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N.y. Tv Station 'Toots Horn' : Pbs Producer Issues Bullish Report

January 03, 1986|CLARKE TAYLOR

NEW YORK — WNET-TV, a primary producer of programming for public television, has issued a year-end report that rates the station's health as excellent and promises that "the best is yet to come."

However, the report strongly suggests that the continued good health of the station--and, by extension, public television in general--depends on what the nonprofit system traditionally has lacked--investment capital.

"We are tooting our own horn, but we are also trying to send a signal that all of us in public television have to start thinking differently about ourselves. . . . We have got to start thinking in a business sense," WNET President John Jay Iselin said in a recent interview to discuss the report and future plans for the station.

"We have come to the end of state support, and now we have to start supporting ourselves," he continued. "Over the last decade, even support from PBS and CPB (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) has amounted to a trickle."

WNET produces approximately 35% of the prime-time programming regularly seen on the country's 300 public television stations. This includes "Great Performances," "Live from Lincoln Center," "Nature," "Adam Smith's Money World" and, as a co-producer, such programs as "American Playhouse" and "The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour." In addition, the station has produced recent major public television series such as "Heritage: Civilization and the Jews," "The Brain" and "The Constitution: That Delicate Balance."

It was the development of such special series that several years ago seriously jeopardized WNET and other major producing stations, including KCET in Los Angeles, resulting in major cutbacks and a re-evaluation of the stations' future producing capabilities.

However, according to the report just issued, WNET has fully recovered, with a $2.3-million excess of revenues over the $100 million 1984-85 budget. The report credits streamlined "operating systems" and "entrepreneurship" for the recovery.

"The big question that peers out from the (annual) report," Iselin said, is "how are we going to pay for the kind of programs we want to provide?"

The New York station already has embarked on strategies aimed at marketing (of videocassettes), co-production (with other U.S. and foreign television producers), and investment (in theatrical films made for "American Playhouse").

But Iselin insisted that the only adequate, "plausible business plan" is "a funding plan for tomorrow" aimed at establishing capital funds.

Iselin said that the station plans to embark on a five-year campaign to raise $50 million in capital--$25 million for production and $25 million for advanced technology. He said the first funds toward the goal are expected to come from fund raising now under way to match a $1-million grant made to WNET by the National Endowment for the Arts last year.

"It may seem arrogant, or crazy, but in terms of the programming we are producing and the standards we want to maintain, this is what we in public television have got to do," Iselin said.

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