Long-running PBS documentary series Independent Lens and POV are moving to Monday nights at 10pm, the network announced today, a timeslot that will start October 29 with the fall return of Independent Lens.
It's a welcome announcement for the nonfiction film community as well as their fans -- Independent Lens suffered a major ratings plunge when it was moved from Tuesdays to Thursdays this season, a night that wasn't just more competitive, it was also one traditionally left for local programming, resulting in many stations either pushing the series out of prime time or to another evening entirely.
This shift to Monday nights follows some significant outcry from the documentary community -- Chicago's Kartemquin Films led the charge with a petition that was signed by everyone from Alex Gibney to Wendy Levy, and a Twitter campaign brought more attention to the issue, prompting PBS to announce they were reconsidering the move.
Monday nights should provide a more stable home for these series, according to John Wilson, PBS' senior VP and chief TV programming executive, "We wanted to have a place where we could have consistent placement in the schedule and hit as good a lead-in as possible that we could offer. Monday nights at 10pm seem to fill the bill. it's proven to be a popular night on PBS's schedule specifically. It's generally one of the highest HUT [households using television] levels of the week, for all of television. And we've got a consistent opportunity there at 10 o'clock."
As to whether the programs would face the same problems of inconsistent scheduling as they're struggling with own, Wilson said, "That's work we're going to turn our attention to now, but the fact of the matter is Monday nights are a night in the schedule where we've enjoyed very strong carriage with nationally scheduled programs in the past. So we feel like we're starting in a stronger place with regard to that."
Monday will move the doc series away from their old Tuesday night lead-in, the popular "Frontline," and place it after a new series called "Market Warriors," a companion to "Antiques Roadshow." The programs have less in common with the films shown on Independent Lens and POV, but Wilson notes "Antiques Roadshow" "has been a very popular series on our schedule for some time and has attracted a broad and diverse audience -- fingers crosses, 'Market Warriors' will too. The hope is that 'Antiques Roadshow' and 'Market Warriors' will provide a very strong first two hours of prime time and hand that audience off to independent film at 10 o'clock."
When the petition and Twitter campaign began, said Wilson, "We were at work as a group -- PBS, Independent Lens and POV -- on plans for what a new schedule might look like, what things could we do."
For him, the efforts "just underscored the passion and dedication of the independent film community -- how much they care, how much they're paying attention, how important this is to them."
Cynthia López, POV's executive VP and co-executive producer, agreed on PBS's importance as a platform for film. "We believe that independent filmmakers see PBS as the place to distribute their films, particularly when they have mission-driven programming that they want to garner specific broad audiences for. Last year alone, PBS distributed over 120 independent productions."
She says that good things have come out of the problems that have accompanied this year's scheduling issues. "We've used this as an opportunity to figure out how best to work together moving forward, so that has been very positive."
In addition to the Monday night broadcasts, PBS is planning a multiplatform film festival for mid-2013, which would showcase programming from both Independent Lens and POV.
"We're going to work together to create a really high-impact line-up of films that we can place in the schedule," said Wilson, "and once the audience is there to create opportunities for local stations to connect their community to this national effort and provide lots of opportunities to drive viewers to and from new media components."
Check out the full press release from PBS on the next page: