Robert J. Shuman, a former cable TV executive known for his skill in raising and managing money, will be named today as the new president of Maryland Public Television, a move designed to help the network thrive in an era of dwindling government financing.
Shuman, 51, of Potomac, moves to MPT after six years at Civic Network Communications Inc., a Washington company that uses television to provide career development training for community leaders.
He fills a job left vacant by the firing last October of Raymond K. K. Ho.
One of the founders of the Learning Channel, Shuman also brings to the job an extensive background in educational and community television.
But it was his financial expertise that persuaded MPT to take the unusual step of hiring someone outside the public television community.
"We were looking for a nontraditional president because we believe that the future of Maryland Public Television is going to be vastly different from its past," said David H. Nevins, chairman of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission.
Nevins said Shuman is well suited to the challenge facing MPT -- to find new sources of revenue, such as grants from foundations or partnerships with corporations, to make up for the loss of government money.
"That's the future of Maryland Public Television, and that's most likely the future for all of public television," he said.
MPT, with an annual budget of $26.2 million, is seen in 1.15 million homes statewide. It is the fourth-largest producer of programming for PBS, with such shows as "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser," "Motorweek" and "Kratt's Creatures."
In recent years, MPT has been praised especially for the children's programming it carries, which accounts for 37 percent of its broadcast schedule.
Ho, a controversial president, was credited with much of MPT's success. But his autocratic style of management quickly brought him into conflict with Nevins and other new members of the commission appointed last year by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The conflict came to a head when Ho accused the Glendening appointees of trying to politicize MPT. Nevins said the disagreement centered on the commission's goal of trying to diversify MPT's financial base and make it less dependent on public money.
MPT now receives one-third of its annual budget from the state, which is unusually high by national standards. At most stations, that figure is less than 15 percent.
"We put particular emphasis on fund raising, and Rob has significant experience in fund raising from major national corporations and foundations," Nevins said of Shuman.
Asked about his goals for MPT, Shuman said: "I'm more of an outsider looking in at this point. But the issue of declining federal support for public broadcasting is going to be one of our biggest challenges.
"How do we not only continue the good work we're doing now, but how do we build on that and where do those resources come from? I think that's one of the reasons the board was interested in me: I come at things from a bit of entrepreneurial skill."
That skill was developed during his 11 years as president and chief operating officer of the Learning Channel, from its founding in 1980 to its sale to Bethesda's Discovery Channel in 1991.
The Learning Channel had 15 million subscribers when it was sold. It now has nearly 50 million.
One of his most successful programming ventures was "The Independents," a showcase series for independent film and video artists. The series, which won a CableAce award, received $10 million in financing from the MacArthur Foundation during Shuman's tenure.
"I have really been blessed with long relationships with different foundations like the MacArthur Foundation," he said, adding that he has proven through the growth of the Learning Channel that he knows how to build a business.
Beyond fund raising, Shuman's experience in educational television includes using new technology to redefine the concept of classroom.
Before moving to the Learning Channel, he was a producer and deputy director for the Appalachian Educational Satellite Project in the 1970s. It was one of the first programs in the country to use satellites to deliver educational programs, instruction and professional development courses.
Shuman, who describes himself as not being "a big television viewer," said he has started watching MPT only in recent months.
"From an outside perspective, I see a lot of excellent things at MPT," he said.
"But in terms of management, I mainly have questions at this point, which I hope to start answering tomorrow morning," he said yesterday, referring to the 10 a.m. news conference in xTC Owings Mills at which his appointment was to be announced.
Shuman attributed his lack of extensive television viewing to becoming a "soccer dad" while his three daughters were growing up.
Shuman has been married 29 years to his wife, Anna. Their children are Sonja, 27, and twins Tanya and Alexa, 23. They also have a 6-month-old grandchild.
Shuman said he expects that he and Anna will move closer to MPT in coming months.
Technically, Shuman's appointment will not be official until the General Assembly approves the budget next year with his $120,000 salary, which is about $19,000 more than Ho was paid.
There had been off-the-record speculation by members of the local public broadcasting community that Shuman's appointment might be challenged in a hearing before the state Board of Public Works on Oct. 10 because of the higher salary.
But Marvin Bond, a spokesman for board member and state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, said yesterday that it is unlikely the matter will even come before the board. He indicated it would instead directly become part of the budget proposal sent to the General Assembly.
"It doesn't look like there's going to be any problem with this appointment," Bond said.
Pub Date: 10/03/96