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TV Column
Posted at 06:19 PM ET, 08/16/2012

PBS CEO: Romney plans to cut funding ‘extremely disappointing’


PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger (Frederick M. Brown - GETTY IMAGES)
PBS CEO Paula Kerger finds recent comments by GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney about cutting the programming service’s federal funding as “extremely disappointing” given the “value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers.”

This week, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney joined the ranks of Republicans unimpressed by PBS’s 58 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations who have vowed to slash its federal funding.

Romney told Fortune magazine he’s a fan of PBS, but federal funding of same would get cut off during his administration.

Joining PBS in Romney’s tumbril are Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanties.

“Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS, I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf,” Romney said in the interview.

In a statement of response given to The TV Column, Kerger noted that a national survey by the bipartisan research firms of Hart Research and American Viewpoint in 2011 found that over two-thirds of American voters (69%) oppose proposals to eliminate government funding of public broadcasting, “with Americans across the political spectrum against such a cut.”

“We understand that these are challenging times,” Kerger said. “However, public broadcasting has already sustained a 13 percent cut in its federal funds over the past two years. More severe cuts would be crippling.”

Additionally she noted, “federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have almost no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.”

Kerger’s had a busy few weeks making statements about various GOP plans to pull fed-funds from PBS. Less than a month before Romney’s article came out, speaking to TV critics at Summer TV Press Tour 2012, Kerger noted the irony of a plan plan put forth by House Republicans to zero out PBS fed-funds by 2015, the very same week PBS nabbed 58 Primetime Emmy nominations — behind only HBO and CBS.

Critics politely took down her point without asking her why she thought PBS having been shown that much love by Hollywood would impress House Republicans.

At that time, she explained federal funding accounts for just 15 percent of the PBS budget, but that cutting the funding would most directly hit, and likely shutter, Public broadcasting stations in smaller markets, in more rural areas of the country.

Kerger’s comments in July about the latest proposal in Congress to kill PBS fed-funds did not make too many headlines at the time because a) she’s not Mitt Romney and b) the headlines instead were mostly about her explanation at the same Q&A about Fred Willard, who’d just gotten zeroed-out by PBS as host of its new “Antiques Roadshow” companion program, “Market Warriors.”

Willard lost the gig after his arrest at the Tiki Theater in Hollywood, which Comedy Central faux newsman Steven Colbert described best, as a place “for gentlemen who still appreciate seeing movies on the big silver, giving each one their own private thumbs up.”

Well, there’s glad tidings for Willard from HBO: the premium cable network has given a series order to Christopher Guest for one of his trademark single-camera “mockumentary” comedies. “Family Tree” is about a 30-year old who loses his job and his girlfriend, but gains a box of belongings from a great aunt he never met. This prompts him to start looking into his family lineage, and discover that he comes from a long line of, well, Chris Guest characters!

No word on deadline as to whether Willard’s getting a role -- only that Chris O’Dowd would play the lead, and that Guest and his frequent collaborator Jim Piddock will find a role for themselves, as usual. But Willard is, after all, one of the stars of the Chris Guest repertory theatre, having appeared in his “A Mighty Wind” and ‘Best in Show,” etc.

HBO has ordered eight episodes of the new comedy from NBC Universal International TV which — bringing us full circle — is the same operation that gives us — PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” recipient of a good chunk of those 58 PBS Primetime Emmy Award noms that so wowed The Reporters Who Cover Television, and Kerger, but House Republicans and Romney — not so much.

By  |  06:19 PM ET, 08/16/2012

 
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