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PBS Wants to Diversify Storytelling and Issues an Open Call for Submissions

Chief Programming Executive Sylvia Bugg also intends to bring live music back to public television.

"The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song" premieres February 16 and 23, 2021 at 9/8c on PBS (check local listings) Caption: Host, Henry Louis Gates Jr. inside of Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GACredit: Courtesy of McGee MediaFor editorial use only in conjunction with the direct publicity or promotion of this program for a period of three years from the program's original broadcast date, unless otherwise noted. No other rights are granted. All rights reserved.

“The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song”


PBS, already known for its incisive examinations of current events, has been knee-deep in conversations on how to make the network even more reflective of the times. “We are at such an extraordinary moment in this country,” said Sylvia Bugg, Chief Programming Executive for PBS, during the network’s Winter Press Tour TCA panel on Tuesday. In terms of upcoming programming, PBS is looking at a range of different topics — from the climate to democracy — and, most importantly, they’re hoping to expand out to more diverse storytellers.

PBS announced an open call for submissions for long and short form films by content creators. According to the network: “This initiative will further amplify the voices of diverse/BIPOC producers across public media, inviting submissions that explore a broad range of experiences, perspectives and points of view.” The network will be launching a call on March 1st for the “next generation of filmmakers,” with top contenders receiving funding by PBS and having their work featured on PBS’ platform. More information can be found on PBS.org next month.

The primetime schedule for the network hopes eventually to be reflective of the American public, according to Bugg. Half of the 2021 primetime schedule is on diverse subject matter, and the goal is to deepen connection to marginalized filmmakers.  Bernardo Ruiz, director and producer of “Latino Vote: Dispatches From the Battleground” for the network’s VOCES series, said PBS helps to bring content to historically underserved audiences. “That’s what every journalist wants and what every filmmaker wants, to speak directly to communities,” he said.

“The more that you can open up opportunities for there to be more lenses, so that we can come into spaces where there is dialogue and conversation is welcoming,” Bugg said. Stacey L. Holman, director of the ambitious documentary series “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” said PBS is creating a toolkit for adult as well as younger audiences to enjoy the programming and learn. “Your film has so many lives with PBS,” Holman said.

As Ruiz also pointed out, it’s challenging for streamers to provide viewership numbers to filmmakers; PBS, by contrast, is interested in full transparency and aids their creators in learning about their viewership numbers.

In addition, “we also have a particular interest in the arts,” Bugg said, and PBS will be diving into those areas as it relates to COVID and how the arts can be kept going through these times. There’s a desire to find ways to bring in live concerts and music back to PBS; the network is looking at existing content that could benefit from new wraparound material and could be filmed in a safe environment. “We’re doing okay in terms of building out that pipeline,” Bugg said. “I’m a huge music lover and I’ve missed some of the performance.”

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