Thursday, May 19, 2005

An evening of pledges

I was invited some months ago to appear on WYBE Public Television serving the Greater Philadelphia area to assist them with their annual pledge drive on the lesbian/gay and Irish programming sections on account my novel is Irish and the protagonist deals with issues of sexual identity as part of the plot. (I'd appeared last year on their excellent program OutLoud hosted by Debra D'Alessandro whom I was pleased to discover had read my novel and was thus able to ask what I refer to now that I have some TV and Radio experience as 'beyond superficial' questions. In other words, her conversation was intelligent, interesting and useful to viewers.)

Last night was the first evening--the gay/lesbian programming section--and I arrived at the studio at seven o'clock nervous and wondering how the hell this was all going to play out. I'd watched presenters on other PBS shows and always wondered how they managed to smile, keep jabbering on about stuff, and get in the essential requests for pledges. Though I'm a pretty conversational person, I was quite sure I would not be able to do this gracefully and my words would flood like a raging brook and then abruptly stop, etc. As it turns out, I needn't have worried because Debra was there and I was paired with her (two others--the Philadelphia author Thom Nickels and restauranteur Reed Apaghian--were positioned at another spot within the studio with another WHYY host) and the pledge segments alternated between us throughout the three hours of programming.

Of course we were prepped in the green room as to how things would unfold and read a wealth of information about WYBE, the pledge objectives, and the gifts that would be offered at various dollar levels--my own novel A SON CALLED GABRIEL being one such offering. There seemed so much to learn in such a short space of time, though the staff including Jessica, April, Purna (an associate producer who's also a Cardiff University alum it turns out) made us all feel at ease. Tension built and my stomach knotted as soon as we were taken into the studio five minutes before going live and a storm of colored cards containing pledge info were held up and we were instructed that we should read from these when they were held up during the pledge drive, and the floor manager showed us the hand signals she used to indicated 30 second, 20 second and 15 second countdowns to 'Off-air'.

I was dead nervous for the first segment, seemed to stammer a little in the second, and then found my groove for the rest of the evening. At one point the floor manager flashed a tangerine 'SMILE' card in my direction. All in all the experience was highly interesting and I look forward to doing Tuesday's Irish programming drive where two actors are flying in from Dublin to assist. The entire experience reinforced one very important lesson, namely how absolutely vital it is to a community to have local public television around, and how it does need to be supported by people like me.

Commercial telly in the US is crap on the whole; aside from a few good dramas, it insults one's intelligence in the main, is boringly mediocre at best, is forgettable. It forms part of a trend in this country, whether intentionally or not, to de-intellectualize the citizenry--training us to accept sound bites for serious analysis of an issue is also a part of this process. It is not that our attention spans are diminishing. Not in the least. It's that we accept this to be so, that we accept this bogus gospel from the besuited apostles of commercial television and their sponsors.

PBS produces gritty original programming for ethnic and other minorities and for the mainstream. It contracts to buy programming from around the world that includes the BBC news, the only truly comprehensive, unbiased INTERNATIONAL news within the borders of these United States currently, in my opinion. I believe we must support public telly's membership drives and openly admit I was just as guilty as others in not pledging at one time. I have sat and gorged on their programming and then switched to commercial telly as soon as the pledges began, all without once thinking to take out my credit card. I freeloaded, and that is an unacceptable practice in this age of dangerous extremism. Without PBS, there would be a further erosion of democracy. That is why the right wing is keen to see its demise. They want it terminated, because they know PBS telly is the television of thinkers.

Another huge advantage to last night's drive--from Larry and my tummy's point of view--was that Reed had provided a highly delicious salad from his restaurant The Astral Plane and it was choc-a-bloc with huge shrimp, chicken and giant scallops for supper, after which hosts and guests alike tucked into a mound of gourmet desserts, including the most amazing pear and almond tart I have ever tasted outside Germany.

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