PBS gets corporate sponsors

Masterpiece Theatre still missing backer

January 13, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

PBS hasn't yet found an underwriter for its 33-year-old Masterpiece Theatre series, but it has landed 11 new corporate funding commitments for other programs, said President and Chief Executive Pat Mitchell, who was in Los Angeles over the weekend attending the television industry's midseason press tour.

"We see an encouraging trend," said Mitchell in an interview after the conference's executive session. "I would go so far as to say we're doing much better, but those 11 are pretty substantial programs."

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, public television -- which is not a traditional network but rather a coalition of locally autonomous stations -- hit an economic slump and was forced to cut more than 150 positions, close its Midwest programming office and reduce its travel budget by the end of that year. Last year, ExxonMobil announced it would end its support of Masterpiece Theatre at the conclusion of the current season, in April.

"I gotta tell you, I find this one completely confusing," Mitchell said of ExxonMobil's decision. "This is one of the biggest brands in television, and it's just had two of the best seasons in its history. Who wouldn't want to be associated with it?"

Maybe it's the price tag. During the course of the 33-year partnership, ExxonMobil paid more than $300 million to fund the show. Mitchell said on Saturday that PBS is financially committed to continuing the show for two years to give producers time to find the best funding.

Among the new underwriters public television has landed are the American Legacy Foundation, which is funding American Family, with Johnson & Johnson; Wal-Mart, which is underwriting the Tavis Smiley show; Dannon Yogurt; and Lipton Tea.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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