WILL-TV article

From July 26, 2007:

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Article in Champaign daily The News-Gazette about the “Show Me A Story” program sponsored by WILL-TV Channel 12 and the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club of Champaign, during which preteens learn how to produce a 10-minute segment for television. (Remember that the direct link to this article will expire after Thursday, August 2.)


Editor’s note: I’ll admit that this sounds like big fun for everyone involved, although I’m amused by the article’s implication that the act of producing television is a way to keep children from wasting the summer sitting on their duffs and soaking up mass media – including, a-hem, television. Given that the host station is PBS, we can at least rest assured that skill development and creativity are core concerns of the program. Thank you, Don Moyer Club, for not going with the flashier environs of the local CBS, ABC, and FOX affiliates.

Yet, I find it hard to imagine what an “African myth” taped in front of a green screen over on Goodwin Avenue will look like. I hope that it’ll have a much more vibrant aesthetic than, say, the station’s public affairs or home gardening shows. We all know the PBS propensity for documentary over narrative programming, which probably has as much to do with budget constraints as it does long-standing reputation, but it’s a big stretch to launch a project like this and expect the final result to emulate the standard “PBS style.” The last thing that will engage a bunch of kids is a bunch of talking heads, with rare exception.

By the same token, it’s discouraging to note that it takes a token “for the kids” outreach effort for WILL-TV to actually foot the bill for something that, by its very nature, eschews the “PBS style.” (Although, I am talking specifically in the technical sense here; the project’s PBS-safe subject matter was obviously premeditated.) I wonder sometimes if WILL’s doubled-up status as public television and University of Illinois branch stifles their employees’ willingness to “shoot outside the box.” When one looks over the latest schedule in Patterns magazine, “innovative” and “progressive” hardly come to mind, but I guess such qualities would simply befuddle all the viewers WILL counts on to give money during their biannual pledge drive.

So, why in the world can’t WILL-TV count on Champaign County citizens in other ways that will introduce a little honest-to-goodness chutzpah and alleviate that thick-headed cloud of academic integrity hanging over Campbell Hall? Here’s what I think the powers-that-be should do, and it’s the most obvious thing in the world:

Launch a parallel program that would entice the adults of Champaign County to develop exciting new work to air on and syndicate through WILL. Structure it to provide basic training and openly define the parameters of time, budget, and tools – not to mention those pesky FCC mandates – but otherwise allow the indoctrinated inmates to run little corners of the asylum while the wardens hold down the fort. One caveat, though – these creatives are not to be restricted to the documentary or news magazine formats. I don’t think that an “earn-the-right-by-volunteering” mantra a la WEFT 90.1 FM is unreasonable, but the window between Day 1 and the First Day of Autonomous Production should be absolutely minimal and not dependent on the creatives being full-time paid employees.

Tell me when the sign up date is and I’ll be the first in line.

 ~ Jason Pankoke

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