Polling shows the resilience of the reputation PBS has built over the past five decades. Some 68 percent of respondents told YouGov between August 2019 and August 2020 that they have a positive opinion of PBS, making the service more popular than awards-dominating HBO and putting it on the heels of streaming giant Netflix. A Pew Research Center study on polarization and the American media published in January found that PBS is one of just three outlets — from among 30 choices — trusted by Americans of both parties more than they distrust it.
Paula Kerger, the president and chief executive of PBS, says that trust starts close to home. Even if viewers are skeptical of the media writ large, she argues, they trust journalists who are a part of their own community.
Small rural stations are helped by shared branding and programming, while the service’s urban behemoths benefit from the member stations’ insights and roots.
PBS also does more than take kids to the Land of Make Believe and their parents to English country houses. “American Portrait,” for instance, uses audience submissions to power on-air programming and events. This structure relies on two core assumptions: that the lives of ordinary Americans are newsworthy; and that people are interesting to each other, and not simply as objects of partisan contempt or scorn.
Some of PBS’s most popular programming also speaks to fundamental questions that can get steamrolled on more frenetic news networks, or marginalized by channels eager to make “prestige TV” and profits.
In a time of “patriotic education” programs and falling monuments, PBS attempts to navigate a more personal approach to what Kerger calls “a hunger for us to understand where we came from.” The long-running hit “Antiques Roadshow” is about more than the excitement of potentially striking