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WNED hears viewers' complaints and is doing something about it

Kathryn Larsen wants viewers of WNED-TV to know “we hear you.”

Larsen, who arrived here in January and is now the senior director of radio and television programming, realizes viewers don’t want the national PBS schedule to be pre-empted on the station as often as has been done in the past.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to realize it has been a problem.

Local viewers were especially up in arms when the periodic “Sherlock Holmes” movies from BBC carried on PBS starring Benedict Cumberbatch were delayed locally for months.

Larsen said her “best intelligence” is the next three episodes of “Sherlock” in season four will air in January and carried on PBS at the same time they premiere in the United Kingdom.

“We will air them as they are fed,” added Larsen. “We are going be airing the national schedule as it is fed more often than not.”

The new WNED philosophy of reducing the number of PBS programs being delayed was also visible when the station carried the brilliant “Great Performances” documentary, “Hamilton’s America’s,” about the history of Alexander Hamilton and the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical.

Since it is almost impossible to get a ticket to the musical, the documentary was a history and musical lesson that was must-see TV. If you missed it, it will be repeated at midnight Tuesday.
I purchased the soundtrack from ITunes weeks ago. The documentary brought many of the show’s songs to life. One of my favorite tunes is “Helpless,” which is how many WNED viewers have felt at times because of the stations’ past scheduling.

For example, WNED-TV had been carrying old movies on Friday night. Now it is carrying the PBS Arts Fall Festival, hosted each week by Miranda, on the network’s Friday night schedule.
The list of upcoming 9 p.m. Friday programs airing on schedule include “Bill Murray: The Mark Twain Prize” (Friday), “Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater” (Nov. 4), a performance of “Gypsy” (Nov. 11) “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs” (Nov. 18) and “Joshua Bell’s (he recently performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic) Seasons of Cuba” (Dec. 16.)

Of course, delaying the national feed of PBS shows has had additional problems recently. Since PBS streams many of its programs after they air and streaming is becoming more and more an option, local viewers don’t have to wait until WNED-TV schedules them to see them.

In another example of Larsen “hearing you,” the station is responding to complaints about dropping a popular sewing program from its Monday daytime schedule. Now there is a sentence I never thought I’d write.

People were needling WNED with so many complaints about dropping “Sewing with Nancy” that WNED is going to carry it at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays starting in December.
Similarly, Larsen heard from viewers when the series “A Place to Call Home” was pre-empted for the political conventions and a series on the national parks. WNED-TV now airs back-to-back episodes of “Home” starting at 9 p.m. Thursdays.

“The audience went crazy,” said Larsen of missing “Home.” “I’ve been programming for 20-25 years. It amazes me how attached people get to their programs. They feel they have an ownership. That’s what we tell them.”

Of course, Larsen has two countries to keep happy. WNED gets two-third of its audience and of its membership dollars from Southern Ontario in Canada, one-third from the Buffalo area in the United States.

The station did get a financial boost from its recent three-day “Downton Abbey” marathon of all of its seasons. Larsen said she felt it would have been good if the station raised $50,000 over the three days since that is about $10,000 more than a typical fund drive day. The “Downton” marathon raised $150,000.

Looking ahead, Larsen notes that the station will be carrying a new kid’s series from Jim Henson’s Workshop dealing with marine biology, “Splash and Bubbles,” at 10 a.m. weekdays starting Nov. 23.

And in February, it plans to carry a new 24-hour PBS Kids channel on 17.3, one of WNED-TV’s digital channels, a few weeks after it premieres nationally.

The channel will include some old favorites and the new episodes of HBO’s edition of “Sesame Street” programs. It will be available on local cable.

The PBS station doesn’t live on prime time ratings, but had a recent hit with the Frontline special on the two presidential nominees, “The Choice 2016.” The premiere of the biographies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had a 1.8 rating, solid by PBS standards. It has been shown several times since and has one more airing before the Nov. 8 election – at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29.

As further evidence that WNED hears you, Larsen even plans to review if it makes sense to move some of the station’s  fund drive from September – which results in many significant PBS national programs being pre-empted – to August like is done elsewhere.

If that happens, it would almost be as big a miracle as getting a “Hamilton” ticket.


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