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PBS ponders how to fill Larry Grossman's shoes

By Arthur Unger / February 3, 1984


The search is on in earnest! Public Broadcasting Service, on the verge of losing Lawrence Grossman (PBS head since 1976, he leaves officially Feb. 10 to become president of NBC News) has retained an executive search firm to assist in the search for a new president.

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In the interim, until the annual meeting of the PBS board of directors in March 1984, PBS senior vice-president Michael E. Hobbs is acting as chief administrative officer.

MSL International, the search firm, is working under the direction of a five-member PBS search committee appointed by the PBS executive board. One of the members of this PBS search committee is himself considered a possible nominee for PBS president: David O. Ives, president of WGBH/Boston and chairman of the board of the National Association of Public Television Stations.

PBS partisans from all regions have been volunteering suggestions for candidates. A few weeks ago I suggested that the ideal PBS-nurtured individual for the job would be Bill Moyers, now firmly tied to CBS. In a private conversation with him recently, he indicated to me that he was not available right now, but that if it were ever possible, the PBS presidency would be a job in which he feels he could do an enormous amount of good work. So it would seem to me that further conversation with the search committee is in order.

Another ''way out'' suggestion, admittedly originating right here, is Grant Tinker, chairman and chief executive officer of NBC and the man who brought Larry Grossman to NBC. Mr. Tinker, an executive with much experience with quality television through his MTM connections, might just be ready to bid adieu to the seeming quagmire he has found himself in at third-place NBC. PBS would be a prestigious escape route. And Tinker would bring a breath of the best of commercial TV to noncommercial PBS.

While there have been some suggestions that the new president should come from outside the PBS establishment, there are two names within PBS in addition to Ives's which rank high on everybody's list of candidates: Bruce Christensen, president of the National Association of Public Television Stations; and Ward Chamberlin, president of WETA/Washington, D.C. Mr. Christensen has played a very active role in making certain that the voices of local PBS stations are heard at the national level and thus he is quite well known within PBS. Chamberlin, on the other hand, is known mainly through his station's Washington-originated programming. A chat with Chamberlin

Ward Chamberlin is a tall, spare figure in a sparsely furnished office in the concrete egg crate which is Washington's L'Enfant Plaza. He looks a bit like an actor playing the part of a distinguished lawyer - tall, handsome, conservatively attired but with the glint of enthusiasm and creativity in his eye giving away the masquerade.