Two for the Show
The present structure of public television was an accident of history and a response to the crises of the moment, rather than part of any long-range grand design.
Hartford W. Gunn, Jr.
The first harbinger of change came with an invitation to breakfast from Fred Friendly. It was the spring of 1969 and I was in New York attending the annual NET Affiliates Meeting. There was always a portentous quality about an invitation from Ford—partly because the majesty of its money gave any invitation the gravity of a royal summons, and partly because, as the system's power broker, winners and losers were often decided behind its closed doors. The ominousness of this particular invitation was underscored by the venue and the means of getting there: I was whisked to our meeting in a sleek black Ford Foundation limo (a Lincoln, of course) that collected me at the Waldorf and deposited me at the Friendly residence in suburban Riverdale. There, over scrambled eggs and toast, I learned the purpose of the trip.
"It's time," Friendly said, "that you thought about moving up in the world." Quickly reading between the lines, I realized that I was being sounded out as a possible candidate for the NET presidency. But why, I wondered, was the approach being made by the Foundation? The NET Board had a search committee to do precisely what Friendly seemed to be doing. Visibly annoyed at my innocence of the ways of New York power politics, Friendly ex-
plained that he wanted to spare the NET board the embarrassment of a turndown should a more formal tender of the position be made.
I shared with Friendly my strong misgivings about coming to New York. It was more than a reluctance to leave my native city, difficult as that would be. I was also unwilling to exchange the management of a station for that of a network, explaining that stations, which act more or less as retailers, deal directly with the customer. Networks, on the other hand, act as wholesalers; their only path to the customer leads through the hundreds of cautious gatekeepers at the stations. The networking process, I pointed out, is more akin to politics than broadcasting. Friendly's response was a disingenuous proposal to put the local stations in New York and Washington under the NET aegis, giving the network, in effect, two stations of its own. The Foundation, of course, had no legal power to transfer the licenses. Moreover, the transfer would have been vigorously opposed, not only by the two stations affected, but also by virtually every other station in the system. They wanted NET's wings clipped, not extended.
I cannot believe my response to Friendly satisfied him, so the formal offer of the presidency, which came a week later from Norman Cousins, chair of NET's search committee, was totally unexpected. Cousins, having been told of my reservations, urged me to talk with the newly appointed president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting before making my decision. The Corporation's addition to the public-television structure had altered the equation; the post I was considering was not the post White had vacated.
My first meeting with John Macy dispelled all doubts about taking the NET offer. I was ready to move to New York and for reasons that would have surprised Macy. Our talk revealed the readiness of the system's new leadership to yield some measure of public television's independence to the exigencies of federal funding. I found Macy's response to one of my questions particularly disquieting. After reminding him that Congress had admonished the CPB "to assure the maximum freedom" of the system "from interference with or control of program content," a caution partic-
ularly relevant to the dangers of interference by government itself, I asked if he thought that our public television should be kept as free of government interference as the BBC. (This was before the BBC's freedom suffered erosion at the hands of Prime Minister Thatcher's Conservative government.) He thought a moment, said "no," then added "and I don't know why."
It was not the answer that I had hoped for from the man now responsible for defining our goals and articulating to the world what we were about. It gave me an uneasy feeling, a fear that the medium I had known for the past fifteen years was about to be smothered beneath a blanket of government bureaucracy. Without knowing it, Macy had resolved my lingering doubts. I didn't relish becoming the CPB's "right hand for programming"—Macy's description of the "new" NET presidency—for someone who felt so little need to guarantee the independence of the medium. But the NET post offered the best, if not the only, base from which to wage the battle for the freedom the public medium had enjoyed before it jumped into bed with government. It should have been clear even then that John Macy and I perceived "public" in quite different terms. Macy saw it as the "public" of public utility—accountable to government, free to act only within the rules set by federal regulation, which carried an implied message of "don't rock the boat, keep the lid on, play it cool." My perception was the "public" of the free public library, an encouragement if not a provocation to provide the broadest possible range of ideas and intellectual engagement.
