A letter to the Inquirer editors on Thursday got me thinking about the Public Broadcasting System and its relevance. Apparently, there is a move afoot to strip PBS of its government funding, and perhaps that time has indeed come. PBS had its glory in the old days of three networks and (maybe) a handful of UHF stations, when commercial-free television was a rare thing of beauty and something worth paying for.
When I was a kid (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) having a commercial-free television channel was a huge deal. We were shown landmark programs like "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and Carl Sagan's "Cosmos." We were treated to regular doses of "Nova," "Masterpiece Theater" and the more mundane "Mister Rogers Neighborhood." It was all great stuff, and unique in its element.
Now, with the advent of cable and premium channels like HBO and Showtime, the novelty of commercial-free television has worn off. Consumers get the premium channels they want (for a fee) and other cable channels (that they may or may not want) for another fee. We are all paying for television, and it is not necessary to pay for another network. In fact, one could argue that it is pointless to pay for a television network that is already a part of pay-cable. If I don't want HBO I don't have to pay for it. Asking me to foot an extra bill for PBS when I cannot cancel it is above and beyond what I should be asked to do for television.
Granted, they still have some great programs, but if there were no PBS, the producers would just take them to another network or one of the pay cable channels. Or, they could just leave them on PBS and PBS could become what HBO and Showtime are – pay for programming networks.
Television has grown in leaps and bounds (some for the better, some for the worse) over the past 30 years. PBS is an antiquated leftover, and is no longer worth the citizen's or the federal government's dollars. It is time for PBS to either join the ranks of other pay-cable channels or disappear entirely, and allow their programs to be produced by someone who can do it without taxpayer funding.