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Digital TV Transition: Senior Workshops

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Dan Allen, Friends of Thirteen Intern


Attendees watch on as a converter box is
connected to a television using “rabbit ears”

On September 17th, I traveled uptown with Dorothy Pacella, Executive Director, Friends of Thirteen, to represent Channel Thirteen at “Harlem Connects,” an educational conference to prepare Harlem’s seniors for the digital television transition in 2009. Studies show that seniors are most likely to be left behind on February 17th, 2009, when all analog TV signals cease. The Harlem Consumer Education Council, under the leadership of dedicated community activists Dennis Lane and Florence Rice, hosted the event at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. building on 125th Street.

As the day progressed, my eyes were opened to an array of issues surrounding the “big switch.” Barriers of age, language and cost are frequently overlooked obstacles when it comes to the digital transition. Even with a $40 coupon, a digital converter box is a still a serious financial concern for someone living on a fixed income.

Below: sample coupon; for real coupon, go to
https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx

Even if your household subscribes to cable, I urge you to spread the word and educate your parents, relatives, friends, co-workers or neighbors; someone you know who is not ready for February 17th. With 148 days to go, it’s important to be as proactive as Harlem’s seniors who have already held two forums about the digital transition. It’s a daunting task, but Friends of Thirteen is doing our best to make sure that no one misses out. Learn more about the digital transition here: https://www.dtv2009.gov/

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Blueprint America Launches

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Ed Hersh, Senior Consultant, Blueprint America

Okay, now, admit it: when you hear the word “infrastructure”, it doesn’t exactly make you sit bolt upright. But maybe it should, because those rusting bridges, overcrowded airports, endless traffic jams, suburban overdevelopment, choked tanker terminals, leaky water systems, overtaxed power grids, and lack of public transportation are all part of our infrastructure, and they are in desperate need of attention. In an era of climate change and $5/gallon gasoline, they’re nothing less than a wake-up call about our nation’s ability to face the social, economic and environmental challenges of the future.

I’m proud to be part of a terrific team that’s launching an unprecedented new initiative, Blueprint America — developed and produced here at Thirteen/WNET, with major funding by the Rockefeller Foundation — that in the months ahead will present a whole range of compelling programming about the problems we face and some visions for the future that we guarantee will never let you take our infrastructure for granted again. You’ll also learn – as we did in our research – that in our nation’s past, there was almost always a national plan for how our country should grow, and where. And never have we needed that foresight more than today.

We’ve put together a first-class production team to put all this together, and we’re thrilled that we’re partnering with some of PBS’ most prestigious and most-watched news and public affairs programs, as well as public radio.

    Starting the week of September 22nd, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer will present a five-part series on how infrastructure issues affect every region of country, reported by Senior Correspondent Ray Suarez.

    On October 10th, NOW on PBS will present a major segment reported by David Brancaccio on how rising gas prices, long commutes, and a lack of transit options are having an enormous impact on working families.

    Worldfocus, the new internationally-focused nightly newscast, is firmly committed to a series of segments on how our global competitors treat infrastructure. Likely airdates shortly after October 6th launch.

And that’s just the beginning. We’re producing some innovative prime-time documentaries that will air next spring and summer. We’re putting together some fascinating pieces for air on public radio. And we’ve launched an incredibly rich new website at www.pbs.org/blueprintamerica. We’ll be posting video and audio exclusives, behind-the-scenes video and interviews, and informative links to resources and background reports. We hope it will serve as a focal point for debate, an aggregator of print and video content, and a “virtual meetinghouse” for you to share your stories, video, and information about your cities and towns. There will even be a way for you to share your video of the biggest infrastructure headache you face every day, whether it’s bad commutes, bad traffic, dangerous bridges, or overdevelopment.

NOW do I have your attention? Welcome to Blueprint America. We invite you to join us on what we hope will be an exciting journey over the next year.

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Weekly Press Digest, Sept. 12-18

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

AP notes the Creative Arts Emmy Awards won by American Masters and Great Performances.

“No tenor has had quite the impact on the opera world, and the world at large, and this program reminds us why,” extols the Baltimore Sun on Great Performances’ Pavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias.