New York in August can try the forbearance of the sainted, much less the tender tolerances of a reluctant immigrant from the West. Everything about my move into NET's New York headquarters in the late summer of 1969 was disorienting: Manhattan's dark, rainy afternoons; new colleagues whose cautious guardedness contrasted with the openness of my California colleagues; even the decor of my offices at 10 Columbus Circle—faux-colonial with brass pitchers and hunting prints. For a time, I felt as though I, like Alice, had fallen down a rabbit hole. I was later to discover
that in one sense I had. The institutional ground on which I stood was about to give way.
Not surprisingly, my personal misgivings about the structural changes were shared by others, especially by the men and women whose creative energies produced public television's major programming. The NET staff was virtually paralyzed with a paranoia that had been ignited by the infamous purloined PBL memo suggesting that the network should be phased out. Now their fears centered on rumblings of imminent change, the most threatening of which was the rumored plan to remove program distribution from NET and to place it with a subsidiary of the Corporation's own making. Realizing that the Corporation's funding came directly from Congress, veteran producers feared that the plan would encourage the government to take a stronger hand in programming.
NET's creative staff was determined to make its voice heard through collective action. Together with the vestiges of PBL 's production staff and a handful of producers from the larger stations, they formed the Association of Public Television Producers. Through their spokesperson, Alvin H. Perlmutter, the producers warned that "events of the next several months . . . may determine once and forever whether this fledgling medium goes on to become a truly 'public' network without government control or the influence of special interests, or whether . . . it degenerates into 'a domestic USIA.'" Testifying before Senator Pastore's communications subcommittee, Perlmutter and fellow producer Jack Willis voiced the producers' collective concern that annual Congressional funding would result in political control of programming; that "people appointed to control public television under the Corporation for Public Broadcasting do not now fully represent the pluralistic society they are charged to serve." The producers also feared direct censorship by "the vetoes of the new panel," a reference to the yet-to-be-organized system of program distribution. Producers of public television's national programs were also concerned that the selection and distribution of their programs would fall into the hands of the same "unrepresentative" types that the
president had appointed to the CPB Board, who would have the power to kill what they didn't like.
The producer's fears were not unfounded. NET's fifteen-year lock on the distribution of national programming was under threat. The terms of the 1967 Act directed the CPB to "assist in the establishment and development of one or more systems of interconnection." Interconnection—linking the stations together by leased telephone company lines—was the next big step in bringing the public system into the modern world. It would replace NET's outmoded postal system with the mode of distribution used by the three commercial networks until that technology was superseded by the newer satellite technology. Pace and Chamberlin did not wait for the appointment of the Corporation's chief executive before starting work on implementing Congress's call for interconnecting the public system. Neither man, of course, had any previous experience with broadcasting. Nor did they discuss their plans with NET or seek its counsel.
The first step toward interconnection involved the Corporation in negotiations with AT&T. Congress, using its regulatory power over telephone rates, had authorized AT&T to provide public television with interconnection service at either a "free or reduced rate." The giant communications monopoly rejected free access outright and balked on reduced rates. Eight months of tough negotiations produced an agreement in January 1970 for a "trial tariff" covering limited interconnection service. The arrangement—two hours a night for five nights a week—barely served public television's minimal needs. Worse, the service was second-class, including occasions when the network lines were co-opted to feed a basketball game to a sports network, leaving more than one public station high and dry without its announced network programming.
Erratic as the interconnection was, a larger issue loomed from NET's perspective: the questions of who would manage it and who would decide which programs would be fed to the stations, in what order, and at what hours. NET alone had experience with managing a network, and for a brief time the Corporation gave it the responsibility. But the new leadership was caught up in a decen-
tralization frenzy whose aim was to give power to the local stations. That meant removing NET from its dominant role in national program production and distribution. Even in the early stages, when NET was given responsibility for managing the interconnection, Chamberlin made certain that NET did not have responsibility for deciding which programs were to be carried on the network lines. That fell to an unwieldy and temporary committee, the Interim Interconnection Management Group. Its members—representatives from NET, the Corporation, and program executives from a select group of stations—were scattered about the country. Instant decisions on schedule changes were handled by conference calls, producing an awkwardness that verged on the bureaucratically absurd, particularly when an immediate consensus was needed to preempt regular programming for an unanticipated special event and most of the committee's members could not be reached.
