- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Public Broadcasting Service plans to run arts programming on Friday nights for nine straight weeks starting in October to highlight a subject where it can offer something different, network executives said Monday.

The programming will include a special on female rock ‘n’ rollers, an exploration of American roots music narrated by Steve Martin called “Give Me the Banjo,” and a San Francisco ballet performance of “The Little Mermaid.”

Although “American Idol” and similar performance shows remain popular on broadcast TV, relatively few outlets show the breadth of arts that PBS is planning, PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said. Cable networks that once were devoted to the arts, such as Bravo and A&E, now focus primarily on other programming.

“We constantly look at what areas are being underrepresented,” Mrs. Kerger said. “From my perspective, the arts is really at the top of the list.”

The Friday night arts festival will be a collection of new programming and PBS’ “Great Performances” series. Putting them all on the same night will help viewers who have had trouble finding some of the network’s arts programming, she said.

“For many of our viewers, finding our arts coverage is kind of a serendipity,” she said. “You have to be in the right place at the right time.”

The festival will include documentaries and short films about the arts scenes in Miami, San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago and other areas. PBS is encouraging its member stations to develop local arts programming to go with the feature.

Like the commercial broadcast networks, which release their fall schedules next week, PBS is outlining its fall plans. Mrs. Kerger said viewership is up by an average of 8 percent this season. Some shows, such as “Nova,” have had a marked viewership increase.

The fall season will kick off in October with a documentary on the Prohibition era by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. In November, “Nova” presents a four-part miniseries on space called “The Fabric of the Cosmos.”

After “Nova” moved successfully to Wednesday nights this season, PBS said it will be paired on Wednesdays with the show “Nature.”

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