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Encyclopedia > Public Broadcasting System
Note: Public Broadcasting Services is a broadcaster in Malta. It is unrelated to the U.S. broadcaster of this article. PBS can also stand for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
PBS logo

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a non-profit public broadcasting television service with 349 member TV stations in the United States. PBS headquarters are in Alexandria, Virginia. PBS was founded in 1969, at which time it took over many of the functions of its predecessor, National Educational Television (NET). PBS commenced broadcasting in October 1970.

Stations which produce a significant amount of PBS network programming include WGBH-TV 2/19/43/44 Boston, WNET 13/61 Metro New York, WETA-TV 26/27 Washington, DC, KCET 28/59 Los Angeles, WQED-TV 13/38 Pittsburgh, and KQED 9/30 San Francisco.



PBS is not a broadcast network in the traditional sense. Unlike the commercial television broadcast model, in which affiliates give up portions of their local advertising airtime in exchange for network programming, PBS member stations pay substantial fees for the shows acquired and distributed by the national organization.

This relationship means that PBS member stations have greater latitude in local scheduling than their commercial counterparts. Scheduling of PBS-distributed series may vary wildly from market to market. This can be a source of tension as stations seek to preserve their localism and PBS strives to market a consistent national lineup. However, PBS has a policy of "common carriage" requiring most stations to clear the national prime time programs on a common schedule, so that they can be more effectively marketed on a national basis.

Unlike its radio counterpart National Public Radio, PBS has no central program production arm or news department. All of the programming carried by PBS, whether news, documentary, or entertainment, is created by (or in most cases produced under contract with) individual member stations. WGBH is one of the largest producers of educational programming; news programs are produced by WETA-TV, and the Charlie Rose interview show and Nature come from WNET. Once a program is distributed to PBS, the network (and not the member station which supplied it) retains all rights for rebroadcasts; the suppliers do maintain the right to sell the program in non-broadcast venues such as DVDs, books, and licensed merchandise.

See List of PBS affiliates.


In 1970, Macdonald Carey (known as Dr. Tom Horton on Days of Our Lives) would voice-over and say "This is PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service." This ident served the network for its first year.

In 1971, PBS introduced the long-running "people" ident, which still serves the network today.

In 1984, the logo introduced the "split identity" format, which has become the most popular revision in the people identity's history.

The logo was remodeled to its 4th format in 1989. It is sometimes the earliest of the surviving PBS identities and is often seen in reruns of Reading Rainbow and Amigos.

An identity now defunct was used from either 1989 or 1990 to 1997 as an alternative for the 4th, 5th, and 6th PBS identities. It was used on all NewsHour episodes from 1995 to 1997.

Introduced in 1993, the 5th PBS identity might appear on prints from local PBS stations, but is otherwise rather rare. A non-animated variant appeared on a few shows, such as Triumph of the Nerds.

Now only seen as the ending ident of Adventures from the Book of Virtues, the 6th PBS identity was introduced in 1996.

The first well-known identity in years was the 7th PBS identity, used from 1998 to 2002.

The 8th PBS logo is quite different from all of the previous logos. It features live-action footage and has many variants, including "Young People," "Performers," "Flowers," "Daddy and Son," and "Generations." The voiceover now says "We are PBS," or occasionally "I am PBS." It was introduced in 2002 and continues to be used today.

1st logo: The very first PBS identity, (1970-1971)
1st logo: The very first PBS identity, (1970-1971)
2nd logo: The first PBS people identity (1971-1984)
2nd logo: The first PBS people identity (1971-1984)
3rd logo: The split identity (1984-1989)
3rd logo: The split identity (1984-1989)
4th logo: 3-D glass animation, still the most popular in reruns of episodes (1989-1993)
4th logo: 3-D glass animation, still the most popular in reruns of episodes (1989-1993)
Alternative logo (1989/90-1997)
Alternative logo (1989/90-1997)
5th logo: Transparent CGI ellipse animation (1993-1996)
5th logo: Transparent CGI ellipse animation (1993-1996)
6th logo: Animation includes a CGI window, globe, and telescope (1996-1998)
6th logo: Animation includes a CGI window, globe, and telescope (1996-1998)
7th logo: The first identity featuring the URL www.pbs.org (1998-2002)
7th logo: The first identity featuring the URL www.pbs.org (1998-2002)
8th logo: Various live-action clips with the new slogan "Be more" (2002-present)
8th logo: Various live-action clips with the new slogan "Be more" (2002-present)

