Kartemquin Films, the venerable documentaries production company, is spearheading a concerted effort among independent filmmakers and appreciative nonfiction film watchers to convince PBS to reconsider the rescheduling of Independent Lens and POV, the nation's top documentary film broadcast programs, from their established time slots on Tuesday nights to new time slots on Thursday nights, when local affiliate stations, by contract with PBS, can and typically do present locally-selected material. Tuesday night programming, on the other hand, is controlled by PBS, itself.
The current scheduling change went into effect on October 13, 2011, at the start of Independent Lens' current season.
Since its repositioning from Tuesday to Thursday nights, the series has dropped 42 percent drop in its ratings, according to Current.org.
Come June, the schedule change will similarly apply to P.O.V. at the start of its 25th season.
As Kartemquin points out, the rescheduling has effectively removed vital documentary programming from PBS' main schedule.
Translation: documentary programming has been dumped. And that, says Kartemquin, is contrary to the mission and mandate of publicly-supported PBS.
In its Open Letter to PBS, Kartemquin states: "Taxpayers support public broadcasting because democracy needs more than commercial media's business models can provide. PBS' programming decision makes a statement about PBS' commitment to the mission of public broadcasting. We note the definition in the recently-revised and reissued Code of Editorial Integrity for Local Public Media Organizations: 'Our purposes are to support a strong civil society, increase cultural access and knowledge, extend public education, and strengthen community life through electronic media and related community activities.'"
Together, Independent Lens and POV have presented an extraordinary roster of fine documentaries -- including Connie Field's Have You Heard from Johannesburg, Heather Courtney's Where Soldiers Come From, Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers' Lioness and Chris Paine's Revenge of the Electric Car, to mention but a few -- that have contributed substantially to public awareness and engagement in the debate about pressing issues. These are films you really want to see, and you want your fellow citizens and the nation's decision makers to see them, too. With easy access. Broadcast broadly and for free.
My advice: read Kartemquin's Open Letter to PBS in its entirety. And, then sign on. And, then, have your family, friends and colleagues sign on, too.