The self-help PBS shopping network

Posted: Dec 19, 2001 12:00 AM
What's the difference between the Home Shopping Network and the Public Broadcasting Service? PBS stations get taxpayer money. Then PBS stations use tax dollars to cater to a very affluent audience. In the past month, PBS stations in New York, Boston and Washington scheduled "The Wrinkle Cure." San Francisco's KQED ran the show 13 times during a three-week pledge period. That gave viewers several opportunities to watch two hours of dermatologist Nicholas Perricone discussing his anti-wrinkle diet and how to fight wrinkles with what he calls "cosmeceuticals." Go to the KQED website and you can click onto Perricone's online store, where you can buy a 30-day supply of his nutritional supplements for $120. Or a $33 half-ounce tube of "alpha lupoic acid lip plumper." Or the $45 half-ounce tube of "Vitamin C Ester Eye Area Therapy wNTP Complex. Your tax dollars at work. (KQED gets about 10 percent of its funding from government sources.) It probably would be going too far to call Perricone's suggestion that people who don't want to age eat salmon's fatty acids a modern snake-oil pitch. His prescription for health -- eat more fish, fruits and vegetables -- is common sense. Other Perricone tenets, however, defy common sense. As The New York Times described his thinking: "Twenty years of study and published research have persuaded Dr. Perricone that wrinkles are not the inevitable outcome of aging, but a reversible result of inflammation -- not the familiar red and swollen inflammation, but a more insidious kind caused by free radicals, renegade atoms that wreak havoc on the body's cells." Perricone told The Washington Post, "Wrinkled, sagging skin is not the inevitable result of growing older." If PBS still had an ounce of its old "educational television" bent, it would have aired other views on Perricone's theory. Instead, "The Wrinkle Cure" came across as a highbrow infomercial. Perricone addressed what certainly appeared to be an uncritical audience of affluent white folk. The audience didn't provide quite as much support as a Home Shopping Network anchor, but then the pledge break anchor all but gave a personal testimonial. I know folks at KQED who see self-help shows such as Perricone's as the equivalent of public television's Most Embarrassing Videos. Perhaps part of the problem is that the Bay Area has four PBS stations. If there were fewer public stations competing for local pledge dollars, maybe KQED wouldn't be reduced to turning into a self-help network to stay afloat. When asked about "The Wrinkle Cure," KQED spokesman Brian Eley replied, "We're only giving out the book and the video. Other PBS stations are giving out the wrinkle-cream kit. And certainly, after all the publicity, I don't think that we'll be doing it." No wonder Jon Carroll slammed "The Winkle Cure" in is column yesterday. But it's not just "The Wrinkle Cure." PBS pledge drives have turned into self-help guru marathons for unhappy people with money. Stations also air "Dr. Wayne Dyer's 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace," "Barbara Sher's Live the Life You Love" and "Suze Orman: The Road to Wealth." This stuff sells. KQED aired "The Wrinkle Cure" Sunday night because it netted donors. Next you can expect: How to attain harmony with your navel while keeping your teen-ager out of the Taliban. Anything but hard news.