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PBS President on IDPTV: It's "Idaho's Storyteller"

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Idaho Public Television got a big present for its 50th birthday from its broadcast parent: a visit from PBS president Paula Kerger who winged in from from Washington D.C. to spend some time in Boise on Oct. 8 and Moscow on Oct. 9. During a break in Kerger's two-day Gem State visit, Boise Weekly enjoyed a sliver of her time, where she talked about what makes IDPTV stand apart from other public television stations across the country.

Paula Kerger, the president of PBS, came to tell Idaho Public Television, "Happy Birthday." - PBS
  • PBS
  • Paula Kerger, the president of PBS, came to tell Idaho Public Television, "Happy Birthday."
Out of the 351 PBS affiliates countrywide, IDPTV consistently ranks highest among public television outlets and it often has the most per capita viewership in the country of any PBS affiliate, according to Nielson ratings and Trac Media Services. 

Kerger said it's because IDPTV embodies what public television is supposed to be about.

"Public broadcasting was envisioned to be very much a part of the communities that it serves and that's what Idaho Public Television does so well," Kerger said. "I do like to think of Idaho Public Television as Idaho's storyteller. Having been in existence for 50 years, the archive of what they've been able to chronicle over those 50 years is pretty amazing."

She applauded Idaho's public televisions stations for covering issues unflinchingly, over a wide range of subjects. 

"I know over the past few years, they've come under tremendous pressure, but have stood up and said, 'This is important and these are the stories we're going to tell,' and then let the chips fall," she said. "The integrity of the station speaks for itself and that's what draws people to it. It's trusted."

Kerger said PBS puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on children's programming, something that can be especially important to states that have a low percentage of young children that attend pre-K, like Idaho. According to the 2015 Data Book from Idaho Kids Count, Idaho ranks 49th in the nation for kids attending pre-K. 

"I want to make sure we have a really robust set of programming that makes a difference in kids' lives, both in terms of being safe, but really more importantly, we focus on giving kids who may live in homes without computers or cable or books even, access to programs that are curriculum-based," Kerger said. "All of the programs that we build for kids are focused primarily for kids in those kinds of homes, so they have access to content that will give them skills in literacy, STEAM, and social and emotional skills so when they enter school, they're not only ready for an academic experience, but they're also excited to learn."

The media organization's most high-profile children's show, Sesame Street, recently announced it would start airing on HBO as well as PBS. HBO will get all the new shows first, then PBS.

It's not something that particularly bothers Kerger. She said the show was struggling financially and found HBO would give them the resources to continue producing content. 

"The thing that was most important to me was that they stay on PBS as well," she said. "I think anything that allows more content to be produced and available to kids is important."

She said two new kids' shows are launching in the coming months as well.

PBS affiliates will face a major program change come in 2016, after the last season of Downton Abbey finishes. Kerger called the show an "extraordinary gift" that everyone expected to be successful, but didn't expect it to reach the level of popularity it did.  

To replace it, she said PBS has been investing in a lot more drama-based shows. She's excited for a new show to air right after Downton Abbey in January, called Mercy Street. It's an American-made period drama about a southern family whose house is seized and turned into a military hospital during the Civil War. 

"I don't want to jinx anything or put a heavy burden on any series by saying, 'this will be the next Downton Abbey,' but it's an extraordinarily compelling series," she said.

During her visit to Boise, Kerger also taped an interview on IDPTV's Dialogue (which will air in December), joined in IDPTV's 50th birthday celebration at the Owyhee and visited Moscow, where the first IDPTV station was established. She made clear her soft spot for Idaho's public stations.

"It's beloved and it's creative," she said. "To see what the station will do over the next 50 years, or even the next five years is going to be really fun."