Marcus on KCET: 'I feel like I had a great run there'

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Bret Marcus, KCET’s chief content officer until being laid off by the public TV station last week, talked a little today at about leaving as executive producer of the award-winning news program "SoCal Connected."

“I feel like I had a great run there,” Marcus told Current. SoCal Connected and its predecessor, California Connected, “were very unusual programs, produced by some of the best people in the news business. I’m very pleased about that.”

Along the way, SoCal Connected won three du Pont-Columbia Awards — half of the station’s six over its 50-year history. Other numerous honors include a Peabody, 17 Emmys, 41 Los Angeles Press Club Awards (including its Special Public Service award last year), two Headliners and two Murrows.

“I’m very proud of the program,” Marcus said. “It’s clearly the most recognized program in Southern California, without a doubt.”

Marcus arrived at KCET seven years ago after a long career in commercial television news — including stints as an executive producer at both NBC and ABC News — and he was eager to dive into public-service journalism. “That’s why I went to public TV,” he said. “Somebody needs to do this type of reporting and hold government accountable.” At the time, KCET was the primary PBS station in Los Angeles, looking to leverage its track record in producing news shows for statewide and local audiences into single high-impact program — the show that became SoCal Connected.

bret-marcus-current.jpgNow, of course, KCET is independent of PBS and facing an uncertain future. Its most interesting original programming right now might be on its website, though the content there seems aimed at an elite audience of youngish LA urbanists rather than the broader, more diverse and much bigger Southern California audience needed to support a television station.

The elimination of 27 positions (22 layoffs and five open positions) disclosed last week mostly does not include the contract and freelance journalists who mostly put out "SoCal Connected." Marcus and co-host Val Zavala were KCET executives in addition to their work with the show. Zavala remains at the station. Officially, "SoCal Connected" is on hiatus, but if the show is dropped that's another dozen or more people out of work.

"The producers, associate producers, reporters, photographers, editors, researchers and bookers who work for the series are employed as independent contractors," a veteran of the team told me over the weekend. "Nearly all of them work five days a week--long days--every week that the program is in production, but at least officially, none is an employee of KCET (that's so KCET doesn't have to supply health insurance, paid vacations and other benefits)... Their jobs were scheduled to last until this month, were effectively full-time, and most of these 'independent contractors' returned every season after taking other jobs during the program's hiatus periods."

Provocative quip by Marcus when asked if SoCal Connected's team might land elsewhere: "The staff is eager to take their good work somewhere else.”

Noted: The SoCal Connected team is patting itself on the back today after the DA's office said it would look into corruption allegations reported on the show about the city of Compton.

Top photo of KCET control room: LA Observed. Mug of Marcus: American University

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