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PBS Pledge Drives Worse Than a Bad Habit
December 5, 2015  | By Tom Brinkmoeller  | 46 comments

As a former smoker, I can tell you that what once was acceptable, then shown to be a tar-and-nicotine-paved path to no good, is a tough and awful habit to break.

The people who run PBS are similarly addicted to an awful habit. Trouble is, no one to date has convinced them they should stop. That addiction is to the once-acceptable, now detestably unhealthy way the network's stations raise money several times a year. We're in what they call a "pledge period" now, as any usually devoted PBS fan can tell you, and it smells worse than an overflowing ashtray.

Let's start with the bait-and-switch issue. There are programs perennially shown during these trips into bad ideas that one would never think of seeing during any ordinary time watching a PBS affiliate. There are self-help, lose-weight, make-money learn-to-play-a-piano programs one might expect to see late at night on a Fox affiliate that has even less to show after midnight than it has before. (21 Days to a Slimmer Younger You with Dr. Kellyann, top, left.)

One doesn't expect to see this kind of programming on a network otherwise known for high quality. Most of those who love regular PBS programming are appalled by these programs and their deviation from the norm. As a result, loyal fans are lost, at least temporarily. And the people who are attracted to these misfits may cough up some money, but they may not be pleased when the drive is over and Suze heads south for another couple of months to be replaced by science shows, Brit dramas and how-to shows -- all of which inhabit a plateau totally dissimilar to shows that have the words "wheat belly" in the title.
Then there are the pleasant special shows, usually performance-oriented, that should last an hour but usually take twice as long. (Steve Martin and Edie Brickell in a Great Performances pledge special, left.) Why? Because the allegedly brilliant minds that are responsible for shows like "Nova" and "American Masters" think punctuating a good program with endless pleading for money makes sense. Compare it to buying a car. You go into a showroom and either like what you see and think it's worth the cost or you don't. A sales person may try to browbeat you into capitulation. He may disappear for inordinate amounts of time to check a fact with a manager, and may forget to return your keys that they borrowed to appraise your car. But they don't want to give up. Such tactics might work on the dimwit characters of endless failed sitcoms, but they are insulting to the typical fan of the normal PBS quality level. It's an insult thrown regularly throughout each broadcast year at people who have proven their loyalty.
These and other tasteless tactics of PBS pledge drives are as out-of-place and gauchely mistaken as a platter of White Castles on a Downton Abbey banquet table. That these judgment errors continue unchanged and unchallenged isn't easily forgiven. Public radio stations with which I'm familiar don't rely on stunts and bad manners to receive support. So why is the larger sibling so clueless? 

Going back to the top of this rant, there once was a time when smokers were welcomed almost everywhere and no one thought of challenging such negative behavior. Today the smokers who persist not only are not welcomed, they are treated as the worst and most undesirable of creatures by many. 

Please, PBS, clean up your act, break the habit and treat your fans with the respect they deserve. Because right now you stink.

