Between Juan Williams, James O'Keefe, Vivian Schiller, and that whole defunding thing, NPR has had a rough couple of months. But here's the thing, writes Mark Oppenheimer for Slate: NPR is thriving on FM radio while the rest of FM radio withers. Oppenheimer argues that it's time to shift our death wishes to NPR's "hideous, ugly televised brother": PBS. The two were both born in the early '70s, and while it took years for NPR to get a handle on its programming, PBS "almost immediately learned to fly," airing everything from Sesame Street to Masterpiece Theater to NOVA.
Tune in today, and you're likely to find Antiques Roadshow or Suze Orman, making it seem like "an average evening on PBS had all the intelligence of VH1 and all the youth appeal of CBS." OK, OK, there is good stuff (like Frontline) but "even in its best weeks, PBS lacks any sort of coherent sensibility." The sad thing is, it didn't have to be this way. Ten months after bravely airing the gay soap opera Tale of the City, the Gingrich Congress took office and issued funding threats. "PBS was liberal! And it was gay! And it got public dollars." A few top creative execs left. And in 1998, the sequel More Tales of the City aired on ... Showtime. "Which is where today you can find one of Tales' great stars, Laura Linney to this day, starring on The Big C, the kind of frank, intelligent show ... that in some alternate universe would be available for free, to all of us, on PBS."