PBS kicks off TV critics press tour

Saturday, 21 July 2012 03:07 PM Written by 

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paula_kerger_PBSBEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It was a mixed bag week for PBS: The public broadcaster received a slew of Emmy nominations (58 to be exact), including a haul in major categories for "Downton Abbey" on "Masterpiece" (16 total), but there was also the news of Fred Willard's arrest for alleged lewd conduct just days after the debut of PBS's "Market Warriors," which Willard narrates.

Read more after the jump. ...

PBS quickly dismissed Willard as "Market Warriors" narrator and will repalce him with "Antiques Roadshow" host Mark Walkberg in the episode airing Monday.

"Our concern was [Willard's] circumstance would become a distraction for the series, which we're hoping would have an ongoing presence on television," said Paula Kerger, PBS president. "'Market Warriors' is intended as a companion series to 'Antiques Roadshow' and [having Walberg in both] links the two shows together."

This fall PBS will take the unusual, but not unprecedented, step of airing a scripted drama series outside the "Masterpiece" banner. "Call the Midwife," set among midwives in 1950s London, will air Sunday at 8 p.m. as the "Masterpiece" lead-in beginning Sept. 30th.

"We have had drama going back to 'Brideshead Revisited,' which was not part of 'Masterpiece,'" Kerger said, adding that "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton brought "Midwife" to the attention of PBS executives. "We're looking at trying to create experiences with our viewer where we're aligning programs. ... It really is a very powerful series and we're proud we have the opportunity to bring it to a national audience."

"Midwife" also serves to tide viewers over until a new season of "Downton" airs in January. Kerger attributes the success of "Downton" to social media, which brought viewers together to chat about the series in its first two seasons. But don't expect to see an abundance of scripted drama on PBS because there's so much good drama already on cable channels.

"From that perspective there's less pressure to put a lot of resources into drama," Kerger said. "Arts has been an area we haven't seen a lot of programming outside the competition shows [on other networks]. And history is an area -- as History channel has shifted its programming focus a bit --  where we see not only an opportunity but a need to look at the kinds of stories that are underrepresented."

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