November 30 - December 6, 1995

Eighth Day

IN-DIGESTION: When public television recently announced they were going to welcome the 74-year-old ultra-conservative Reader's Digest into its hallowed halls, I dropped my Bert and Ernie dolls.

It's obvious what public television can get from Reader's Digest--cash. But what on earth does the condensed-article king of the western world want with Barney?

Check the November issue. From their cover story, "Sex After 35," to advertisements for bifocals, butter, bran flakes and Buicks, it's obvious Reader's Digest needs Barney and Big Bird.

A spokesperson for Reader's Digest Association, Inc., told the Associated Press that PBS could help them by "possibly" attracting the youth market. The Digest will contribute $75 million dollars over five years for family programming and reap a bunch of video and product off-shoots along the way. Imagine a light-hearted Jim Lehrer doll quoting from "Laughter the Best Medicine."

There never was much humor at PBS, unless you count those British sitcoms. Frowning increased when Congress erased 13.4 percent of their allotment this year, leaving them to work with $275 million government dollars, 14 percent of the PBS budget.

So what better way to convince a Republican congress to keep funding Sewing With Nancy? How about linking it with the "World's Most Widely Read Magazine," with articles like "Thank You, Ronald Reagan" by the morally-fixated William Bennett?

For a long time now, there has been talk about how humorless public broadcasting was going to start standing on its own; and frankly, with the budget hammer dropping, perhaps it's time for them to make more corporate alliances and set the public free.

When I was studying radio and television at the University of Arizona, we were inextricably tied to KUAT. Many of the teachers in the department did double duty as button pushers for the station. They believed in public television, and they got a state paycheck to prove it.

But so much of what we were taught has become obsolete. Broadcast law evaporated. Cable wrapped the country even though one teacher assured us the "coaxial cable thing" would never work. Another instructor swore we'd never see large sponsorship logos on PBS. Noticed that chimney sweep and his screen-sized sign screaming Mobil lately? You know, "The Mobil Corporation, which provides the fuel for public television to run." Dipstick outlook: Corporate.

With around 260 pages in its November issue, 100 pages of advertising, Reader's Digest promotes light, fast reading, which will easily translate to television. Did I mention sales of 27 million copies a month, in 18 languages? Instant membership dollars.

Looks like we'll hear Mister Rogers offering up "Quotable Quotes" like one by William Rotsler in a recent issue: "Anyone without a sense of humor is at the mercy of everyone else."

Nothing describes public broadcasting better than that, warriors.
--Hannah Glasston

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November 30 - December 6, 1995

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