KCET Rejoins Public Broadcasting Fold With PBS SoCal Merger

Andrew Russell - Getty - H 2018
Tara Ziemba/FilmMagic

The station dropped its PBS status in 2010 when affiliate renegotiations stalled.

Two of the biggest names in California public broadcasting are joining forces. KCET, which dropped its PBS affiliation in 2010, and PBS SoCal are merging all operations for a new entity that will service more than 18 million state residents.

PBS SoCal president and CEO Andrew Russell will retain his title in leading the yet-to-be-named organization upon the completion of the merger sometime in the second quarter of 2018. The independent broadcaster will be governed by a 32-person board of trustees composed of the 14 members from each of the existing boards and new ones. (KCET board of directors chairman Dick Cook will serve as board chair.)

“We believe our calling — to tell stories that matter — is essential, and will become even more so in the future,” said Russell. “Southern California is a global center for innovation, a trend-setter, and home to the world’s foremost creative talent. Together, we will tell more stories that matter, and better serve our region — one of the most diverse places in the country and our nation.”

“Fifty years ago, a surge of innovation and inspiration created public television as we know it today,” added Cook and PBS SoCal board of trustees chairman Jim McCluney in a joint statement. “In this dynamic time for media, this is exactly the right moment to marry the complementary core strengths of each of our organizations. Our new company combines PBS SoCal's beloved quality programming and community engagement excellence with KCETLink's passion for creating smart, original content that captures the spirit of the region. We are very excited to advance content creation in public media and continue to successfully implement innovative technologies to reach new and diverse audiences.”

KCET re-enters the public broadcasting fold after a nearly eight-year hiatus. Affiliate negotiations stalled in 2010, prompting the channel to go rogue — to the alarm of many Los Angeles area viewers. Michael Riley had led the charge for programming as CEO, focusing on a shift to digital, but had recently departed before taking a job with Ellen DeGeneres' Digital Ventures.

“We are pleased that this merger will bring the combined forces of KCETLink and PBS SoCal together to serve the people of Southern California with high-quality PBS content and services,” said PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger. “We know this new entity will be a great partner to PBS and will help strengthen the broader public television system.”

It’s a circling of the wagons of sorts. Public broadcasting has been under fire since the election of President Donald Trump. He has made a point of not including the organization in the federal budget, though the vast majority of that money all goes to affiliates in smaller markets. Southern California suffers from no shortage of PBS benefactors.

The new organization will still operate from KCET and PBS SoCal’s existing locations in Burbank, Costa Mesa and Los Angeles. No immediate changes to broadcast operations or program schedules on either of the stations’ channels will occur before the merger is finalized.