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Final TCA Winter Press Tour Report: PBS Wraps It Up
January 26, 2018  | By Roger Catlin

PASADENA, Calif. — The number of reporters dwindled as the TV Critics Association winter press tour came to its final days last week with sessions from PBS.

A slackened pace and less glitzy presentation mixed with the more serious panels about upcoming literary adaptations and science shows further set it apart. But its officials also had to deal with prevailing questions of male misconduct that had been the overhead cloud for the entirety of the tour.

For PBS, it was primarily fallout from the removal of Charlie Rose and, to a lesser extent, Tavis Smiley, that dominated an executive session with CEO Paula Kerger (top). In past years, that session would otherwise have been dominated by the usual questions about future government funding.

The removal of Rose after a quarter century of his late-night public TV talk show came abruptly Thanksgiving week after reports of multiple women coming forward with stories of sexual misconduct.

Rose's 11 p.m. slot has been filled since then by a combination of Amanpour on PBS, hosted by Christiane Amanpour (right), and Beyond 100 Days, with Katty Kay and Christian Fraser.

Those shows will continue, Kerger told TVWW, while a longer-term solution is considered.

“Look, Charlie Rose was on the air for 25 years, and I think we have a moment to really think very hard about what we want to do at 11 o’clock on public broadcasting,” she said. “We’re looking at a lot of different possibilities.”

More immediately addressing the issue will be a new series, #MeToo, Now What? hosted by Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International. The five-part series starts Feb. 2.

Kerger said PBS was not aware of Rose’s behavior because his work was done in an independent studio. She said they learned of his misconduct the morning the Washington Post called to inquire after it had interviewed eight women.

“That does not absolve us from the responsibility of trying to ensure that we are supporting a culture where people are valued and respected,” she said.

In the case of Smiley, PBS officials received a complaint directly and hired a law firm to conduct its own investigation and halted distribution of Tavis Smiley after “multiple, credible allegations.” (Smiley for his part has said: “PBS has made a huge mistake.”)

One change for PBS internally is that employees will have to go through sexual harassment training annually, Kerger said. 


Speaking of which, Frontline producer Raney Aronson announced “an important investigation with the BBC about Harvey Weinstein” that will be more fully announced soon.

She also announced a three-hour look at the battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran “which has plunged the Middle East into a sectarian war.”

A third upcoming Frontline report, a collaboration with NPR, will focus on the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico.


Masterpiece producer Rebecca Eaton announced a new co-production with the BBC titled Mrs. Wilson that will star Ruth Wilson of The Affair. She will portray her grandmother, who learned after his death that her husband, a successful detective novelist, in fact, had several families. 

Another star of The Affair, Dominic West, will star as Jean Valjean in an upcoming (non-singing) production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, written by Andrew Davies and featuring David Oyelowo as Javert.

Elizabeth McGovern acquired rights to the story of 1920s entertainer Louise Brooks. McGovern will star in the film, which will have a theatrical run before it is broadcast, Eaton said.

Among other announcements, Robbie Robertson will narrate a four-part series on Native America in the fall.

This summer, in the eight-part The Great American Read viewers will be able to vote on their favorite books from a list of 100 best-loved books. It launches with a two-hour event May 22.

And CEO Paula Kerger bragged a bit about ratings and specifically the Season 2 premiere of Victoria on Masterpiece, which earned 3.5 million viewers and was PBS’ highest-rated night since The Vietnam War — “the series, not the event,” she made clear.


While it has the kids’ audience locked down during the day, PBS looks to attract young adult viewers in primetime, adding two hip-hop performances to the Great Performances schedule - Nas doing his Illmatic with the National Symphony Orchestra at Kennedy Center Feb. 2 and a will.i.am concert from the Royal Albert Hall, airing April 23.

But it was two elderly ladies who made the biggest impression during the PBS sessions.

Angela Lansbury (above), at 92, outshone her much younger castmates in a panel for the upcoming Masterpiece production of Little Women.

Lansbury — whose work in film and television has spanned seven decades including her 12 season run of Murder, She Wrote from 1984 to 1996, which is still syndicated worldwide — even eclipsed Maya Hawke, the teenage daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, who makes a splashy film debut as the central character Jo.

“It was a huge gift and a huge honor to get to be in that presence,” Hawke said of working with Lansbury, who plays the elderly Aunt March.

“I found it a very fascinating role to play,” said Lansbury. “I was glad I had the opportunity at my age to do that, to be part of an extraordinary production of a classic book.”

Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas wrote the adaptation of the classic by Louisa May Alcott.

When the young cast, which in addition to Hawke includes Willa Fitzgerald, Annes Elwy, and Jonah Hauer-King were asked to name their favorite Lansbury role, the most popular answer wasn’t from her work in Murder, She Wrote or The Manchurian Candidate or Gaslight (or National Velvet, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Blue Hawaii, Death on the Nile or The Greatest Story Ever Told).

It was Mrs. Potts, the voice she provided for Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast

Hawke, for her part, finally said Gaslight, the 1944 classic with Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten.

“That was my first,” Lansbury said. “What a cast.”

