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TV Column
Posted at 03:45 PM ET, 07/23/2012

PBS chief defends firing of Fred Willard after his arrest


Fred Willard (Michael Tullberg - GETTY IMAGES)

(UPDATED with Fred Willard’s tweets below.)

PBS sacked Fred Willard as narrator of its new flea-market competition series “Market Warriors” less than 24 hours after his arrest at a porn theater in Hollywood, because the programming service was afraid his “unfortunate circumstances” would become a “distraction” for a series that debuted last week, PBS chief Paula Kerger told TV critics on the opening day of Summer TV Press Tour 2012.

Asked to comment on debate in Washington about cutting public TV’s federal funding, Kerger said it’s ironic, given the number of Emmy Award nominations PBS logged Thursday — 58, behind only HBO and CBS — thanks in large measure the “Masterpiece” franchise’s popular crunchy-gravel drama “Downton Abbey.”

Once again she noted public TV gets just 15 percent of its money from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but explained that some smaller PBS stations depend on federal funds for half of their funding, forecasting some of them would “go dark” if the money is eliminated.

In case you missed this important story in the heat of Emmy nominations Thursday morning, Willard, 72, was arrested late Wednesday night at the Tiki Theater in Hollywood — which, as Comedy Central faux newsman Steven Colbert described it, is a place “for gentlemen who still appreciate seeing movies on the big silver, giving each one their own private thumbs up.”

Willard, whose credits include “A Mighty Wind,” “Best in Show,” and the upcoming “The Yank,” was arrested on suspicion of committing a lewd act.

Willard’s lawyer released a statement Thursday afternoon saying that, “With all due respect to the individual officer, our belief is that Fred did nothing in any violation of any law.” Willard has not been charged with anything and in fact will not be, city officials told the Los Angeles Times, so long as he enrolls in a “pre-filing diversion program.” If Willard completes the course “we will consider the matter closed,” a rep for the city attorney’s office told the paper.

(UPDATE: Monday afternoon, Willard tweeted, “Wait til u hear my version; much more PG. & my review, lousy film, but theater would make a terrific racquetball court. Full story 2 follow.”

He then added a plug for his ABC improv show, “Trust Us With Your Life”: “I was not fired from TUWYL so B sure 2 watch Trust Us Wtih your life Tues, ABC 9.”)

But Willard was found guilty of possibly causing a potential “distraction” for public broadcasting, and so was fired from “Market Warriors,” which follows expert antique shoppers as they scour flea markets around the country to buy things they hope to turn into big profit at auction. “Antiques Roadshow” host Mark Walberg is re-recording the narration on remaining episodes, which have already been produced; he is the new voice of the show, starting with Monday’s episode.

“As you are aware of the unfortunate circumstances with Fred this week, we actually are in production…When the circumstances became known, we realized that needed to move fast,” Kerger told TV critics attending the TV press tour at the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel.

“It actually links the two shows together,” Kerger said brightly of Willard’s replacement.

“Market Warriors” was conceived as a companion to the American version of Brit hit “Antiques Roadshow,” which is PBS’s highest rated program, clocking around 10 million viewers a week.

“Market Warriors” debuted this past Monday, with Willard narrating; his bio was yanked from the show’s Web site Thursday.

“We are sometimes criticized for not having a sense of humor” Kerger said when Willard was announced as “Market Warrior” host/narrator. “I think Fred will enable us to counter that a little bit.”

By  |  03:45 PM ET, 07/23/2012

 
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