High-end infomercials taint PBS pledge drive

Whip out your sell phone.

“Sell” as in phone in a pledge for the privilege of being sold.

You can still donate your dollars during Channel 10’s fund drive to “Great Performances” and a Ken Burns preview special — prime PBS programming and supremely support-worthy. Or you can break out the bucks to “Dr. Wayne Dyer: Excuses Begone!” and “Brain Fitness for Kids” — glossy, de facto infomercials aired locally as prime-time pledge enticements.

PBS: Public Broadcasting Service or Please Buy Stuff?

Lecturing a sea of awed faces and moist eyes as a self-help sage and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Dyer has preached on PBS for a decade — advice available as membership thank-you gifts, not to mention other books, CDs and DVDs! — gathering devotees and detractors. The latter rightly lambaste the lending of PBS prestige to Dyer’s spiritual mentoring, the exposure undoubtedly upping his bottom line.

Popping up in pledge segments between his own program to further extol his rules for right-minded living — available on books, CDs and DVDs! — further casts him as a salesman for himself as his own product when the sole product should be PBS.

“Brain Fitness” cheered Scientific Learning Corp.’s techniques to “empower children to gain success in learning and life.” Evaluations of the mental exercises — by the creators, not independent journalists — and chats with company scientist/founders were included that amounted to tell-us-how-incredibly-terrific-this-is interviews — and let’s not forget those school district endorsements. They fairly smacked of the enthusiastic testimonials for mops and hair-care products on infomercials elsewhere, only more sophisticated in tone and noble in purpose.

The problem of promotion via PBS is perception.

“I understand where people could see it (as infomercials), but PBS at the national level looks for best-selling authors who have a strong public response,” says Channel 10 General Manager Tom Axtell about Dyer.

Vegas PBS, he adds, isn’t contractually obligated to carry the national feed during drives, but doing so avoids the expense of producing additional local segments. On those they do produce, “we try to have content that minimizes that perception,” he says.

Belt-tightening saves on costs, but costs credibility.

PBS should position itself above high-class hucksterism that, stripped of production polish, would be a cozier fit in its natural habitat: paid-for filler on commercial TV. Perfumed by PBS, it still has the stench of salesmanship on airwaves long home to cultural/educational enrichment.

Slapping its logo over these faux-classy come-ons, PBS essentially endorses profit-seeking science products — whether for body or mind — removed from journalism-driven standards that fuel the science of “Nova.”

Fortunately, no such perceptions plague tonight’s “Great Performances: Stevie Wonder — Live at Last.”

For that, my cherie amour, you can happily whip out your cell phone.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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