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PBS Chief: 'Buster' Didn't Boot Her

Sloan told The TV Column yesterday that the reason she told the Globe that Mitchell was satisfied with the content was because Mitchell "was personally comfortable with the episode."

But that weekend, after conversations with a number of PBS stations and "national leadership," Sloan said, Mitchell changed her mind.

Pat Mitchell insists her decision to leave PBS when her contract ends next year has nothing to do with the controversy over an episode of "Postcards From Buster." (PBS)

The PBS stations, according to Sloan, had asked Mitchell to "please don't put us in the position in which you feed the show to them and then they have to make the call in their communities" whether to air it.

Asked how many stations Mitchell had heard from, Sloan said it was her impression that there were a dozen. PBS includes more than 340 TV stations.

Asked who among the "national leadership" had contacted Mitchell, Sloan named John Lawson, who lobbies for public TV stations on the Hill, and Kathleen Cox, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Lawson, president and CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations, is Spellings's brother-in-law.

Boston station WGBH, which produces "Postcards From Buster," went ahead and aired the episode this month and has offered it to any PBS station that wants it. According to a station representative, about 85 percent of the mail WGBH received on the airing was positive. The rep forwarded one letter to The TV Column, which she said was from a Marine in Iraq thanking the station for providing copies of the episode to other PBS stations. "I don't fight for white, conservative, middle class, heterosexual Americans," the letter said. " . . . I fight so that all can enjoy our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The WGBH rep said 47 PBS stations, including almost all of the top 10 markets and representing more than 50 percent of U.S. TV households, have said they want to broadcast the episode.

That number, she said, will probably grow because WGBH has the right to distribute the episode for three years. Washington's WETA has said it will not air the episode.

Almost exactly a year to the day before Spellings's letter about "Buster," Mitchell was asked in an interview with "Speaking Freely," a weekly program produced by the First Amendment Center and aired on PBS, about an HIV-positive Muppet created for a South African version of "Sesame Street." The character caused a ruckus in Congress until Mitchell assured the legislators she had no intention of inviting the character onto the U.S. version of the children's show.

But, Mitchell added in that interview, had the addition of the character been under consideration, "there would have been a lot of conversations with 'Sesame Street' about how it would be done. I don't think our decision -- in fact, I'm sure our decision -- would not have been impacted by a letter from anyone on Capitol Hill, except to say, 'The question's been raised and here's our answer.' "

What a difference a year makes.

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