KQED, the local PBS affiliate in San Francisco, hired me on three separate occasions. Perhaps my first four month stint of lambasting pledge; mocking the union slugs; and wearing a “I Hate Public Television” button didn’t alienate enough of the self-righteous to not ask me back.
During the second stretch at KQED, Yan Can Cook, a favorite cooking show of mine, ended up as one of my management responsibilities. Martin Yan, a charming and energetic man, had still not mastered the English language. While this elevated the whimsical personality of the brand, it did cause some consternation amongst his underwriters and sponsors.
One day, after rousing the stage manager from her stupor, we shot promos for the show.
Angry Stage Manager: “Fisherman’s Wharf Consortium. Promo! On. 5, 4, 3 . . . “
Martin Yan: “And dis time of yee-ah, you can take a trip to Fishahman’s Woof, where you can enjoy fresh Dungeness CRAP! And—”
Angry Director: “Cut!”
Martin Yan: “Problem?”
Legend has it that KQED lost the Fisherman’s Woof sponsorship. In the interest of keeping the stupid racism accusations to a minimum, I won’t cover the shoot day with the guest Thai chef who came on Yan Can Cook to make something with peanut sauce.
And if Martin Yan’s questionable diction were the only issue at KQED, and by extension PBS, the very concept of public broadcasting wouldn’t be so irksome. But in addition to top-heavy management, labyrinthine union rules, and the whiny production personnel, KQED’s programming, more of it on the public dime than any stooge at MSNBC will ever admit, ran tried and true to its appeal to aging hippies, angry minorities, guilt-ridden Caucasians.
In other words, less than 50% of the potential market at best.
A typical spate of an evening’s fare, consisting of 99% national feed and 1% of the pathetic excuse for local programming, laid out, with some embellishments as follows:
6pm – 7pm – The McNeil-Lehrer News Hour(of some clone thereof) – Tonight our two Woodward and Bernstein Wannabes present the news of past week with an emphasis on sticking a thumb in the eye of traditional Americans. Our field reporters, recently returned from their internships at the Kremlin, go on location to cover obtrusive American Imperialism in the four corners of the world.
7pm – 8pm – TWIT BAY AREA – This Week In The Bay Area.A series of featurettes on the topics that interest the residents of Kooktown, USA (In fairness, KQED does refer to the city as San Francisco) and its environs. Among tonight’s topics: The concept of White Privilege will be beaten to death by a KQED producer of color who couldn’t make it in the private sector. An inside look at the local burgeoning activist community. And our weekly expose on some rich, white people who just don’t pay their fair share of taxes.
8pm – 9pm – Beverly.A documentary produced by our sister station, WGBH/Boston. It’s the story of a young hermaphroditic transsexual who always felt, deep down inside, that they were a little ‘different.’
9pm – 10pm – Enrico.A documentary produced by our sister station, WGBH/Boston. It’s the story of a young hermaphroditic transsexual who, in addition to being an undocumented person of color, always felt, deep down inside, that they were a little ‘different.’
10pm – 11pm – Masterpiece Theater, Midsommer Murders or Agatha Christie Mysteries.
The beauty of KQED programming, and by extension PBS, is that you could fill out the viewing schedule in a matter of minutes for all seven days of the week. A name or title change here and there for the documentaries produced by WGBH, and a veryshort list of the topics that The MacNeil – Lehrer News Hour (Or some clone thereof) and TWIT BAY AREA dared touch and whoever had the job of scheduling at KQED had a very cushy job.
As mentioned earlier, KQED hired me twice in the early 90’s. They also brought me back in the mid-90’s for one more go at mind control assisting with The MacNeil – Lehrer News Hour, but after a third lunch with the local producer of the show did not yield the appropriate responses from Yours truly, the Che Guevara fan club, also known as Human Resources, gave up.
My last lunch with said producer went as follows:
Edward R. Murrow: “I just love Bill Clinton.”
Me: “He’s a lecherous, morally-repugnant layer of veneer. Putting him the White House was bad enough, but now that we’ve lowered the bar for entry, I think anyone can get in.”
Edward R. Murrow: “Check!”
It may have lasted longer than that, I don't recall, but by the time Ed Murrow stomped out of the sad excuse for a watering hole in which we dined, my membership in the Go Along to Get Along Club had been officially rescinded.
The sheep mentality engendered by employment within PBS aside, another aspect of working at KQED involved dealing with NABET, the labor union at the station started by the Cromwells. Given the work ethic and attitude with which the membership approached their jobs, the acronym stood for Not A Bit of Effort, Toots.
