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KCET offers view of its programming future

Locally produced fare is a part of programming 'work in progress' as station faces loss of PBS shows.

November 10, 2010|By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times

Asia-focused news. Cooking and science programs from Japan and Canada. And reruns of British sitcoms and dramas.

These are the tentative first programming steps of KCET-TV Channel 28 as it seeks to plug the huge holes that will be left by its imminent departure from PBS. The Los Angeles-based station, the largest independent public TV broadcasting outlet in the nation, is slated to exit the PBS network Jan. 1 when it will lose perennial PBS favorites such as "NewsHour," "Nova," "Sesame Street," "Antiques Roadshow," " Frontline," "Masterpiece," "Tavis Smiley" and most likely " Charlie Rose."

In addition to relying on a programming schedule that is largely available on DVD, and in some cases is decades old, KCET also plans to air familiar locally produced fare such as "SoCal Connected" and documentaries with popular host Huell Howser.

"My hope in putting this schedule together, leaning heavily on acquisitions, is that people would realize our commitment to programming and storytelling that is very specific to Southern California," Mary Mazur, KCET's executive vice president and chief content officer, said in an interview Tuesday.

Although KCET will no longer be connected to PBS, it will continue to be a public broadcasting outlet dependent on a mix of corporate, government and viewer support. Given that many viewers have been critical of the station's decision to break with PBS, their reaction to the new offerings will put the newly independent station to its first big test.

Among the new offerings are " Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies," a new weekly film-reviewing show presented by WTTW-TV, the PBS member station in Chicago; and "The Write Environment," a behind-the-scenes program hosted by screenwriter Jeffrey Berman and produced by RDRR Productions. Those shows are likely to be matched with KCET's Sunday movie night hosted by Sam Rubin.

Station executives have also snapped up a number of English-language shows from Japanese supplier and public broadcaster NHK. Those include "NHK Newsline," a daily half-hour news roundup that usually focuses on Asian affairs and will be paired in the evenings with BBC newscasts. NHK will also produce "Asia Biz Forecast" as well as the lifestyle programs "Journeys in Japan," "Your Japanese Kitchen" and "At Home in Venetia With Kyoto."

KCET officials — who revealed some of the program choices in a promotional flier recently mailed to members — say the lineup is a work in progress. A top goal is to reassure viewers unsettled by the sudden loss of favorite PBS shows.

"We wanted everyone to be assured that programs they've come to love and enjoy will stay on our schedule," Mazur said. Scheduling details are still being worked out, she added.

Indeed, much of the programming will be familiar to longtime PBS viewers. For example, the station will repeat "Prime Suspect," the acclaimed British detective drama starring Helen Mirren that developed a rabid fan base during its initial run during the 1990s. Mazur said the choice represented a conscious homage to KCET's ongoing ties with its PBS past, even as it charts a newly independent course.

PBS fans may also recognize "The Nature of Things," the long-running Canadian science program hosted by David Suzuki, which has run on many public TV stations, as well as "Keeping Up Appearances," a BBC sitcom that was originally produced from 1990-95.

Other programs include "The Aviators," an aircraft technology show that officials hope resonates with Southern California's aerospace past, and "This Is America," a business roundtable hosted by Dennis Wholey.

Viewers shouldn't be surprised if some of these programs turn up elsewhere. Many were acquired through American Public Television, a public television distributor whose programming is usually not exclusive in any given market. That means that the Ebert program and other shows could turn up on Southern California's remaining PBS stations, KOCE-TV in Orange County, KVCR-TV in San Bernardino and KLCS-TV, licensed to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Deals for other shows had not closed yet and therefore could not be announced, Mazur said. But making KCET a local base for the Hollywood community is a priority for the station as it moves forward.

"The film and TV community has not had a home at KCET as I would like it to," Mazur said.

Al Stavitsky, a professor and senior associate dean at the University of Oregon who has extensively studied public media in the U.S., viewed the new offerings as a significant step for KCET.

"The new schedule is an intriguing mix: quasi-PBS with the Britcoms and dramas, quasi-cable [with] food and travel and kids fare, plus a dollop of local production to lay claim to the KCET legacy and 'SoCal Connected,' " Stavitsky wrote in an e-mail. "I wouldn't count them out, though the fundraising potential remains an open question."

scott.collins@latimes.com

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