Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

The Economics of Underwriting Spawn Off-Beat Public Television

From The Doctor Who Cuttings Archive
Jump to navigationJump to search

No image available. However there is a transcription available.

Do you have an image? Email us:


He's a time-traveling lord from the planet Gallifrey. He meddles in history trying to correct injustice.

If you don't know him, then you obviously don't know Who, or more precisely, "Dr. Who."

But thousands of his fans do. And, they're the type that Maryland Public Television likes to have on its viewer list --fanatical and willing to show their devotions with generous donations.

Not that "Dr. Who," with its styroform sets, implausible inventions and out-of-this world characters if a typical MPT program. But public television is increasingly broadening its programming, and no show quite dramatizes the trend like "Dr. Who."

While general interests favorites like the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour, Nova and National Geographic on Assignment ape public TV staples, the new wave of programming aims squarely for a more targeted audience.

This year's lineup includes "Championship Ballroom Dancing." "Motorweek," "Crafting for the 90's" "Cats & Dogs" and "Lap Quilting with Georgia Bonesteel."

MPT has used targeted programming to court area businesses with the savvy of network media, selling time for brief sponsorship messages.

Although the sponsors can't run commercials, they are obviously putting their money into programming that enhances their products.

Cases in point:

  • Sponsoring Championship Ballroom Dancing is the Fred Astair Dance Studios.
  • Sponsoring Motorweek, Dryden Oil Company and Ralph's Auto Service.
  • Sponsoring a table full of cooking shows is Pompeian Inc., the olive oil maker.


The growing underwriting interest in targeted programming among corporations has prompted criticism of public television and its ever increasing ties to big business.

Michael F. Jacobson, co-founder of the Center for the Study of Commercialism complained to the Wall Street Journal, "It's shameful we've gotten to this point. Public broadcasters pretend sponsor identifications are different from commercials. But that's a distinction without a difference."

Local sponsors and MPT officials concede that much of their underwriting choices are made in order to reach likely customers.

"We underwrite news, public affairs and business programs," says Gail Sanders, a spokeswoman for Signet Bank/Maryland. "We will try to reach people we know will potentially be doing business with us in the future."

Signet is a sponsor for the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour.

By selecting the right show, underwriters can reach a select group of viewers and be a good public citizen at the same time, Frangos says.

But apparently being a good community citizen isn't enough.

Frangos complains that children's programming--shows such Sesame Street and the Electric Company--whose loyal viewers have little discretionary income, has no local corporate sponsors.

Underwriters pay anywhere from from $1,000 to $50,000 for their support and Frangos insists the know the value of their sponsorship.

This year 70 percent of MPT's 68 sponsors renewed their underwriting and that's in a bad economy. In 1991, 83 percent of underwriters chose to continue their support.

The key, she says, is in providing good demographics--a must for any, well, advertiser.

"It's not about the number of viewers," she says. "It's the quality of programming and it's the quality of the people who watch them."


"Dr. Who" and its underwriters fit the target audience strategy well. Created more than 20 years ago by the British Broadcasting Co., the science fiction show built a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic.

The BBC finally ended the show's run in 1989 after seven different actors had held the "Dr. Who" role.

By then however, "Dr. Who" had turned into a mini-industry. Its loyal fans buy books, comics and paraphernalia to go along with the now-syndicated episodes, every one of which is memorized by devotees.

MPT had little trouble lining up sponsors.

Comic and fantasy game retailer Geppi's Comic World knew the show was an obvious choice for them, and has been a sponsor since the show began on MPT in 1985. Recently joining Geppi's as an underwriter is a smaller competitor, Alternate Worlds.

"The show has a dedicated following," says Geppi's assistant manager Charlie Kimbrough. "Most fans know every episode and we are always selling out of 'Dr. Who' books."

During the summer pledge drive, held in August, "Dr. Who" raked in $30,000 in promised funds. "I don't understand the appeal of the show," says Joan Frangos, MPT vice president for regional development, "but during the pledge drive, our switch board lit up while 'Doctor Who' was on."

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: McConnell, Bill (1992-10-02). The Economics of Underwriting Spawn Off-Beat Public Television. Warfield's Business Record .
  • MLA 7th ed.: McConnell, Bill. "The Economics of Underwriting Spawn Off-Beat Public Television." Warfield's Business Record [add city] 1992-10-02. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McConnell, Bill. "The Economics of Underwriting Spawn Off-Beat Public Television." Warfield's Business Record, edition, sec., 1992-10-02
  • Turabian: McConnell, Bill. "The Economics of Underwriting Spawn Off-Beat Public Television." Warfield's Business Record, 1992-10-02, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Economics of Underwriting Spawn Off-Beat Public Television | url= | work=Warfield's Business Record | pages= | date=1992-10-02 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=25 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The Economics of Underwriting Spawn Off-Beat Public Television | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=25 July 2024}}</ref>