Now that we've all had our laughs over Fired Big Bird on Twitter and Facebook, can we have a serious discussion about government subsidaztion of broadcast television? Everyone seems fixated on Mitt Romney's proposal to end funding for Public Television (and it's sister outlet, National Public Radio), presumably to deflect attention from the general beat-down the challenger delivered to President Obama Wednesday night. "Mitt wants to fire Big Bird!!" was what you heard from the Left and the late night comedians--while the snarks on social media followed suit.
But what everyone seems to forget is, Big Bird is a millionaire. And his little buddy Elmo is a billionaire. Having a niece and a nephew that are both under the age of three, my wife and I have reason to be in the toy department on occasion--and the characters of Sesame Street are everywhere. They have their dolls, their games, their sing-along toys, their pajamas, their shoes, their hats, their umbrellas, their undwear and even their own diapers. And don't forget about the multitude of books, videos and CD's. It's a wonder that Big Bird, Elmo, Bert and Ernie don't all have their own TV networks-like Oprah. (My condolences to parents everywhere if ELMO TV ever does get off the ground).
And it's not like Sesame Street would suddenly be gone from the airwaves forever if PBS closed up shop tomorrow. I'd bet, there would be at least 20-networks involved in a bidding war to pick up the rights to the show--because they know parents trust the "brand" and the audience for the program will likely never be exhausted. In fact, 75-percent of the programming currently on public television would be carried on the multitude of networks now available in homes across the country. You think ESPN would pass up a chance to carry Ken Burns' (another public television millionaire) Baseball? And History Channel wouldn't immediately scoop up The Civil War, The National Parks and Jazz--along with any other documentary idea he has for the future? Those Nature documentaries would be perfect for Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. And Downton Abbey would fit in nicely on BBC America or A & E or Lifetime.
Those who act all horrified that such "quality programming" would sullied by commerical interruption apparently hasn't watched PBS lately. You see, they have been running ads for years now--adjacent to the program being sponsored--rather than during the show itself.
PBS (and NPR)--like the Postal Service and AMTRAK--are relics of a different technological age. A time when there was just three channels available on the TV, and there may have been a need for more "educational" fare. But--as usually happens in a free market society--the private sector has come up with better, more cost-effective means of delivery of the same product or service (e.g. 500 other networks, podcasting, Youtube and other on-line video services)--while the government-funded option collapses under the weight of its bloated budgets and unresponsive administration.
So I say "Fire Big Bird"--he'll probably do even better somewhere else.