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Ron Pisaneschi

The other man in the big yellow hat

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All in the Family might be a good title (if someone hadn't already used it) for Ron Pisaneschi's television bloodlines. He met his wife, Virginia, 27 years ago when the two were working at Idaho Public Television, and their daughter, Madeleine, is a graphic designer (where else?) for the PBS affiliate in Seattle.

And Pisaneschi's career at Idaho PTV (which began in 1985) has been renewed for quite a few more seasons: In August he assumed the general manager position, replacing Peter Morrill, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

"Peter has very big shoes to fill," Pisaneschi told Boise Weekly. "He is well-loved."

BW sat down with Pisaneschi, 58, as he was packing up his old office (where he served as director of content) for the move to the one next door, where he'll oversee one of the most successful broadcast operations in the nation.

What's the biggest difference between Idaho Public Television today and the day you first set foot here in 1985?

Is was and still is an organization with incredibly creative people, but the biggest difference is the technology. Back in the day, it was a single channel. Now we have four digital channels, an additional cable channel for kids and online streaming, where people can watch anytime they want.

But isn't that generational?

I think you're right. Mid-50s and older is just about the break point to how much web-streaming we access. The real key for the general manager role is to determine how much energy and effort to put into new media.

Give an example of taking a risk on that technology that resulted in some success.

We were the first station in the country to negotiate a deal with the BBC to get streaming rights to a large catalogue of their content. In a sense, we were offering full seasons of programs long before [Netflix's] House of Cards ever became a hit. Take MI-5 for an example. It's a big hit and the third season may be playing on one of our channels, but we have viewers watching the entire run of the series online.

There's a huge number of binders lining your walls, representing years of television ratings. Talk to me about the science and art of considering that data.

Whoever comes into my old job will have to have an appreciation for the pure Nielsen rating numbers and see what worked and didn't work but, yes, there's an art to knowing what genre works in this market that doesn't work somewhere else.

Isn't it true that performing arts programs don't get the ratings in Idaho that they get in an East Coast market? Yet you still provide a home for the performing arts programs.

It's a tapestry. You can't feed people dessert all the time. We have blockbuster shows but we also want to introduce content that may not always get a huge audience.

Doesn't Antiques Roadshow represent a good amount of your top 10 programming?

It's the most watched ongoing show on PBS. Our top shows include Antiques Roadshow, Outdoor Idaho, Downton Abbey.

And what new program do you see on the horizon as a possible hit?

We're adding something called Last Tango in Halifax, a contemporary BBC drama. It's great. At the heart of great television programming is a good story, well-told, rich relationships and first-rate actors.

Your radar must be fairly well tuned.

I don't have to watch six hours of a drama to know if it's going to click.

I've read that IdahoPTV is one of the highest-rated broadcast operations in the nation.

We're the most watched, per capita, PBS station in the country. We've been in the top 10 for the last 10 years.

Tell me about the big yellow hat in the corner of your room. I'm guessing that has something to do with another George.

I've been on the children's programming advisory committee for PBS for the past 25 years. Almost every children's show that you now see on PBS, I had a little hand in scheduling. That hat is from when we launched Curious George [in 2006].

Am I right in assuming that you have the best job in Idaho?

There will always be challenges, but when you go home at the end of the day, you think you're doing something to make society a little bit better. It's an intrinsically rewarding job.