The importance of the IIMG's brief reign as the network's programmer lies only in what it reveals of the pattern of thinking that was dominant in the late 1960s. The system's new leadership in Washington was following what they believed was the Congressional intent of the 1967 Act, accepting as scripture the need to separate program distribution from program production. Scott Fletcher had promoted the same idea fifteen years earlier when he created the Center and barred it from producing its own programs. But when the system failed to deliver quality programming, it was scrapped and NET was permitted to both produce and distribute programs. Programming quality soared and so did tempers. Many stations resented NET's monopoly over the production and distribution system and bristled at being asked to air programs produced by NET that, in their judgment, were unsuited for their audiences, whether "left-wing documentaries," contemporary dramas on delicate themes, black-oriented programs that included street language, or whatever. Their disaffection with NET gave force to a movement for a "user-managed" network under which no single organization would have a monopoly on national program production. Decisions about which programs would be chosen for interconnection would be made democratically: the "users," not the producers, would decide. By a curious bit of rea-
soning, the stations defined themselves, rather than their viewers, as the "users" of the programs.
Formulation of the "user-managed" concept, however, left unresolved the question of which of the several possibilities—a station, NET, or the Corporation—would operate the leased lines on behalf of its "users." The Corporation was eliminated; by law it is prohibited from owning or operating a network or an interconnection. NET was also deemed to be out of the running; if the doctrine of separation of production and distribution was to prevail, NET's role as the major producer of national programming would presumably bar it from doing both. The only acceptable alternative appeared to be the creation of a new organization. It fell to Chamberlin, first as Pace's assistant and later as Macy's executive vice president, to coordinate the planning. The stations, still uncertain of the Corporation's intentions and fearing another centralized system like NET, were quick to let Chamberlin know that they wanted a hand in the design. He agreed to accept the counsel of a small, representative group of six station managers, three of whom were from the NET Affiliates Council, and three of whom came from the elected board of the Educational Television Stations group. (The group was quickly dubbed "the Six Pack.") The group found agreement elusive; their meetings stretched over more than a year before they produced an acceptable plan for an entity to operate the public-television distribution system.
I was unaware of how far Chamberlin's planning had progressed by August of 1969, the month of my arrival in New York. I took on my new duties believing I might still make a case for NET's managing the interconnection; within the system, it was the only organization with sufficient experience, the human resources, and the administrative structure for the task. But the decision had already been made in Washington; it was not to be NET. Nevertheless, John Macy, with characteristic fairness, postponed the final decision for sixty days to allow me time to present NET's case. I was acutely aware that I was faced with the "sometimes irrational and emotional response of paranoia by the stations towards NET," but I was confident that the situation could be turned around with changes in NET's structure. My case for NET rested
on two basic arguments. The first was the importance of keeping production and distribution together. To separate them would have been "to divide the indivisible and [to] inevitably limit the potential effectiveness of public television as a national instrument of communications," reducing it to television's counterpart of the United Parcel Service. The second was the danger that I saw in a reliance on a consensus of "user" stations for the selection of what went on the interconnection. "Committees don't take risks," I argued; the result would be bland programming.
