PBS Shakes up Programming Department (Exclusive)

Courtesy of PBS
Beth Hoppe

Beth Hoppe, who joined the public broadcaster last year from Discovery Studios, has been promoted to chief programming executive.

PBS is reorganizing its programming department to better take advantage of the opportunities inherent in broad hits including Sherlock and Downton Abbey, which returns Jan. 6 for its third season on PBS. To that end, Beth Hoppe, the former Discovery Studios executive responsible for bringing BBC hit Call the Midwife to PBS, will head up programming with the new title of chief programming executive and GM. She will report to COO Michael Jones.

Meanwhile, former programming head John Wilson, an 18-year veteran of PBS, becomes senior vp of pledge strategy and special projects.

The changes were announced Tuesday in a staff e-mail from Jones.

“As we continue to execute on our strategic plan to revitalize our content, strengthen stations and encourage innovation, we are evolving our structure to better enable us to execute against our priorities and capitalize on opportunities,” said Jones in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

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PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger has championed Hoppe; both previously worked at WNET, the flagship station in New York. At Discovery Studios, Hoppe developed series including Human Nature.

Hoppe was president and CEO of Optomen Productions, where she produced programs for Animal Planet, Discovery and PBS. Among her PBS projects were unscripted franchises Frontier House and Colonial House, which transplanted families to period houses and filmed them as they coped with the harsh realities of life before creature comforts.

PBS has expanded into formatted reality with Antiques Roadshow spin-off Market Warriors, which has appraisers competing in a cross-country auction hunt. New episodes of Market Warriors -- which made headlines when original host Fred Willard was fired after getting caught in a police sting at a triple-X movie house in Los Angeles -- return in January. And Hoppe recently told THR that she is looking at additional unscripted concepts while stressing the PBS mandate of serving a need that is not being met among the glut of reality formats on ad-supported cable.

“We just have to always make sure there’s a reason to do it,” she said. “I think we have to look for the PBS twist.”

Hoppe said that PBS is developing an unscripted format from the U.K. and another in-house, though she declined to offer specifics.

Hoppe joined PBS in April 2011 with Donald Thoms, who was formerly principal at multimedia consultancy Thoms Media Group, where his clients included Discovery, MTV, Scripps Networks and Travel Channel. Thoms has been named vp programming, overseeing arts, drama and independent film as well as talent development. He’ll report to Hoppe. Additionally, Mike Kelley has been named vp content and business affairs. He’ll report to Hoppe and be tasked with more fully integrating business strategy and planning into primetime strategy.

Hoppe’s other direct reports include Bill Gardner, who has been named senior director overseeing science, history and natural history programming, and Joe Campbell, who has been upped to vp fundraising programming, where he’ll work with Wilson in his new role. 

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@THR.com

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie