Mr Flibble Talks To... Flibble Tuning In
Bill Young is head of programming for KERA in Texas, one of the many PBS stations which broadcast Red Dwarf. Mr Flibble set up a video link to the man who saw one episode of the show and said, 'I'll have that.'
22 December, 2000
Bill Young
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble began by complaining about his repeat fees, but Andrew simply asked for details of KERA's broadcast area...

We actually have the largest geographical coverage of any station in the PBS system. We broadcast to West Texas, east to Louisiana, north to Oklahoma and south to central Texas, so we cover most of what is considered the North Texas region. Overall, I believe its approximately 4 million households.

Can you explain the PBS SYSTEM?

How long is the article?! (Laughs) PBS is a network of individual stations across the country. There are 341 individual PBS stations - Public Broadcasting Service. I guess [it's] the BBC equivalent in the United States. There are 341 individual stations that make up the PBS network. PBS programming makes up about, for KERA, two-thirds of our program schedule. The remaining one-third is what we would acquire individually for our market. Which could be British comedies, it could be movies, it could be independent productions. We could buy something from Channel 4, ITV, independently purchase from the BBC, whomever. Anything over and above the straight PBS programming.

Does any of the standard PBS programming come from the UK - and does any of it feature a highly talented penguin?

A lot of PBS programming comes from the BBC also. A lot of the natural history programs come from the BBC, and the drama output - coming up this spring Gormenghast is on PBS. Things like The Buccaneers, Moll Flanders. PBS will work with the BBC on our behalf, and then we can also purchase, through our sales people, British comedy, documentary or anything that doesn't come through PBS.

A lot of what you look for is tailored to the individual markets. So whereas we broadcast approximately ten hours a week of British comedy, another station may only broadcast one hour. It's what suits their market.

Do you receive donations to fund the shows you buy in?

50% of our money comes directly from viewers' membership. Since it's non-commercial, 50% of the money will come from people sending in [money] in support of their favourite programs. Three times a year we have pledge drives. So you'll run special programs - we may do a marathon of Red Dwarf episodes - and hopefully everybody who's a viewer of Red Dwarf will call in and support it.

We may offer, as thank-you gifts, books that are available or VHS tapes, things like that. Usually what you try and do during these campaigns is bring out new programs in a series, because that's going to be a bigger selling point to get people to watch.

Mr Flibble said he thought showing his episode would be enough to have the cash rolling in. But then he would. Have all RED DWARF episodes been shown on KERA?

Yes. We started pretty close to the beginning, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1992, 93. It has literally been on since then, without being off. It runs on a weekly basis, and now there are 52 episodes you can literally run it for an entire year without having repeat broadcasts. You usually just turn it around and run it again, it's immensely popular.

Have you been using the new re-mastered versions of series I-III?

Yes, we started right when they first came out, with the pitch of the 'new wooshy noises.' I thought, 'That'll work. That'll sell it right there.' (Laughs) We finished the series at the beginning of the summer, in June, and then started over from the beginning.

What persuaded you to pick up the show in the first place?

We originally did not pick up the series until the third season. Unfortunately it's very difficult here - when you have just 12 episodes of a series - for people to get into it. So we really don't get the opportunity to broadcast a series until there's at least two seasons. The first show I saw was the first episode of the third series, the Backwards episode. I just had tears in my eyes, I could not stop laughing.

We had just come off a number of years of running Dr Who and Blake's 7, so we had a pretty significant science-fiction audience and were looking for something new. For a while we didn't have a time-slot for it because what we were doing was very soft - it was Good Neighbours, To The Manor Born, Reginald Perrin. To come out of that and you go right into Red Dwarf would probably have been a shock to the viewers.

But after I saw the Backwards episode, I was just, 'I don't care where this goes, I have to find a time slot for this - regardless of what the viewers think!' (Laughs) It has done extremely well.

Always one to court controversy, Mr Flibble asked about TIKKA TO RIDE the RDVII series opener about the Kennedy assassination...

We knew that the seventh series was coming out, and it actually coincided with one of the pledge periods, so I believe the entire series was going to run in one night. I didn't know anything about the episode listings, I just knew they were new shows.

I guess it was the day before we were set to broadcast it, our sales person, Julius, called and said, 'You may want to take a look at episode one.' 'Because it will mean a lot to the people in Dallas,' was the way he put it. I watched it, and I have to say I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen.

I really didn't know how it would go over. You run the episode, and the pledge break after it is about 10 minutes long. So you're standing up there, talking about Red Dwarf, with a phone number on the screen inviting people to call - it was just a match made in heaven for people to call and complain!

And it was singularly probably the best pledge break we've ever had around Red Dwarf! A couple of Dallas policemen called, they said they thought it was very funny. We had one phone call, a gentleman phoning to complain about the episode - but the only thing that he complained about was when they barbecued a dead body! He thought that was disgusting, that they would eat another human being. No problem with the JFK aspect, coming back and shooting himself.

Roast human? Mr Flibble said he would rather eat a nice bit of crab, before asking about the POPULARITY of Red Dwarf on KERA...

It's one of the series that has never generated any complaints! There's the group that hates Are You Being Served and doesn't want it on any more, but then you get the group that loves Are You Being Served and [says] 'never take it off'; there's the group that hates 'Allo 'Allo. But Red Dwarf has never generated a comment of, 'I just don't like it. Please take it off.'

The success of that has driven our broadcast of Robot Wars. The awareness of Craig Charles really made [that happen] - I thought Robot Wars was fabulous, just a lot of fun. That became a success because of the success of Red Dwarf, really.

What else is shown with it?

It runs on Saturday nights in our British comedy block, and right now the programmes before and after it are Robot Wars and Blackadder.

Are you a fan of the show yourself?

Absolutely. After watching television all day, there are very few things that I want to go home and watch. But I'm not going anywhere on Saturday's until Red Dwarf is over.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Bill Young, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.