My proposal was dead on arrival. The sixty-day "moratorium" on decision-making had simply been a safety valve for the pent-up frustrations at NET. Several days later, the Corporation announced that it was ready to carry out its own plan. There was no debate, no discussion. The announcement came as an unwelcome surprise to the NET board; despite its fifteen-year leadership of the movement, the board had not been consulted at any stage in the Corporation's planning. Puzzled and angry, the board's chairman, Everett Case, promptly arranged a meeting with Ford president McGeorge Bundy. Case was certain the Foundation would understand the need to keep distribution in NET's hands; they had put it there in the first place. But he found no friends at Ford. Bundy and Friendly defended the Corporation plan and even argued for the wisdom of putting production in one place and distribution in another. Friendly, showing a greater gift for rhetoric than for geography, likened it to U.S. 1, "a national electronic turnpike with inputs and outputs throughout the land." Far from going "throughout the land," U.S. 1 meanders down along the Eastern seaboard in an unending clutter of fast-food franchises and service stations. At one point, Case referred to NET as a "network." Bundy reacted testily. "NET is not a network, never has been a network, and if I have anything to say about it, will never be a network." Case was visibly shaken by the outburst: had Bundy forgotten it was the Foundation itself that first suggested that NET call itself "America's Fourth Network"? Case later wrote Bundy: "I was aware, of course, of some of your reservations about NET but I was wholly unprepared to find so wide a disparity in our basic concepts of its role and function."
In November 1969, the Corporation's plan went into effect: a new entity, the Public Broadcasting Service, was incorporated and given responsibility for the interconnection. The term "service" rather than "system" or "network" was chosen with deliberate care. In a memorandum to all stations, CPB explained that "network" connoted "program production activities and station time-commitments . . . [and] 'system' was deemed to encompass PTV stations and organizations beyond the realm of interconnection services." To avoid suggesting more than was intended, the neutral-sounding "service" was chosen. PBS's purpose, it explained, was "to provide the stations with high quality programming from diverse sources." PBS itself was not to be one of those diverse sources: its function was "to allocate time on the network to producing agencies and suppliers," not to produce, acquire, or commission shows. As if to underscore PBS's limited responsibilities, the plan proposed "to keep programming decisions of the new organization to a minimum." Station response was overwhelmingly positive; Chamberlin had prepared the way by circulating a memo to the stations a month earlier. One provision, however, raised the hackles of the stations. NET, because of its "present basic responsibility for five hours of programming per week and for national news and public affairs," was to be given preferential treatment for access to the interconnection. Friendly had insisted on the stipulation, either to protect the public-affairs function that NET had traditionally performed or to assuage the injured feelings of the deposed network, or both. The stations, forced to accept the despised condition, did so under protest.
If a symbol was needed to mark the changed direction of the system after the 1967 Act, it could be found in the makeup of the governing board of the Public Broadcasting Service. Only two of its nine-member board represented the public. The remaining seven were "insiders," including five elected station managers and the presidents of NET and CPB, the latter two as ex-officio members without a vote. (Later, the ex-officio members were dropped and the number of station executives was increased.) The board's composition was a clear reflection of the stations' determination to control the input by exerting control over the
sources of national programming as well as by exercising their statutory power to decide which of the programs their stations would air. At least as serious, however, was the way the composition of the board reflected the public broadcasters' deep-seated distrust of public control, a distrust that was evident earlier in their attitude toward the group of distinguished citizens that composed NET's board. They were entirely public and entirely beyond the control of the stations.
Hartford N. Gunn, Jr., president and general manager of WGBH / Boston, headed a search committee of PBS board members to find an executive to head the interconnection service. Their task proved more difficult than they had anticipated, partly because the position was posted with the uninviting title of "PBS general manager." Experienced broadcasters saw little challenge and less satisfaction in a post that had no power to create, commission, or even acquire programming, only the power to schedule the delivery of programs supplied from sources over which they had no control. As the search for a manager dragged on without result, I teasingly suggested to Gunn that he draft himself for the post; no executive in the system was better qualified. He brushed aside the notion: "You and I both know that I would make more of the job than it deserves." Shortly thereafter, Gunn was named to the post not as the general manager, but with the more prestigious title of PBS president, and with a seat on the board. Those of us who knew Gunn as the man who had effectively brought Boston's public station into a position of national leadership also knew he was not one to be satisfied with simply presiding over a delivery service. If he did in fact make more of the job than the planners of PBS had in mind, the question of whether it was more than the position warranted has been effectively rendered moot by his years of leadership.