An article about Where We Stand: America’s Schools in the 21st Century by Thirteen/WNET Education VP Ron Thorpe runs in EdWeek. The program is reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, and The Week, which calls it “Show of the Week.” The New York Times and Tribune Media Service/Zap2it reviewed the special. Gannett News Service designated it the “Must See of the Week.”

Shakespeare on the Hudson on WNET and the re-broadcast on WLIW are mentioned by the Wall Street Journal’s theater critic, who writes, “If you’ve never seen my favorite outdoor summer Shakespeare festival in action, these excellent programs (which deserve to be shown nationwide) will give you a taste of what you’ve been missing.” “It has charm, it has humor, and it has dashes of poignancy,” says the Daily News.

“The tale of one of the biggest Hollywood studios started with a dog,” the Washington Post quotes Susan Lacy as saying, in a look at You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story. “The American Masters presentation serves as a springboard for an aggressive slate of new PBS programs in the next few months.” TV Guide and the Denver Post take note as well.

Though the series has been airing on PBS for eight years, apparently dead people still have lots of secrets that need to be uncovered. Thirteen/WNET dug up five new stories of long forgotten mysteries for the Secrets of the Dead series,” writes Real Screen.

“WNET/Thirteen, the PBS station seen in the New York City metropolitan area, will broadcast a live-to-tape performance of the Culture Project’s recent production of George Packer’s Off-Broadway drama Betrayed Oct. 23 at 9 PM ET” writes Playbill.

Long Island Press features WLIW21’s new local production Going Green Long Island, noting, “The hour-long documentary may not change your life, but will likely change your mind about what exactly going green entails—and that is the goal.”

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Weekly Press Digest, August 22-28

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Selected press items from the Friday, August 22 through Thursday, August 28.

The New York Sun builds a giant feature around Great Performances’ Pavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias, singling out his Met performance of Una furtiva lagrima as “a pensive essay in delicacy, during which one can all but hear the silence in the house.” Thirteen/WNET is mentioned (but note that the local airdate in the story is incorrect.)

“Natural-history filmmaker Neil Rettig started his career studying birds of prey in the mid-1970s, and his love for all things raptor has only grown. Rettig claims he was the first to film the elusive harpy eagles of the Amazon — some of the largest and rarest eagles in the world. He continued his focus, creating documentaries such as Raptor Force for PBS’ Nature series. Now, with his latest project — American Eagle, also for Nature — Rettig turns his lens to the comeback and current challenges of the American bald eagle.” The feature story is in Digital Content Producer.

Franny’s Feet and Cyberchase are both called “The week’s best bets for kids” by the Chicago Tribune.

The Putnam County News & Recorder features the upcoming Shakespeare on the Hudson.

Reel 13’s broadcast of Cult of Sincerity was a New York Times highlight.

“PBS alone among the broadcast networks devoted all of its prime time to coverage of the first night of the Democratic convention,” writes Broadcasting & Cable.

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Weekly Press Digest, August 15-21

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Selected press items from the period Friday, August 15 through Thursday, August 21.

The Toronto Globe and Mail profiles Aaron Brown, touts Iraqi Exodus, and quotes Brown’s appraisal of his Wide Angle gig: “When you do television, you have this kind of mythical belief that the people sitting at home are fully dressed, sober and paying attention and taking notes,” he said. “I finally found a place where they are, so that’s pretty damn cool.” Wide Angle: Iraqi Exodus is highlighted by the New York Times and many others. The program is “. . . a first-rate look at one of the lesser-recognized problems associated with the war in Iraq: the flight of more than 2 million Iraqis from their homeland,” says the LA Times. Brown’s interview on Bloomberg TV’s Night Talk can be seen here:

The digital switchover means New Yorkers will get dozens more channels for free, according to a cover story in AM New York, which quotes Thirteen/WNET’s Kent Steele.

Reel 13 indie film ‘Cult of Sincerity’ is on the cover of Brooklyn Paper‘s Arts & Entertainment section.

“PBS’ American Masters has already won five Emmys for nonfiction series and now collects its eighth nomination,” says Variety. “Chronicling the lives of American icons such as folk legend Pete Seeger, novelist Zora Neale Hurston and Motown great Marvin Gaye last season, the program never fails to impress voters.”

