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An Offer I Can't Refuse

These are the times that try public television viewers' souls. It's pledge time, the time when they pull out all of their great shows and then incessantly beg you for to send them money. I've watched for years without anteing up and for years I've had the same interior dialogue:

CONSCIENCE: Send them some money.
JAMES: Pledging is for chumps.
JAMES: TV should be free, man.
CONSCIENCE You hypocrite! You pay for cable!
JAMES: The neighbors are.
CONSCIENCE You're stealing cable?
JAMES: I'm liberating it.

But I'm turning over a new leaf. I've decided, at the age of 29, to finally send a check to my local PBS) station, New York's WNET). It won't be a big one, because, after all, I have my reputation as a cheap bastard to protect. But I figure it's time to pay up -- after all, some of the best things I've watched on the tube recently have been on PBS. And frankly, I'm also frightened of a WNET "employee" named Vinnie who has a taste for breaking legs and placing them in PBS tote bags.

Even without Vinnie out there taking names and busting heads, there are lots of good reasons why I should pledge: There was Ken Burns)' The Civil War and Baseball, The History of Rock and Roll, Sessions on 54th is a better concert series than anything you'll ever see on MTV or VH1, and then there's Sesame Street), which I still love despite all the annoying little changes they've made to make it "hipper."

Despite all of these PBS shows that I loved, I never decided to give until I sat transfixed for six hours one weekend recently, when WNET aired a marathon broadcast of the documentary Liberty!) In case you've missed it, this series about the roots, action, and aftermath of the American Revolution was one of the best things I've seen on TV this year, except maybe for Buffy the Vampire Slayer beating the hell out of John Ritter). And the coolest part? I didn't feel as if I were just throwing six hours of my life away, despite the fact that I was thoroughly entertained.

Yes, there are times when PBS gets too controversial for the average moron in Peoria. Yes, there are times when I think PBS is utterly elitist. And yes, it's utterly contemptible that "Riverdance)" and John Tesh)'s "Red Rock Live" would ever be allowed more than ten seconds on our public airwaves. But despite all this, I'm grateful PBS is there.

Serving the public good without a commercial interest is never easy--especially when you're competing against "Martin" reruns. So I'm sending my money to where my TV is tuned. The check's in the mail, Vinnie. Honest.


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