Local PBS Cancels ‘Real Orange,’ OC’s Main TV News Show

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Orange County’s 3.1 million residents will soon be losing their only network television news program.

PBS SoCaL’s long-running public affairs show, “Real Orange,” is set to air its last episode by the end of the year, a station spokeswoman told the Orange County Business Journal this week.

It’s not yet clear what will replace the show nor how much coverage Orange County will get. The spokeswoman said the move comes as part of an effort to “help move PBS SoCal forward and strengthen the value of the programming that we provide to Southern California.”

The cancellation comes two years after the Orange County-based channel, formerly known as KOCE, became the main PBS station for the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Given its close proximity to Los Angeles’ massive television market, Orange County has long been considered vastly underserved when it comes to local broadcast news.

A recent grand jury report concluded that the low volume of TV and radio coverage has enabled government corruption to go largely unnoticed by the public.

“Orange County is the sixth largest populated county in the United States yet it lives in the shadow of Los Angeles County,” the panel wrote. “The lack of radio and television networks covering metropolitan Orange County allows incidents of corruption to simmer below the surface of public awareness.”

Grand jurors cited examples where a greater amount of broadcast news coverage would have helped hold government accountable, including generating a more rigorous debate around the alleged sexual assault of county workers by former executive Carlos Bustamante:

“Maybe … a talk show host would have discussed at length an Orange County Public Works sex scandal and the manner in which county leaders handled the investigation. Public debate may have centered on misfeasance by human resources personnel or the practice of protectionism, scapegoating and abuse of power at the highest levels of county government.”

On its own, Orange County's television market would be nearly as large as San Diego County's, which has about 26 hours of local television news each weekday across six channels, according to their websites.

With the end of "Real Orange," Orange County will have no broadcast TV shows devoted to covering its public affairs other than student broadcasts and programs run by government agencies and cable companies.

Orange County was once considered to be at the forefront of local broadcast news.

The OC Newschannel, launched in 1990, was one of the America’s first regional 24-hour news channels.

But it shut down in 2001 amid claims of mismanagement by owner Adelphia Communications.

KOCE launched "Real Orange" in 1997, and over the years the show has covered numerous election campaigns, community debates and corruption scandals.

It saw significant budget cuts in 1999, and the show was scaled down in 2009 from five nights a week to two.

That reduction involved laying off two full-time employees, cutting the hours of other full-time workers and dismissing all part-timers and freelancers, according to news reports.

The show has had a steady presence on local airwaves since then.

Among its reporting on local politics, the show featured a monthly public policy debate, titled “Issues & Analysis,” where local political observers tackle pressing local issues.

Recent discussions centered on a proposed ban on beach bonfire rings, a congressional election and an FBI inquiry into a county elected official.

Through a ramped-up partnership with the station, Voice of OC has been producing a regular segment on the show since January.

The two newsrooms also teamed up recently for an investigation into a planned trucking center that was pitched to Cypress voters as senior housing.

"Real Orange" is hosted by anchors Ed Arnold and Ann Pulice, whose jobs will be eliminated, the business journal reported. Additionally, an unnamed producer and two part-timers are set to be laid off, with the rest of the staff reassigned within the station.

KNX 1070 traffic anchor Pat Haslam produces a weekly transportation segment, producer Maria Hall-Brown reports on on arts and culture and Chapman University professor Pete Weitzner anchors a business roundup.

Reporter David Nazar covers politics and government.  The show is produced by Mike Taylor, the station's news director.

Real Orange's cancelation comes amid a greater emphasis at the station on the Los Angeles market.

The station plans to open a new facility in downtown Los Angeles and recently rebranded its “PBS OC” subchannel as PBS SoCaL Plus.

The end of "Real Orange" will, for now, largely leave Orange County’s public affairs TV coverage to Los Angeles-based stations facing intense competition for viewers.

Other than the LA stations, the county also has government-run news programs in Garden Grove, Los Alamitos and other western Orange County cities.

Some local public affairs shows are run by Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications, whose local operating licenses are subject to approval by the city and county officials who are interviewed on their programs.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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