by Thomas L. Wayburn, PhD


KUHT, Channel 8 in Houston, Texas, operated by the University of ouston, was the first public television station in the country; and, as far as I can tell, it is fairly typical of others, many of which, no doubt, share the features that concern me in this essay.  I wish to propose a epithet for public TV, namely, "elitist politics combined with pedestrian taste."  That's a vicious combination and, arguably, the worst of all possible worlds.  Public television was supposed to be an alternative to commercial television, that is, an improvement over it in matters of good taste and quality of programming.  Perhaps public TV _does represent a very slight improvement over commercial TV, but it can hardly be considered an _alternative to those of us who would welcome a change from the inane drivel of the "party line" that attempts to promote materialism and the "American way" at every moment of every program and every commercial on each and every channel, not excluding the so-called religious channels, where commerce runs wild just like it does everywhere else.

In this essay, we shall examine the programming content of KUHT and  other public television stations, the means of marketing the so-called memberships, other sources of funding, and, finally, the political structure of the station itself and the Association for Community Television, the private, non-profit corporation that supplies nearly all of the station's funding.



Regrettably, I do not have time just now to complete, to proofread, and to convert an old text-type file to Word 2000, for which I apologize.  Do I err in presuming that it is better to present it in bad shape than not to present it at all?

I must admit that my interest in television since I purchased my first

set several years ago has been concentrated upon major-league baseball and

college and professional football, with an occasional look at the news.

Normally, I arrange matters so that I can monitor at least two contests so

that, if a commercial break occurs during one game, I can look in on another

until I judge that the commercial break might be safely over.  Lately,

though, I have taken to monitoring commercials to determine to what extent

the advertising is false, deceptive, irrelevant, ot tasteless.  I have not

observed a single ad that cannot be described by at least one of the above

four terms and usually all of them.  This shall be discussed in another

essay (if it has not been discussed earlier in a subsequent version of this

essay).  .b2


.t5 I have seen very little public television, it must be admitted, even

though I was a "member" of WNET in New York for one year.  Occasionally, I

sneak a look at the McNeil-Lehrer (sp?) Report, but normally the experts

called upon to discuss the vital issues of the day are so immersed in the

conventional wisdom of the day, which, as always, is a tissue of errors and

misconceptions - decades behind advanced or progressive thinking - that I

change the channel or hit the off button in disgust and retire to my book.

I have seen interesting musical and dramatic shows extremely infrequently,

but these are usually badly flawed in production (with the alternate camera

in precisely the wrong place, for example). .b2


.t5  Television is an extremely seductive medium, but I have promised

myself that, after I finish this essay and the essay on commercial

television, I will go back to my long-standing habit of avoiding television

altogether.  This is a practice that stood me in good stead from the coming

of the first station to Detroit in about 1946 until about 1974 when I

purchased my one and only set.  College and professional sports have

accumulated so many defects that practically nothing could make them worth

the commercials, or even portions of commercials, one would have to endure

to watch them on TV.  Thus, since I have not seen much public television, I

can comment only on the little I have seen, which I must assume to be

typical, and make generalizations on facts that cannot reasonably be in

dispute. .b2


British Productions .b2


.t5  I wish to mention my concern about the large proportion of programming

originating in England first.  I find the practice of showing large numbers

of British productions unacceptable for a number of reasons.  First and

foremost, they take acting opportunities away from talented American actors,

many of whom are forced to abandon the theatre as a livelihood.  The British

actors do not gain proportionally by this harm done to their American

colleagues principally because of the very reason that the British

productions are shown, namely, they are much cheaper than comparable

American productions.  Presumably, they are cheaper because the British

actors have already been paid and they need not be paid again.  .b2


.t5 But, the American actors are not the only losers (and recall some of

their own tax money ends up supporting British actors through the

government-sponsored Corporation for Public Broadcasting).  Many workers in

the American theatre (other than actors) belong to unions, the purpose of

which is to ensure decent wages and prevent management exploitation.  Public

television subverts these goals by exporting production money to England.

