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Do we still need PBS?

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Oscarthegrouch_l

Oscarthegrouch_lAdmit it: you hardly ever watch PBS. I hardly ever do. But I’m still glad it’s there. It wouldn’t be if the Bush administration and the New York Times had their way. Citing the channel’s perceived liberal bias, the Republicans have tried to kill PBS for ages, as with the recent move to gut the channel’s federal funding, which the administration has proposed doing for each of the last eight years. The Times‘ argument isn’t that the channel is too liberal but rather too redundant. Maybe 40 years ago, when there were only three other networks, PBS was necessary, the argument goes. But now, with cable, there are plenty of other places to find the things that PBS is known for: fine arts programming, sober and objective news coverage, quality children’s shows, and science and nature programs. To which I say: have you actually watched cable recently?

Let’s examine these points, shall we? Where, exactly, would cable’s fine arts programming be found? A&E? Bravo? Maybe once, but now, it’s all-reality-TV-all-the-time on those channels. Sober and objective news coverage? On the shrill cable news channels? Or the networks?  As for children’s shows: yes, other channels do have programs every bit as educational and entertaining as Sesame Street (pictured), but how many of them air uninterrupted by toy and cereal ads? As for science and nature programs… okay, I’ll spot you the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

Still, there’s the argument that by providing all these things for free, PBS serves a public good. After all, there are still some people out there who don’t get cable at all. (Hi, Mom!) Plus, there are still long-form shows on PBS that no one else would be enterprising or patient enough to do at a cable or broadcast network. Without PBS, there’s no Martin Scorsese/Bob Dylan miniseries, none of Ken Burns’ sprawling documentaries on the Civil War or jazz or baseball, no Masterpiece Theatre, no investigative reporting on NOW, no Great Performances — and yes, no Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. PBS is far from perfect, but I’m not ready for there to be a void on my channel rotation where I could have seen all these shows.

How about you, PopWatchers? Think PBS has outlived its usefulness? Or is there a PBS show you’re not ready to part with?

addCredit(“Oscar the Grouch: Everett Collection”)