The Ottumwa Courier

Entertainment

July 29, 2013

PBS: Acting like a network as well as service

(Continued)

She left PBS to join the new wave, taking a job at Discovery to produce science programming for its networks. She knew it was time for something else when an executive asked her to go to Los Angeles to "add sex and celebrities" to the "Curiosity" series she was working on. Hoppe talked to old friend Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service, to see if there was room for her if she returned.

There was, and by last December, she was made responsible for PBS' programming department.

Hoppe cites Animal Planet's mermaids shows as examples of something PBS would never do. "Mermaids: The Body Found" played like a documentary but was an admitted fake and was a huge success, spawning a sequel.

PBS, meanwhile, is a Snookie-free zone.

"It's not that the programming is bad," Kerger said. "It's just different, that's all. They're in a different business."

Hoppe has tried to make PBS more topical, ordering a lengthy examination of guns in America that ran a month after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. She pushed PBS producers for programs looking at the Boston Marathon bombing, the meteorite that exploded over Russia in February and Superstorm Sandy.

"She comes to her job with a filmmaker's sensibility," said John Bredar, vice president of national programming at Boston's WGBH, the largest supplier of PBS programming. "She understands things from the ground up as a producer, as opposed to someone who just commissions work. She's someone who has a visceral understanding of what the market is like."

In October, PBS' "Frontline" is collaborating with ESPN for "Concussion Watch," an investigation into health issues caused by violent collisions in the National Football League.

PBS will aggressively mine anniversaries as programming hooks. This fall brings an "American Masters" special on Billie Jean King 40 years after her "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match with Bobby Riggs and a show on "War of the Worlds" 75 years after the radio program incited panic.

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