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KCET: Save Us From Congress!

Fundraisers for at least one public-TV station have found a silver lining in recent threats to reduce public broadcasting’s federal funding: KCETLos Angeles is citing the threats as a tool to extract donations from sympathetic viewers. B&C’s Ben Grossman last week happened to receive a telephone solicitation from a KCET rep warning that Washington was “trying to take down PBS” with more than $200 million in cuts next year. The pitch: A great way to show members of Congress that public broadcasting enjoys wide support would be an increase in donations to local stations. “We need to show them now,” Grossman was told.

When we spoke to KCET General Manager Al Jerome, he said the station’s phone appeals are contracted out and that he does not see the scripts. Jerome said that, while it is possible that playing the budget-cut card is part of the official telemarketing script, it is also possible that Grossman’s caller was doing a little “improvisation.”

As it happens, KCET’s Web site sounds similarly dire warnings about the threat from Congress, warning that, should the cuts go through, the burden of funding operations “will fall entirely to local public-television stations, decimating their ability to finance local programming, educational outreach—and even to air PBS programming.”

When B&C quizzed public-broadcasting representatives in Washington about fundraisers using the contemplated budget cuts for leverage, they fretted that the tactic could backfire once targets of the pitch realized that the Cassandra-like warnings are over the top. For starters, federal funds account for only 15% of public broadcasting’s budget. The cuts would hardly be lethal. More to the point, the threat to public broadcasting’s funds is fading daily. The $211 million in reductions recently suggested by the House Appropriations Committee are all but certain to be reinstated after Senate appropriators last week refused to go along. Jeffrey Davis, spokesman for the Association of Public Television Stations, says, “We’ve been confident all along that the money would be restored.”

Sly Fox

Chevrolet’s sponsorship of the Major League BaseballAll-Star Game in Detroit last week was so pervasive that you could have called it the All-Car game. Even in one rare moment when something Chevy- or General Motors-related wasn’t looming on the screen, or booming on the stadium sound system (as with Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock,” the pickup-truck anthem), Chevy was still being pushed on TV viewers—thanks to the complicity of Fox Sports announcers Joe Buck and TimMcCarver.

In the bottom of the third inning, a Fox camera focused on a banner that had been unfurled in the outfield. But the handmade sign bore an inscrutable Web site address: Buck professed to be baffled by the message. “Tim will have to tell me what that means. I’m not sure, but someone went to a lot of trouble.” Buck’s partner was just as befuddled. “I don’t know what that sign means,” McCarver said, “but 'hooray’ is the first thing that comes to my mind.”

“Hooray” was probably the first thing that came to mind in the Chevrolet camp. The Web site, it turns out, is a promotional venue for a new Chevy product, the HHR “crossover” vehicle.

Fox Sports doesn’t think it crossed over any ethical lines by having Buck and McCarver play dumb about the commercial plug. “It was an enhancement as part of a major multiple-unit in game buy,” says a Fox Sports spokesman. “We saw it as a clever way for the sponsor to generate curiosity.”

Too clever by half, according to Gary Ruskin, executive director of the advertising watchdog group Commercial Alert. “This is deceptive because viewers may not have known that it was canned,” Ruskin says. “Sports are a form of presentation of actual events, and it’s wrong to falsify events that are supposed to be explained straight up.”

Horse TV

When The Horse Channel canters into the cable mix this fall, its programming will be geared toward owners and equestrian-sports fans.

But it won’t be all visits to bluegrass farms and riding rings. We’re pleased to report that Mister Ed will be brought back from the rerun pasture. And movie titles include Black Beauty, The Electric Horseman, Seabiscuit and the stallion battalion: Black Stallion, Lightning: The White Stallion, The Moon Stallion, The Red Stallion and Rogue Stallion. But you won’t see They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. “It’s not really about a horse,” a spokesperson sniffs. Whoa, now!