Virtually unnoticed, Seattle public television station KCTS-TV (9) has hired a new president and CEO, Maurice "Moss" Bresnahan, who has been running South Carolina's statewide public television network, ETV. He starts on Nov. 17, replacing Bill Mohler, who came out of retirement in Tacoma to run the station since 2003. Mohler had one clear goal: get the prostrate organization out of debt. Mohler will retire in a few months, having pulled off his mission.
Until recently, most thought Mohler's apparent choice of successor, broadcast veteran Dick Warsinkse, would be the new leader, bringing a lot of change to the stodgy station. Warsinske had worked for commercial network affiliates KING-TV and KOMO-TV and was busy shaking up the station, reviving a Friday news show and trying to get the KCTS Web site up to speed. For whatever reasons — probably including Warsinkse's brash way and the board's cautious, non-profit style — he didn't get far in the search process. It was guided by the search firm Spencer Stuart and chaired by KCTS director Anne Farrell, former head of the Seattle Foundation. Denied the top spot, Warsinske resigned and left the station.
Some public stations — such as New York's WNET-TV, which brought in the dynamic Neal Shapiro, former president of NBC News — have been hurrying to revive the sleepy giants of big-market PBS member stations, chasing topical news and jumping into cultural programming. KCTS was badly burned by efforts to produce national series under Bernie Clark, who crashed and burned spectacularly in 2003, leaving the station deeply in debt and the board embarrassed by its poor oversight. The broadcast outlet hit the brakes hard, virtually abandoning local programming and running frequent on-air fundraising shows. Meanwhile, a lot of the local public broadcast excitement has migrated to the Seattle Channel, owned by the city and run by former KCTS mainstays.
So the choice of a new head with Bresnahan's public-broadcast experience is not surprising. He has built a statewide network and seems to have fine diplomatic skills. He's not known for programming or news and documentaries, and he comes from a smaller, more-rural market. (His earlier posts were in Shenandoah Valley, Va., Moline, Ill., and Davenport, Iowa.) He comes to a station finally out of debt, greatly depleted in staffing, with an elderly audience and a hunkered-down board still bearing scars from its battle for survival.
Seattle should be a prime market for public broadcasting, so it will be interesting to see if KCTS shifts from survival mode to revival mode. The region has an educated audience and a public-affairs orientation. The station boasts 125,000 donating members, somewhat awkwardly split over Puget Sound and the Vancouver/Victoria areas of British Columbia, and definitely older. Nationally, PBS is struggling to regain stride after all the defections of programs to commercial cable channels. Lots of big challenges, and opportunities for a man called Moss.