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PBS Pushes Diversity Initiatives

PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger at PBS's 2019 TCA winter press tour
PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger at PBS's 2019 TCA winter press tour (Image credit: Rahoul Ghose/PBS)

PBS, partnering with Firelight Media, is committing $3.6 million over three years to support mid-career non-fiction filmmakers, the network announced in a TCA executive session Tuesday. 

The grants come from the William Greaves Fund, which is designed to address “the persistent structural challenges many filmmakers face after producing their first films, so that they can remain in the field and continue to create vital stories focused on underrepresented people and topics,” PBS said. 

Paula Kerger, PBS president and CEO, said more opportunities exist for first-time filmmakers than ones further along in their career. “It was very clear that there were filmmakers having trouble bringing their work forward,” she said, adding that “it’s very difficult to get a second or third film done.” 

Kerger mentioned PBS’s focus on diversifying public media. An initiative designed to bring more voices in includes an Early-Career Filmmaker Mentorship Program, an Executive Fellowship Program, and what PBS calls “dynamic accountability and reporting structures.”

Kerger said PBS is focused on “nurturing both the current and next generation of talent” as the network aims to best “reflect the great diversity of our country.”

Asked about PBS’s financial situation, Kerger said federal monies can be “existential funding” for some public TV stations, while others benefit more from philanthropy. 

Kerger expressed optimism in the financial picture at PBS. “I’m always hopeful,” she said. “I’m an optimistic person. I do feel, hopefully, that if we just continue to make our case, we will do well.”

PBS programming announcements included The Story of Hip-Hop with Chuck D (working title), Great Performances looking inside the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim production Company, One Day in March (working title), a documentary about the murder of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at spas in Atlanta last year; and the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. project Making Black America: Through the Grapevine

Kerger shared that PBS is now on TikTok. The network, she said, is “full of entertainment, education and, when we truly hit our mark, inspiration.” ■ 

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.