Sure he’s the guy asking you for money during KERA pledge drives — and while pledge drives are an important part of public television, that’s not exactly the role for which BILL YOUNG hopes he’s remembered. The truth is that most of his work occurs behind the scenes, screening shows and deciding what we, the viewers, will watch. About half of the station’s content comes from the parent PBS, while the other half is left up to Young, the award-winning vice president of television programming. Last month, the Lakewood resident celebrated 30 years at the station.
You’re in charge now, but what was your job when you first started at KERA?
When I started, I was the assistant traffic director, which makes it sound like I was some sort of crossing guard. Actually what I did was type logos and carry tape. I also wrote copy for TV Guide ads, ran audio for production, that sort of thing.
When did you know you had a knack for knowing what viewers wanted?
I learned on the job, mostly, but pretty quickly … from being around some really great people in programming. I also got to see rather quickly how the shows meant something to people. A day after a show aired, you might get a reaction. It made a difference, and I began to see the power in the medium. It helped that the station offered room to try the things you wanted to do. I eventually got pretty bold trying to convince them to hire me in programming.
Any programming decisions that really stand out?
One of the things I can point back to is the British comedy block that used to air Sundays at 10 p.m. Today we joke that we run more British comedy than the BBC. It’s been fun to see that grow and watch people enjoy it. And then you have your shows that generate negative responses. Of course, these are shows that deal with issues people feel strongly about. But this is what we do — we don’t shy away from issues. If a show generates controversial conversation, that is good. And it’s great here: If I believe something needs to be shown, the management backs me. We are not trying to change anyone’s mind, but if it makes people think and gets them talking, it shows we are doing our job.
Any shows, maybe on other stations, that you like to watch just for fun?
I shouldn’t admit this — but I said it to a reporter once before — that “The Family Guy” is one of my favorite shows. “The Simpsons”, too. My appreciation for comedy can go to both ends of the spectrum. The only thing I really can’t watch is the reality shows. It’s sort of tough for me to watch the American version of “The Office”, too. I know people will not like to hear me say that. But the British version is just so good.
Do you ever have to air things you don’t like?
I’ll say it like this: Just because I don’t personally care for a show or a type of music doesn’t mean our viewers won’t like it. By the same token, because I like something doesn’t mean it’s a good programming choice. I learned a long time ago I can’t buy everything I like — if you don’t know where you’ll schedule something, don’t buy it.