In Memoriam: Charles Hobson, Groundbreaking PBS Producer

February 24, 2020
Charles Hobson of Vanguard Documentaries

Charles Hobson, founder of Vanguard Documentaries.

Charles Hobson, a New Yorker who forged a groundbreaking and Emmy Award-winning career in public broadcasting, died on February 13, 2020, at the age of 83. Many of his productions aired on PBS and THIRTEEN, where he also served as director of market planning in 1989. The New York Times recognized his passing in an article, saying he “helped shatter racial stereotypes by delivering a black perspective that had been missing from early television programming.”

Hobson’s PBS Productions

As senior vice president for international co-productions at the PBS station WETA in Washington, DC, he produced From Jumpstreet: A Story of Black Music (1980) and The Africans (1986).

He later founded the production company Vanguard Documentaries, which created Porgy and Bess: An American Voice (1998) and Harlem in Montmartre: Paris Jazz (2009) for Great Performances; and Treasures of New York: The Flatiron Building (2014) for WLIW, which is streaming now; and The Five-Finger Discount (2017).

Early Career

When Hobson was a producer for WBAI radio in the mid-1960s he was approached to produce a news program about Bedford-Stuyvesant, where Hobson grew up. Robert F. Kennedy had conceived a television series that would show the “real” Bedford Stuyvesant – a Brooklyn neighborhood of working families, students, artists and professionals. Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant came to New York’s airwaves in 1968.

At the time, the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn was one of the largest and most dynamic African-American communities in the country – 400,000 people made their home within its three square miles. But Bed-Stuy became synonymous with crime and poverty when the mainstream media focused on urban unrest during the 1960s. Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant decided to change all that.

Charles Hobson captured his childhood neighborhood in black and white — local celebrities, activists, musicians, and regular residents all made appearances on the weekly show. The program ran for two years, and Hobson moved on to produce shows like Black Journal and Like It Is. Learn more about Hobson and his work on Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant from the Brownstoner online magazine.

Excerpt from Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant

Described by Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant producer Charles Hobson as one of the program’s “most-requested pieces,” this video features the Leroi Jones Young Spirit House Movers and Players delivering a jaw-droppingly powerful spoken-word performance.

These children, from Bed-Stuy and Brownsville, deliver a powerful protest about race relations in America. The young players embody the activist spirit of their driving force, poet and Black Arts Movement originator LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). Using synched movements and poetry, the children address issues from inequality to the lack of a well-rounded black history curriculum in the schools. The underlying message is the importance of pride and self-empowerment.