogers. And then, for a teenager surfing the dial on night, there was the discovery, no revelation, of teleplay Steambath, a wicked telecast that nobody has seen in decades likely due to the FCC’s indecency rules. But I have long since thought that WETA earned whatever money I have occasionally ponied up in that single program.

Sesame Street and I Claudius and All Creatures Great and Small and The Civil War and Upstairs Downstairs and Sherlock Holmes and the Great American Dream Machine and Brideshead Revisited and To the Manor Born and Antiques Roadshow and Great Performances and Cosmos and NOVA and, well, the list is pretty endless.

And no, I am not a TV snob. I can wax rhapsodic on Mad Men and West Wing and The Simpsons and Green Acres, for that matter. But it need not be an either/or proposition. I can like both, and do.

I am not saying noncommercial radio and TV should not tighten their belts, or that cable has not taken over some of that cultural programming role once the almost exclusive province of noncoms. They should, and it has. But noncommercial TV and radio are still viable and valuable, and a bargain at the price.

Oh, and Steambath can be aired with impugnity after 10 p.m. in case any noncom was contemplating a re-run. I have my checkbook handy.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.