The notion that programs like Sesame Street, Downton Abbey or Ken Burns’ documentaries could disappear from the airwaves in Alabama might seem far-fetched. However, recent meetings of the Alabama Educational Television Commission would seem to suggest it’s possible.
The commission oversees Alabama Public Television, or APT. During the past two months, the commission’s decisions have stirred up controversy. The commission recently decided, in a closed door meeting, to fire longtime executive Allan Pizzato. Pizzato came to APT in 2000 and turned the statewide network into an Emmy award-winning operation.
APT’s chief operating officer, Charlie Grantham, recently wrote an open letter to Governor Robert Bentley where Grantham addressed his concerns about what’s happening with the commission.
“I just wanted to express the concerns of myself and a lot of the staff that have expressed their concerns to me, ” Grantham said in a telephone interview with WHNT News 19.
Besides dismissing longtime executives at the network, commission members have also indicated they want to make programming decisions at APT. Those include religious-based programs.
Grantham says one commissioner even suggested APT drop all PBS programming.
“As I tried to explain to that commissioner the last time that statement was made, if we drop PBS programming, we might as well go shut the doors and go home,” said Grantham.
When the commission fired Pizzato last month, they said it was because they wanted to go in a new direction. Grantham says employees at APT are still waiting to find out what that means.
“We get the statement when we ask, why the firings and the dismissals, ‘we just want to go in a new direction’,” Grantham said. “But here we are five weeks out from the dismissals and we don’t know what the direction is.”
Grantham wrote his letter to Governor Bentley because the governor appoints members to the commission. There are seven members, each representing the seven different Congressional districts in the state.
In a statement, Governor Bentley’s spokesman Jeremy King says, “Governor Bentley is aware of the letter and we are monitoring the situation. We want to make sure that the focus of everyone involved at APT remains on providing education programming for the people of Alabama.”
King also pointed out that since Bentley took office in January of 2011, he has only appointed one member of the commission. The others he says were appointed by Governor Riley and approved by a Democrat-controlled Alabama Senate.
WHNT News 19 reached out to the Alabama Education Television Commission for a statement, but we have not heard back from them.
Meanwhile, Pizzato has filed a lawsuit against the AET Commission.