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DOE Disinvites Buster Producer

According to WGBH and PBS, the Department of Education has quietly disinvited Carol Greenwald, executive producer of WGBH/PBS' Postcards from Buster, from speaking at a children’s-TV conference the DOE is co-sponsoring with PBS in Baltimore Friday.

PBS COO Wayne Godwin says the noncom service had nothing to do with the move. He also said PBS President Pat Mitchell was planning to send a letter to the "relevant" DOE official asking the department to give "significant consideration" to rescinding the disinvite, though that letter had not yet been sent at press time Wednesday night.

Greenwald's other credits include the Peabody- and Emmy-winning PBS series, Arthur, Between the Lions, Zoom, and Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?

DOE’s press office did not return repeated calls for comment.

The DOE move to ax Greenwald follows a complaint by new DOE Secretary Margaret Spellings to PBS over an episode of Buster featuring a lesbian couple.

Spellings threatened to pull funding from the episode if PBS distributed it. PBS says it made the decision not to distribute the show to its member stations before it got Spellings’ letter, and is having another episode produced to replace it.

The Baltimore conference is being co-sponsored by PBS and DOE, but the first two days of the conference have been set aside for DOE to talk about new guidelines for educational literacy TV programming it funds.

Godwin said Wednesday that PBS is trying to schedule Greenwald to address the conference Saturday, during PBS’ portion.

Buster is majority funded by DOE as part of PBS’ Ready-to-Learn initiative, a five-year partnership between it and DOE under a grant that expires in August.

That partnership is likely to change, though, under terms of a new request for proposal DOE is about to issue.

One source told B&C that commercial as well as noncommercial kids programmers would be eligible to bid for the grant under the new guidelines, and that DOE would seek greater control over the programming produced with its money.

Although the language of the statute authorizing the DOE grant does specify the programming must come from a nonprofit distributor, Godwin said that might not exclude commercial entities with nonprofit arms.

Godwin said he did not see the changes as a threat to PBS’ partnership with DOE, but as a challenge to continue to produce quality educational programming. He said the new grant was being divided into two parts, programming and outreach, and that PBS would make a strong bid for both.

Godwin said he would not be surprised if the new grant included more DOE input into the programming, citing another letter PBS had received from Spellings suggesting the department wanted to makes its educational aims clearer.