TCA: PBS’ Kerger Open to Producing Originals in U.S.

Complete Coverage: Winter Press Tour 2014

Pasadena—PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger is open to producing original scripted drama in the U.S., but only if financial hurdles can be cleared and the right project is found, she said Monday during the public broadcaster's portion of the TCA winter press tour. 

“Of course I would love to do some scripted drama in the United States,” said Kerger, adding that any project would need to be a co-production where PBS would not carry the financial burden. “I do think that there is an area that it makes sense for public broadcasting to be in, telling really great, interesting, American stories, particularly if they’re tied to history. I think there is a natural place where we could fall, and if we’re able to figure out the right partnership and are able to bring in some resources, we would very much like to do that.”

One of PBS' many popular British series, Sherlock had fans waiting outside in costume for the show’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch, who was scheduled to appear here later in the day, Kerger said the decision to premiere the series this year closer to its U.K premiere was driven by viewer demand. “We heard from a lot of Sherlock fans that were anxious for us to have it a little bit closer to broadcast.” Sherlock made its season premiere Sunday night.

Kerger said the network is reluctant to make a similar scheduling move with its biggest draw, Downton Abbey. “I think that it’s become a bit of a tradition after the holidays to come together to watch Downton,” which premiered Jan. 4. Asked about whether the window between the U.K. premiere and the PBS premiere encouraged fans to pirate the show, Kerger said, “I can’t do a lot about people who have found it and downloading it in the U.K.” She added, however, that she is open to the future possibility of premiering some of PBS’ programming on digital platforms before it airs on TV, something the network has experimented with in the past on a small scale.

The network announced that it will air Country Music, a new movie by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, in 2018. The film is part of the long-term contract between Burns and the network, which, Kerger joked, is “otherwise known as til death do us part.”

The second season of Last Tango in Halifax, co-produced with BBC Worldwide North America Sales & Distribution, will premiere June 29, 2014. On Memorial Day this year, the network will air its 25th annual National Memorial Day Concert, veterans tribute Coming Back With Wes Moore, and NOVA presentation D-Day’s Sunken SecretsEarth—A New Wild, a five-part nature series hosted by Dr. M. Sanjayan, will air in 2015

Kerger said that, in addition to the network’s recent success with British dramas, its arts programing has driven member support for local public stations. “The amount of arts programming has so gradually shrunk over the decades,” Kerger said, adding, “No one remembers what A&E once stood for. Not a lot of peope remember that Bravo started out as an arts channel. So I think that there is a real interest from a lot of Americans to have access to the arts.”