After 40 Years, KCET Cuts Loose From PBS

Move, due to fee increases, makes the West Coast station the country's largest independent public television company

West Coast-based KCET is ending its 40-year-long affiliation with the Public Broadcasting System, the channel announced on Friday.

The break instantly makes KCET the largest independent public television station in the United States.

The channel said the decision came about after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on a reduction in dues and greater programming flexibility.

KCET will continue to carry the full PBS line-up through Dec. 31, 2010.

The move does mean a massive programming overhaul for the station. In place of PBS shows, the network will air news and documentaries from Japan and Canada and older feature films, according to the Los Angeles Times.

As negotiations began to sour, KCET moved preemptively to shore up its lineup in the even of a break with PBS. Last month, it unveiled "KCET Presents," a Sunday movie series hosted by KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin. The series intermixes classic films like "Easter Parade" with more recent movies like "A Fish Called Wanda."

"While separating from the PBS mother ship is daunting, the potential of providing a media platform for the creative, scientific, and cultural communities of Southern California to create informative and entertaining noncommercial programming with a fresh perspective is very exciting,” KCET Chairman Gordon Bava said in a statement.

The station said the decision was a financial necessity. Its PBS dues increased by 40 percent, in part because of its extraordinarily successful fundraising effort on behalf of A Place of Our Own/Los Niños en Su Casa. PBS' refusal to lower the fees was made more problematic once the economy went into a tailspin leading to a dramatic drop in corporate underwriting and viewer contributions.

The dues amounted to some $7 million, a huge chunk of the station's $37-million operating revenue, the Times reported.

KCET said it will remain a viewer-supported non-profit organization.

“PBS was notified today of KCET’s intention to withdraw its membership. At issue were KCET’s repeated requests that it be allowed to operate as a PBS member station without abiding by PBS policies and paying the corresponding dues. The Board and senior management of PBS remain focused on ensuring the people of Los Angeles continue to benefit from the full range of high-quality PBS content and services," PBS said in a statement.

PBS said it would work to find a "financially stable" service in the Los Angeles market. PBS said that its plans might include establishing a Southern California consortium of stations such as KOCE, KVCR, and KLCS to carry its content.