V-me will present nightly primetime coverage of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions as part of its PARTICIPA 2008,” says Cynopsis.

Josh Marshall gave a nod to Bill Moyers Journal’s interview with Andrew Bacevich at Talking Points Memo, and Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish, at the Atlantic, honored it with the “Quote of the Day” not once, but twice.

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Public Television Rocks… The Police’s Last Concert

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

What a magical night!

I’ve been lucky enough to be at Madison Square Garden for some very special nights–NBA playoffs, political conventions and more than a few concerts. But last night’s event was the most special.

It was The Police’s final performance ever–and that alone would make it unforgettable.

But this was much more that that….because The Police were donating the proceeds from this very special concert to Thirteen and our sister station WLIW21.

In a time when too many headlines are about self indulgent artists, this was an event where the artists were giving back–to support arts and culture programming on New York public television.

Before the concert started, WLIW’s President Terrel Cass and I were supposed to go backstage to meet briefly with the band. It took a series of squeezing past the crowds, flashing credentials at checkpoints, and then following our escorts to the photo area. When we finally got there, I had lost Terrel.


Neal Shapiro, Sting, Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland

So that’s why it’s only me in the picture. (I know Terrel did ultimately find his way to his seats because I saw him at the concert).

Backstage, as we waited for the band, I talked to Mayor Bloomberg, who usually has so many evening events on his calendar that he has to hop from venue to venue. But tonight, he was making a rare exception–he and Diana Taylor were going to stay for the entire concert.

When Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland walked in, I was struck by how relaxed they were…not just for any concert but for their last concert together. They laughed, kidded with each other were genuinely nice with everyone.

There were a few moments that had the “last time” flavor. Kevin Mazur, who has been photographing their LA and NY shows, was taking group pictures and The Police pulled him into a photo with them. We were also joined by promoting genius Jay Coleman (the main architect of our association with this concert) and Public Relations icon/pioneer Ken Sunshine. Somewhere nearby was President of Radio City Entertainment Jay Marciano. All three of these gentlemen had so much to do with making the concert a sold-out success.

In the crowded quarters backstage, I caught glimpses of two people running back and forth with earpieces and small microphones and I wondered if they were part of the band’s security detail, or members of the Garden’s crack events staff. That is, until I got closer and realized they both worked for us. Laura Savini, VP of Marketing and Communications for WLIW and Ranfi Rivera, Deputy General Counsel, Program Business Affairs for Thirteen, worked tirelessly on this event from the moment we announced it, and by that night they looked as if they had been handling rock concerts their entire lives.

When we were done backstage and I made my way to the floor, the crowd was already rockin’ with the B-52′s. Within a few feet of my seats, some recognizable fans of The Police: James Gandolfini, Bruce Springsteen, Deborah Harry and Leonardo Dicaprio. (I’m sure they’re also fans of public television).


Michael Bloomberg, Diana Taylor, Juju Chang, Neal Shapiro

As the concert began, you could sense that everyone knew they were part of an unforgettable event. Sting told the crowd of 19,000 that we were the last audience they would play for…the last audience of more than 3.7 million who had watch this tour, which had consisted of 150 performances.

On one side of me was Pat Harrison, President of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who had more energy than many of the younger folks who were in our section. On the other side of me was a beautiful woman. She knew the lyrics to every song. She told me that Stewart Copeland was the brother of legendary agent Ian Copeland. I told her that I had talked to the Police personally and they told me what a grind the concert tour had been.

At the end of the concert, I looked in her eyes and asked if she wanted to come home with me …and she said yes. Why? Perhaps it was my personal charm, the euphoria of the evening, or the fact that we’ve been married for 13 years.

The concert was promoted under our banner of “Public Television Rocks” and we want to make sure this is not the end but the beginning of finding more ways to embrace the greatest talents of rock music..on the air and in other ways. Last night’s concert may have been The Police’s last ever but it’s not the last for us. We’ll be back with more.

Photo credit: Joe Sinnott

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Weekly Press Digest, July 25 – August 3

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Selected press items from the period Friday, July 25 through Sunday, August 3, 2008.

“New Yorkers are lucky to have one of the strongest public television stations in the country. Where the rest of the nation calls it PBS, we know it as Channel 13, and for more than a dozen years, it has hosted some of the most cutting edge filmmaking for, by and about New Yorkers, during the annual Reel New York Film Festival,” gushes Indiwire.

