TV Makeover

Twin Cities Public Television CEO Jim Pagliarini on his station’s facelift

Jim Pagliarini has Mr. Rogers to thank for reeling him into the world of public broadcasting. While studying biology at Princeton University in the early 1970s, he became intrigued with the soft-spoken host and his children’s show. That interest eventually led to Pagliarini getting his master’s in educational media from Temple University and taking a job with PBS in San Jose, California. In 1982, at age 27, he built a station in Reno, Nevada. Fifteen years ago, he came to Twin Cities Public Television in downtown St. Paul, and has since helped guide the station through the ever-changing world of media consumption. The next 10 years, he says, will contain some of the biggest changes TPT has faced yet.

How has public television—speacifically TPT—evolved since its inception?

I think of TPT as having gone through three major transformations. Stage one was as educational television in 1957, which basically involved putting a camera in front of a teacher in a classroom. Stage two was during the late ’60s and early ’70s, when both TPT and PBS broadened their scope from being education television to being public television, covering the arts, making documentaries, and getting involved in civic engagement. This third transformation is being public media, where television is just one of the channels we have at our disposal. We’re building the muscles of the organization to be as effective with new media tools as we have been with television.

How have you been doing that?

We’re developing new content and service strategies to come alongside the television programming. That includes working with other nonprofit media organizations, developing content for our 50-plus and children’s audiences, and what we’re currently calling the NetGen Initiative.

Who’s covered in that category?

Basically, it’s people who, other than connecting with us as parents, perhaps, aren’t particularly engaged in the work we’re doing.

How are you attempting to get them involved?

We’re looking beyond just making content for them. We want to bring that generation—the digital natives—into TPT to help define what public media is going to look like for them. That includes a shift of leadership, and us saying to them, “Embrace the values, the mission, the purpose of what we do, but change how we do it to be more relevant to your generation.”

What has that led to so far?

Two of the best examples are MN Original (TPT’s weekly arts series highlighting Minnesota artists, arts organizations, and venues), which has been going on since 2009, and Lowertown Line, our new music pilot. It premiered December 31, featured Trampled by Turtles, was hosted by Dessa, and had a live studio audience. It’s loosely modeled after PBS’s Austin City Limits (the longest-running music program in TV history).

If the next generation isn’t currently interested in what’s happening with public television, how and why would these things sway them?

Television is exciting. The first step is to get them in the door and have them participate in what we’re doing. Just like a live concert is different than listening to a recording, being involved with television live is different than watching it at home.  

How will you get them to come?

By opening our doors—literally. Part of our plan is a complete renovation of our building. We’re adding windows, moving the entrance from the skyway to the street level, and remodeling our lobby to make it a place where the community can participate with and share their work with a broader audience. We want the building to be a physical expression of our new message: Our doors are open.

That seems to reflect the change—in attitude and construction—going on throughout a lot of the Lowertown neighborhood right now: the Depot reopening, the Central Corridor extension, the new Saints stadium.

Definitely. Especially with the renovated Depot and the new ballpark, there’s going to be an explosion of life in this neighborhood. And the fact that we are literally at the end of the light rail affords us a unique opportunity to engage lots of people to be a part of TPT. In 10 years, there are going to be more restaurants, more bars, and more excitement, and we want to be an anchor tenant in the redevelopment and revitalization of Lowertown.

Ellen Burkhardt is an associate editor for Minnesota Monthly