Bill Moyers and PBS Face Ad Dilemma

Article excerpt

THERE is a great difficulty in being Bill Moyers. It's not enough to be an exceptional journalist. It's not enough to have a mind hungry enough to constantly tackle difficult subjects and believe that people want and need to see them on television. No, what you must also do, if you're Moyers, is carry the Public Broadcasting Service on your back.

"If you dissected the body of PBS and found a soul, that soul would be Bill Moyers," said Ervin Duggan, president and CEO of PBS.

And so, there was Moyers, giving a keynote address earlier this month at the PBS annual meeting in San Francisco. He was simultaneously rejoicing in its virtues and bashing commercial television, even as the forces of change at PBS stir up those occasional trial balloons that the system should accept advertising.

Not on Moyers' watch. No chance. He was there at its inception and has worked for PBS since 1971. He has done and continues to do some of the finest work shown on the network. And so he was the perfect choice to tell 1,200 programmers, producers and station managers from around the country why PBS is so special. A sampling of Moyers' speech:

On the political climate: Washington is where "fevered agents of a hostile ideology wage war on all things public."

On commercial television: "They are interested in what you want to buy, not in what you want to know." He said that thanks to advertising, the commercial networks never "rise, more than occasionally, above the lowest common denominator."

On PBS infighting: "Fresh from the womb, we were delivered Hatfields and McCoys. We can't even agree on what's core programming."

But Moyers is in love with PBS; he has invested more than half his life in the system, so he saved his most stirring, intelligent thoughts for it. …