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Pat Mitchell, laughing

Mitchell says she accomplished her final year's goals despite funding woes and "the Tomlinson thing." Pictured: at Global Health Summit last fall.

Mitchell can have swift exit to museum job

PBS Board votes next week on unanimously endorsed successor

Originally published in Current, Jan. 17, 2006
By Karen Everhart

"The search committee feels very strongly that we have the best candidate,” said Rod Bates, a lead dog in the hunt for the next PBS president. “I would love to give you their name,” he said, carefully using a possessive adjective of indeterminate gender, “but I can’t.”

Bates’ search committee was negotiating pay and checking references last week as Pat Mitchell, PBS’s president for six years, revealed her plans. She will become chief executive of the bicoastal Museum of Television & Radio on March 15.
Search committee members lined up behind a single candidate after interviewing finalists last week. But they were mum about names, having pledged to maintain confidentiality to the end.

The new president may be hired at the board’s Jan. 22 meeting in Dallas and then preside over PBS’s February planning meeting for general managers, according to Bates.

"That would be a very smooth transition,” Bates said.
Mitchell had been talking for months with the Museum of Television & Radio, and decided to accept the job when it became clear that the search committee was on track to appoint her successor by its February 2006 deadline.

She didn’t accept the museum post when she was first approached about it early last year, after she announced would not seek a new contract as PBS president. “I was not ready to talk about another job,” Mitchell said. “I thought I wanted time off.” Museum Board Chairman Frank Bennack, former president of Hearst Corp., continued to pursue Mitchell, and her candidacy advanced quickly last fall, she said.

Christy Carpenter, a former CPB Board member and museum v.p. since 2003, was promoted to executive v.p. and c.o.o. of the museum last week. Mitchell asked Carpenter to be her deputy prior to accepting the top job.
Carpenter leads the museum’s Media Center and International Council, a division that organizes public forums and “represents the future of the institution,” Mitchell said.

The media center, which often brings media titans together for private conversations about the industry, will expand under the new leadership team, Mitchell said. “We see the museum strengthening its programs there and becoming more about programs and services outside the museums’ walls.” She also wants to digitize and freely distribute the museum’s extensive collection of television and radio programs.

Founded by CBS mogul William Paley in 1975 to collect, preserve and interpret television and radio programming, the museum faces challenges similar to those threating PBS and other broadcast-oriented institutions pressed to redefine their services for the digital age. Its last president, Stuart Brotman, resigned last year, and his departure coincided with layoffs of more than a dozen staff, according to news accounts.

MT&R operates museums in New York and Los Angeles, and is largely financed by contributions from media executives on its board and the media companies that underwrite special programs. Brotman, who succeeded the late long time president Robert Batscha, failed to connect with West Coast media honchos, according toVariety.

MT&R has been “without real leadership for almost two years,” said Mitchell. “That’s tough on fundraising.” She says she already knows every member of the board and has begun “buttonholing them about becoming more active.”
Once Mitchell learns the lay of the land and begins developing new programs, “I’m going to be telling them what to do,” she said with some delight in her voice.

Mitchell’s departure from PBS has been planned for so long that it “began to feel like it almost wasn’t real,” Mitchell said. Now that it’s imminent, she feels a mixture of anticipation and sadness. She’s been mulling over what she’s accomplished at PBS, but also the work still yet to be done.

Mitchell said she’s proudest of the progress made with the PBS Foundation, which has a good start with $13 million in funding, and reinvention plans in the works for PBS Kids. She plans to stay involved with advancing the recommendations of the Digital Futures Initiative panel that she appointed last year, as well as the launch of the first programs for the Public Square service endorsed by DFI.

Mitchell will continue to serve on the PBS Foundation board.
Coming into the PBS presidency six years ago, she didn’t realize how difficult the job would be. “You can’t know how difficult the issues are until you experience the diversity of the community of stations and how different their needs are,” Mitchell said.

PubTV’s funding declines and political pressures exerted by former CPB Board Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson were unforeseen challenges. “Who would have predicted that for me?” she said, referring to Tomlinson.

"I will not deny that the Tomlinson thing was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my entire life—not because he was hurting me as a person, but because he was hurting an institution that I care deeply about and was working as hard as I can to strengthen,” Mitchell said.

"Having an internal arsonist burning down the firewall was painful and damaging,” she said. “. . . I had to spend a lot of time answering questions and settling issues of who has what role, and I would rather have been spending that time asking people for money and working on DFI.”

"The good news is, I was able to do it in spite of that,” she said. “That kind of pressure is gone.”

Web page posted Jan. 17, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Current Publishing Committee

EARLIER ARTICLES

For the first time, a producer leads PBS, February 2000.

Mitchell's first PBS changes move toward airtime, 2001.

After criticizing pledge drives, Mitchell says she'll pipe down, 2002.

Q&A with Mitchell: PBS scouts digital options, February 2005.

Mitchell announces she will leave in 2006. Plans crowd her last months at PBS, February 2005.

LINKS

Museum of Television & Radio website.

In her last semiannual interview with TV critics Mitchell Mitchell said the decision to support the Wall Street Journal's talk show started with her long before Ken Tomlinson began promoting the show, the Hartford Courant reported.

The two Pats, Mitchell and Harrison, the latter being the president of CPB presented a united front at the press crltics' tour, Aaron Barnhart wrote in the Kansas City Star. He quoted Harrison: "Programming decisions are not any of my business, and I’m going to stay out of that business."

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