Public TV Lifer Programs a New Direction for PBSHoppe looks to continue 'Downton'-led scripted successes 3/04/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
When Beth Hoppe was promoted to chief programming executive
and general manager of general audience programming for
PBS last December, one of her stated goals was to build on the
network’s assets by pulling its resources together.
Hoppe had an opportunity to do just that
three days after her promotion, with the Dec. 14
shootings tragedy in Newtown, Conn. PBS
pulled together Nova, Frontline, Washington
Week and NewsHour and turned around a special
that aired a week later. “The work that we
[did] around Newtown is a good example of
where we’re heading,” says Hoppe.
Hoppe’s performance in just a few months
has already impressed PBS COO Michael
Jones. “Beth has been instrumental in implementing
PBS’ primetime strategy [and] building
on our strengths,” Jones says.
Building around those strengths and combining
related programming is a big initiative
for Hoppe, who looked to break PBS from its
rigid schedule. One of the things she did was
move Nova from its usual Tuesday slot to lead
out of Nature and into science programming
on Wednesdays. “We’ve seen tremendous flow
between those programs where we keep the
audience,” Hoppe says.
Hoppe has helped apply that same ideal to
PBS’ scripted fare by building off the success of
its long-running Masterpiece brand, citing drama
Call the Midwife (which returns March 31) as
a recent example.
She also happily credits the success of Downton
Abbey for broadening Masterpiece’s audience.
“[It] has had this tremendous growth
over the last couple of years with Downton and
[British drama hit] Sherlock,” says Hoppe. “It’s
not just [for] Anglophiles anymore.”
Hoppe is also looking to Mr. Selfridge, which
debuts March 31, to further broaden PBS’ audience,
because of its American influence. The
early 20th century British period piece features
an American title character played by Jeremy
Piven of Entourage. While British dramas will
always have a place at PBS, Hoppe is hopeful
that one day PBS will have the resources to
expand into American historical stories. “We
actively have a couple of American historical
projects in development,” she says.
One difficulty of airing overseas imports
is that the programs air on PBS months after
their initial U.K. runs. In today’s ever-connected
world, that can make avoiding spoilers
difficult. “We have absolutely talked about
it,” says Hoppe of airing series closer to their
Hoppe notes that the success of Downton
Abbey—a record 8.2 million viewers tuned in
for the Feb. 18 third-season finale—means the
series will probably continue its current January/
February run: “It’s unlikely that we would
move Downton,” Hoppe says.
A public television lifer, Hoppe got her start
in production in 1984 at New Hampshire Public
Television, where she floor-managed Granite
State Challenge (hosted by Tom Bergeron) and
ran camera for her alma mater, the University
of New Hampshire’s hockey team.
Actually, her first taste of public television
came during the 1984 Democratic presidential
debate at Dartmouth College, when she was a
UNH senior interning for NHPTV, where the
event was carried live. “I got a shot of adrenaline
like nothing I’ve ever had in my life,”
Hoppe recalls. “I was hooked.”
Hoppe eventually left New Hampshire and
worked at two other PBS stations—legendary
WGBH in Boston and equally acclaimed
WNET in New York, where she executive produced
Frontier House and Colonial House.
In 2004, Hoppe left to head up Optomen
Productions, a New York-based production
company known for science, reality and factual
programming. While she was there, Optomen
produced programs for Discovery Channel,
Animal Planet, Travel Channel, PBS and the
Food Network. Hoppe has also worked as an
executive producer for Discovery Studios.
While Hoppe credits her seven-year sabbatical
from public television with giving her
perspective from that side of the business, she
began to appreciate the focus on quality—not
having to please advertisers—that only public
television affords. “I realized that I was kind
of alone, trying to put this content into these
channels,” says Hoppe, who was “thrilled out
of my mind” to come back to PBS in 2011.
“There’s a lot of great product on commercial
TV, but it comes down to the DNA of the place,”
she says. “PBS is just a perfect "t for me.”