Given the role of American television globally, we often overlook the differences between the experience of television in the US and Europe.
Particularly when it comes to public television and the values and styles employed.
To an American, UK and Irish public broadcasters put out a lot of shows which look like they belong on a private network, shows with little or no merit, playing to the lowest common denominator. Even the shows with an obvious public remit, there’s a lot of gloss and packaging involved, they compete against private networks using public money, making the networks look impoverished and low-end.
It’s quite different in America. Often the best output of PBS is very plain and simple.
One of the mainstays in New York living is checking into Charlie Rose and who he’s interviewing each evening. He employs a simple relaxed style, a minimal studio, no audience, sofas or graphic overlays, this is a format which permits serious conversation with some of the most interesting people in the arts, politics, science and current issues.
The good news is a lot of the content is now available to a wider audience, they’ve put 3,600 hours of interviews online at his website Charlie Rose. It’s well worth a peruse, you only pay for a downloaded version and you can watch them for free on the site. It's going to be one of my favourite places to check in for informed commentary as the upcoming Presidential campaign unfolds.
I include a sample interview here with Fred Rogers, another mainstay of public television in the US. His show is the opposite of what you might expect from the likes of Barney, say. A show where he talks straight to camera, treating kids, very young kids, with a lot of honest respect. Europe would be too cynical for this, but it works a charm in the USA.
The man is a wonder and he’s done some pretty impressive work over the years not least of which was an influential address to the Senate commission on public broadcasting for children.
I’ve remembered this interview for one moment when Fred tells Charlie that he too is special and... well... it’s a moment.