Letter to NY Times Editor

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

February 19, 2008
Letters to the Editor
The New York Times

To the Editor:

In cherrypicking through the TV schedule to make his point, Charles McGrath misses the range and depth of Thirteen/WNET’s programming. From science and history to culture and public affairs, Thirteen has been at the forefront of creating and broadcasting some of PBS’s finest programs. We are still innovating and bringing additional relevance to public television’s tradition of intelligence, quality and integrity.

Mr. McGrath may not be aware that we’ve just premiered a new season of “Exposé,” the only series on American television devoted to investigative reporting. While cable and commercial newsmagazines have gone “crime all the time,” this series is a fresh take on the genre.

We’ve also just launched “Reel 13,” a weekly series that lets viewers submit and pick short films and that showcases quality independent feature films.

We’re about to launch “Sunday Arts,” a new series created in partnership with New York’s cultural institutions to celebrate the fine and performing arts – from established greats to undiscovered talents. And in a unique collaboration with ABC News, Thirteen is bringing the New York Philharmonic’s historic concert in North Korea to PBS.

In March, we’ll host the third annual Teaching and Learning Celebration, a one-of-a-kind professional development conference for educators. And with a grant from the Gates Foundation, we’ll be using the Celebration as a jumping-off point to produce a national PBS program examining critical issues in education. I think Mr. McGrath would be hard-pressed to name one other television outlet that is doing this kind of work.

What Thirteen/WNET offers its community – and all America – is unique, relevant, and, yes, necessary.

Sincerely,

Neal Shapiro
President and CEO
Thirteen/WNET

Read more responses to the NY Times article.

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Neal Gabler on Movie Musicals

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

This Saturday, we’re taking a break from our normal Reel 13 block. If you’re a big fan of the Saturday night classics, don’t worry, because Neal Gabler will be in-studio. Viewers know Neal as the host of our Saturday night classic films, and as you can probably tell, the man knows his film history. But he’s also an accomplished author, professor, and even a news commentator. Neal’s just a man of many talents; must have something to do with that name…

On Saturday, he’ll be on hand to talk about Hollywood Singing And Dancing: A Musical Treasure, which celebrates the movie musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age. And since my stage career ended with “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” in the fourth grade play, I can’t wait to see professionals like Debbie Reynolds and Judy Garland at work.

-NS

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Good News

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Hugh Siegel, Communications

They say “No news is good news.” But I say, “What do they know.” In my line of work – which is alternately called Communications, Publicity, Public Relations (and to some not so nice people, Flacking) – we live for news. Journalists are our heroes. We lovingly cut clips out of the paper and pin them with pride to our bulletin boards. The smell of newsprint lifts our spirits. In our quiet moments, we chant the headlines of the stories they write about us like mantras.

Well . . . I mean . . . some people do. I’m not talking about myself, of course.

Anyway, since all news is good news – and you’re probably too busy to keep up with it all – I have the pleasure of sharing a few of the week’s notable stories about Thirteen with you.

I probably don’t have even have to tell you that the big story of the week was the New York Philharmonic’s historic trip to Pyongyang, North Korea. It was a media extravaganza. And, we were a big part of it.

New York Times reporter Anthony Tommasini wrote, “. . . in a way, the potential (if any) of this concert to thaw the icy relations between North Korea and the United States may have come through even better in the live relay that I watched at home on my desktop computer. The performance was streamed at 4 a.m. on Tuesday on the PBS-WNET Web site. (A broadcast in conventional fashion was scheduled for Tuesday night at 8 in the New York area as part of the Great Performances series on WNET, and showings on other PBS stations will follow later in the week.)

Thanks, Thomas. We are happy we could give you a front-row seat to the peace “overture” of the year.

Speaking of peace, one of the great peace activists – master troubadour Pete Seeger – was the talk of the TV pages this week, thanks to the American Masters documentary, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. The Daily News called the film “first rate” and gave it three and half stars (no one’s perfect, I guess. . . ), noting, “the most fascinating part may be the window into Seeger’s personal life.” The LA Times critic went one better. After watching the program, he said he wished Seeger could be president of the United States.