Television Quarterly features back to back articles about Bill Baker and Neal Shapiro. (See pages 34-44).

“Beginning this week, SundayArts, the weekly arts and cultural program produced by Thirteen/WNET New York, will feature segments of the award-winning Bloomberg Television program Bloomberg Muse,” announces MarketWatch. “‘This is a great, natural alliance,” said Neal Shapiro, Thirteen CEO, President and SundayArts host, ‘and a win-win situation for Thirteen and our viewers. Both Thirteen and Bloomberg strive to bring the best arts and culture to the widest possible audience.’”

A feature story in the New York Post covers the final concert of The Police. “The show will benefit local public television stations Thirteen/WNET and WLIW21, which anticipate it will be the single largest fund-raising event in public TV history.”

Wide Angle
’s Aaron Brown is mentioned in the USA Weekend Who’s News blog. Brown was recently a guest on News Talk Online, and his interview was noted by this blogger, eliciting the following comment: “Hallelujah!!! At last a man who is not afraid to stray from just reporting American events, and who sees the significance and importance on understanding how what happens in other countries impacts on our own country. He was a breath of fresh air.”

Channel 11’s Marvin Scott interviewed NY Comptroller William Thompson about the state’s economy after the live taping of Thirteen/WNET’s New York in the Red: The Governor Speaks. Susan Arbetter blogs about the program on the Times Union website. The entire program can be viewed on thirteen.org.

Bill Baker
is “among 10 ‘Giants of Broadcasting’ to be honored by the Library of American Broadcasting in New York on Sept. 25,” reports TV Technology.

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Neal’s Music Recommendation

Friday, August 1st, 2008

In my role as President of Thirteen, I’m always coming across a wide array of talented artists, musicians, and writers. And I like to think that this station not only showcases the most esteemed people working in their field, but also helps foster new, upcoming talent.

Which is why I’m so excited about this new musical group that we’re hosting next Thursday. They’re called The Police, and I’ve got to tell you: I see a big future for these kids. I’ve even heard a couple of their songs and I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty soon everyone is talking about this hot new group.

You may have heard that Andy, Stewart and Sting (yup, that’s what he’s called) will be at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, and that you can get tickets by making a donation to Thirteen/WNET and WLIW21 (http://www.publictelevisionrocks.org/). But what you may not know is that you can get in on the ground floor with this band and own a piece of history. The Police are auctioning off their signature instruments to benefit our stations. Own Sting’s bass guitar or microphone, Andy’s telecaster, or Stewart’s drums! How will these musicians carry on when they give up their instruments? Well… that’s just how much they love public television!

The auction runs on eBay from August 4th to 14th. Just click on this link (http://www.ebay.com/publictelevisionrocks) and let the bidding begin!

If my instincts are right, I think that these guys are destined for great things.

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Weekly Press Digest, July 18-24

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Selected press items featuring WNET.org, its programs, projects and services from the period Friday, July 18 through Thursday, July 24.

Wide Angle received highlights in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Newsday, Reading Eagle, Record Online, and elsewhere. Wide Angle: Birth of a Surgeon is recommended by TimeOut New York, while the audio news release for the program was picked up by more than 900 stations for a total audience of nearly 11 million listeners.

New York Post TV Week interviewed veteran record producer Phil Ramone before his live appearance in WLIW21’s studio for the U.S. broadcast premiere of Billy Joel: The Stranger Live. Newsday TV Editor Andy Edelstein called the concert, “An invaluable piece of rock and roll history.”

“Long snubbed by the large Hispanic networks, children’s programming is finding a fertile ground in smaller, newer TV upstarts, prominently V-me, which boasts one of the nation’s largest catalog of Spanish-language children programming,” writes Multichannel News. “V-me this year is premiering the first Hispanic version of LazyTown, a pre-school program currently airing in 118 countries.”

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly gets a write-up in the Star Bulletin of Honolulu. “PBS Hawaii has joined the 280 public television stations nationwide that carry the weekly newsmagazine show as it begins its 12th season.”

