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Updates and statements from the Indie Caucus.


Indie Caucus Response to Statements by Congress About Diverse PBS Documentaries

Tim Horsburgh

On March 28th, during the Congressional Subcommittee Hearing on President Trump's plan to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Rep. Andy Harris (R, Maryland) singled out three PBS broadcast documentary films that he thought should not have been supported by public dollars: The New Black (directed by Yoruba Richen), Kumu Hina (directed by Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer), and Baby Mama High (directed by Heather Ross).

Each of these films focused on different stories about women of color in America. We encourage viewers who appreciate seeing these and other stories of diverse, independent voices on public TV to contact their representatives. You may wish to tell Rep. Harris that you support the CPB by contacting him directly:

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2015 Year in Review

Tim Horsburgh

The Indie Caucus received funding in 2015  to organize and consolidate outcomes from a listening tour on the importance of independent, point-of-view documentary to the mission of public television, and the need for local stations and PBS to support it by showcasing Independent Lens and POV on the prime-time schedule.

Since January, Indie Caucus has worked to do just that, inviting filmmakers and general audiences to take part in a public discussion surrounding the POV and Independent Lens (IL) presence on public television.

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Indie Caucus Responds to PBS Statement

Tim Horsburgh reports on a new plan PBS unveiled today that will keep Independent Lens and POV on WNET's Monday night schedule. Additionally, the network is committing extra resources for promotion and looking for way to feature independent documentaries in other parts of the schedule. Read the full article by Dru Sefton here.

See Also: PBS's press release 4/23/2015

In response to PBS's announcement, Indie Caucus issued the following statement:

"Since January, Indie Caucus has worked alongside PBS on an unprecedented listening tour, inviting filmmakers and audience to take part in public discussion surrounding the POV and Independent Lens (IL) presence on public television. Our campaign was triggered by WNET’s abrupt announcement that it was dropping IL and POV from their primetime slot on its flagship station. These two award-winning series have showcased the best, most diverse, point-of-view work each year. We are pleased that our conversations with PBS have been productive with the news today that PBS has committed to keeping POV and IL in their Monday night broadcast schedule for one year.

“The independent documentary series — IL and POV — speak to the core of what public television is all about and like others I am encouraged by this new agreement,” said filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz. “I think we have all learned that there is a large, diverse and active set of audiences for these films and its now time to think about further growing these audiences — in particular, younger and more diverse viewers."

However, the fight is not over. The trigger for this campaign was WNET’s unilateral decision to bump the independent series from primetime on their main channel. Indie Caucus will continue to call for transparency as we move forward with this 1-year experiment with a goal of serving all audiences.

“The statement from PBS leaves us cautiously optimistic that we are on the road to having a strong and stable home for indies on PBS. One of the benefits of this process over the last several months is that the creativity community has been energized about this issue.” added filmmaker Katy Chevigny. “All parties involved can count on the Indie Caucus to watch the implementation of the new plan and continue to advocate for increased visibility of these programs.”

As filmmakers, we recognize that IL and POV have been leaders in breaking new ground with documentary film. Indie Caucus celebrates that legacy and remains committed to working with PBS to develop new audiences and new filmmakers to these programs. Documentary films have the power to hold a mirror to society and elevate diverse voices and narratives. IL and POV are central to this space and lead broadcast and cable networks in spotlighting underrepresented stories and filmmakers. We are watching closely to see what comes next and will continue to hold PBS and its member stations accountable to their mission."

Why WNET's Schedule Matters

Tim Horsburgh

Lacey Schwartz' film 'Little White Lie' earned big ratings when it premiered on PBS's Independent Lens earlier this year. Listen to this segment of her recent interview on KCRW's 'The Business' with host Kim Masters, where Schwartz discusses WNET's proposal to take Independent Lens and POV off the station's primetime schedule.

Is WNET Even Listening?

Tim Horsburgh

The Indie Caucus has welcomed the recent Listening Tour and public discussion of the role of independent film and the mission of public broadcasting. We must respond to Stephen Segaller’s comments in a recent Current podcast, which do not recognize our good-faith efforts at dialog.
The public discussion was triggered by WNET’s abrupt announcement in late December that it was dropping Independent Lens and POV from their prime-time slot on its flagship station. These two award-winning series have showcased the best, most diverse, point-of-view work each year — We were grateful that WNET listened to us when, in two days, a petition signed by 1700 filmmakers helped change WNET’s position, however we are deeply concerned by Segaller's comments during his recent podcast.
The listening tour is over and Segaller has clearly not been listening. He says, “We listened to what the filmmakers had to say, and it was rather predictable and certainly unanimous.”

What about the hundreds of other concerned PBS viewers, community groups and educators who turned out and spoke out at the listening tour events. Did Segaller hear them? Is WNET listening? The people who spoke during the listening tour represented diverse voices from a range of communities all across America.
Stephen feels indie filmmakers want merely to defend the past, and ignore the challenges of the present. Indie Caucus has been asking for WNET and PBS to commit to Independent Lens and POV in their present position with good forward thinking reason, backed with good data. Here are the key points we’ve addressed:

  • Independent Lens and POV have seen a 20% increase in national ratings over the last year. A huge increase and proof that Monday nights are working. Ratings in New York have steadily improved in the last year as well, though not as dramatically. More importantly, programmers know that consistency of time slot is critical to building audience. These two series have been moved 3 times in the last 4 years. Source: 2014-‘15 ratings from season premiere, through 2/8/15 compared to entire 2013-‘14 season.
  • WNET wants to see ratings increase after Antiques Road Show on Monday nights. Affinity research suggests that Independent Lens and POV perform better than the arts programing WNET want to replace them with. Source: Nielsen 9/23/14-3/30/14, weekly duplication.
  • As technical professionals, we are acutely aware of time-shifting, cord-cutting, and digital VOD; but we also know that 80% of PBS viewers watch their shows at the time they are aired. We know that the great majority of Americans primarily get their TV the old-fashioned way. Read: “6 Reasons Why Indies Still Care if They’re On TV”.
  • We also know that people who make less money and minorities are groups that generally depend the most on over-the-air TV — especially public TV. The top three ranked PBS series in Black and Hispanic households include Independent Lens and POV. Source: 2012-2013 season.

Indie Caucus has spent an enormous amount of time, energy and money in attending, at the request of PBS, WNET, POV, and ITVS, meetings to discuss how best for public TV to cultivate a productive relationship with indies while showcasing their work on the most well-established, award-winning platforms that exist on American TV — Independent Lens and POV. We remain hopeful that something constructive will come out of these meetings. We await PBS laying out a concrete plan and we remain engaged and willing to work on finding solutions.