Is Public Affairs Programming a 3 minute game?
By Nelson Davis
When I began in Los Angeles television in 1977, TV stations
begrudgingly but proudly produced hours of Public Affairs
programming each week. KNBC, KTLA, KCOP and KHJ (now KCAL)
all had staffs and resources dedicated to several programs
that brought community interests and the stations closer together.
No one does that anymore. Stations now tell the Federal Communications
Commission that newscasts cover the needs of Public Affairs
Like major change in any business, turning Public Affairs
into short packages and sound bites occurred gradually and
for several reasons. The programs themselves were most often
relegated to early morning time slots, and given minimal production
values. Frequently dismissed as 'talking heads' shows, very
few gained any commercial support. Of course, two of the longest
running and most successful TV programs ever, "Sixty Minutes"
and "Meet the Press" are talking heads shows. As local stations
increased the length of newscasts, lifestyle pieces became
necessary to fill out the hours that went onto program logs
There was a time when an expert on some subject would be invited
to talk in depth about buying your first house or choosing
a college. Soon these subjects were becoming 3-minute packages
in newscasts, given a 'fear' spin. They came with promos and
teases such as "Avoid Buying a Moneypit" and "What You Must
Do to Get Junior Into College."
There were lots of people who knew how to do that and too
few who could produce interesting half-hour shows. Then, along
came Infomercials bringing lots of something all station managers
understood… cash! Direct sales merchants were willing to pay
five to fifteen thousand dollars for half-hours that previously
cost stations money to program. Finally, the FCC began to
pay less attention during the era of deregulation.
They stopped reminding station owners that they'd been given
the use of public airwaves. I feel that cash, little conscience
and relaxed regulation were the cocktail that made Public
Affairs programming on local TV a 3 minute game.
About the Author
Prior to starting his Los Angeles based television production
company, Nelson Davis held several jobs, including TV news
anchor and reporter for KCOP in Los Angeles and was a radio
personality for over 12 years. Nelson is committed to combining
his knowledge of television production and marketing to use
TV as a medium to communicate positive messages and enable