And while she listed Murder, She Wrote as her favorite role overall — “because it appealed to people throughout the world, all right?” —  among film roles,  “I think Gaslight (left) was probably one of the best,” Lansbury said. “I was just young enough to be able to absorb so much from my the actors that I was working with, Ingrid Bergman, extraordinary actress. Her presence, her friendship. Charles Boyer, the same. They took the time to commune with me, to talk to me. And we were a group of actors rather than stars.

Gaslight was an introduction to working in Hollywood, which in those days is not the Hollywood we know today, as you know,” Lansbury said. “It was a world of studios, of big stars, featured stars, and others … I was somewhere among ‘others’ at that time.

“I was only 17 when I started it, and I became 18 on the set, and everybody gave me a cigarette,” she said. “Those things you never forget.”


The second elder commanding respect was Dolores Huerta (left), the lifelong activist who co-founded, with Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers of America.

As an 87-year-old mother of 11, her work is not finished. And she started her California promotion for Dolores, a theatrical documentary that appears on Independent Lens March 27, with a three-hour march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Why agree to do the biographical film now?

“I had been approached by many other filmmakers, but I had always said no,” Huerta said. “But when Carlos Santana called, you can’t say no.”

The musician is just one of the big names who helped produce Dolores. The other is actor Benjamin Bratt, whose brother Peter Bratt is the filmmaker.

“It’s an incredibly complex rich, in-depth life, and we actually had to cut many, many chapters of Dolores’ work,” the filmmaker said. “I mean, her work in the LGBT community started way back with Stonewall. She campaigned for Harvey Mills, in San Francisco, the first openly gay politician elected in the United States. The bills that she helped get passed, her singular effort — that’s a story in and of itself.”

He said she agreed to do the film if it concentrated on the process of organizing, but “she was very resistant at the beginning.”

Dolores shows how Huerta was present at a lot of key historical moments including the night Robert Kennedy was killed at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968. She stood next to the candidate and received possibly his last shout out. I asked her about that night.

“Well, he was actually supposed to go with me to a ballroom,” Huerta said. “We had a mariachi waiting for him because we had so many farm workers that had been out there knocking on doors in East LA and in South Central Los Angeles. But when they took him back into the kitchen, of course, that’s where we lost him.

“It was very devastating to everyone,” she said. “The one thing, though, was that we were right in the middle of a big fight with the grape boycott and the Farmworker Movement, so we knew we had to continue. There was no way that we could stop.

“A lot of people became very cynical and stopped being engaged in political activity,” Huerta says. “But for the farm workers, we had no choice. We had to continue working. And it’s going to be 50 years in June with Robert Kennedy, so I hope a lot of people will remember him and talk about his values that we so sorely need today.”

She said she appreciated the opportunity she had in traveling the country with the film in order to get her message across  — “just saying to people, ‘Please vote. Get engaged. Get engaged with your political party, and run for office. Please.’

“We can’t say we’re going to leave it up to somebody else. Each and every one of us have to take a responsibility. If we love our country, we’ve got to make it a better country.”


Two of the more inspiring men in the PBS sessions were from that extinct breed of kids television hosts.

Fred Rogers (left), who died in 2003 at 74, was remembered for his work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1963 to 2001.

The 50th anniversary of its network debut will be marked not only by the theatrical documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? which just played the Sundance Film Festival, but also by the pledge time documentary Mister Rogers: It’s You That I Like that runs on many stations March 6. It features praise from celebrities including Judd Apatow, Sarah Silverman, John Lithgow and is hosted by Michael Keaton, who was part of the show’s crew.

David Newell, 79, who played the postman Mr. McFeely for decades, said Rogers “went into television because he didn’t like it. He thought what he saw back in the ’50s were a lot of people throwing pies at each other’s faces. And he said we can do better.”

In doing so, “he saw himself as a communicator and not a teacher,” Newell said.

A different children’s audience was nurtured with another public television hit, Bill Nye the Science Guy from 1993-1998.

Many of his residual fans, now grown-up scientists, sing his praises in the film Bill Nye: Science Guy premiering on POV April 18. But he’s also seen fighting climate change deniers in public settings.

Nye said at his panel — the last of the 133 press conferences of winter press tour — that he hopes the film “may give another nudge against this anti-science movement.

“At some point,” he said, “for economic reasons alone, conservatives are going to have to embrace climate change and do something about it.  As the ocean gets warmer, it's getting bigger, and storms are more intense, and we're losing sea coast.  People in Norfolk, Pensacola, Miami, and Miami Beach, they're going to move. Where are they going to go? What are they going to do? How are they going to make a living?”

Until then, he said he’ll continue to carry the message he had in his kids’ shows.

“We did 100 Science Guy shows,” Nye said. “The reason that people still watch them in school is because of Carl Sagan's advice.”

Nye got five minutes to talk to his onetime professor at a 10-year Cornell reunion. “He said, ‘When you do this show, focus on pure science.  Don't focus on technology.’”

But Nye said he doesn’t have to go back to public television to send his message.

“Now I'm on Netflix, and man, the budget of a single one of those shows would buy the whole Science Guy series,” he said. “The show is called Bill Nye Saves the World. How hard could that be? It's a half-hour. I'm very excited to be back on television.”

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