PBS's Tavis Smiley looks forward to a new season of diversity
Lynn Elber The Associated Press
January 11, 2005
Smiley begins the second season of his PBS talk show, his guest list isn't
lacking for high-profile personalities.
In the first week, actors John
Travolta, Don Cheadle and Kevin Bacon, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and
writer Christopher Hitchens are among those scheduled on Tavis
But for Smiley, the public television series is just one forum --
and, to hear him tell it, maybe not even the most important.
part by his new relationship with Texas Southern University, where he helped
fund a new media studies center, Smiley said he intends to focus on journalism
students and what he can teach them.
Part of the lesson, he said, is to
prepare for a changing society.
"Somebody has got to talk to this next
generation of journalists to let them know of the responsibility they have in
this multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America," he said.
competitive world "they've got to have relationships and appreciation for
communities of color and people who live there," Smiley said.
insight is lacking in the news and entertainment industries, he contends, as
exemplified by the hiring of Brian Williams and Craig Ferguson, two white men,
to replace two other white men (anchor Tom Brokaw and talk-show host Craig
The failure to seriously consider and hire women
or minorities for such jobs is "wanton hubris," he argued, and something that
will ultimately prove costly.
"Television programmers will eventually see
the light or feel the heat. Clearly, many of them are going to have to feel the
heat" of shrinking viewership in an increasingly diverse America, Smiley
For Smiley, 2004 generated heat in unexpected ways.
disheartening and "painful" event, he said, was his decision to leave his
National Public Radio daytime talk show.
Smiley, who three years ago
became host of NPR's first black-oriented show, alleged NPR didn't make his
renewal a priority and failed to live up to promises to expand marketing
The show started on 16 stations and was reaching more than 80
when Smiley exited in December; it attracted the same kind of multiethnic,
upscale and educated audience he draws to PBS.
Smiley stood out among NPR
hosts with his dynamic baritone and topics aimed at minorities as well as
whites. But many in the black community remained unaware of his show because NPR
itself isn't on their radar, Smiley said.
"At the end of three years,
they still would not commit to outreach this program to those underserved
communities, people who could appreciate and be empowered by NPR but are unaware
of it," he said.
The experience made him question NPR's commitment to
diversity, Smiley said.
NPR was eager to renew his show and remains
intent on expanding its minority audience, responded spokesman David Umansky.
But as a nonprofit that focuses on production and last year spent only $165,000
on marketing, he said, NPR couldn't meet what Umansky alleges was a $3 million
demand for promotion.
Negotiations were under way for a series with Ed
Gordon, a former Smiley colleague at Black Entertainment Television, when Smiley
left, Umansky said. News & Notes With Ed Gordon will debut in late
Smiley's absence from a daily radio gig may be brief. He said
he's weighing offers for a new show that he expects to be heard nationally --
and maybe even on public radio stations, whose programming decisions are
independent of NPR.