KQED’s scheduling department, with I which had to deal on an hourly basis, presented the only upside to this situation. The three main people, Jim, Jerry, and Simon must have gone home every night and beaten the dog, given the obstacles consistently put in their way. Their boss, Larry, should have been canonized during his tenure.
Requesting even an hour’s time of one of the 682 skilled laborers present at the station on a daily basis generated enough paperwork, Prilosec, and Sturm Und Drang to mount a summit meeting between superpowers.
Simon: “Scheduling. Dis is Simon.”
Me: “Simon, it’s George in unit managers. I need an hour of audio this afternoon.”
Simon: “I don’t have anybody.”
Me: “I saw a couple hundred of the NABET guys down at the Slo-Club, great name for a hang out for them by the way, having a 27 course lunch.”
Simon: “Yes, Dey on break.”
Me: “I get it. When dey back from break, can I get one of the audio guys or gals to record some V.O. in the booth at three o’clock?”
Me: “Okay, two o’clock, but I don’t think they’ll even be through the soup course by then.”
Simon: “No. You need two people to run audio in booth.”
Me: “First of all, I didn’t think you hadanybody. Second, that booth isn’t big enough for one person, let alone two. What are theygoing to do?”
Simon: “One to adjust microphone. Other runs tape machine.”
Me: “Are you F&$KING kidding me?”
Simon: “No. Is in NABET rules book. Section 22, para—”
Me: “What does the microphone adjuster do while the other person is running the tape machine?”
Simon: “Fills out timecards for session.”
Me: “Okay, fine.”
Simon: “Send me FAX, two copies of session script, name of actor on AFTRA contract, AFTRA contract in triplicate, radio and TV buy, and name of good place to buy miniature television set.”
Simon: “Kids want TV for car. It runs off cigarette lighter input. Very clever. I—”
I made up the part about the 27 course lunch. Might have just been 22.
KQED’s staff of producers, as befits the personality of a bunch of touchy-feely Marin County types, had zero interest in actually lodging consistent complaints about NABET. As such, when any of the production people complained to me in Unit Managers, I requested that a discussion with scheduling and the shop steward might be in order.
No one ever wanted to do that. In time, and long after I left, the union, the feckless producers, and their helpmates in top-heavy management cratered the station’s General Ledger and led to even less effective local programming and even fewer documentaries for which the station could claim credit. That trend continues to this day.
But by golly, trotting Bill Moyers, or some clone thereof, out to slam conservatives, and binge-running(No one binge watches PBS, except for Downton Abbey) alternative lifestyle short films, satisfies the sanctimonious and the self-proclaimed superior types.
And I ain’t talking about the viewership.
Can’t properly say farewell to this section without a few words on Pledge, the scourge of anything worthwhile to watch on PBS. It is the interrupter of any rhythm and appreciation of public television. If Pledge could be taken outside and shot, I’d be breach loading the shotgun and walking into my backyard to do it.
Pledge runs about 52 weeks out of the year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or, perhaps it just feels that way. During whatever air time is left, the local affiliate or national feed consists of worthwhile educational programs and family oriented fare that crosses all borders of gender, faith, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Hah!
And, as much as I’d like to post a typical Pledge Pitch, I haven’t taken nearly enough Xanax in my life to pull myself out of the pit of despair into which I would plummet. I don’t think I can bring myself to recount the dialogue from the usual tag team combination of the effeminate Castrati and the cloyingly solicitous Manhattanite doyenne trying their level best to separate us from $50 for a copy of The Mario Lanza Diet Book.
I am moving on from PBS. You should too. I realize there is a dearthof educational, activity, and alternative viewing stations out there such as The Discovery Channel, NatGeo, Hallmark,
SCI, The History Channel, Ovation, Animal Planet, NASA TV, C-SPAN (Cough), The Travel Channel, The Golf Channel, NFL Network, MLB, NHL, and the various international feeds from other countries that any basic cable package will provide.
And there’s just so darned little On-Demand and on PPV that making a $50 donation to the elites seems like a fair trade. That and the Gazillion Dollars sent to those losers every year, some of which is hoovered out of your taxes, whether anyone at the CPB will confess to it or not.
Yes, the American public should just keep falling for the “Could you really take Sesame Street away from your children.?” Or as the sanctimonious PBS Pledge hosts would put it, “Can you allow the blood-thirsty, evil Republicans to take away the only access to fine, commercial-free programming poor little children of minority parents have? Can you? To those same programs also available to the spoiled-rotten, glow-in-the-dark, pale and washed out spawn of Satan? Can you?”
And now, back to the private sector.