American Realities on Public Television: Analysis of Independent Television Service’s Independent Documentaries, 2007–2016

Caty Borum Chattoo, Patricia Aufderheide, Michele Alexander, Chandler Green


Fifty years after the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act, this study examines the way in which TV documentaries produced by the Independent Television Service (ITVS)—the largest public funder and coproducer of independent documentaries in the U.S. public broadcasting system—represent the America they are mandated to portray. The study examines the geographic, demographic, and topical diversity of ITVS documentaries against U.S. Census and polling data. Using quantitative content analysis of ITVS film archival data, this study of a decade (2007–16) of U.S. public television documentaries (N = 342) shows that the representation of American realities on public TV broadly reflects U.S. Census demographics and Americans’ social concerns, as reflected in a decade (2007–16) of aggregated Gallup monthly “Most Important Problem [Facing the Country Today]” poll data. ITVS-funded filmmakers are disproportionately female and diverse, and they come from 33 states and the District of Columbia. Films portray life in all quadrants of the United States, in both rural and urban communities. These public TV documentaries represent a geographically, racially, and ethnically diverse America.


public broadcasting, television, diversity, representation, documentary

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