A wine-tasting show on PBS? You must be kidding.

Why is PBS doing a wine-tasting show?

I love PBS. Frontline, American Experience, Nova, Charley Rose are best things on American television. If I could buy a retired East German television one could set to only one channel, I would buy one for my kids welded to PBS. I would therefore fiercely defend public broadcasting against its various know-nothing congressional opponents. Every now and then, PBS makes this job harder with some dumb or tone-deaf decisions.

Case in point: Did I dream that Stanley Tucci is hosting a PBS wine tasting show? Was this a Daily Show sketch, maybe a Rush Limbaugh riff? No. It is real, a show called Vine Talk. I somehow missed this until today, when I heard about it on Slate’s Culture Gabfest, which panned it.

Aside from embodying every stereotype of boring upper-class bicoastal gastronomic snobbery, Vine Talk is another example of PBS larding its schedule with stuff that might once have belonged on the pre-cable PBS, and that might today be fine on the Cooking Channel or CNBC, but that serves no broader public purpose. I’m not even counting the unwatchable Pledge Drive shows that showcase Suzie Orman or various septuagenarian ’60’s Motown stars onstage in, well, unfortunately choreographed performances.

With everything happening in the world, I don’t get why PBS feels it should do stuff like this. Foodies don’t seem to like the show. I don’t care about that. Even if this program were excellent, it’s hardly the sort of thing that needs to be on public broadcasting. I just don’t get it. It’s a joke, right?

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

22 thoughts on “A wine-tasting show on PBS? You must be kidding.”

  1. Sadly PBS continues to decline. I cannot believe my local station (KCTS, Seattle) actually has that flim flam man Daniel Amen in the studio! I am embarrassed for them.

    And NOVA, which was an excellent science show FOR DECADES, is now reduced to gee-whiz sound effects and graphics and “specials” hosted by David Pogue. (What demographic does he appeal to?)

    I used to enjoy Louis Rukeyser, was less enthusiastic about the Nightly Business Report (Cavuto..ewhey), and am utterly repulsed by Ed Slott and Stay Rich Forever.

    I will say nothing of Masterpiece Theatre.

    Another good idea run into the ground…and they did it to themselves.

  2. Don’t be such a prude. 90 percent of PBS is unwatchable which is far an improvement over the 100percent elsewhere NPR is already 99 percent unlistenable. So who cares about a wine show? Besides, if you stroll down Broadway in the ’60s while they’re shooting, it’s a street level, glass enclosed studio and you get to watch the robotic cameras zooming around – and make faces at the blonde babe while she interviews. Nothing wrong with any of this.

  3. Seemingly all that PBS is good for these days is the subsidization of some BBC productions that probably could get commercial mediasupport instead (Sherlock, for example, is fantastic, and funded in part by PBS). Their science programming is heavily branded with corporate sponsors and not up to its former standard. Their news programming is meaningless High Broderian self-parody, as gentle towards the elites as anything on commercial TV.

    To be more fair, I have overlooked one important area:I suppose they probably still have by far the best kids’ programming.

  4. I’d actually say Nick Jr bests them in children’s programming.

    But anyway – I’m not much a foodie. Well, not at all a foodie. But I can appreciate the concept. Why not with wine? Like Independent Lens, or American Experience, or Frontline, or Masterpiece Theater – and one can dispute whether they are shows in decline – it isn’t something you’ll likely find being produced anywhere else.

    And I understand how this might play into stereotypes about left-coast liberals. But isn’t it the definition of a stereotype to be reductionist and idiotic. So while the show may fit, the *take-away* from the story need not be that there is anything wrong with it.

    Wine tasting, so I’ve heard, is a fine hobby.

  5. Yes, outside of children’s programming, a lot of PBS is not just unwatchable but outright harmful. Not just Daniel Amen, but also crooks like “Dr” (Fake U.) Gary Null, who was featured on my local station during pledge week! (No money for them.) Basically, same scientific basis as creationism, but for a liberal audience. Compared to that, the wine show is just funny (well, for about 5 minutes).

  6. Watching Championship Ballroom Dancing was like watching grass grow until the female participants decided that clothing was an unnecessary additament to their performance. Then it was only like watching grass grow in the Spring.

  7. Come now. You can bag on PBS all you want, but there is still more quality on that network than any 10 of the commercial networks. And Charlie rose is very good in his narrow wheelhouse.

    And the “outright harmful” comment: chuckle

  8. You gotta remember that PBS is on where cable sucks more than it sucks everyplace else – and good jesus does cable suck here in the left coast . And that for some of the non-elite for whatever reason it is the only alternative in town

  9. They useta say the Episcopal Church was the Republican Party at prayer. Less true now – the Piskies have gone left and the Reeps have gone right. But I like the formula: PBS is the Democratic Party at prayer.

