The Public Broadcasting Service membership today votoed the first major reorganization of the television system in the 11 years of its sometimes stormy history.
According to PBS President Lawrence Grossman, whose position has been strengthened by the vote, today's action "settles once and for all the internal disputes in public TV, and enables us to offer a strong and effective national program service without compromise."
Acting on recommendations made Sunday by the 52-member PBS board of directors, representatives of the 156 station licenses voted to create multiple programming services starting with a "basic program service" supplying national programming. This would be set up within the next few months under a managing director.
In voting unanimously to back the board's recommendation, the membership also ordered a transition committee to report within six months on the establishment of one or more additional program services, which will most likely provide separate regional and educational programming. Each additional service would have a managing director.
"In the past," said Grossman, "national programing had to be all things to all people, but now there will be real educational opportunities that won't interfere with high visibililty special events, like coverage of congressional hearings or cultural series."
Grossman said that the decision to separate the various programming services "puts public TV in the forefront of the new technology for the 1980s as we structure ourselves for the satellite era."
The PBS membership also voted to:
Approve a board recommendation to form a separate Center for Public Television Planning and Representation, which will handle lobbying and long-range research chores for PBS. This center could be established as early as Oct. 1.
Establish a strong chief executive, who would have final say-so on programming decisions made by the managing directors of the several programming services, subject, to review only by the PBS board.
The board had recommended that each program service have a managing director with independent and autonomous programming authority.
After probably the sharpest debate of the day-long session, only 27 members voted to go along with the board's recommendations.
In another rebuff to the PBS board, the membership voted 75 to 59 against the recommendation to retain a 52 member board.
The PBS board had felt that any reduction in size would impair its ability to properly represent various minority interests within public television.
However, the membership decided today that the transition committee should return within three months with a recommendation for a smaller board, which will be considered by the new 52-member PBS board that takes over on Wednesday here. Although no size was suggested, one earlier recommendation had been for a 25-member panel.
The current board is made up of 35 so-called lay members-usually the board chairmen of the local stations-plus 15 "professionals" or station managers, the president of PBS and the vice-chairman of the PBS board. Presently the 35 lay members choose the board chairman from their ranks.
Earlier yesterday, PBS Board Chairman Newton Minow told the members that the board expects a recommendation will be made within the next year concerning possible alternatives to the present Washington location of PBS headquarters.
Many stations have been lobbying for a move from the East Coast, another sign of the dissatisfaction with the current structure which resulted in yesterday's action.
"The nation's television viewers won't see the results of today's changes tomorrow morning," Minow said. "But over the next few years, they'll see a much more diverse service.
"There'll be a high-quality core schedule of national programing available for the first time," said Minow, "with instructional materials available on cable systems. In addition the local and regional station organizations will now more easily be able to get their programs on the national service.
Both Minow and Grossman stressed that today's vote proves that PBS has been responsive to recent calls for reform by both Congress and the Carnegie Commission.
Minow pointed out that Congress recently had insisted it didn't want the same people in public TV who were engaged in programming decisions to engage in lobbying activities and that today's action guaranteed such conflicts would not recur.