Cover image for The PBS companion : a history of public television
The PBS companion : a history of public television
Stewart, David C., 1927-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : TV Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
216 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HE8700.79.U6 S73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HE8700.79.U6 S73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The history of the landmark programming and creative personalities in the development of public television.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In tones as warm and measured as a PBS documentary's, Stewart profiles Americans' erstwhile main alternative to the three big commercial networks, focusing on series, personalities, and stations that constitute the backbone of (nearly) commercial-free TV in the U.S. He lovingly examines Sesame Street, Julia Child, Masterpiece Theatre, and Upstairs Downstairs and celebrates Frontline as "the only regularly scheduled long-form public affairs series on American television," which, by its sixteenth season, "had conspired to offend nearly every sector of contemporary society." Citing the show for courage, insight, and high-quality programming over the years, he reports that producer David Fanning, on being asked whether he thought individual PBS stations would commit to a high-quality documentary series of 26 episodes a year for three years at a fairly stiff cost, replied "`Yes' without having any idea that they would." They did, and Frontline, not to mention PBS, prospered. Relaxing reading for offsetting the longueurs of pledge breaks and those long institutional messages between PBS programs. Darned informative, too. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

From Sesame Street to Wall Street Week, from the stodgy 1950s to the bustle of the '80s and '90s, this compact volume examines 15 significant programs and two key local affiliates (San Francisco's KQED and Washington, D.C.'s WETA) from the history of U.S. public TV. Stewart (a longtime PBS exec) ably retails anecdotes and explanations about the makings of stations, shows and their "stars," among them Julia Child; Alistair Cooke, courtly host of Masterpiece Theatre; Wall Street Week maven Louis Rukeyser; and Alan Watts, who helped to popularize Zen Buddhism in America with a show on KQED. This batch of informal essays (which first appeared in Current Newspaper) is neither a reference work to current programming, nor anything like a comprehensive history of PBS or of noncommercial TV. Yet it's just the ticket for readers who might enjoy learning that the 71-year-old Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) is a strict vegetarian who gets up at 5 a.m. to go swimming; that Evelyn Waugh, whose novel Brideshead Revisited inspired a wildly successful PBS series, refused a $125,000 offer to turn his book into an MGM film because he wanted total control over the script; or that educational TV's first big star was USC professor Frank Baxter, a charismatic commentator on Shakespeare's plays. (After winning two 1953 Emmys, Baxter turned down a guest spot on I Love Lucy, declaring, "I love lucidity.") Stewart addresses the rise of Sesame Street, The American Experience, Nova, Julia Child's French Chef, Frontline and Upstairs, Downstairs, among other shows. Het is especially good on TV's early days, typified by saloon pianist/raconteur Max Morath's venturesome survey of American popular music, The Ragtime Era. The chronicle can (like PBS itself) grow bland, and it neither promises nor delivers critical analyses of PBS's current stateÄStewart concludes by quoting a Frontline producer who calls his own program "the last best place on television." Nevertheless, this set of essays will afford watchers of PBS an enjoyable peek inside their favorite shows. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Stewart, currently a journalist covering the small screen, is a 40-year veteran of public broadcasting who writes affectionately yet incisively about the history of noncommercial television. Several recent books, including Laurence Jarvick's PBS: Behind the Screen (Forum, 1998) and James Ledbetter's Made Possible By (Verso, 1997), have presented comprehensive overviews of the subject. Stewart's unique and entertaining study, however, focuses on several series and their creators as "an attempt to celebrate their achievement." Among the items discussed are the evolution of the benchmark programs Masterpiece Theatre, The American Experience, Frontline, Sesame Street, and NOVA; creative personnel Louis Rukeyser, Jim Lehrer, Fred Rogers, Joan Ganz Cooney, and Julia Child; cornerstone affiliate WGBH in Boston; and the first public television telethon in 1953, which saved San Francisco's KQED from extinction. Recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄBruce Henson, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Stewart should have left off his subtitle, for "a history of public television" this is not. The PBS Companion is more like it: the book consists of 17 chapters, with two exceptions each a descriptive account of a successful PBS series. And even the two chapters on PBS's radio beginnings and later its entrance into television provide minimal information. The chapters are brief and read like popular magazine articles. A television producer and former director of international activities for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the author is now a contributing editor of Current, the biweekly PBS newspaper. He declares in his introduction to the present volume, "This book is about programs and the people who created them." Stewart includes nice snippets of dialogue and occasional authorial anecdotes about PBS individuals. The book might be a useful resource for undergraduate students researching an individual PBS series or such well-known public service personalities as Fred Rogers, Julia Child, or Jim Lehrer. But this reviewer doubts the book includes enough material for academic collections. M. R. Grant; North Central College