Subjects history, social studies, education, media studies, public policy
Time Required 2 to 3 class periods
Technology internet access
academic databases access
Overview Traditionally, media scholars have focused on the influence of creatives, genres, and cultures on how stories are told. Television, in particular, demands attentions to the influence of policy. Because television is broadcast for free, it has been heavily regulated—at least network television. As such, policy makers have been key theorists in what television is. In this lesson, students will focus on how Johnson, the Carnegie Commission, and government officials understood what television was and what it should be. Through comparative analysis of policy and television schedules, they will understand the role of lawmakers in what we see on broadcast television. Furthermore, they consider the role of television—and public broadcasting, in particular—in our society.
Objectives To identify the key stakeholders in television production.
To understand how lawmakers understood and sought to redefine television in the 1960s.
To apply their understanding to the early broadcast schedules for PBS.
To analyze how television schedules reveal the audiences and functions of television broadcasts.
To evaluate PBS’s success in achieving those ends.
To create a memo offering suggestions to early PBS programmers about how to build upon their early efforts.
Investigative Questions Who influences what we see on television?
What role do policy makers play in theorizing television?
How does the television schedule reveal negotiations of different stakeholders?
How does the programming reveal what counts as “educational”?
How does the program, day, and time uncover the intended audience?
What strengths and weaknesses do you in television broadcasting at the time?
Steps 1. For homework, have students read through the Commission Report and the Public Broadcast Act of 1967, identifying portions that discussing what television is, what it is doing, and what it should do. It might help to have them color-code these portions.
2. List these factors on the board. What qualities do the students notice? How might these connect not only to the Great Society reforms, but also to how we understand and define education? How do these compare to their own impressions about television, especially public broadcasting?
3. Review the mandate of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (linked above) to discuss its mission. [This might be a good place to end your first session.]
4. Divide students into teams, and using the library databases, locate programming schedules for PBS between 1970 and 1985. The UT Austin library, for example, has particularly good resources for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Austin American-Statesman. Consult a librarian to get a sense of which databases work best for your purposes. If available, Factiva is an invaluable resource and can help the class move beyond a U.S. context. [This would make a good homework assignment, though it might work well during class if students are properly guided.]
5. Ask them to identify the audiences based on the shows. Were they new or rebroadcast? Were they US-produced programs? How would they fit under the mandate of educational or enlightening? Who is the presumed audience, and how can you tell?
6. Have the students come back together as a class, and present
their findings to the class. What differences do they notice based on year or location? [If possible, you might want to end your second class here. Otherwise, you might be able to cover 4-8 in class two.]
7. Review the current PBS schedule for your area. How consistent are the trends in programming? How does day and time of day affect what is airing, and why?
8. Have students compile a list of suggestions for improving programming. What makes for good public broadcasting? Who is being neglected or underserved? What kind of programming might alleviate that oversight, and when should it be aired to best reach that population?
Evaluation The best way to evaluate students in this instance may be through their active participation in discussion and groupwork. Since each student excels in different areas, a cumulative grade may provide a greater sense of their over achievement. Encourage each group to play to each individual’s strengths: presentation, analysis, discussion, etc. If you would like to grade formal writing, encourage them to develop their local station proposals in greater depth.