One can always dream . . .

And while we’re on the subject of presidential candidates . . . former, almost-potential president of the United States Stephen Colbert sat down with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report this week to talk about the Harvard professor’s genealogical studies – which form the basis for Thirteen’s African American Lives series.

Television about television. For a PR guy, what could be better than that?

-h.s.

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NY Philharmonic in North Korea

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

It’s going to be a long day for our Great Performances team.

(For days, we’ve been working with our partners at ABC News to bring you coverage of the NY Philharmonic’s historic visit to North Korea. And personally, it’s been great for me to have the team at Thirteen work with ABC News, where I worked for 13 years myself. I’ve known ABC’s Bob Woodruff for years and it turns out that Bob’s wife and I grew up in the same town in upstate NY and went to the same high school).

Yesterday, we took in some satellite feeds from North Korea and we’ve been working with some of the videotaped materials that ABC’s Bob Woodruff pre-taped for us.

This morning, we streamed the concert live at 4 am. We’ve also been taking in satellite feeds all morning: Bob Woodruff’s reporting as well as extra video from ABC News and other sources. Now, we are editing it all together.

When it is done, I think we’ll have a great collaboration between ABC News, PBS and Thirteen.

A reminder, you can see our production at 8 pm on Thirteen and Thirteen HD. It will also be available starting at midnight on http://video.thirteen.org and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf.

Hope to see you there.

NS

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Peter & the Wolf – Oscar Win

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

For any of you who didn’t watch the Academy Awards last night, I am delighted to share that an upcoming GREAT PERFORMANCES program took home some Oscar gold. That’s right, “Peter & the Wolf,” the winner for outstanding animated short, will make its television premiere on GP on March 26 at 8 p.m. It truly is a remarkable production that reinvents a familiar classic, and we are thrilled to have it for GP. Here’s a link for a more complete description.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/shows/peterandwolf/index.html

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NY Times Article

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

I took a few days in St. Marten over the holiday weekend and I am writing this entry very slowly because it is on a French keyboqrd…I mean keyboard.

The letters are in different places and the modem is a little slow but I still got word of the review of PBS in the NY Times.

So sloaly..i mean slowly, I have been pounding out a response to the Times review. If the NYT doesn’t print it, I’ll share it here.

Meanwhile, I want you to know I wouldn’t have joined Thirteen/WNET if I didn’t believe that television can be a force for good in our world, that public television believes in intelligence and quality and that this station can be an agent of change and innovation to keep public television relevant for today’s viewers and for future generations.

I’d like to hear your thoughts to…please send them to me!

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Pledge Drive Programming

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

Well, I asked for your feedback …

A few of you have asked about our pledge drives…both how and why we do them. The “why” is pretty simple and you probably know the answer: funding. Before I took this job, I thought much of the station’s revenue came from tax dollars. But the reality is that we get about ten percent of our budget from the federal government and we have to raise the rest from corporations, foundations, philanthropists…and yes, viewers like you.

That’s why we pledge, but it doesn’t mean we have to do pledge the same way all the time.

Thirteen has been one of public television’s innovators in finding new ways to do pledge. Since I got here, I’ve had lots of brainstorming meetings about it. I’d like to find more ways to take advantage of the fact that we’re located in New York City, to bring in interesting great guests and to make our breaks more informational and less intrusive.

Marc Chelmer, a viewer, suggests that we run classic PBS programming during pledge instead of the programs we currently offer. I talked to Hilary Vlachos who oversees pledge. She says she’s mindful of balancing our pledge schedule with core programs such as The Forsythe Saga, The Three Tenors and others, but it’s a real challenge because it’s so expensive to get the rights to rebroadcast many of our old favorites.

I’ve also heard from several viewers who love the music we play during pledge drives and this should be no surprise. There is a wide variety of opinions about which kinds of music they prefer. That’s another challenge for us.

Meanwhile, keep the comments coming!

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Greetings from Washington D.C.

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

I’m here for a series of public broadcasting meetings and hearing great feedback on our upcoming broadcast of the NY Philharmonic’s concert in North Korea and our partnership with ABC News in presenting the event.

