PBS Companion: A History of Public Television


Steward details the history of the landmark programming and creative personalities in the development of public television--from "Masterpiece Theatre" to "Sesame Street". Photos. Index.
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Steward details the history of the landmark programming and creative personalities in the development of public television--from "Masterpiece Theatre" to "Sesame Street". Photos. Index.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From Sesame Street to Wall Street Week, from the stodgy 1950s to the bustle of the '80s and '90s, this compact volume examines 15 significant programs and two key local affiliates (San Francisco's KQED and Washington, D.C.'s WETA) from the history of U.S. public TV. Stewart (a longtime PBS exec) ably retails anecdotes and explanations about the makings of stations, shows and their "stars," among them Julia Child; Alistair Cooke, courtly host of Masterpiece Theatre; Wall Street Week maven Louis Rukeyser; and Alan Watts, who helped to popularize Zen Buddhism in America with a show on KQED. This batch of informal essays (which first appeared in Current Newspaper) is neither a reference work to current programming, nor anything like a comprehensive history of PBS or of noncommercial TV. Yet it's just the ticket for readers who might enjoy learning that the 71-year-old Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) is a strict vegetarian who gets up at 5 a.m. to go swimming; that Evelyn Waugh, whose novel Brideshead Revisited inspired a wildly successful PBS series, refused a $125,000 offer to turn his book into an MGM film because he wanted total control over the script; or that educational TV's first big star was USC professor Frank Baxter, a charismatic commentator on Shakespeare's plays. (After winning two 1953 Emmys, Baxter turned down a guest spot on I Love Lucy, declaring, "I love lucidity.") Stewart addresses the rise of Sesame Street, The American Experience, Nova, Julia Child's French Chef, Frontline and Upstairs, Downstairs, among other shows. Het is especially good on TV's early days, typified by saloon pianist/raconteur Max Morath's venturesome survey of American popular music, The Ragtime Era. The chronicle can (like PBS itself) grow bland, and it neither promises nor delivers critical analyses of PBS's current state--Stewart concludes by quoting a Frontline producer who calls his own program "the last best place on television." Nevertheless, this set of essays will afford watchers of PBS an enjoyable peek inside their favorite shows. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Stewart, currently a journalist covering the small screen, is a 40-year veteran of public broadcasting who writes affectionately yet incisively about the history of noncommercial television. Several recent books, including Laurence Jarvick's PBS: Behind the Screen (Forum, 1998) and James Ledbetter's Made Possible By (Verso, 1997), have presented comprehensive overviews of the subject. Stewart's unique and entertaining study, however, focuses on several series and their creators as "an attempt to celebrate their achievement." Among the items discussed are the evolution of the benchmark programs Masterpiece Theatre, The American Experience, Frontline, Sesame Street, and NOVA; creative personnel Louis Rukeyser, Jim Lehrer, Fred Rogers, Joan Ganz Cooney, and Julia Child; cornerstone affiliate WGBH in Boston; and the first public television telethon in 1953, which saved San Francisco's KQED from extinction. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Bruce Henson, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A bland and uncritical chronicling of public television's greatest hits and signature personalities. After 40 years in public broadcasting, Stewart obviously loves the programming and people who have made PBS synonymous with quality TV. He provides behind-the-scenes accounts of PBS favorites like Masterpiece Theatre, Nova, Frontline, Sesame Street, and The American Experience. We learn, unsurprisingly, that several PBS programs were imported directly from Great Britain or were based upon concepts developed by the BBC. While Stewart mentions this close BBC/PBS relationship quite often, he never really explores its implications. Nor does he address the oft-heard criticism that PBS is elitist, Anglo-centric, and too often boring. Moreover, Stewart says nothing about the complex relationship between PBS and the American government, which has sometimes treated it as a convenient political football. Stewart's overly reverential depictions of PBS personalities such as Julia Child, Alistair Cooke, and Mr. Rogers leaves the reader with a sense of incompleteness. Ms. Child, we are told, is unflappable in the kitchen; Mr. Cooke is erudite and avuncular; Fred Rogers really is a gentle, caring man who values children. Stewart simply isn't able to infuse these familiar topics with drama, freshness, or surprise. His best moments come when he's describing the hardscrabble, "do-it-yourself" beginnings of public television. We learn, for instance, that at KQED in San Francisco, "most of the sets were dressed with furniture from the homes of staff members and furnishings from the Salvation Army." These same resourceful KQED staffers, in order to stave off the station's imminent bankruptcy, producedthe first televised auction to raise supporting funds. While longstanding PBS aficionados might enjoy learning more about their favorites, the general reader won't find this history terribly compelling, certainly not as compelling as an average episode of Frontline.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781575000503
  • Publisher: TV Books, L.L.C.
  • Publication date: 8/2/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.17 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.73 (d)

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