Picks and Pans Review: Serious Stuff
Among the snobs I can't abide, the worst are those who peer down and around flared nostrils and pronounce: "I watch only PBS." Insufferable bores. The sad truth is that PBS not only lacks money these days but also excitement and entertainment. PBS used to be the only network to run worthy cultural shows (but now they're on cable's A&E too), children's shows (now on Nickelodeon), financial shows (on CNN and FNN), plays (on Showtime), nature shows (on WTBS) and cooking shows (on Lifetime). There is another raison d'air for PBS: quality entertainment. For that, PBS relies heavily on imports, following the rule, "Buy British—It Must Be Good." But two of three Masterpiece Theatre series so far this season—The Last Place on Earth last fall and Lord Mountbatten, eviscerated below—prove that rule wrong. Only one original series do I consistently applaud for trying, if not always successfully, to entertain: American Playhouse (also below). But too often, PBS pits its best shows, like Playhouse's Concealed Enemies, against sexy network miniseries. PBS would serve us better by running its main season in the summer as an alternative to primetime leftovers. And let's not forget to whine about those necessary but cringe-causing Pledge Weeks that are beginning to make Jerry Lewis telethons look tony. Facing new competition from cable and a strangulation of government funds, it's time for PBS to rethink its role. If it means hiring a strong boss like a Grant Tinker to provide direction, even if it means taking commercials—limited and tasteful—to provide money, PBS must become inventive and entertaining once more. The snobs are wrong if they think that the Big Three networks are still a wasteland and their audiences boobs; the top of the ratings, from Cosby on down, are filled with good, quality shows supported by viewers with taste. It's time for PBS to catch up to the networks and, once again, show them up.
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