The End of PBS

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PBS has relatively little going for it these days, but the last major good it was doing had to do with educational programming. Sesame Street has slid a bit in terms of some features, though it's improved in others. Our kids love it, and they've made the features that were most successful over the years more prominent. I think Playhouse Disney tends to be a little better. The Wiggles is probably the best kids' show on TV (though it pales compared to Veggie Tales).

Well, PBS has gone and ruined whatever they had left. They've added voiceovers to all their educational programming, apparently for the sake of vision-impaired children. I have no problem with adding features that people can turn on if they like and if they have the proper equipment. This is what's done with closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. Most people don't want those subtitles appearing on the screen. It's just incredibly annoying and hides some of the artistry of what's being done visually on the screen. Well, the same should be true of voiceovers to describe auditorily what's going on visually. What PBS has been doing this past week detracts so much from the audio of the work that it completely ruins it.

A good example would be the Berenstain Bears cartoon. They had these descriptions of what was going on throughout today's epidode. "Lizzy holds up a videotape." "Brother knocks over his milk." "Everyone startes at her." "Lizzy pretends to be a dog." (while you hear her barking "arf, arf"). "She looks at the back of the box." In the closing credits, they showed a number of scenes from the show, with the voiceover rushing through to explain what was happening in each scene as it flashed on the screen. All this was while the credit theme song that the kids like so much was playing but muted to allow the voiceover to hide the audio constructed by the studio.

And you thought the Teletubbies were dumb before? Try watching it with a voiceover explaining everything these insipid creatures do as they do it. "Dipsy jumps up and down." "La La turns around in a circle."

But the worst is Sesame Street, which is so successful partly for its careful attention to the use of music to take kids through each segment. Every voiceover lowers the volume of the music to explain what's going on, right in the middle of a song. Today they had an older Jim Henson Ernie song reused. Ernie is sitting leaning against a tree singing a song. The voiceover has to announce that he's doing this, which detracts from the Henson song that's trying to set up the mood. Then a squirrel pops its head up behind the edge of the scenery, and the voiceover has to say, "A squirrel puppet appears next to Ernie." He sings a few lines, and the squirrel climbs the tree. The voiceover says, "The squirrel climbs the tree." The ridiculousness way that they describe it makes it even worse. "Slimy, a stuffed worm puppet, and Oscar, a fuzzy green puppet, appear." This one got to me the most: "Sesame Street is brought to you by the letter I and the number 7." Voiceover: "A big letter I and a big number 7 appear." I hope this is just a test, and they abandon this stupidity or at least relegate it to an optional feature like closed-captioning. If not, I think I'm going to have to stop letting the kids watch PBS shows when I'm in the room.

3 Comments

A big problem with PBS, my wife says, has to do with the fact that they have to go begging for money every year from a diverse group of people and organizations. Because they are supported by viewers, they also get pressures from certain viewers with stupid ideas for their programming. This is also the reason why they have the "Jesus Seminar". Ultimately, it is the majority who suffers from the inept content created by a few screwballs who have the loudest voices.

The lack of a viable educational philosophy and the piss-poor programming sometimes has me wonder if "Chord" (my wife) and I should move our kids to The Netherlands to get our elementary and secondary education, and then come back to the States to go to college and graduate schools. Either that, or we home-school our kids until they are married.

See this FAQ from pbs.org. This is irritating me also.

Q. A narrator is describing everything that happens on the programs. How do I make it stop?

A. It sounds as though you're hearing the Descriptive Video Service (DVS) option made available to audiences who are blind or visually impaired. You can turn this feature off and on fairly easily.

Most newer-model TVs with stereophonic sound systems are able to receive a Second Audio Program (SAP) which provides enriched verbal descriptions of what is heard and seen on a TV's primary audio and video channels. Most TVs and VCRs require you to select the SAP channel in order to receive and record DVS. The selector is usually labeled SAP, MTS, Audio 2, or Audio B on your TV panel, remote-control device, or on-screen menu. Un-selecting the SAP channel should eliminate the DVS option.

If you're not able to un-select the SAP channel, review your TV manual or contact a TV vendor who can guide you through the process. Like closed captioning, DVS was also pioneered by PBS to ensure the widest possible audience is served.

If you're not able to un-select the SAP channel, review your TV manual or contact a TV vendor who can guide you through the process. Like closed captioning, DVS was also pioneered by PBS to ensure the widest possible audience is served.

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