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Michael Hall
Good to see others who feel the same way!
Jan 1, 2020   |  Reply
Ramon Galvan
Thank you Tom for your excellent description of PBS' bad habits!
Hope OPB is paying atention!
Sep 11, 2019   |  Reply
Jeanne Larson
I agree completely with all the comments on the PBS Fundraising. Last night was the 2nd Saturday in a row I couldn't watch my favorites - Midsomer Murders & Father Brown. I just checked the schedule & they are not on next Saturday either due to this incessant Fundraising. I agree it's on too long & too often. Plus locally on WSKG-TV we no longer get DocMartin & I love that show.
Sep 1, 2019   |  Reply
These never ending fundraising programs are dreadful.
Dec 17, 2019
I obviously checked online how other people feel about PBS since at this point I am just outraged at the frequency of the pledge drives and the programs shown over and over again, only to benefit the individuals performers.
I live in Tucson now and am just amazed how completely Jewish run the station is.
The endless listing of all the prime contributors are mostly Jewish and some even pay to have their photographs shown to support PBS in a very phony manner.The endless repetition of NAZI films pieced together to show even more cruelty. Is it not bad enough that this dark picture of history actually happened, ripened completely by mentally sick leaders? In Germany today, millennials who have been marked by their history are very conscientious of their environment and government in particular and participate enormously in world wide environmental causes.
Repeating old shows over and over again is becoming very tabo.
Charlie Rose made me quit PBS.
Aug 26, 2019   |  Reply
Gloria Martin
Please - when is it going to end. Netflix and Amazon here I come.
Aug 24, 2019   |  Reply
Irene McDonald
I was a longtime supporter, but last year I stopped for good. The constant witless pledge drives and eternal reruns of old programs cured me of Houston PBS. Great programs like Nova and others are now available on Netflix and Amazon.
Aug 18, 2019   |  Reply
Joan tyler
Thank you. I've written to them regarding this issue as well.
Maybe they will listen to you.
Aug 17, 2019   |  Reply
Mary yount
Just saw these comments and am so glad that I am not alone. This fund raising craziness must not go on. Find someone who is current and up to date on fund raising. It is so sad that you advertise your high classness and the stoop to this!
Jun 10, 2019   |  Reply
Elaine Morrall
I was a donating 'member' of PBS for 45 years but since 2017 I have not donated for precisely the reasons stated above!
Mar 18, 2019   |  Reply
Carol lappi
Yes, we too,have had it with this everlasting pledge period! Poor and repetitious programming and how can it go on for so long? I was recently considering an additional gift in addition to my monthly pledge but am now considering removing my pledge until you choose to lessen the pain. This pledge programming and incessant hectoring is beneath what you purport to do.
Mar 17, 2019   |  Reply
Ed Hoeflinger
Pledge Frives have driven me away from PBS. i et up which series i want recorded, and in the past month there have been precious few. No i do not pledge any longer, and refer to my local station as "Our Lade of Perpetual Fund Raising". The television was bad enough, but it has also spread to the semi monthly drives on Radio. With all the pledge drives they about equal the Weather Channel for Commercials, and they are simply unwatchable.
Mar 16, 2019   |  Reply
Kevin Pennington
Finally someone who has a platform to use to vent about the endless parade of pbs fundraisers. I LOVE PBS , watching PBS shows are an ascape for me from all of the bad thing's happening in my life. I write on post its my favorite shows and which channel of ket there going to be on and what time. This way I never miss my favorite shows like doc martin, father Brown, call the midwife, Nova anything British like the great British baking show, and of course my absolute favorite downtown Abbey of which I have all the DVDs and have started buying seasons of poldark and Victoria. But when they do these telethon's which seem to get more frequent and longer lasting as each year passes and the content they play is awful can't even watch. You can't even search and find when it's going to be over. It's like they say were going to get so much money and there just not going to stop until they get it. Please go back to regular programming and for God sakes play more shows and less bluegrass music if
Mar 15, 2019   |  Reply
Fran Johnson
I was so surprised to see yet another fundraiser going on. I find myself not even tuning into PBS as much as I use to. I can only watch so many Susie Orman , Doo Wop,Rick Steves etc,etc. I really did enjoy PBS and hope some of the ways PBS had was will return. The price of being a cable subscriber is getting out of hand and when the choices even become less and less of good viewing shows to enjoy another fundraiser just doesn't go over very well.
Dec 31, 2018   |  Reply
Rita Speltz
What bothers me us HOW OFTEN they do it. I am a supporting member, but once a year, maybe twice, should be enough. Each one goes on for weeks and it feels like they do it a few weeks later!
Dec 9, 2018   |  Reply
There is a reason PBS does these infomercial type pledge drives. Much of this content is distributed for free, so PBS does not have to pay to produce it. The PBS stations do have to purchase the "thank you gift" materials, which is how the infomercial producers make money.Then PBS gets to keep all the money that is pledged.

While this is a cheap way to pledge-drive, I am surprised it works much at all. As you point out, "loyal fans are lost, at least temporarily". So who is pledging the money here? Not regular viewers. People who go in for this kid of content are not regular PBS viewers, maybe they were channel surfing and stopped on PBS when they saw someone like Dr. Kellyann promising quick weight loss. Dr. Kellyann appears on Dr. Oz a lot, I have read, and let's face it, people who watch Dr. Oz are not the target audience of PBS.
Nov 30, 2018   |  Reply
Also, I find it quite hypocritical that PBS, a network that prides itself on quality science programming, is choosing to use informercials from people who practice medical pseudoscience for their pledge drives.
Nov 30, 2018
Enough of the pledge drive- it is driving your best customers away to Netflix!
Aug 25, 2018   |  Reply
Keith Nichols
Perhaps PBS needs to become a pay-per-view or subscription service and forego pledge drives altogether. This might cause some unemployment, however, as production of the stuff PBS presents during the drives appears to have become an industry unto itself, providing material of a format unique to PBS. Even the interruptions during which the pleading takes place are built into the programs so that individual PBS stations need not provide a lot of the actual pleading and can just slip the programs into the tape machine and let them roll. Dropping a contribution check in the mail requires a considerable effort nowadays, since I'm increasingly less sure that the value I derive from the quality programming actually outweighs my impatience during the periods I cannot watch the station owing to a pledge drive being under way.
Aug 17, 2018   |  Reply
Anyone else notice that there will be a long pledge drive (In our area well over 2 months) Then you are thrilled to see regular programs return but ALAS, it is only for a week and then ANOTHER pledge drive begins.

Had more than enough of Suzie Orman, Rick Steves and the same music shows over and over and OVER again.
Jun 30, 2018   |  Reply
Marilyn Haugan
It's been a relentless cash grab campaign for gone two weeks now (SDPB) and I've totally given up tuning in. If there does happen to be something worth watching the frequent breaks pining for cash instantly kills the attraction for me. It's as annoying as a persistant telemarketer that doesn't seem to get the hint.
Jun 10, 2018   |  Reply
Mike Gannon
This particular pledge marathon has been literally on every PBS channel 24/7 for WEEKS (I'm looking at you KQED) without let up. Make it stop...please!. Far from encouraging donations you are irritating people to the point of anger and frustration. I'm not even going to comment on the lousy programming as that dead horse has been thoroughly beaten into dust. Just STOP, dammit.
Jun 9, 2018   |  Reply
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