Public television's original mandate requires the system to address issues of controversy and facilitate the inclusion of voices and perspectives that lie outside the established consensus. But attempts to include these voices reveal a system riddled with conflicting obligations and agendas. Public Television looks at who in the world of public television is powerful, who is weak, and who cares.
Through detailed chronologies, B. J. Bullert traces how independently produced documentaries pushed the limits of public television between 1985 and 1993. She interviews the key players, film makers, programmers, journalists, and representatives of interest groups to illuminate how together they sought to frame and constrain viewers on perceptions of provocative works. Their stories are set against the backdrop of a larger story about the relationship between federal funding for the arts and public broadcasting and the promise of a democratic society. Bullert brings to light the subtle forces and interests that effectively control the style and content of documentaries that have been broadcast with the PBS logo.
When film makers brought uncommon realities to the public television airwaves, a complex collective response from station programmers, interest groups, journalists, and viewers ensued. Public Television charts the communication process through which visions of reality deemed threatening to some are packaged to make them more palatable for public television viewers.