* — “Viewer questions PBS’ use of selp-help programs,” Tribune-Review, April 27, 2000


Do you ever wonder why self-help guru Suze Orman, mystic/spiritualist Deepak Chopra, alternative medicine huckster Gary Null, wall-to-wall ’60s rock reunions, and cooking shows pop up on WQED-TV (13) every time the station has a pledge drive?

Wonder no longer. Andy Mulkerin reports in this week’s City Paper that WQED is one of many PBS stations that jettisons its usual programming to run shows guaranteed to rake in the bucks.

“There are several reasons concerts and self-help shows became pledge-drive mainstays,” Mulkerin says. “For one thing, they’re cheap. The shows are produced nationally, and often they come with canned pledge breaks broadcast from a national studio.”

Critics tell Mulkerin that stations like WQED are wrecking their reputations by leaning so heavily on programs that are thinly disguised infomercials.

Worse, some of the programs provoke the wrong reactions from viewers. Viewers who like the folk music or doo-wop concerts sometimes spend their money buying DVDs from commercial outlets, not donating to public TV.

. . .

P.S. from Jason: Back in 2000, I wrote about this same problem for the Tribune-Review.* Then-WQED Promotions Director John Seekings told me that Pittsburgh viewers wanted to see people like Dyer and Null.

“Where else are you going to see Dr. Wayne Dyer but on PBS?” he said.

But Dr. Stephen Barrett, proprietor of a website called Quackwatch, said the stations were giving people like Dyer — who made a big splash with a controversial sex therapy book called The Erroneous Zones — “free airtime to put money into their products.”

At the time, Orman was demanding up to $20,000 for personal appearances, while Null was selling his own line of vitamin supplements.

“The station is selling their opinions,” Barrett said then, arguing that some of the self-help shows were dispensing inaccurate or at least questionable information.

“Have they ever considered having someone else on to balance it?” he said. “The answer is no.”