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March 1993


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 17 Mar 1993 12:05:50 EST
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* one of the show's brochures explains: "We Do The Work seeks to
* restore balance and depth to the public's understanding of the
* political, economic and social issues all Americans face by giving
* voice to the majority--working people." We Do the Work estimates
* its national audience at more than 1 million per show; in San
* Francisco, according to producer Patrice O'Neill, its ratings are
* comparable to MacNeil/Lehrer's.
But since WDTW only appears in the major markets, its potential popularity is
unknown. On an absolute scale, M/L is seen by far more viewers.
* We Do the Work is a television anomaly. According to a City
* University of New York (CUNY) study (reported in EXTRA!, Summer
* '90), PBS primetime coverage that "addressed the lives and concerns
* of workers as workers" totaled 27 hours in 1988 and 1989, less than
* 0.5 percent of its primetime programming. Of the 27 hours on
* working people, 19 were about British workers--leaving 20 minutes
* a month about U.S. workers.
I assume by working people you mean lower and middle class working people.
This is a fairly common term; however, to suggest that high-income Americans
are not in fact "workers" is pretty askew. The business shows certainly
discuss topics that affect millions of the "working people"--just not with
the slant you want.
* Despite the absence of public-TV programming about U.S. workers,
* PBS itself does not distribute We Do the Work as part of its
* regular schedule. Instead, the show is distributed through the
* Central Education Network, a small independent distributor. As a
* result, it currently airs on only 30 of PBS's 300 affiliates, and
* is often broadcast during odd hours, when most working people are
* at work or asleep.
Actually, this defies logic. Your most successful people will generally be 9
to 5'ers, while factory laborers and retail, food and hotel workers are often
found working at night or even overnight.
* By contrast, most PBS stations air several regular business
* programs, including Adam Smith's Money World and the Nightly
* Business Report. Wall $treet Week, hosted by the virulently anti-
* labor Louis Rukeyser and focused on the stock market, caters to a
* tiny audience: An estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population makes
* five or more trades on the stock market per year. Americans who
* work, on the other hand, constitute a majority of the population-
* -even in a recession. Instead of jumping at programs aimed at this
* huge audience, however, PBS has historically shunned worker- or
* labor-oriented shows.
Because they don't watch PBS. Maybe there's a cause-and-effect involved
(labor classes don't watch because it's all shows for the upper class), but
as a gross generality, the "working people" don't go for PBS's style, even
when you address the programs (arts, music, public affairs) that don't
concern political leanings.
* PBS stations have often pointed to union funding as a reason for
* rejecting labor-related programs, citing a policy against programs
* where the underwriter has an interest in the subject. This policy,
* however, seems only to apply to labor. Nightly Business Report is
* funded by Marine Midland Bank, the Franklin Group of Funds and AG
* Edwards (among others), all of which have a clear interest in the
* markets and policies the show reports on. We Do the Work was aware
* of this double standard from the outset, and consequently is
* produced entirely without union funding.
This is a valid concern, although much of what airs on business shows are the
dryest of facts that, while distortable, are often pre-distorted (say, by the
government) before they are dealt with on the shows. In other words, the
shows are about stock prices, economic indicators, and trends, which are
either pure fact or pre-fudged. Perhaps shows about "workers" have facts to
report, but certaily not on a daily and repeating basis with timely import.
* Having avoided the union-funding pitfall, We Do the Work has come
* up against other excuses. Chicago's WTTW called the program "one-
* sided." KETC in St. Louis rejected the program as being "too pro-
* union"; the station vice president said he would not "bow to a
* special interest" by airing it (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/6/90).
PBS does have a major problem with affiliate wimpiness. I give you that one.
* Could public TV's reliance on corporate contributions fuel its
* reluctance to carry labor programming? About a third of its funding
* comes from major U.S. corporations, many with spotty labor records-
* -such as AT&T, which has underwritten the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
Certainly possible, but maybe not the overriding villain.
* "The dearth of labor programming on public television is so severe
* that it amounts to censorship," Fred Carroll, president of the
* Union Producers and Programmers Network, told the Senate
* Subcommittee on Communications in August 1991. Making We Do the
* Work available to a national audience would be a step toward
* lifting that censorship.
The "censorship" may actually be a business decision based on its relative
unpopularity--whoever's watching PBS, they may not care about "worker's
This is an interesting issue worth debating, but I feel fairly secure in he
devil's advocate role here.
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