Cast of Downton Abbey
February 04, 2016

The Next Downton Abbey?

With only a few episodes of the fan favorite British drama left to air in the US, many have wondered “What’s the next Downton Abbey?” By that, I don’t mean what creator Julian Fellowes or star Laura Carmichael are up to after saying "Ta ta!" to Highclere Castle. No, the real question could be rephrased as “Which period drama will be the next colossal hit?” I have some thoughts about that…

Sherlock and Watson, dressed in Victorian-era clothes.
Credit: Courtesy of (C) BBC/Hartswood Films for MASTERPIECE
January 07, 2016

Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of the Times

On New Year's Day, audiences in both the UK and the US watched Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. It was the first time an episode of that series debuted on PBS and the BBC on the same day.

There was something else unusual about that premiere. During the following week, there were no repeats of The Abominable Bride on this or any other PBS station. There was a reason for that, and I think it speaks to the evolving ways in which we consume traditional mass media.

A van marked TV Licensing sits in a garage.
From Wikipedia.
December 04, 2015

Asking Nicely

In England, sinister vehicles are said to roam the streets, peering into homes to catch those who might be illegally viewing public television. Happily, we have another way.

Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus and Cookie Monster examine a bowl of vegetables.
© Sesame Workshp via Facebook
November 19, 2015

Snuffy Days

There was a time when Big Bird was Sesame Street's equivalent of the guy who swears he saw a Sasquatch in his kitchen. No one believed his stories about a giant, furry pal named Mr. Snuffleupagus, who conveniently was nowhere to be seen. That is, until the day in 1985 when Snuffy made himself known.

David Thiel wears a swami hat.
October 21, 2015

The Swami Predicts

I, the great Swami Thielini, see a vision of the future! Specifically, the future of PBS prime-time programming this coming Winter/Spring season. As my crystal ball boots up, click through to read what my mystical mists reveal…

Grover and Elmo hold up numbers
August 20, 2015

Partly Cloudy Days

Last Thursday, public television audiences and personnel alike received the surprising--and disturbing--news that upcoming seasons of Sesame Street will air first on HBO as part of a new production deal. It may mean very little for the show's target audience of preschoolers, but some adults are concerned about the messages sent by the move.

Young Mr. Grace inspects a line of people dressed as Santa.
© BBC; fair use for commentary purposes
July 16, 2015


Over the past couple of weeks, the List of Topics Likely to Lose You Friends on Facebook had an unlikely addition: The Dukes of Hazzard. Reruns of this 1979-1985 comedy/adventure TV series about two "good ol' boys, never meanin' no harm" were dropped by cable channel TV Land, presumably due to the prominent placement of a Confederate battle flag atop the Dukes' beloved Dodge Charger, the "General Lee." Inevitable outrage ensued, defiant GIFs were posted to social media news feeds, and people wondered why we stopped talking about the Charleston church massacre.

Our shared pop culture past is strewn with the unfortunate relics of our slow-to-evolve attitudes about People Who Don't Look Like Us, and while the line between uncomfortable and offensive is often hard to find, sometimes it's right friggin' there. And the example I'm about to bring up from WILL-TV's own history comes from another unlikely source...

The TARDIS is covered by a red "no" symbol.
David Thiel
July 09, 2015

Who? Where? Why?

In March 2007, WILL-TV was among the first U.S. broadcast stations to air the revived series of Doctor Who. This British science-fiction adventure series has been a weekly presence in our schedule ever since. But our viewers are beginning to wonder when we'll begin running the most recent episodes starring Peter Capaldi as the 12th incarnation of the indestructible Time Lord. And I wish that I had good news... (UPDATED July 29: Good news! Read on!)

Buster the rabbit and several of his friends gather in the street.
Credit: Courtesy of "Arthur" & the other Marc Brown ARTHUR characters and underlying materials (including artwork) ™ and © Marc Brown. Arthur © 2014 WGBH.
July 02, 2015

The Difference in a Decade

Time was that if there was one thing that attracted the enthusiastic ire of would-be viewers, it was a program that was "promoted a homosexual lifestyle." In 1991, I was verbally abused for weeks over POV's presentation of the documentary Tongues Untied and its portrayal of the black gay community. In 1999, the calls about It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School were so frequent that I began answering the phone with a cheery "It's elementary!" It's been a long time since I've encountered a similar call-in campaign. The last one was in 2005, and the target was the PBS kids' show Postcards from Buster.

A variety of dinosaurs assemble to watch something occurring off-screen.
Credit: Courtesy of TM and © The Jim Henson Company. All Rights Reserved.
June 18, 2015

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs!

As Jurassic World makes all of the money by demonstrating that exploiting monsters for entertainment rarely goes well—unless you are Steven Spielberg—I think back to my own relationship with prehistoric giants.

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WILL Highlights

Finding Your Roots

Uncover family mysteries of two hip hop legends on Feb. 16 at 7 pm on WILL-TV

The Black Panthers

Revisit the 60’s revolutionary culture on Feb. 16 at 8 pm on WILL-TV