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PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag: A Pre-Emptive Strike on More 'Makers'

When you make an announcement before a group of reporters at the semi-annual Television Critics Association conference, you are likely to get some publicity. Among the announcements made by PBS at this year's gathering in Pasadena was news that six new one-hour documentaries, in partnership with AOL, would be aired later this year as part of the series titled: "MAKERS: Women Who Made America."

The new series, as PBS explained it, "expands on the critically acclaimed three-hour PBS documentary [of the same name], which premiered in February 2013 and told the story of the American women's movement of the last half-century." That series did indeed receive critical acclaim and also reportedly attracted some 5.2 million viewers for the premier and some 58 million online video views.

The new series, which will debut in June and seems to be more contemporary in theme, presents more than 60 women who have made a mark in war, space, comedy, business, Hollywood and politics. There is a description of the forthcoming series posted in the online PBS Pressroom, where you can also find the full press release on the upper right side.

Some of the publicity generated by the announcement was routine. But out of these five dozen or so personalities to be featured, two women — comedian Sarah Silverman and Lena Dunham, the actress (also a writer and filmmaker) who stars in HBO's "Girls" series — were focused on in the headlines of online sites such as Deadline Hollywood and the politically conservative site breitbart.com.

I don't know whether those sites inspired some people to write to me. But I did receive several extremely critical letters about the choice of Silverman and Dunham, in particular, as among those to be focused on in a series about "women who make America."

The letters are posted below. I sent all of them to PBS and asked for a response and explanation. A lengthy statement from filmmaker Dyllan McGee is posted below the letters. It contains just one sentence about Silverman and Dunham, which says: "Ms. Silverman and Ms. Dunham were selected for this project as they have both created, starred and led their own series, each of which has garnered significant attention for bringing a new, distinctive voice to television."

I have, of course, not seen this series, and while I have seen both Silverman and Dunham, although not as a regular viewer, it is clear that they are both very edgy and controversial. But so is much of what we see and hear these days and both are very well-known for performances that push the envelope. So I would agree with what little McGee has to say about these particular choices. But I would have preferred that a filmmaker whose series is to air on public television would have given us a broader insight into her reasoning, addressed more of the controversy that these performers stir-up, at least within this sample of the public presented below, and why she felt they are important to the making of our world.

Here Are the Letters

We will work to end taxpayer funding of PBS and cease our donations if the PBS persists in doing a misguided tribute to two unworthy women, Sarah Silverman and Lena Dunham, who do nothing but coarsen public debate and dishonor women. There are so many nameless and faceless women in this country who work hard to improve the lives of all women and their families. Honor them not these embarrassing self-promoters.

K. S., Santa Barbara, CA

~ ~ ~

I will never, and I mean never, contribute or promote anything that PBS will be associated with, if Sarah Silverman is acknowledged with an award from the PBS Network. I cannot even fathom what idiot at PBS decided to award this comedian with anything. If you honor this celebrity and her act, it will be unbelievable! This woman openly mocks Jesus Christ and offends even tolerant Christians. (Even if you do not subscribe to the Christian faith, where is your respect and appreciation for another person's beliefs, that tolerance PBS so enthusiastically promotes). This goes well beyond comedy, it will be perceived as an agenda. I tell you now, this will change my view of PBS forever. Please re-consider your decision.

Massillon, OH

~ ~ ~

The women who make America . . . really. sarah and lena . . . wow, what great role models for our girls if you want them to be crude and classless. you know there was a time when PBS had some class. why are my tax dollars paying for trash like this. well, maybe the next president will pull your funding. I am ashamed and disgusted how classless you have become. integrity, please, that is a joke.

M. J., St. Louis, MO

~ ~ ~

What is wrong with PBS . . . Lena Dunham and Sarah Silverman used as any kind of example of the modern female? How low can you go? Your day is coming PBS, you need to be dissolved, you do nothing of value to the public using freaks of nature as an example.