Sources of funding

The largest source of revenue for U.S. public television stations comes from donations by individual viewers. In addition to these member fees, PBS receives federal government money through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). PBS-distributed programs may be funded in part by corporate sponsors and non-profit groups such as the Annenberg Foundation. Depending upon their location and licensee, local stations may also be funded in part by state governments, colleges and universities. They can sell small portions of their airtime in the form of underwriting, which differs from traditional advertising in terms of restrictions on language and product usage.


PBS' evening schedule emphasizes fine arts (Great Performances), drama (Mystery! and Masterpiece Theatre), science (Nova and Scientific American Frontiers), public affairs (Frontline) and independent films (P.O.V. and Independent Lens).

PBS has distributed a number of highly regarded children's shows such as Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Villa Allegre, Zoom!, The Letter People, Barney and Friends, Shining Time Station, Thomas & Friends, Reading Rainbow and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Popular animated series have included Clifford the Big Red Dog, Arthur, Liberty's Kids and The Magic School Bus. The service has also imported British kids' series including Teletubbies and Boohbah.

ETP-TV is as of now producing the television shows created by either WETP-TV (formerly WSJK-TV) or WKOP-TV independent of the Public Broadcasting Service.

Member stations do not rely solely on PBS for their programming. Another major U.S. distributor is American Public Television (APT). In addition, stations acquire syndicated programming such as The McLaughlin Group. They also produce a variety of local shows, many of which subsequently receive national distribution through PBS or APT.

They are known for rebroadcasting British television dramas and comedies (acquired from the BBC and other sources), and much of the exposure of audiences in the United States to British television (particularly comedies) comes through PBS to the point where it has been joked that PBS means "Primarily British Series". However, a significant amount of sharing takes place. The BBC and other media outlets in the region such as Channel 4 often cooperate with PBS stations, producing material that is shown on both sides of the Atlantic.

Other shows


PBS has been the subject of some controversy.

  • Some conservatives dislike its perceived liberal bias and its tax-based revenue and have periodically but unsuccessfully attempted to discontinue funding of CPB. Although state and federal sources account for a minority percentage of public television funding, the system remains vulnerable to political pressure.
  • Certain liberals dislike how much of its funding comes from corporate sponsorships and some are uncomfortable with shows such as Wall $treet Week which they see as promoting a corporate outlook without any corresponding series featuring opposing views from labor unions.
  • Individual programs, particularly those dealing with the subject of homosexuality, have been the targets of organized campaigns by those with opposing views.
  • It was founded to provide diversity in programming at a time when all television was broadcast (as opposed to today's coaxial cable or satellite transmission methods) and most communities received only three or four signals. Today most households subscribe to cable TV or have satellite dishes that receive tens or hundreds of signals, including varied educational and children's programs. However, public television proponents insist that the service is intended to provide universal access, particularly to poor and rural viewers. It is also argued that many cable and satellite productions are of lower quality.
  • Most stations solicit individual donations by methods including pledge drives or telethons which can disrupt regularly-scheduled programming. Some viewers find this a source of annoyance.
  • Criticism by left wing groups has been made at CPB and PBS for making room for conservative commentators Tucker Carlson, a co-host of CNN's Crossfire, and a show with Paul Gigot, an editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

New networks

PBS has also begun at least two new TV networks: PBSYou and PBS Kids. Both are available on many digital cable systems, on free-to-air TV via communications satellites [1] (http://www.lyngsat.com/amc3.html), as well as via DirecTV direct broadcast satellite. PBSYou is also available on Dish Network.

It is possible now that with the transition to terrestrial digital television broadcasts, both may be available as alternative channels on some local stations in the near future.

See also

External links

  • Official website (http://www.pbs.org/)
  • Screen captures of PBS logos past and present, as well as footage of vintage promos (http://www.tv-ark.org.uk/international/us_pbs.html)

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