One of Gunn's first acts in the new job was his decision to locate PBS in Washington, cheek-by-jowl with the government and with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The decision may have reflected his hope of fostering a more harmonious working relationship between the two rivals—for rivals they were destined to be. Or it may have been a gesture to ease the concern of the system's new
partners in the government over the negative image of New York "liberalism" that had become attached to NET's years of dominance. Whatever its value, some of us feared that positioning the public system's sensitive programming arm so near the seat of government would create more problems than it would solve.
PBS was a masterpiece of corporate compromise, and was in effect a political solution to a programming problem. As a membership organization—every station was eligible to join—PBS accommodated the fears and aspirations of the system's many and disparate elements, empowering them to bar forever the return of centralized programming authority. To further protect against the rise of centralized authority, the members of PBS denied their own organization the power to make, buy, or contract for programming. PBS, as it was conceived in 1969, embodied the spirit of dispersed authority, its proudest boast not that it was the best but that it was the "most democratic."
The same spirit was embodied in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; John Macy and his troops were equally passionate in their dedication to the principle of decentralized production. They found their text in the gospel according to Carnegie. The Commission had recommended "that the Corporation support at least two national production centers." If one was intended to be NET, the other, it was assumed, would be similar but located elsewhere, possibly on the West Coast to balance or offset NET's so-called Eastern bias. But Macy, with a fundamentalist's approach to the Carnegie study, read the message differently. If two production centers was a good idea, three was a better idea, and four better still. With this logic, he named the seven largest stations—New York, Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—as national production centers. Each of the seven was invited to submit proposals for programs to PBS. PBS would then decide which of the proposed programs it wanted produced for its future schedule. The list of desired programs was submitted to CPB, which would grant production funds directly to the producing stations for the designated programs. Production centers were free, of course, to circumvent the process by looking elsewhere for funding. The virtue of the process lay in CPB's
peripheral role in programming: application for its program funds was decided not by a bureaucracy removed from the daily demands of broadcasting, but by PBS acting on behalf of its member stations.
The plan, however, fell apart. Macy failed to take into account the tide of egalitarianism that his own policies had let loose within the system. His announcement designating the seven largest stations as the exclusive producers of national programming was met with howls of protest from some among the two hundred or so stations excluded from the favored circle. The Corporation was charged with favoring "the fat cats" and with ignoring the everyone-is-equal ethos on which PBS was founded. Macy, true to his egalitarian principles, announced a new plan: the privilege of producing national programming was opened to every station with the will and wherewithal to supply an acceptable program or program series, whatever its size. Except for changes in the method of funding, Macy's open-door policy remains in effect today, and though national production tends still to be concentrated in the system's half-dozen largest stations, the reasons are practical and not related to policy.
Even before Macy announced his new open-door policy, he was challenged by the seven "fat cat" stations that he had named as production centers. Instead of purring with contentment, the seven, in a joint letter to the presidents of CPB and PBS, vented their anger at what they saw as the growing concentration of decision-making power in Washington. Our concern (for I was one of the seven) was that the CPB, by doling out its money "piecemeal" only for programs approved "in general" beforehand, was exercising undue influence on what the production centers produced. And PBS, by asserting an illegitimate right to rule "in detail" on the content of the programs it distributed, was contributing to a trend that, if continued, would reduce the production centers to "no more than field facilities for the central office." The result would be less diversity and more uniformity, not what the Carnegie Commission had in mind. Our self-righteous outburst echoed the general malaise bred by change and by a policy of broadened participation. More players in the game meant ad-
ditional challenges to one's turf and the need to take added measures to protect it. We were a bit like the five blind men and the elephant. Without strong central leadership to define the whole, each of us defined the whole by the part we touched.