Debra K., Bonita Springs, FL

~ ~ ~

Why is PBS (an entity supported by MY TAX DOLLARS) choosing to HONOR Lena Dunham and Sarah Silverman? Lena Dunham is a semi-porn star who (evidently) enjoys showing off her nudity and strips down to naked at the drop of a hat, AND Sarah Silverman is a very UNFUNNY, HUMORLESS woman who advocates the unrestrained killing of innocents through abortion. These women ARE NOT representative of most American women and should not be so honored. After reading the PBS Mission and Values, I still do not understand why you would sponsor such a program. I see NO VALUE in such programming. But, obviously PBS is under the mistaken impression that these are women who should be honored through their organization, therefore PBS can do it on their own dime. ALL PUBLIC FUNDING BY U.S. TAXPAYERS should be stopped immediately, and I will make every effort to make this happen.

Moody, TX

~ ~ ~

Are you kidding? Having controversial losers like these disgusting women, Lena Dunham and Sarah Silverman on Makers: The Women Who Make America series. Do you not understand? I will never give you another penny with your liberal agenda. You should be de-funded. I AM your demographic, very affluent and very well educated. When you lose me you've lost much of the country.

Tulsa, OK

~ ~ ~

I am writing to protest your celebration of women who have done the most damage to civilized society with their hateful, bigoted, vulgar activities. Here is a partial list:

Kathy Griffin-vowed to insult & mock the Palin children.
Sarah Silverman-said, "as a Jew she would effing kill Christ, all over again."
Lena Dunham-random and inappropriate nudity (her ratings are so low, why is she included?)
Jane Fonda-traitor who actions resulted in the deaths of many Americans (why is she included?)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)-lied about her Native American ancestry
Hillary Clinton-failed to protect the embassy in Benghazi

Plus many more who support abortions on demand when there exists much safer and cheaper over-the-counter contraceptives. I could go on, but you get the idea. PBS does not deserve my tax dollars unless PBS represents ALL Americans.

Martha Ridgeway, Pomona, CA

~ ~ ~

I just read the announcement by PBS of the lineup for the series "Women Who Make America". Is this a joke? Every single woman on the list is left-wing except for two liberal GOP members of Congress. The women featured in the politics section are 8 democrats and 2 republicans. The list for women and Hollywood is a nothing but a who's who of far-left entertainers. How on Earth is this neutral for a tax payer funded organization? There was not ONE single legitimate Conservative that could be featured?

Matt Johnson, Mobile, AL

Filmmaker Dyllan McGee's Response

MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA is a project that celebrates women who have and continue to shape our nation. MAKERS uses both long-form documentaries as well as a vibrant, and growing, online video collection to highlight and examine the achievement of women from many different walks of life. The first three-hour MAKERS documentary debuted in February 2013 and earned both critical acclaim and millions of viewers. From June to September of this year, six one-hour films will be presented, building on this multi-platform initiative.

Each of the new documentaries tackles a different sphere of influence, including business, war, space, Hollywood, politics and comedy. Each program will profile prominent women — from famous entertainers to war veterans, business leaders and more — who have reshaped and ultimately transformed the landscape of their chosen vocation.

Ms. Silverman and Ms. Dunham were selected for this project as they have both created, starred and led their own series, each of which has garnered significant attention for bringing a new, distinctive voice to television.

In all, more than 60 women will be profiled in the 2014 series of films, including other women in entertainment and comedy, such as Carol Burnett and Glenn Close, and leaders from very different fields of endeavor. Among the women featured will be Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox and the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company; Susan Collins (R-ME), who recently led the Senate in shaping a deal to end the government shutdown, Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. Navy; General Angela Salinas, at her retirement the highest ranking woman serving in the USMC; Olympia Snowe, the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the House of Representatives; Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station, and many more.

The goal of THE MAKERS initiative is to shine a light on the achievements of women from a broad spectrum of experiences, achievements and perspectives who, in their own individual way, have broken new ground and opened doors.

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