PBS offers enormous value for the investment

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Among the many stupid ideas that helped sink Mitt Romney’s presidential bid was his casual proposal to cut funding for PBS.

PBS and children’s advocates jumped in to defend Big Bird, the beloved character from PBS’s long-running “Sesame Street,” and a “Million Muppet March” on Washington was organized. Only a few thousand people showed up for the march, but the battle had clearly been joined.

Republican attacks on PBS, and the shoddy, stupefying quality of supposedly educational programming on commercial networks like History, reinforce my passionate support for public broadcasting. The budget-cutters so anxious to destroy PBS are examples of those who know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Although outstanding children’s programming would be a big casualty of such mindless budget-cutting, so would a broader array of intelligent programming in public affairs, science and nature, history, investigative reporting, drama and culture.

Almost all of the most entertaining and informative programming I’ve watched on TV in the past year (except maybe for the Tony Awards and Latin Grammys) has been on PBS. 

The most recent PBS triumph was Ken Burns’ new documentary on “The Dust Bowl.” Peter Coyote’s stirring narration over startling still and motion pictures, along with heart-rending testimonies of people who survived the massive dust storms of the 1930s, created a chilling rendering of this man-made catastrophe on the Southern Plains. History does not get any better than this – except for virtually every episode of PBS’ “American Experience!” Tune in to “The Abolitionists” on Jan. 8.

In the past year, “Nova” broadcast two fascinating series called “Fabric of the Cosmos” and “The Elegant Universe,” which explored physics theories that had this science idiot rushing to look up more info about quarks and parallel universes. Among the many recent delights telecast on the “Nature” series were “An Original DUCKumentary,” “Animal Odd Couples” and “Raccoon Nation.” “Nova” and “Nature” boast imaginative computer graphics and beautiful nature photography. They are visually dazzling, intellectually stimulating and utterly entertaining.

“American Masters” aired wonderful documentaries on writers Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell and Carl Sandburg, on jazzman Cab Calloway, Johnny Carson, Woody Allen and choreographer Bill T. Jones. My favorite was “Troubadours.” It traced the careers of Carole King and James Taylor and included many memorable performances. 

“Frontline” consistently airs hard-hitting exposés about social and political issues, such as “Poor Kids,” a damning portrait of child poverty in America, and “Climate of Doubt,” about corporate forces trying to debunk the reality of climate warming. I still get the creeps thinking about the horrors presented in “The Meth Epidemic” run by “Frontline” a few years ago.

For 40 years every Sunday night, “Masterpiece” has brought classic novels and contemporary dramas to these shores, treating American viewers to intricate stories and amazing performances by two generations of great British actors. 

All of these programs consistently win critical acclaim and industry awards. Viewership for programs like “Sesame Street,” “Masterpiece” “Frontline” and “Antiques Roadshow” is at record levels. The half billion per year that currently funds PBS is equivalent to what we blow in Afghanistan in one week.

I know times are tough, but what we don’t need right now is a further dumbing down of our viewing standards and the elimination of our only option for quality non-commercial TV.

Please tell your representatives that you support PBS, and back that up with a donation to your local affiliate during this season of giving.