The Aspen Document—so-called for the place where our individual concerns became collective—set off a firestorm of reaction. Gunn rebuked us for leaking our internal squabbles to the press, thus bringing discredit to the stations. John Macy, showing his usual restraint, reminded us "once more that a rapidly evolving system has more than the usual number of uncertainties, ambiguities, and imperfections." Fred Friendly, however, was considerably less restrained and branded the Aspen Document as another example of public television's predilection for "self-inflicted wounds." Fearing the consequences for the medium's image in Washington, Friendly hopped a plane and met with the chairpersons of each of our stations, warning them of the divisive consequences of their managers' fractious behavior. But the "Aspen seven" were not alone in their fractiousness. It was pandemic throughout the swiftly evolving system, not because it was in the nature of public broadcasters to be difficult, but because the nature of the system made it difficult not to be. An institutional environment in which everyone is equal is, under the best of circumstances, difficult to manage (a lesson we have long since learned from two hundred years of democratic self-rule). The fact that democracy has worked, although at times creakily and haltingly, can be credited to strong and effective leadership: someone in charge setting our national agenda, articulating our goals, and bringing us together to resolve our common problems. Public television, however, has in its determination to remain "democratic" denied itself strong leadership, favoring instead scores of fractional "leaders," some in Washington, some scattered around the country, each with a different agenda and a personal set of goals. The situation was ripe for conflict and provided fertile soil for the exercise of self interest. To no one's surprise, it also produced a bumper crop of fractious behavior.
If any among us thought that the Ford Foundation's eighteen-year hegemony over public television ended when the two Washington-
based entities, PBS and CPB, entered the picture, we soon learned otherwise. The Foundation simply achieved its aims through more subtle methods. The shaping of PBS provides an instructive example. Conventional wisdom at the time credited its creation to the committee of station executives, the so-called Six Pack. The result was hailed as a model of democratic planning. However, in his brief history of the process, Robert Pepper concluded after examining the records of the period that "the Ford Foundation was intimately involved in creating PBS and, in fact, was with the CPB, one of PBS'S two major architects." He detailed the close collaboration between Chamberlin and David Davis, head of Ford's Office of Public Communications, crediting the two with being "more than any others . . . responsible for creating PBS as it finally emerged." Chamberlin, a master of corporate stratagems, knew that Ford's part in the planning of PBS, if advertised, would be the kiss of death not only among the stations whose suspicions of Ford's intentions were always verging toward paranoia, but also in the Nixon White House. With Ford's tacit agreement, its role was kept quiet. Chamberlin's success in convincing the stations that they were the authors of PBS, wrote Pepper, was a sleight of hand worthy of a master.
Such was the nature of the new order that changes in the system were generally made in the name of CPB, the seat of public broadcasting's purported leadership, whether or not the Corporation authored the idea. Macy, with little or no experience in the artful politics of public broadcasting, welcomed Friendly's counsel and drew heavily on his broadcasting experience. Whenever an idea's paternity was in doubt, fingers generally pointed to the brass-and-glass headquarters of the Ford Foundation—if not to its resident expert Fred Friendly, then to one of his colleagues in the Office of Communications, David Davis or Stuart Sucherman. The Foundation tried to play its part in key decisions with quiet discretion. Occasionally, however, decisions announced in the name of the Corporation had Ford's fingerprints all over them. Such was the case with the birth of an organization called NPACT.
During the latter half of the 1960s, the responsibility for covering national affairs out of Washington fell to NET. Over the half-
dozen years, James Karayn and a small team of producers working out of NET's Washington bureau managed to build an impressive record of public-affairs programming. Acting as the public system's news presence in the nation's capital, they covered special events, arranged postmortem analysis of presidential speeches, produced occasional documentaries, and more. But in the spring of 1971 that changed, abruptly, and in a manner that told something of the Foundation's continued involvement in reshaping the structure of public television.
