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Greater collaboration in store

Changes at Houston Public Media with layoffs at Channel 8, a big promotion and a new set

News_Channel 8_Red White Blue_Feb 2012
The new set for the Channel 8 public affairs show, Red White & Blue. Courtesy of Houston Public Media
News_Lisa Trapani Shumate
Lisa Trapani Shumate Courtesy of Houston Public Media
News_Channel 8_Red White Blue_Feb 2012
News_Lisa Trapani Shumate

When Lisa Trapani Shumate was named executive director and general manager at Houston Public Media, the umbrella organization that operates PBS affiliate KUHT (Channel 8), news station KUHF-FM (88.7) and classical station KUHA-FM (91.7), big changes were expected to occur.

And they did.

The day before Shumate assumed the job in November, longtime KUHF CEO John Proffitt and Channel 8 general manager John Hesse were relieved of their duties. Since then, things have been relatively quiet at the Melcher Center of Public Broadcasting on the University of Houston campus — until Thursday when 12 employees were laid off at Channel 8, in the areas of production, programming, technology and adminstration.

Shumate declined to divulge names, but it appears on-air personalities were spared the ax.

"Most of the positions were supervisory," Shumate told CultureMap. "(The audience) will continue to see the people (on air) they're used to seeing. It will not affect any of our shows."

However, sources close to the station told CultureMap on Friday that Patricia Gras, host of the Channel 8 show,  Living Smart with Patricia Smart, was among those whose job was terminated. Gras tweeted that she was "laid off Monday along with 11 others at HoustonPBS. I leave a bit of my heart and soul there. Will miss many terribly."

Gras also tweeted that Season 8 of Living Smart will continue to air on the station, with guests like former ABC Good Morning America's Joan Lunden.

Shumate said the cuts were part of the transition of combining the stations under one management structure. 

 "We don't anticipate further cuts," Shumate said. "This is a one-time move we're going to make to align expenses and revenues."

 She also announced that longtime KUHF executive Debra Fraser has been promoted to director of operations and stations manager, overseeing news programming at the television station and two radio stations. A single director of finance and director of strategic advancement over all three stations will be named at a later date.

"We don't anticipate further cuts," Shumate said. "This is a one-time move we're going to make to align expenses and revenues. Now, it will be all about improving what we do across all fronts and ramping up what we do to serve the community."

Schumate anticipates greater collaboration and cross promotions between the PBS television station and the two National Public Radio stations. "We're really excited about the opportunities," she said.

Also on Thursday a new set was unveiled at the taping of the public affairs show, Red White & Blue, hosted by former Harris County Republican Party chairman Gary Polland and Democratic activist David Jones. The episode will air Friday at 7:30 p.m. with new Houston City Council members Jack Christie, Andrew Burks, Jr, and Larry Green as guests.

Schumate said the spruced up set, which was built "on a shoestring," exemplifies Houston Public Media's commitment to public affairs programming. All three stations plan greater coverage in the areas of energy, the arts, health science and education that "mirror what the University of Houston and the city of Houston are all about," she said.

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