American Public Television Sheds Its 'Mister Rogers' Past

Doc Martin Wedding Still - H 2014
Courtesy of American Public Television

Doc Martin Wedding Still - H 2014

The second-largest distributor of public TV programs outside of PBS is kicking off its annual marketplace with bigger stars and more ambitious programming

This story first appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Jane Seymour the onetime Bond girl who gained legions of fans during the '90s with CBS' Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman — had more than scripts to help her channel her frontier-woman alter ego: The U.K. native's father was a doctor and often took her along on his hospital rounds. Decades later, wellness has remained a large part of the Emmy and Golden Globe winner's life, which is what led to her current passion project: creating and hosting Feel Grand With Jane Seymour, a public television talk show featuring medical experts discussing the issues affecting Seymour, 63, and her fellow baby boomers.

"It's a whole new way for me to use my abilities," she says of the show, which premiered in early October. "I've discovered I like interviewing people!"

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Seymour is one of many stars who will be showcased at the American Public Television Fall Marketplace, set to converge on San Diego's Hard Rock Hotel on Nov. 10. APT's version of the broadcast networks' annual upfronts in New York (PBS has its own as well), the event is designed for buyers, sellers and creators and helps to facilitate key programming decisions and purchases for the more than 350 public TV stations nationwide.

"It's a marketplace of ideas and concepts," says Neal Shapiro, president and CEO of WNET, New York City's public television outlet. "It's a place not just to see great programming but also to talk to people who do it … and meet people who are helping pay for the programs."

Public TV channels get their shows from the PBS network or through APT, which provides up to 50 percent of public TV content, typically offering about 300 new or continuing programs each year. "We are now the lead syndicator of programming or content to all the public television stations," explains Cynthia Fenneman, CEO of APT since 2001. The five most popular shows syndicated by APT are Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, America's Test Kitchen, Rick Steves' Europe and Nightly Business Report. APT also supplies a popular weekly package of feature films.

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The organization started in 1961 and staked its claim with such zeitgeisty programs as The French Chef With Julia Child, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and The Three Tenors, as well as imported shows including Monty Python's Flying Circus. It now has a library of 7,000 programs. Some shows also are sold outside the U.S. by APT Worldwide, which markets programming at MIP and other television markets and to airlines and for home video.

In the U.S., stations report back to APT weekly on which shows are well received and watched the most. "Through the years, we've been able to refine what public television audiences want," says Fenneman. "This has been a good decade for dramas, biographies, history, nature, lifestyle shows and strong multipart series."

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Many of APT's biggest and longest-running stars will be at the marketplace, including the Seattle-based Rick Steves, who has hosted travel shows for two decades; and chefs Joanne Weir, Nick Stellino and Pati Jinich.

For herself and fellow talent, Seymour says APT and its marketplace not only are affording a veritable career renaissance, they are further pushing the boundaries of a medium in flux.

"Public TV offers a wonderful way to talk about serious things without worrying about commercials," she says. "It's a chance to tell stories that wouldn't be told on a commercial channel."

Nov. 10, 10:00 a.m. Corrections: APT was founded in 1961. The international sales arm of APT is APT Worldwide.