The first indication came with a summons to meet with John Macy, not in his office, but in the offices of the Ford Foundation, where Fred Friendly was present with his two associates, Davis and Sucherman. I had no forewarning of the meeting's purpose, but the grim looks on the faces in the room sent a clear signal that I would be leaving the meeting with less than I came with. I was not mistaken. NET's national programming functions, already trimmed by the creation of the multiple production centers, were to be trimmed still further. "It has been decided," Macy explained, with studied ambiguity as to the source of the decision that responsibility for public-affairs programming would be better placed outside NET and its Washington bureau. The plan was to create a new Washington-based organization. The new organization would, in fact, be NET's Washington bureau, divorced from NET and independently administered. While the loss to NET of a successful programming operation was unwelcome news, I found the decision to place public television's sensitive public-affairs operations cheek-by-jowl with the sources of its government funding much more worrisome. All three commercial networks, I argued, found it prudent to headquarter their news divisions in New York and not in Washington. And without federal funding they had less to fear from the government's interfering hand than we did. Any thought that Friendly, once chief of CBS News, would be responsive to that argument vanished with his insistence the plan go forward. A week later, Macy notified me of the formation of the new organization in a letter that made clear the Foundation's complicity in the planning. The CPB'S position, it said, "has the concurrence of our colleagues at the Ford Foundation." Macy
also made an attempt to cushion the blow to NET's badly battered self-esteem by assuring me that the change "will give you and your staff the opportunity to pursue new areas in which to exert your proven programming leadership." The flattering words did nothing to relieve my sinking feeling.
The outcome of the Ford-CPB machinations was an ill-starred and short-lived organization known familiarly as NPACT (rhymes with "impact"). Its unwieldy proper name—the National Public Affairs Center for Television—led to speculation that the acronym must have preceded the name. (Television critic Ron Powers thought that NPACT sounded like one of those global conspiracies that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ferreted out and destroyed in the weekly TV series popular at the time.) To meet its need for a corporate base, NPACT was loosely attached to WETA/Washington by one of those equivocal phrases ("institutional ties") that create more problems than they solve. The two organizations shared not only production studios but a board chairman, former Time executive Sidney L. James. Because NPACT took over NET's Washington offices as well as its staff, the volatile Jim Karayn became NPACT's vice president and general manager without rising from his swivel chair.
Friendly, acutely aware of the pressing need for a strong public-television presence in the nation's capital and conscious of the fragility of WETA's public support, clearly hoped its marriage with NPACT would give the Washington station additional strength and stability. Unfortunately, good intentions and interlocking directorates did not prevent the inevitable struggle for turf. For its part, WETA had counted on the "institutional ties" with NPACT to bolster its faltering finances by bringing more national production to the station. Instead, those "institutional ties" cost WETA the only two national productions it had: Washington Week in Review and a weekly interview program with correspondent Elizabeth Drew, Thirty Minutes With . . . NPACT took over production of both.
The intentionally fuzzy ties between WETA and NPACT mirrored the vague and self-destructive relationship between PBL and NET two years earlier. Ironically, the seeds of both arrangements were planted in the corridors of the Ford Foundation. Fred Bohen,
in his infamous purloined memo to Friendly, first proposed a Washington-based public-affairs center as a means of using the PBL experience, and perhaps even of rescuing the PBL organization. The rescue mission never materialized, but the idea remained alive, and by late 1970, both Friendly and Macy had reason to believe that the time had arrived to translate it into action. For more than a decade, NET had been the system's dominant symbol, and though it was now in decline, its alleged "Eastern liberalism" undermined public television's support from the more conservative of its patrons. Because the most obvious evidence of Eastern liberalism was presumed to be in NET's public-affairs programs, it was an easy step to conclude that, by removing responsibility for public affairs from the politically contaminated precincts of Manhattan, the system could exorcise its troublesome image. By placing this key element of its operations in Washington the system could, at the same time, strengthen its presence in the city where with congressional funding it now mattered most.
Whether 1971 was the right time, and Washington the right place, was soon open to serious question. Events were waiting to happen that would challenge the wisdom of placing NPACT in the shadow of the White House. A president who was generally hostile to the notion of a freewheeling, publicly supported television system was preparing to roll his big guns into place. And in the cross-hairs of his sights would be public television's most visible and vulnerable target, NPACT.