I've fell in love with PBS 36 years ago, when I started watching Sesame Street. The love endures. My favorite shows are now Frontline, Austin City Limits and Bill Moyers, but it’s still PBS and I still feel better for having watched. Of course, my kids are totally into PBS Kids. Charlie seems to have a serious thing for Elmo and Rosita and I get into deep trouble when I forget to record CyberChase and Arthur for Ellen. Oh yea, just so you know, if Lawerence Welk happens to be on, I'll watch. Justin Timberlake has nothing on Bobby and Sissy.
Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to see, first hand, what makes PBS so different. It’s been a great lesson for me – one that almost didn’t happen.
About four months ago, Patricia Gras, called me to see if I’d be interested in doing a show on my work. She’s the producer and host of Living Smart, a popular Houston PBS show. I took a deep breath, thanked her for calling, and said, “I don’t think so.”
Here’s why . . .
I love research and teaching, but writing I Thought It Was Just Me was tough. I survived the dark, lonely hours at the computer by fantasizing about lunch with Katie Couric, dinner with Diane Sawyer and of course, bra-shopping at Nordstrom with Oprah. When the book launched, it also launched a big, honkin’ reality check that knocked the wind right out of me. I was actually shocked to learn that a little chitchat on shame, empathy and vulnerability is a hard sell. We kept hearing:
"These are scary topics. Do you have to use the word shame? We'd love to have you for a segment on Women's Most Embarrassing Moments."
"Ooooh. Shame. Sounds juicy. We'll invite people to talk about all of the drama in their lives. We'll get some wives whose husbands are sleeping with their best friends and then we’ll find some men and tell them that their mothers are really their brothers. Then we'll have you weigh in as Dr. Brené - Shame expert." (Just a side note - I'd rather be called Dr. Shithead than Dr. Brené. Dr. Brown is fine. Brené is even better. But Dr. Brené is just not an option).
It took me six months to go from dumbfounded to pissed off to understanding. Producers have difficult jobs. I get that there are thousands of shows, websites, magazines and books vying for the public's attention. They need something easy and interesting. A friend of mine who has worked on both sides helped me understand that the core conflict is education vs. entertainment. I personally like the edu/entertainment combo package. Who doesn't need some warmth and humor mixed in with their learning - c'mon. Unfortunately, most people believe the two are mutually exclusive.
After talking to Patti on the phone for 15 minutes, I decided to do the show. She was so honest and real. And, as it turned out, she wasn’t even looking for me. She stumbled across me when she was googling “shame researcher.” She hadn’t even seen the book. She wanted shame and, to her surprise, my office was one building down from her office on the University of Houston campus.
The experience was great and I can say with total certainty that PBS is an edutainment rock star! Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise - these are the Sesame Street people. They have turned the combination of education and entertainment into an art form.
After we taped the studio interview last week, I got to watch the actual edited piece. I started crying. I couldn't believe what an amazing job they did weaving it together. They filmed me teaching and working in my office and they even interviewed a few of the grad students from my class. Patti and her crew also filmed a group of women from Brigid's Hope participating in my group curriculum (Brigid's Hope is a wonderful program that provides support and mentoring to homeless women coming out of Texas prisons and jails).
I'm so grateful that we both tooks risks and did the show together. Thank you Patti!