Proposed by, lobbied for, and signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, the Public Television Act, which created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was the impetus for public educational television as it exists in the United States today. The issue of funding was not resolved in this act, an issue that continues to be problematic. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), although created by federal law, is a private, nonprofit corporation. The CPB receives money from Congress to fund the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which was created in 1968, as well as National Public Radio and Public Radio International. Its funding has frequently been controversial in Congress, with opposition, primarily among conservatives, centering on the cultural and educational programs which the CPB supports.
PBS airs most of the educational public television in the United States. PBS, like CPB, is a private, nonprofit organization. Ownership is shared among its 354 noncommercial member stations nationwide. PBS does not actually produce programs, but rather distributes them so that they can be aired.
Educational programming on PBS is created and produced by a number of companies. The Sesame Workshop, formerly the Children’s Television Workshop, was established in 1968 and is responsible for the program that many Americans automatically associate with educational television, Sesame Street. Created by educators and psychologists with the education of urban preschool students as the focus, Sesame Street began in 1969 and is still on the air today. Sesame Street’s characters, both human and puppet, increase in diversity to be inclusive of their audiences.
During the 1970s, shows teaching everything from cooking (The French Chef with Julia Child), remodeling (This Old House), and yoga (Lilias, Yoga and You) came to complement spelling, math, and character-building programs such as The Electric Company and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In the sciences, NOVA, which first aired in 1974, continues to be a favorite among viewers and teachers alike. For audiences interested in business, PBS began offering Wall Street Week in 1970, another program that continues to air.
From its earliest inception, PBS and its content suppliers relied on programs produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and that history is still evident in series such as Masterpiece Theater and Mystery. Although public television cannot properly be said to have competitors, as cable networks such as A&E and the History Channel have emerged and created shows that follow the educational format established by PBS, PBS has lost some viewers.
- Witherspoon, J., & Kovitz, R. (2000). A history of public broadcasting. Washington, DC: Current.
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