New York's Top PBS Snobs Raise Money by Mocking Commercial TV for 'Reality' Shows

The top PBS station in New York is marketing itself to potential new donors in the most natural way: by snobbishly mocking commercial TV as “a sea of madness.” Sadly, commercial TV stations probably won’t fight back by mocking prissy British period dramas like “Downton Abbey.” (I might suggest a mop-topped Muppet that looks like Ken Burns that constantly boasts of his own importance as a national story-teller.)

The New York Times reports WNET is undertaking a subway advertising and Twitter campaign mocking fake shows that sound like the “reality” shows currently airing on The History Channel or TLC, channels that conservatives have argued were airing programming similar to PBS fare:

Rather than making a typical point - that WNET's shows like "Live From Lincoln Center," "Masterpiece" and "Sesame Street" are far superior to reality fare - the posters take a cheeky tack by promoting five reality series that do not exist: "Bad Bad Bagboys," "Bayou Eskimos," "The Dillionaire," "Knitting Wars" and "Married to a Mime."

The make-believe shows are billed as being on make-believe channels like Insight and Arts, The Know Channel and Wonder Network - names that evoke the channels that lace their schedules with reality fare, among them A&E, once Arts & Entertainment; Discovery; and TLC, formerly The Learning Channel.

The payoff comes on the right side of the posters, which point to the fake advertisements and declare: "The fact you thought this was a real show says a lot about the state of TV. Support quality programming. Join us at thirteen.org."

The intent is to present WNET as "an island in a sea of madness," said Kellie Specter, senior director for communications and marketing at WNET.

The Times failed to notice that reality shows have been tried at PBS, like "Market Warriors," which was just canceled in March. WNET itself dabbled in producing period "reality" shows in the Bush years with "Frontier House," "Colonial House," and "Texas Ranch House."

This campaign seems like a strong political echo of PBS president Paula Kerger, who’s repeatedly knocked the direction that these cable channels have taken in fighting against Republicans like Mitt Romney to keep taxpayer subsidies:

She also reminded critics that cable channels that launched as commercial alternatives to PBS have since ditched their documentaries and performing arts for reality shows. The History Channel “found that the way to survive was to create a very different type of programming,” she said. “Programming like Pawn Stars and American Pickers is not the same as American Experience and Ken Burns.”

“Knitting Wars” was the fake show The New York Times featured, but WNET and its related stations on cable systems air shows like “Knit and Crochet Now,” produced for American Public TV. Knitters have their own reality competition. It's called "The Fiber Factor."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis