New chief at PBS – Longtime Turner exec gets nod

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The Public Broadcasting System on Monday named Pat Mitchell, head of the documentary arm of CNN, to lead public television through the increasingly competitive era of cable stations and fragmented audiences.

Mitchell, 57, president of CNN Productions and Time Inc. Television, will direct the operations of the nation’s noncommercial broadcasting service, consisting of 346 member stations.

Mitchell is taking the reins as PBS battles a Congress that has cut the budget of PBS, a network that relies both on federal financing and contributions from corporations and individuals.

She also faces intensified competition from cable stations, particularly educational channels like Discovery and the History Channel.

Mitchell told The New York Times, however, that her major challenge will be to resolve the conflict between the central programming arm of PBS and member stations that want to control their own program schedules and use locally produced shows.

She said she hopes to find ways to use those local shows on a national level to “maximize the promise of PBS.”

Mitchell and Colin Campbell, chairman of the PBS board, told the Times that the digitalization of television will make it easier for PBS to fulfill its educational goal by opening up a new range of channels. But Campbell said PBS will need to raise the money to convert signals to a digital format.

Mitchell’s background includes positions as news reporter, anchor, talk show host, producer and executive for three broadcast networks. At CNN, she has been responsible for original, nonfiction projects.

Documentaries produced by Mitchell have won more than 100 major awards, including 41 Emmys and seven Peabodys.

Mitchell, the first woman to lead PBS, will assume her new position March 1. She succeeds Ervin S. Duggan, who resigned in October after serving five years as PBS president.

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