PBS Chief Says She Hopes Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley, New #MeToo Series Will ‘Tee Up a Conversation’

TCA 2018: “It is through discussion that we’ll come to some ideas for how to come to some real change”

PBS will aim to become a leader in the conversation about sexual harassment and assault in the #MeToo era following the abrupt exits of hosts Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley at the network, President and CEO Paula Kerger said Tuesday.

“What we’ve observed is that there’s a lot of discussion around Hollywood, and a lot of the stories that continue to mushroom out, but it’s a much bigger problem that crosses every economic level and every industry,” Kerger told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour. “There isn’t a place that I’ve see yet to at least begin a conversation.”

But PBS had already found itself at the center of the conversation after two of its own hosts — Smiley and Rose — were accused of sexual misconduct late last year.

Kerger said PBS was not aware of the accusations against Rose or Smiley before they were made public because of the broadcaster’s role as a distributor of independent content. The programming aired by PBS is all produced by outside partners — Rose, Kerger noted, managed the production of his own show.

“Even though we are a federated system and we have all of our stations independent,” she said, “that does not absolve us of the responsibility of trying to insure that we are supporting a culture where people are valued and respected.”

Kerger said PBS will implement “systematic change” to prevent future misbehavior, including the institution of a new policy mandating yearly sexual harassment training. She also promised PBS would endeavor to “be even clearer of our expectations” with outside producers.

In addition, PBS has given the greenlight to a five-part miniseries titled “#MeToo, Now What?” hosted by Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi.

Each episode will focus on an aspect of sexual harassment, and will include reporting from Salbi both in the field and in studio, exploring topics such as the impact of popular culture on women in the workplace, how race and class factor into the discussion, the social costs of pay inequity and gender discrimination, how men can be engaged in this discussion, and how to begin charting a path forward.

“I’m not suggesting that a five-part series on public broadcasting is going to solve a problem,” Kerger said. “But I think if we can begin talking to one another and begin to do that in real time as the story is unfolding, then I think we will do a great service.”

The series will not air live, but Kerger said the episodes would air “within a couple days” of taping to stay as up-to-date on the latest developments as possible.

“We’ll see how those five weeks go, and coming out of that we’re going to look at other ways … avenues that we have through broadcast to continue the conversation,” she said. “I’m hoping that this is just spiking the ball up so we can begin to tee up those kind of conversations. Because I think it is through discussion that we’ll come to some ideas for how to come to some real change.”

On a more logistical level, Kerger said the broadcaster had not made any decisions about how to proceed in filling the programming gaps left by its ousted hosts. “Charlie Rose” was a mainstay for PBS, airing in the late-night time slot since 1991.

The network replaced “Rose” with Christiane Amanpour’s interview program on an interim basis, but Kerger said she was still “looking at a lot of different possibilities” going forward.

“I’m happy [with ‘Amanpour’] right now,” she said. “When we’re ready to do something different, we will.”