This is a form of union busting and, as such, represents an unfair

employment practice.  I don't know why American actors and technicians don't

refuse involvement with public TV, but, probably, many of them are not in a

position to refuse any work at all.  .b2


.t5 My third and final objection to excessively many British productions on

American TV, commercial or public, is that it enhances a pervasive and

pernicious myth.  I can explain it best by quoting a physicist who was

lecturing on particle physics.  He was talking about certainty and

uncertainty.  At the top of the certainty spectrum was the time-honored

mathematical proof, almost certainly true because one of the generations of

mathematicians who had studied it would have found a mistake by now if there

were one.  Near the bottom, was a statement that was so shaky that it "must

be said with a British accent".  What makes this funny is that it is so

true.  We Americans have so little respect for ourselves, and the weakness

of our educations does not altogether invalidate this feeling, that we don't

believe anyone unless he comes from somewhere else, the UK being the

preferred repository of intelligence.  Perhaps a prophet cannot be accepted

in his own land, but I have had it with the undeserved respect accorded

Brits in ours - and some of this, at least, must be charged to public TV. .b2


Lawrence Welk .b2


.t5 I am told that never do pledges run so high as when the Lawrence Welk

Show is running during the yearly (it only seems weekly) pledge drive.

Traditionally, among lovers of music, the "music" of Lawrence Welk is held

in low esteem if not in downright contempt.  Normally, it would be

impossible to pass judgment of this sort on any artistic endeavor

whatsoever.  After all, the band plays reasonably in tune and its product

shares many characteristics of genuine music.  In this case, however, the

members of the band themselves have come to the rescue of co-called catholic

taste by indicating that they themselves hold the music in low esteem.  When

the artists themselves, as well as competent critics, reject the art, the

case for rejecting the art is very strong.  My case would be immeasurably

strengthened if I could refer to the precise edition of _Downbeat or

_Metronome where the members were polled many years ago, but I cannot.  This

is not really a serious difficulty, though, because it is easy to get people

who are serious about music, i.e., musicians, composers, critics, teachers,

etc., to admit that the Lawrence Welk Show is a purveyor of trash.  The

continued presence of The L.W. Show is a serious indictment of Channel 8.

If it were an isolated example of what we might charitably call pedestrian

taste, we might overlook it, but, in my view at least, it is typical.  Other

examples are ##########. .b2


Marketing .jc .b


.t5 Lately, Channel 8 has subjected its viewers to one of its fund drives.

These are exercises in some extremely questionable, if not downright

fraudulent, marketing techniques.  The constitute a serious assault on our

intelligences and our tastes as well.  The audience is subjected to

extravagant claims about the quality of the programming on Channel 8, which

is at best mediocre.  What is so infuriating is that the claims come from

people who have not the capabilities or expertise to make such judgments.  A

business executive, for example, might pass judgment on a theatrical

production.  We are made to feel guilty if we have watched and not made.

Apparently, the staff of Channel 8 is unaware of the fundamental doctrine of

broadcasting, namely, that the "airwaves" are a public trust and that it is

their privilege to broadcast by the leave of the public not our privilege to

decode whatever messages may be encoded upon the electromagnetic waves that

penetrate our homes willwe nillwe.  Finally, and this is my main point, we

are sold "memberships" in an organization whose charter and bylaws ensure

that the entitlements of membership shall be null.  Members of ACT for 8

have as much to say about what goes on on Channel 8 or how ACT for 8

conducts its affairs as does the man in the moon.  These various "sucker"

pitches are reinforced by offers of highly overvalued material goods -

offers that prey upon and reinforce the viewers socially perverted

acquisitiveness.  One does not expect much good to come from so much evil -

certainly a point worth considering. .b2


Other Funding .jc .b


.t5 With about @@@=% of Channel 8's funding coming from so-called members,

then, why should Channel 8 bother with corporate sponsorship at all?  .b2


Political Structure .jc .b


Conclusions .jc .b


Houston, Texas .b

March 12, 1991 .g