KCET Lines Up Cigarette Tax Funding for New Show

By PAT MAIO
Staff Reporter

KCET, the Los Angeles public broadcasting station that has struggled financially and creatively in recent years, has received commitments for millions of dollars to back a new bilingual broadcast bringing childhood development advice to home caregivers.

The program, "A Place of Our Own," will be produced at KCET's studios at 4401 Sunset Blvd. and is scheduled to air in September. The station plans to offer roughly 120 half-hour episodes to 13 other public television stations in California and wants to roll out the program nationally.

KCET officials declined to give specifics about the program, citing a lack of corporate sponsorship.

But a substantial portion of the estimated $9.8 million first-year budget has been secured through First 5 Los Angeles and First 5 California, groups established with cigarette tax funds earmarked under Proposition 10 for early childhood development programs.

The L.A. group has agreed to contribute $2.3 million and the statewide organization $4 million.

"This is a fairly big deal," said Evelyn Martinez, executive director of First 5 Los Angeles. "One area difficult to reach is family day care providers who are not wired into pre-school networking. This is one way to do that."

According to the agenda for First 5 Los Angeles' April board meeting, at which the program was discussed, KCET was in discussions with a corporate underwriter for a $10 million grant over five years and another contribution of $1.5 million from an unnamed private donor.

Debi Gutierrez, a local comic actress, hosted a pilot for the show and is being touted as the face of the program. California State University, Los Angeles professor Ann Barbour, a specialist in training early childhood educators, has been brought on as KCET's educational advisor.

Barbara Goen, KCET's senior vice president in charge of communications, would not confirm the budget numbers or discuss the specifics of the program's content.

"Corporate funding is still to be raised. There is no deal now," she said. "Until we nail down all of the pieces, we won't comment."

The program is part of an umbrella childhood education initiative the station is calling "KCEd."

The centerpiece of the initiative will be daily programming targeted at caregivers but including educational content that is "stimulating and engaging" for children, said Goen.

"Production will be done at KCET by our own people," she said. "This will be a very significant initiative."

Question of involvement

Pejman Salimpour, president and chief executive of First 5 Los Angeles Connect, a phone and Web service for parents and caregivers of young children, said he reviewed the pilot and a handful of other episodes already shot to see if they accurately depict medical conditions for kids and tell compelling stories.

"We will review all segments for (KCET). I have developmental specialists, and others, to review scripts and topics," said Salimpour, a former clinical chief of pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

That level of sponsor involvement is in direct opposition to PBS policy, said Lea Sloan, senior vice president of media relations for PBS in Alexandria, Va.

"No corporate sponsors or underwriters are permitted to see a program or have any say in the approval process of a program," she said. "There is a policy where there should be no input or influence by a sponsor into program content."

KCET is a member of PBS, an organization that aggregates dues from 349 member stations to pay for distribution of programs and services.

Laurel Lambert, KCET's director of advertising and promotions, was unaware of the circumstances surrounding Salimpour's review of the pilot programs. "Typically, there is a firewall between a traditional corporate sponsor and a program," she said.

Creation of the broadcast comes as KCET tries to overcome a stigma that it has done little to develop its own creative content in one of the largest television markets in the United States. Since KCET President Al Jerome arrived to assume the helm in 1996, he has set a top goal to create programming to reflect issues in the region.

KCET productions to hit the airwaves since Jerome arrived include the "Tavis Smiley Show," "PBS Hollywood Presents," "California Connected" and "American Family."

Other long-time KCET-produced shows include Huell Howser's "California's Gold" and "Life & Times."

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