Founder / Editor


Associate Editor


Assistant Editor











Lost and Found: PBS Rediscovers Core Audience in New Pledge Programs
August 5, 2011  | By Tom Brinkmoeller

During the upcoming pledge period, PBS will air three musical specials that are so enjoyable, and so well performed and produced, they may remind those watching of when the major networks regularly broadcast these kinds of shows. Even though commercial broadcast networks have abandoned such musical programming for less costly amateur hours, PBS ably picks up that dropped baton with concerts by Barbra Streisand and Michael Feinstein and a special about how the pre-Beatles folk-music scene grew from a start in Greenwich Village into a preeminent national musical preference...

Because public stations take over more of their scheduling during pledge drives, those interested will have to scan local August schedules to see when the following may be broadcast: Barbra Streisand -- One Night Only at the Village Vanguard; Michael Feinstein: The Sinatra Legacy; Legends of Folk: The Village Scene. (All will air the week of Aug. 8 on New York's WNET, for example, but stations around the country may run them later.)


Streisand's special was recorded two years ago in what has to be one of the smallest venues she has played since she last appeared on stage in the Village in 1962.

"It's hard to have stage fright with practically no stage," she says at the start of the 13-song concert.

Viewers more familiar with arena and stadium concerts may find it interesting to see a how a major singer can deliver a flawless performance without intricate lighting, special effects and amplified instruments -- she is accompanied only by a piano, double bass, drums and guitar. Her voice is as good as ever, and the simple artistry and the setting makes it a concert many will enjoy.


The Feinstein special was recorded earlier this year at a concert hall in Central Indiana and is built around music that has a connection to Frank Sinatra. Backed by a full orchestra and top-notch arrangements of the songs he performs, this is the second musical jewel PBS puts up for its supporters. Feinstein demonstrated his love for and knowledge of music last fall in the three-part PBS Great American Songbook series. Those qualities come through just as enjoyably in this program.

Vintage performance concert and television footage of artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Richie Havens by itself will make many a Boomer smile while watching Legends of Folk: The Village Scene.


But it's more than a nostalgia fest they'll be enjoying. It's an illustrated history of how this small section of New York City was a loving incubator for popular folk music. In some ways it is a prequel to last March's American Masters installment that traced the movement of pop music from New York to Los Angeles, Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor and the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter. People who lived through the folk era -- or wish they had -- shouldn't miss this program.

For what seems like too many years, PBS pledge programs did the network's fans no favors by replacing known favorites with one-time shows hosted by self-help gurus, piano teachers and other square pegs in its normally "round-hole" schedule. Are these three new programs indicators of a new programming direction, one that doesn't abandon longterm fans of the network every time stations ask for money?

To answer that question directly might alienate the producers of the aforementioned "square peg" programs. But there may be hope for a direction change hiding between the lines from a PBS programming executive:

"While performing arts programs have always been a part of the PBS schedule, it is true that we are devoting an increasing amount of time and resources to them on the PBS schedule," said Senior Vice President and Chief TV Programming Executive John F. Wilson. "We know our viewers -- Americans from all walks of life -- embrace programs on music, art, dance and performance and we're always seeking to offer them quality entertainment."




Mac said:

Streisand's "pratically no stage" is home to a 16 piece jazz orchestra, stragely titled the Village Jazz Orchestra (catchy,huh?), aka the VJO, which has played virtually every Monday night (originally called the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra) since 1966. Piano is off to one side, but the rest of the players, the instruments (some play multiples), mikes, sheet music, drum kit, stands, etc. fit in the same space. And I'll guess there are easily over 100 albums recorded there, including famous nights starring John Coltrane or Bill Evans. One fan was so enraptured of Bill at the V V that he snuck in a tape deck (when tape decks were the size of a PC, circa 1990) and made private recordings.
Stresiand auditioned, but never played the V V; she was hoping to open for Miles Davis. The girl who had the gig (but Miles never played behind a girl singer): Joanie Sommers, whom many an old TV/radio observer would recognize as the voice of Pepsi Cola in the 1960s (Now it's Pepsi - for those who think young!").

Comment posted on August 6, 2011 9:21 PM

Neil said:

KQED in San Francisco ran the Streisand/Village Vanguard program over the weekend (and I recorded it to DVD). It's very low-key and intimate, well worth an hour of your time.

My only objections were the canned pledge breaks that consumed a full third of the airtime (it's an hour program inflated to 90 minutes of airtime with the three pledge breaks), and the 50-or-so back shots taken from behind Barbra which featured husband James Brolin seated in the front row. (Less would've been more in both cases.)

Comment posted on August 8, 2011 1:07 PM

Tom Brinkmoeller said:

Mac: Thanks for the depth of information in your comment. As the Editor and Founder of this site often says, the readers of what we write are an amazing group of insightful and knowledgable people.
Were you the spy with the clandestine recorder? Hope you preserved those tapes, if you were.
Neil: Pledge breaks, it's unfortunate, are like real estate--the better the property (PBS), the more you have to pay to enjoy it. Also, on the long-shot chance that this special would have been shown on a commercial network, the commercial interruptions would have been as plentiful and probably not as tasteful.
I agree about the number of Brolin shots. I think he was on camera here almost as much as he was during the whole run of "Hotel."

Comment posted on August 9, 2011 6:47 AM

Mac said:

Tom- Thanks for the kind words. After a long day of blue collar work, it's nice to be appeciated for this passion in my life. No, I'm not the secret taper,but I'll give a little info about that and you can post if you wish or just enjoy for your own interest.
Mike Harris was a Conn. physicist who taped over 75 hrs. of Bill Evans' piano trio recordings from 1961 to 1975.Years after Bill's death, clearances were made and Bill's original record producer put together an 8-CD box of these recordings. Bill's official recorded work has been packaged in no less than 7 massive box sets. As staggering as this material is, I'd suggest Bill's single-disc original Vanguard recordings from 1961,"Sunday at the VV" or "Waltz For Debby" for starters (and even these are packaged together, if you want, in a "complete" 3CD box with added tracks). Bill led a gentle but sad life (long-time heroin and cocaine addict) but no one who carefully listened to his music came away unchanged. One word: beautiful.

Comment posted on August 12, 2011 6:15 PM
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 Name (required)
 Email (required) (will not be published)
Type in the verification word shown on the image.