PBS chief Paula Kerger devoted much of her 25th consecutive TCA at-bat celebrating the renaissance of Fred Rogers calling him a “singular individual” whose “civility and graciousness” which she said “are especially resonant today” without elaborating, because it was not necessary.
She reminded TV critics Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – a box-office barn burner – will air on Independent Lens early next year.
The documentary was in the news last month when Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi attended a screening in Tampa and called police to escort her out because of people shouting “What would Mister Rogers think about your legacy in Florida taking away health insurance from people with existing conditions?” owing to her decision to join in a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, and “Shame On You!” over her stance on immigration.
“Part of what we’ve tried to do is continue to connect families back to the fact that our children’s programming is very much the Fred Rogers legacy,” and also a moment for adults to reflect on those lessons they learned from the man, Kerger said.
She announced Perry Simon would replace Beth Hoppe as programing chief starting late September. Simon’s strong background in scripted programming development, his understanding of the changing media environment, and his commitment to the “values and mission of PBS” set him “head and shoulders” above the many talented media execs they interviewed for the job, Kerger said. Anticipating your next question, yes, Kerger was asked and answered in re if Simon would therefore be looking for “the next Downton Abbey.”
‘Yes, he’s going to work on that now,” she laughed.
“Downton Abbey was an extraordinary moment [for PBS],” she acknowledged. “Some refer to it as lighting in a bottle. I think lightening strikes more than once.”
Expect to see Victoria on PBS for some time, given that the Daisy Goodwin project is now in just Season 3 and, happily for PBS, Queen Victoria took the throne in 1876 and reigned until her death in January of 1901. “We’re fairly early in the queen’s life,” beamed Kerger. “We are anticipating for her to be with us for a long while,” she added.
Kerger will be the most relaxed broadcast exec to appear at this TCA. At one point during this morning’s Q&A, she responded to a pointed question joking, “I’m from public broadcasting – I’m not naïve!”
And, during discussing of PBS’s multi-platform project Great American Read tallying America’s 100 favorite novels, Kerger confessed her favorite author actually is Haruki Murakami, “so when I say Great Gatsby” is her favorite book, “I’m kind of lying.”