Here We Go Again: WETA's Cancellation Plans
By Michael Gordon
Washington, DCóWETA-26, the PBS affiliate serving the nation's capital
and surrounding areas, will be cancelling EastEnders as of
27 January 2006, after having aired the programme for 18 years.
As a longtime Anglophile and frequent visitor to London, I have
never missed an episode since the first broadcast and have even seen
"current" episodes in London and (through a BBC connection) visited
the EastEnders set.
I believe I was the first to learn of this decision, which, until
my discovery, appears to have been a closely guarded secret at WETA.
I have been a member of WETA for approximately 25 years. Each
year, since the station commenced broadcasting EastEnders, I have
called Sue Richmond, WETA senior vice president for membership, to
confirm that the program would be renewed and I have increased my
membership pledge upon Sue's assurance that EastEnders would continue.
In June of this year, prior to the expiration of my membership, I
placed my annual call to Sue and learned from her that Kevin Harris,
the station manager and vice president for programming, had made the
decision not to renew the station's contract with the BBC for
EastEnders and that WETA's broadcasts of the show would end in late
A few years ago, after Kevin Harris became station manager and
vice president for programming, I spoke with him on the telephone
about the future of EastEnders. He stated, without equivocation, that
EastEnders would continue to be carried for as long as he remained at
WETA because of the active and vocal base of fans that the program
Needless to say, I was disappointed not only over the
cancellation decision but also over the fact that Kevin would go back
on his word. I called him to remind him of the commitment he had made
to me and his response was that "times had changed" and that the
cancellation decision had been considered and approved at all levels
of the station.
I asked Kevin why he would be prepared to risk losing the
financial support of WETA members who were EastEnders fans and would
no longer support the station if the programme were dropped.
He stated that he hoped fans would not terminate their
memberships, but, even if they did, he could no longer afford to
devote station revenues to a programme that had so small a viewing
audience and which carried a sizeable price from the BBC. He added
that he believed he would be able to attract new viewers and members
to the station by carrying other programming that had a more
wide-ranging appeal than EastEnders.
I pointed out that the station had done very little to promote
EastEnders or attract new viewers but he responded that he believed
such efforts to be a "dead end" because the show was a "soap" and
could not develop a new audience because viewers would be unfamiliar
with the existing storyline.
My first formal step in protesting WETA's decision (besides
reducing my membership pledge from the Founder's Club level to the
minimum level) was to ask fellow fans and long-time viewers Florence
Neider and Saul Rosen to join an ad hoc committee with me to contact
as many EastEnders fans in the DC area as possible.
We made use of a telephone list assembled by Doug Goodall, a
fellow fan and former WETA volunteer, who had served as an unofficial
liaison between the station and viewers, but had since left the area
(although remaining a viewer by regular receipt of taped episodes
through the courtesy of one of his former constituents, Ute Macuk).
Larry Jaffee, editor of the Walford Gazette, after hearing of our
predicament, also furnished us with a D.C.-area subscription list, and
the editors of the E20 Launderette newsletter, Debbie and Dana, also
agreed to publicize the station's decision.
Florence, Saul and I have made hundreds of phone calls and sent
numerous e-mails asking DC-area fans to leave telephone messages for
Sue Richmond (703-998-2653) expressing their disappointment with the
cancellation decision and informing her that they will terminate their
membership if EastEnders does not continue or increase their pledges
if it does.
A number of fans have personal contacts with members of the Board
of Trustees of WETA and are in the process of communicating with them.
In addition, we have attempted to secure mainstream media coverage
of WETA's decision and the impact it is having on fans, but nothing
has yet been published.
Unlike WLIW in New York, WETA has not been willing to quantify
the cost of EastEnders and has not been open to the possibility of
having the programme's fans raise sufficient funds to cover all or a
portion of the cost of the broadcast.
We will also be commencing a letter-writing campaign to WETA
president Sharon Rockefeller.
If you are a D.C.-area viewer and have not been in touch with
Florence, Saul, or me about EastEnders, we would strongly encourage
you to join our campaign. I can be contacted at email@example.com
and I can assure you that your e-mail address will not be transmitted
to others without your prior approval.
EDITOR'S COMMENT: WETA's tagline is ironically "be more aware." Then
why won't they publicly announce its plans to cancel EastEnders, and
let fans prove that they will financially support the cost of airing
As usual, the BBC has been silent ó once again demonstrating that they
don't care about maximizing a u.s. audience for the programme that is
its flagship franchise in the u.k. pure speculation on my part, the
loss of weta does not bode well for eastenders' future on public
Click Here to sign the petition
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