PBS's Grossman guides network to strongest season yet
Public Broadcasting Service has ''risen like a phoenix,'' according to Lawrence K. Grossman, PBS president. Flying in the face of last year's doomsday predictions for public broadcasting, the opening of the new 1983-84 year for PBS reveals a system stronger than ever, with a programming schedule that seems to be the best in its 12-year history.Skip to next paragraph
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In an interview conducted in his sparsely furnished, almost totally undecorated office in the headquarters of PBS here, Mr. Grossman told me:
''I have never been more optimistic. Only a year ago even the Office of Management and Budget of the federal government and the President's policymaking communications arm were telling President Reagan, 'It's all over for public television; it's an anachronism; write it off; there's no need for funding.' It was supposed to be the takeover year for cable and direct-broadcast satellites. Such new channels as CBS Cable and the Entertainment Channel were supposed to do the job of providing American viewers with cultural programming.
''Well, most of them have gone bust. And PBS, despite reduced funding, is coming into a golden age of programming with probably its best season ever starting this month and with a winter season ahead which will be absolutely breathtaking.''
I must say that I agree with Mr. Grossman's naturally biased view of the PBS schedule. Some of the new and returning shows have already premiered and the rest will begin in the weeks ahead. I have sampled most of them and can report that PBS is coming up with several blockbuster shows. The commercial networks, meanwhile, are providing viewers with, to a great extent, more of the same old stuff we get every year.
Some of the PBS highlights:
* ''The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour'' - broadcast television's first nightly one-hour news show.
* ''Vietnam: A Television History'' - a 13-part comprehensive exploration of the Vietnam conflict, already hailed as landmark TV.
* ''The Chemical People'' - a two-part special hosted by Nancy Reagan that fights alcohol and drug abuse among young people.
* ''Dinner at Julia's'' - still another Julia Child cooking series.
* ''Great Performances'' - a series returning with a new ''Alice in Wonderland'' and continuing with such varied delights as a multimillion-dollar Italian production of ''Verdi,'' hosted by Burt Lancaster.
* ''Masterpiece Theatre'' - which premiered with ''Pictures'' and will feature such new series as A.J. Cronin's ''The Citadel.''
* ''The Shakespeare Plays'' - which begins this season of the Bard with Nicol Williamson in ''Macbeth.''
* ''Live From the Met'' and ''Live From Lincoln Center'' - with periodic live performances.
* ''Silk Screen'' - a new series showcasing current works by and about Asian Americans.
* ''Raphael'' - a three-part documentary marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of this Renaissance artist.
* ''International Edition'' - a new series, focusing on how events in the United States are reported to the world.
* ''The Oil Kingdoms'' - a three-part series, now airing, about the smaller Persian Gulf nations.
* ''Nature,'' ''Nova,'' ''Newton's Apple,'' ''Wild America,'' and the ''Survival Specials'' - all science and nature series.
* ''The Making of a Continent'' - three-part geological series exploring the formation of the American West.
* ''Inside Story,'' ''This Old House,'' ''Sesame Street,'' ''The Electric Company,'' ''3-2-1 Contact,'' ''Tony Brown's Journal,'' ''The Lawmakers,'' ''Washington Week in Review,'' ''Wall Street Week,'' ''Sneak Previews,'' and several other returning series.
According to Mr. Grossman, the even better 1984 season will also include ''Nicholas Nickleby''; a new ''American Playhouse'' with works by Philip Roth, Sam Shepherd, and Eugene O'Neill, among others; a returning ''Frontline''; the new Bill Moyers series, ''A Walk Through the 20th Century''; and one of Mr. Grossman's favorite new shows, ''No Sacred Cows.''
This last is an experimental series in which, he says: ''We will take films that normally we could not and would not show, because they are highly ideological or propagandistic, but nevertheless are worthwhile seeing because they say something important or unusual or focus on major issues.'' Sounds like a fine - but obviously controversial - idea for public television.
Mr. Grossman is too modest to point out that although his function as head of PBS is nominally to coordinate and distribute programming services for the system's nearly 300 stations, he takes an active interest in the development of new programming. For instance, he was a prime mover behind the acclaimed Vietnam series and the ''MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.''
But he doesn't want the public to misunderstand the current news stories about the fiscal health of PBS. He has managed to run the organization well within the budgeted administrative funds, unlike National Public Radio, which ran into deep financial trouble.