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PBS Ombudsman

Are You Ready for Some Football, and Nancy?

This is Super Bowl Sunday. But as a long-suffering New York Jets fan, I don't care much who wins and I wasn't paying much attention. That is until Wednesday, Feb. 2, when, scrolling through Jim Romenesko's daily bible of media news on the Poynter site, a headline caught my eye.

"Did PBS just hand its ombud next week's column?" it read. It was about a brief item posted that same day on Florida's Sun-Sentinel website by TV writer Tom Jicha.

The item was headlined: "PBS skeds Nancy Reagan bio opposite Super Bowl."

And Jicha wrote this: "There are conservatives who contend that PBS has a liberal slant. How do they explain the biography, 'Nancy Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,' which airs Sunday? Did I mention, it is scheduled opposite the Super Bowl? Midnight on New Year's Eve must not have been available."

That's it. A small item that may well have gone no further but for Romenesko's all-encompassing searchlight that shines on all things big and small. And so I rise to the bait.

Jicha's comment struck me as styled, perhaps unintentionally, along the lines of one of those famous Reaganesque "there you go again" moments that served the former president so well. Jicha's point was, of course, a pop at that relentlessly liberal PBS and its producers and schedulers who, having invested in a documentary about the former First Lady, were intentionally burying it on Super Sunday. Fair enough, if true.

Journalists know that some things are so tempting that they seem just too good to check. Nevertheless, it is always imperative to check and this item would have benefitted from some checking.

The program was scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 6, because it is the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, according to Jan McNamara, senior director of corporate communications.

The hour-long Nancy Reagan documentary, produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, is not exactly "opposite" the Super Bowl. The Fox Sports television schedule has the live broadcast from Cowboys Stadium beginning at 6 p.m. EST and the post-game show at 10. Kick-off is about 6:30 p.m.

The film about Nancy Reagan begins at 10 p.m. EST. PBS programmers say last year's Super Bowl ended around 9:50. "It's the largest television viewing audience of the year which, about 15 minutes before the start of the [Nancy Reagan] program, will be looking for something to watch," McNamara said. "The game is almost certain to be over. We're also repeating the much longer [Ronald] Reagan 'American Experience' two-part documentary the next night and the following Monday," she added.

The game, of course, and the seemingly endless half-time show, could run long. Stuff happens. But then there is the DVR, and PBS has been known to show its documentaries more than once.

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