TCA: PBS’ Kerger on Trump’s Impact on Public Broadcasting: ‘It’s Too Early to Tell’

Complete Coverage: 2017 TCA Winter Press Tour

Pasadena, Calif. — PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger was unsurprisingly peppered with questions about her thoughts on the impact the incoming Donald Trump Administration will have on public broadcasting. 

“It’s too early to tell,” Kerger said during PBS’s portion of the TCA winter press tour Sunday. “I’ve been in this work for a long time and we have periodically gone through periods where funding has been at risk.”

As a result, Kerger said PBS’ stations are making a specific effort to reach out to Washington so there is an understanding of “who we are and what we do.”

She stressed the significance of federal funding, which represents 15% of the public broadcasting system's budget. Most of that funding goes directly to PBS's member stations, and for many of the independently owned and operated stations that appropriation accounts for 40-50% of their budget, she said. 

The PBS chief also addressed the ongoing FCC spectrum auction – stage 4 of the reverse auction ended last Friday – saying she believes it will be coming to a conclusion in the next couple weeks. 

“We want to make sure there aren’t parts of the country left without public broadcasting stations,” she said. “At this point, we don’t think this will be the case. You can look to us to comment on [the results] in the coming weeks.”

Earlier in the day, PBS announced its 24/7 PBS Kids channel, which will offer more than 20 series and debut Jan. 16.

Kerger said that part of the idea to provide children’s programming 24/7 was inspired by kids in hospitals. 

“There are many children that are up at night in hospitals,” she said. “We heard from caregivers that they were at a loss at times how to keep them entertained. This is pure community service.”

Kerger opened her TCA session with a tribute to PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill who died at the age of 61 last November.

“While the new PBS NewsHour takes time to consider their path forward, the tributes that continue to pour in serve as a powerful testament to Gwen’s life and career,” she said.

 Kerger added: “Gwen Ifill epitomized the purpose of public television: To inspire Americans of all ages and all walks of life, to empower them to make informed decisions and help them to build the communities in which they want to live, to bring the world into their living rooms and into the classroom, and to help them lead more engaged and fulfilled lives.” 

Additional PBS press tour announcements included:

— NOVA special Solar Eclipse (working title) will capture the Aug.21, 2017 solar eclipse, the first total solar eclipse since 1979. Produced by WGBH Boston, the special will air the same day as the eclipse.

— PBS teams with HHMI Tangled Bank Studios to commemorate the 4othh anniversary of launch of NASA’s Voyager mission with two-hour documentary The Farthest (working title).

— Astronaut Scott Kelly will appear in Beyond a Year in Space, a follow-up documentary to A Year in Space, which aired in 2016. Beyond a Year in Space will appear in November 2017.

— PBS will embark on a new Summer of Adventure, which includes new limited series The Story of China, Big Pacific (working title), Rare — Creatures of the Photo Ark, Weekend in Havana (working title), Nature’s Great Race and Great Yellowstone Thaw.