I’m sure you have all seen the Will Ferrell movie “Anchorman.” If you have not seen it, I recommend it highly. If you are one of the fortunate ones to have seen this movie, you will know what I’m talking about when I refer to the scene in which Tim Robbins, in a brownish-blond Afro wig, wearing a turtleneck sweater and chomping on a pipe, jumps into an old-fashioned gangland-style brawl between news crews from competing stations. He says something along the lines of, “We’re from the public news station, and we’ve taken time out from fundraising to come and kick some butt!”
Well, in my opinion, public TV does kick butt and so does public radio, and I’m about to tell you why. Although Robbins and the makers of “Anchorman” were making a joke by dressing him and his crew up like a bunch of eccentric yet high-brow, artsy misfits, most of the newscasters on PBS look pretty normal. Gwen Ifill and Jim Lehrer, two of the station’s most well-known newscasters, always look professional, for instance.
Unlike the members of, say, the FOX 11 News or Eyewitness news teams, public news crews do not look like they just walked off the pages of a Mervyns-meets-“Desperate Housewives” catalogue.
Instead, they look like people you’d feel pretty safe leaving your kid with. If I had kids, and by some bizarre turn of events had to leave them with the FOX 11 news crew, I’m sure my kid would be lost by the end of the day, abandoned while everyone runs willy-nilly to get the scoop on the spring showers or the latest low-speed car chase.
For those of you who consider PBS to be the boring station your grandpa likes, let me tell you a little secret about myself: I have lost many a study hour because I could not tear my eyes away from Tavis Smiley or Charlie Rose.
While I’ll admit that I find Huell Houser and “Antiques Road Show” slightly less gripping, I am always finding myself wrapped in some cool history/nature/science program or some documentary or live performance.
The same goes for public radio. I love public radio. I actually like getting in my car and being stuck in L.A. traffic because it means I get to listen to NPR undisturbed and uninterrupted for, like, hours.
Here’s what I like about NPR: Not only is it known for fair, thorough journalism that is presented in a professional manner, it also has a countless number of shows and spot pieces on just about any subject under the sun. No matter who you are or what you’re into, NPR has something for you, within reason. If you like food and cooking, they have a cooking show. If you are an art buff, they have “Art Talk.” If you’re a grammar geek, you get “Says You,” NPR’s wiley word game show. NPR also has countless music programs that strive to bring out new or burgeoning “indie” artists. My personal favorites on NPR include “The World,” “All Things Considered,” and “Left, Right and Center,” in which I get to listen Ariana Huffington let the Right have it.
By listening and watching these public stations, you can learn anything about everything, and whatever is on is usually enriching in some way. Unlike pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Tom Leykis, or stations such as FOX, all of which I am convinced lower audience’s I.Q.s and contribute to slackness in jaw muscles, public broadcasters are out to bring a world of knowledge and culture to your doorstep. Because of PBS, I have learned about such things as living conditions in the Punjab and what aid organizations are doing there. I have seen performances by the likes of the Netherlands Dance Theater, New York City Ballet, and violin virtuoso Itzak Perlman. I have learned about oceanography, global warming, the history of Stone Henge, the musical genius of Duke Ellington and seen live performances by Bob Dylan.
These are things that I never would have had the chance to see or learn if public stations weren’t making a constant effort to showcase them. I believe that by watching, listening to and supporting them, we do a service to ourselves and the entire public.
Bethania Palma can be reached at email@example.com.