PBS stations need to know whether viewers actually want to watch high-quality documentaries, and now there’s an easy way to tell them. ITVS, the creator of premiere documentary series Independent Lens (“a festival in your living room”), has launched the #standwithme campaign.
Your smartphone pic of picture of yourself with the #standwithme card can go to ITVS’ Tumbler, to PBS, into your twitter feed…you decide. In any and all of those places, it makes a strong statement that viewers want and watch these docs when they’re not buried in the wee hours of the morning, or worse yet, pre-empted.
Last year, PBS was so unsure of public appetite for social documentaries that it bumped both Independent Lens and POV from the main lineup. Ouch—there went the public mission! It’s probably just a coincidence, as PBS asserts, that PBS put them back on the main schedule after a thousand people, including hundreds of independent filmmakers signed a petition demanding reinstatement. (Check out our analysis of why people valued the shows—spoiler alert, they think it’s good TV.)
What’s at stake? In a noisy, crowded media ecology, documentaries that don’t preach but engage viewers on important issues that touch their lives are important. Those voices need a space. But don’t listen to me. Here’s ITVS director Sally Fifer on the subject:
In the end, the secret of the public square—a concept as ancient as the Roman scrawls and as modern as the Twitter feed that invites participation—starts with making space. That’s what ITVS does—we help make space for these conversations through broadcast, in traditional media, new media, living rooms, and community centers, whatever and wherever it takes. This season, we’ll put that space to work creating conversations about climate change in The Island President; about economic renewal in manufacturing communities through As Goes Janesville and Detropia; about health in The Waiting Room and Soul Food Junkies; the drug epidemic inThe House I Live In; and the list goes on and on.
In the most romantic image of the public square that I can conjure, ITVS and our public media partners build the soap box for citizens to stand on and be heard; we are the barker that calls the crowd to come and listen; we are the moderators of small circles that form after stirring speeches, where people gather round to discuss ideas and actions.