Mahar’s interest turned to confusion — and then suspicion. She passed. “I thought, ‘Martin Sheen has a TV show?’ ” she said. “I wasn’t aware ‘West Wing’ was still on.”
“In Focus” appears to be a relatively recent entry in the field of interstitial videos — short pieces, typically three to five minutes, that bridge the gap on-air between longer programs. Companies such as In Focus approach businesses, trade associations and nonprofit organizations, offering to produce flattering segments. The short films are intended for public television stations, the companies say.
Another attraction is the participation of a celebrity or TV news star as the host of the segment.
In Focus says its videos are non-
promotional and educational. But rather than a news program, the segments the companies produce are more like infomercials — commercials that mimic the look of documentaries and TV reports. In Focus promises in its contracts to give “participant companies” copyright control over the material it shoots, something an independent news organization would not permit. The subject of the video is often asked to pay upward of $20,000.
PBS says it has no business relationship with the program or the company, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla. The public broadcasting organization has warned businesses and nonprofit groups for years about producers who claim otherwise. In fact, public stations and PBS follow guidelines that prohibit them from airing programs paid for by the subject of the program. And federal regulations require stations and producers to tell viewers when a company or organization has paid to appear in a program.
A disclaimer on PBS’s Web site reads, “PBS wishes to clarify that it is not associated with and does not endorse, distribute programming for, review underwriting for or otherwise have any business relationship” with more than three dozen such programs and production companies, including In Focus.
“We are concerned about what we’re seeing,” said Jan McNamara, a PBS spokeswoman. “We’re actively looking into what steps we can take.”
In Focus refers to itself as “In Focus Martin Sheen PBS, Public Television (TV) Show” and “Martin Sheen on PBS (Public Broadcasting)” on some of its Web pages. It promotes the program via URLs such as MartinSheenPBS.com, InFocusPBS.com and InFocusMartinSheenPBS.biz. Its Facebook page states, “In Focus is hosted by Martin Sheen and airs on PBS,” and its YouTube page bears this description: “In Focus with Martin Sheen airs on Public Television and PBS member affiliate stations.”