It’s a little bit different than what public broadcasting has done in the past and there is a real level of enthusiasm here among many station executives that we need to try to do things differently. (I guess the theme of “change” isn’t limited to the campaign trail this year and I am delighted our station can help lead the way).

The concert is Feb 26th and I’ll tell you more about how we are doing it as we get closer to the big day.

Meanwhile, back to my next meeting.

–NS

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Reel 13 – Things to Do

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

Every Saturday night our new Reel 13 series showcases a Classic, a Short and an Indie film. Ana Ramos is one of the curators of the series. She canvasses film festivals around the world for undiscovered gems. She’s here with some insight into this week’s indie film – Things to Do.
-NS

Things to Do

If you’ve ever had a mid-life crisis – at any age! – Things to Do may just speak to you. It’s a film of self-discovery. One of those stories that starts just when the road of life hits a major fork.

Watch a trailer for the film here.

The protagonist is Adam Stevenson, played by Mike Stasko, who also co-wrote the film. He’s an office Joe who decides to quit his job and move back in with his parents to rethink his “life strategy.” When he runs into Mac, played by Daniel Wilson, the two slackers set out to check off items on an eccentric “Things to Do” list.

So, it’s kind of The Bucket List for Generation Z.

Or as BPM Magazine writes, it’s Garden State meets My Name Is Earl.

The film, which was shot entirely on Super 16mm, was filmed in Windsor, Ontario in 2005. There’s a nice Q&A with Mike Stasko and director Theodore Bezaire on a site called The Frat Pack.

Yes, you’ve heard of the Rat Pack. You’ve heard of the Brat Pack. Well, there’s a Frat Pack, too – populated by the likes of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Steve Carrell and others. And they have a site that keeps tabs on them.

If Daniel Wilson looks familiar, that’s because – as we learn in the interview – he’s the cousin of the well-known Andrew, Owen and Luke Wilson, and the son of Joe Wilson, who has appeared in Wedding Crashers and You, Me and Dupree. But just as you realize that he looks like his more famous family members, you’ll also realize that he’s a true original.

Stasko’s biggest influence? The critically acclaimed commercial flop Bottle Rocket, which starred none other than Luke and Owen Wilson.

See you at the movies!

-Ana Ramos

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Washington Wields a Knife

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

The Bush Administration’s proposed budget for 2009, which was announced Monday, contained some unpleasant — but not unfamiliar — news.

Federal funding for America’s public broadcasters is scheduled to be sliced in half over the next two years — from $400 to $200 million in fiscal 2009, and $180 in fiscal 2010. These are reductions to funding levels already approved by Congress. So it’s potentially quite a blow.

To give you some background … every year, the federal government designates funds to support public broadcasting in future years. This “forward-funding” approach is designed to help us maintain our editorial independence. It’s a buffer zone that insulates us from anyone who might try to use the purse strings to influence what we put on the air.

These federal funds are distributed to public television and radio by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a nonprofit organization.

If you look at the numbers I’ve mentioned, you can see that the federal money public broadcasters receive each year is relatively modest.

Just do the math. $400 million works about to about $1.33 per year American. $1.33 PER YEAR. Compare that to your annual cable bill!

And when you consider the quality of the programming and educational outreach that $1.33 supports all year long … it seems like a pretty good deal.

Patricia Harrison, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has called the proposed cuts “draconian.”

Some stations will definitely feel them more than others – especially smaller ones.

On average, federal funds make up only about 16% of a public television station’s budget. But that 16% can be very important.

For a station like Thirteen, which is quite financially sound, the cuts would force us to trim or even cancel some of our programs and services.

For smaller stations around the country — especially rural ones — it would be much worse. Some might even be forced out of business if these cuts stick.

The good news is … we’ve faced threats of severe cuts before. Many people are already hard at work on Capitol Hill to remind our legislators of the important services that public broadcasters provide to their communities — and to the entire country. With luck, Congress will strike these cuts from the budget before voting on it.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this situation, so stay tuned.

And don’t forget to send me your questions. Just click “Write Neal” and let me hear what you have to say.

**

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