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PBS Ombudsman

Not So Sharpe Challenge

The brief collection of letters that follow doesn't have much to do with the usual fodder for an ombudsman; no journalistic standards at stake here or issues of accuracy or perceived bias or unfairness. Rather, these are letters from viewers sorely disappointed in last Sunday evening's two-hour broadcast of "Sharpe's Challenge" on "Masterpiece Classic," one of PBS's premier series for presenting what are described as "signature period dramas." The second part of this fictional tale, "Sharpe's Peril," airs this coming Sunday.

After receiving these complaints and watching the program myself, I have sympathy for the views expressed below. These two presentations, as explained in background material from PBS and producing-station WGBH/Boston, are based on the novels of Bernard Cornwell. They are set in the early 1800s and focus on the swashbuckling exploits of soldier-adventurer Col. Richard Sharpe, who comes out of retirement to quash a rebellion in then British-controlled India and rescue his old pal while he's at it.

Maybe a lot of viewers liked this, and only the critical ones wrote to me, which is normal. But I must say that I also found this unworthy of the title "Masterpiece Classic," and so I thought it was worth publishing these letters because they reflect surprise at a venerable program that has royalty-like status among many PBS viewers. I've never read Mr. Cornwell's novels, but as television this was more like a comic book or class-B movie than a masterpiece, and it was exceedingly violent in a very close-up way that was hard to watch and that made you resent the presenters because you really didn't know when to turn away.

Here Are the Letters

I don't know to whom this comment should be directed. I want someone responsible for programming to know that I was shocked by the grisly and continual violence in tonight's "Sharpe's Challenge." Honestly, it was inexcusable. I expect much better from PBS, and at the very least, I expect to be warned about such viciousness and gore. Even cable stations warn viewers of violence. Frankly, this was worse than most cable series and films. Yes, I could have turned it off. I was restless and half-watched while doing other things. I kept hoping it would get better, that it would have some saving grace. In fact, the writing and acting were no better than "CSI" or "Criminal Minds."

Gail Holcomb, St. Paul, MN

The PBS Masterpiece Classic broadcast Sunday night, March 28, 2010 was filled with filthy language and excessive violence. This is not what I am used to seeing on Masterpiece Classic. If future programs display this level of trash, then I will not watch any Masterpiece programs in the future.

Wally Morris, Huntington, IN

I am a frequent viewer of PBS, and especially Masterpiece Theater. I was sadly disappointed at the extremely gory content of the recent episode of Sharpe. I actually turned it off but came back to see the ending. Again I tuned out, as it was as gory as the beginning. I would normally say it was a poor programming choice and leave it at that. However it became a topic of discussion among my friends and even friends in other states. My cell was buzzing. Many of us have completely left network television due to violent and sexual content. Not to mention, lack of any intelligent story line. We've even cancelled cable and buy Netflix to access better programming. Please review your standards and don't ruin my favorite night, besides Mystery that is.

Theresa McQuillan, Naugatuck, CT

Your online PBS programming this winter has been good, 'til Sharpe's Challenge!!!!!!!!!!! My children have also been watching this winter. Sharpe's Challenge became available for online viewing on Mon. March 29. Needless to say it was the blood and poor value of human life that totally turned me off. I think you can do better than this when you come to picking movies. The others have been family friendly. What happened here? As you can guess my children won't be watching.

Ashland, OH

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