  10. I understand that “Bernard Henri Levy’s World of Brie” is in development for next season.

    A possible solution to this problem is to restrict the public subsidy to NPR to programming for kids, and make the adults pay out of the pocket for the shows they watch.

  11. They weren’t discussing Proust while snacking on Brie and sipping Pinot Grigio, were they? So what’s the problem?

  12. Paulo gets at a possibly important point: what proportion of people have cable? What proportion with good cable packages? I suspect BBC America has much better news than PBS, but don’t get my news from either (I don’t have cable, and have never gotten my news from TV). Nick Jr is stated upthread to be better kids’ programming than PBS (I’m ignorant and thus agnostic) – but if the comparison is broadcasting, the calculation may change. Sesame Street is depressingly commercialized these days, but compared to the broadcast networks’ Saturday morning shows it’s a communist utopia.

    Still, none of this excuses the sort of elitist crap that launched this thread, nor the “actively harmful” pitching of anti-intellectual woo that PBS stations often do. PBS is supposed to be Public Service Broadcasting, and they’re often short of the mark.

  13. with a $14 trillion plus debt and $1 trillion plus deficit I would call PBS a luxury that needs to stand on its own and not be on the backs of tax payers who don’t watch it or care to watch it. If enough people want to keep it let them pay for it. Something that can’t keep going won’t! That would be the out-of-control spending by both parties.

  14. I’d love to see the demographics of PBS viewership. It may be the only quality alternative for those without cable, but how many people without cable are actually regular watchers. The important question isn’t what it theoretically could be, but what it actually is. My impression, which could easily be wrong, is that subsidizing public broadcasting is overwhelmingly a subsidy for the well-off. It depends upon those demographics.

    If PBS is primarily watched by those who could afford to buy a subscription to a similar channel, the justification for the subsidy takes an very large hit.

  15. This may just be my self-interest speaking – I was for many years a constant listener (and fairly stingy contributor) to NPR, and still listen (and contribute) a bit, while I’ve never seen much PBS – but it is my impression that NPR does a much better job of public-service broadcasting (news, arts, local affairs) than does PBS (though NPR does very little science and no kids’ programming). NPR also has a fairly big listening audience – one that I suspect, but do not know, is much larger than PBS’s; and radio is by definition cheaper to produce than television, at least for comparable programs, not that I know how much money goes to either PBS or NPR.

    I only bring this up because of J. Michael Neal’s comment, which talks about “public broadcasting” writ large, while I perceive a fairly big difference between PBS and NPR; also, J. Michael Neal asserts that it may be the case that many consumers of PBS programming have cable and can obtain alternatives there; this is not nearly so true for NPR, as I don’t think there are serious competitors to NPR in the in-depth radio news business these days, at least not in most markets.

  16. Wine-tasting on TV sounds as exciting as the proverbial Miss World final on radio. At least on food porn shows you see the product, and sight provides a significant faction of the pleasure of eating. To a first approximation, all red wine looks the same, certainly at TV resolution. I suppose the viewer can work on his oenobabble.

  17. PBS provides a valuable public service with excellent educational and current affirs programs the commercial media market o/w won’t provide. No commercial program matches Frontline, Nova, or American Experience or Independent Lens. I think a taxpayer subsidy is warranted for these programs. The case for nightly business reports and food porn is much weaker.

  18. All these comments from people who don’t contribute much suggests to me that we’re not their target market, any more than we were when edwardian drama was hot.

  19. I am a good contributor. I agree that NPR has done a better job, generally speaking, and has been more innovative.

  20. Why don’t we give more money to whoever does the Lehrer Show? They have “updated” it a bit, which I don’t usually approve of, but it is still a fine news show. Maybe they could start little Baby Lehrer shows. It would be nice to see someone do a decent local news broadcast, maybe starting in a big city. I live in LA and our tv news is pretty ghastly. And it seems to all be taken out of the local papers anyway. I guess it is more likely this could happen online, come to think of it.

    And I still love Masterpiece Theater, Mystery and what-all. I don’t go to real theater because if a play isn’t really good, it’s painful to sit there. (Not sure why. I get antsy.) Whereas, even a mediocre movie is at least relaxing somehow. (Not sure why that is either.) But every now and then, as I drive by all the little theaters in Hollywood in which I don’t set foot, I feel a little bad for not supporting them. There should be someone out there who gives those writers and actors a chance, and it’s sure as heck not me. I don’t even read about theater anymore, because I know I won’t go. But at least watching a play on tv is a more direct experience than watching people on tv drink wine and tell you what it tastes like. That I don’t get either.

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