The Intern Angle: PBS KIDS Programming with Linda Simensky

Posted by Taylor Berglund | SPI Intern | PBS Digital on
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The PBS summer interns have a unique opportunity to interact with, and learn from, a vast array of PBS staff from different departments and backgrounds. In this new series, SPI intern Taylor Berglund profiles these PBS staff members and shares his takeaways.

 “You guys are having a true PBS experience today.”
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Linda Simensky, PBS KIDS
As interns grabbed space along the window ledge, pleased just to find a seat in the packed conference room, Linda Simensky – VP of Children’s Programming at PBS – fumbled with a particularly difficult PowerPoint. She ultimately conceded, to the room’s laughter, “Calling for help is also a big part. You call office services… and they save you. It’s a very PBS experience.”
 
Once that was taken care of, Linda explained her history to us. She decided at the early age of two that she wanted to work in cartoons. She interned for Nickelodeon, worked briefly at Showtime, returned to Nickelodeon, and later worked at Cartoon Network. The moral of this story? “If you have some weird interest, don’t hide it. Go find a job in it.”
 
Yet Linda pointed out that becoming a mom prompted a paradigm shift for her; she realized that she didn’t want her son watching the shows she was creating. She asked herself, “What if I made shows that were meaningful?” When her son started watching PBS, Linda took notice and developed some strong opinions on the network’s programming slate. She went to a PBS job interview mostly to share her insights: “As a mom and a programmer, you [PBS] have a history – Electric Company, Sesame Street – of educational shows, and you’re not living up to it.” She was as surprised as anyone when PBS actually offered her a job.
 
So what does Linda’s current job look like? She helps develop PBS Kids’ programming slate, and every new show sinceCurious George has gone through her. She is often “the first audience” that these shows will ever have, and uses that position to give them feedback and act as an editor. She protects the station’s image by being selective about what shows get picked up for PBS Kids. Great characters, great stories, creative designs, age appropriateness, real world applications, and a personal touch (where the show was made by a creator, not a committee) are all essential ingredients to a PBS show.
 
Moreover, Linda keeps in mind the importance of the local stations, pointing out that she won’t pick up a show unless she can stand behind it 100% when pitching it to the local stations. Any PBS Kids show “must delight programmers at the station.” And above all, she’s a strong advocate for the power of public media to transform communities, explaining, “If we’re not innovative or pushing TV forward, we’re not fulfilling public television’s duty. Lyndon Johnson would be sad.”

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