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The Waterfalls and New York City

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Bob Morris, Producer

Our president, Neal Shapiro, calls Thirteen.org “a house of ideas.” It’s a very apt phrase because it is sometimes hard to figure out the ideas behind shows on commercial networks, yet Thirteen’s programs are based on some very simple ideas: to inform, educate and entertain. (We also try to inspire, motivate, and empower, but that’s for another blog post.) One of the ideas that came out of Neal’s side of the “house” was: “Let’s do a show on the New York City Waterfalls.”

The New York City Waterfalls is “public” art, and is different from the art you see in museums. The Public Art of this documentary is always temporary – only up for a short period before disappearing forever, and many times installed in places you have never been. The New York City Waterfalls is a creation of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, who also had exhibitions this spring at MoMA and P.S. 1 simultaneously.

I have a lot of friends who don’t even “get” Picasso, and I knew they were going to have a hard time conceiving that 4 waterfalls plopped in the East River equals art. They can stand in front of The Pieta and see perfection, but standing in front of a Jackson Pollack, they see nothing more than an accident in the paint department at Home Depot.

Our first interview was with the artist himself. In order to get a shot with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, Olafur and I had to stand on boxes, leaving my co-producer Suzanne Glickstein standing on the pavement three feet below us. Olafur was rather reserved and the media spotlight that comes with a big project like this was not one that he is entirely comfortable with. And here we are literally putting him on a pedestal as if he was a statue in the park. From Olafur:

It is not about the spectacle. …. This is not about me. It is about the people in the city and the spaces and the kind of qualitative questions you can ask in that sort of situation.

“This is not about me”. What kind of celebrity says that? We asked him a lot of questions and Olafur would sometimes catch himself getting very philosophical and didactic. Before the interview, I spent a whole day at MoMa and P.S.1 looking at his collections. I was fascinated with how he could make a simple idea, such as a fan suspended from a long cable in MoMA’s atrium, moving in a seemingly random pattern around the room, work beautifully. With the fan, you can stare at it, almost hypnotically, trying to predict the movement — wondering if it’s random or is it moving on a pattern. I must admit I stared at that fan longer than many of the paintings I’ve seen at MoMA.

In the interview, we spoke for about 45 minutes. I wanted him to talk about the Waterfalls, he wanted to talk about the city. I live here, I’m a New Yorker. I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building. I can get to Yankee Stadium on three different subway lines! What could a Danish-Icelandic artist who lives in Berlin tell me about my city? Olafur said:

“People tend to focus on the waterfalls as almost as a sculpture, as an object. But that’s maybe not the right way to look at it. Because obviously the vantage point from which you see the waterfall is the place. So if you look further down on this side here, there’s that very nice strip of pedestrian walks and bicycle paths. There is the highway up here. There are the bridges behind here. So maybe it is relevant to say, and this is so much about public space, that these are the sites, this (The Waterfalls) is just a kind of mechanical site, and those other sites which may be the more interesting sites.”

Well, maybe he was right (of course at that point there was nothing happening there, just a scaffold). But that was five weeks before the water would start flowing, and once it did, we had three days to film the Waterfalls and edit the footage into the final sequence before airtime.


image courtesy Public Art Fund

All the local news scooped us with their stories of the falls; they looked at them “almost as a sculpture, as an object.” But we shot from various points in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Governor’s Island. The Waterfalls, like the fan suspended from the ceiling in MoMA’s atrium, were mesmerizing — constantly changing shape, billowing like sails in the wind, changing color as the sun ducked behind a cloud.

But just as interesting was seeing the city from places where I had never been; seeing an orange sun setting behind Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty, discovering a friendly walkway next to the river or that Brooklyn Bridge Park has the best views of Manhattan. “Those other sites which may be the more interesting sites,” said Olafur. It was the point of the piece that the local news programs never saw.

Like all public art, The New York City Waterfalls are temporary and will come down in October, so see them while you can. Yes, you will see the ever-changing Waterfalls, but also neighborhoods you never knew, sites you never saw and discover new places in your own city. If you are like me, sometimes you need a Danish-Icelandic Artist who lives in Berlin to show you just how beautiful this city really is.

You can watch Bob Morris and Suzanne Glickstein’s documentary The Waterfalls: Making Public Art online at SundayArts at Thirteen.org.

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