For those who don’t know, here in the U.S. today was National Internet Voter Registration Day. I’m a bit late to honor the day, but luckily there are still two weeks left and anyone who wishes to register (or check their registration) can do so here.
But wait, there’s more! I have the ability to intertwine my fandom with a personal political plea!
As most know, Sherlock is a joint production between the BBC in the U.K. and PBS in the U.S., both publicly funded non-profit networks. (Downton Abbey, BTW, although it airs on PBS here in the States, airs on commercial network ITV in the U.K. and is produced by a division of NBC Universal, a private U.S. network conglomerate, so it is not solely dependent on public broadcasting.) I can’t speak about what goes on regarding the political situation in the U.K. re: the BBC, but I can tell you that here PBS is under attack.
About half of PBS’s funding comes from private donations and grants, but since the recession has hit there’s been a severe drop in those funds while its public funding has been cut at the same time. According to CEO Paula Kerger:
“We understand that these are challenging times. However, public broadcasting has already sustained a 13 percent cut in its federal funds over the past two years. More severe cuts would be crippling.”
Additionally she noted, “federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have almost no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.” [x]
We’ve been talking about the Emmys recently, right? Well, the same week this year that Sherlock helped PBS get a record 58 Primetime Emmy nominations (the most it’s ever received in a year), Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed a plan that would eliminate all federal funding to PBS by the year 2015.
I admit that this is a very personal subject for me. I grew up with PBS’ educational programming like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I credit my love of reading to two influences: my mother and the PBS series Reading Rainbow, which debuted when I was two years old and which was cancelled in 2005 because PBS no longer had enough funds to continue it. To this day, I can honestly say that not a week goes by when I don’t watch a program on PBS that astonishes me. There are literally no other programs on American television like (news series) Frontline or (documentary series) POV. No other American network even attempts to tackle the subjects those programs do (like the state of our education, health care, Darfur, the tobacco industry, the prison system, drugs, dying, race, etc. you name it). There is no other network that would air the wonderful and groundbreaking documentaries made by Ken and Ric Burns (like the recent Death and the Civil War) full-length and commercial free. There is no other history program that even comes close to American Experience and there is no other network (including BBC America) that airs the best of British television like PBS does. That could very well all go away soon.
I’m not saying that cable networks like HBO don’t do great work, but their purpose is to turn a profit at the end of the day. PBS is the only non-profit, non-biased U.S. network. PBS is free and broadcast over the air, unlike cable networks. There are sponsors for Masterpiece Theater (which airs both Sherlock and DA) but they can’t fund an entire series and are restricted to one 60 second message before and after the program.
But what does all this have to do with voter registration for the presidential election? Well, Mitt Romney has repeatedly and openly said that, if elected, he will eliminate all funding to PBS and force it to become a commercial network.
“We’re not going to kill Big Bird. But Big Bird is going to have advertisements.” [x]
Romney would also eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, both of which have frequently funded PBS programming.
Now I can’t say what impact that would have on Sherlock in the U.S. specifically, aside from that it would definitely be interrupted with commercials. There’s a possibly we would not get it at all, because PBS as a network would be devastated and just might crumble if forced to commercialize. (Before anyone asks about BBC America: that is a U.S. commercial cable network which reaches far fewer homes than PBS or the major cable networks, and is independent of the BBC. In fact, British law prevents BBC America from receiving any funds from the BBC. Whether Sherlock would air there instead if the worst happens to PBS, I don’t know, but even if it did it would reach far fewer people.)
I would never have seen Sherlock if it weren’t for PBS, but way more importantly, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if it weren’t for watching PBS programs while growing up. Obviously you know where I stand and who I think you should vote for (and others have covered the repercussions for women, minorities and LGBT people) but consider this my shameless little fandom pandering plea to please think about everything that would happen if Mitt Romney is elected to the White House in November.