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From Kardashians to HGTV: The True Impact of PBS

Even if you're not tuning into PBS, the service has more influence than you might think. Here's why.
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When you turn on the TV, there are literally hundreds of options. Between cable networks, streaming giants, local channels, and broadcast networks, it seems like there is no shortage of entertainment.

But there is one network that might just be more important and influential than all the rest, and it’s likely one you’ve been sleeping on: PBS.

The Influence of PBS

Yes, I’m talking about the network that you likely last watched in grade school classrooms. But this public television network is actually so much more than teacher-approved educational resources, and it has been influencing everything else on television for 50 years.

When PBS hit small screens, television was much different than it is today.


It was a three-network game, and audiences had the “Big Three” to choose from: ABC, CBS, and NBC. PBS stepped in and changed the television landscape. The new network catered to niches and introduced programming not seen anywhere else.

PBS made a name for themselves over the years by catering to foodies and period drama obsessives, home improvement enthusiasts, and DIYers. These days, major networks, streaming services, and even local channels have plenty of programming like that — but it’s worth noting that all that influence came directly from PBS.

And before reality television was a thing, PBS did it. The public broadcaster introduced the groundbreaking reality series An American Family. Consisting of 12 episodes, the show first aired in 1973 and changed TV history forever. Since then, we’ve seen reality TV explode. MTV’s The Real World, E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and anything in between can trace a line back to An American Family.

What about all those cooking reality shows? Thanks to Julia Child and The French Chef, we’ve now got the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, YouTube cooking stars, and Netflix stuffed to the gills with the likes of Chef’s Table and Nailed It! 

And let’s be honest, here: We wouldn’t have the likes of HGTV, DIY Network, or the newly minted Magnolia Network from Chip and Joanna Gaines without PBS first introducing the world to the Emmy-winning home improvement series This Old House in 1979.

Why We Still Need PBS

PBS is still doing what they do best and doing it well. Fans of Downton Abbey and Antiques Roadshow, or parents of kids that love Sesame Street will definitely agree.

Unfortunately, the Public Broadcasting Service is starting to get lost in the shuffle. As the sheer amount of programming available continues to expand, the publicly funded PBS has started to come under scrutiny. Why should the government continue to subsidize public broadcasting, with so many entertainment and educational options available out there?

First and foremost, we need to continue to have free, over-the-air programming to reach those without access to broadband or expensive cable subscriptions. And can we also talk about how nice it is to have non-commercial programming?

But it’s also important to realize this: Even if you’re not tuning in to PBS directly, the service has been (and continues to be) directly responsible for the television landscape we enjoy.