In recent weeks, I have received a number of queries like this one:
I have heard a very disturbing rumor that you may be discontinuing your show. I hope the rumor is false. Will you be continuing your program? We're big fans and would really miss you
. — Jim Watts
Here is the situation:
"A Way with Words" has not been canceled, but in February I resigned as cohost because of a contract dispute with management. They handed me a contract that was deeply flawed and they flatly refused to discuss its terms. They gave me an ultimatum—sign it as is or "KPBS will consider our relationship with you terminated"—so I resigned in protest.
The contract's two chief problems, which could have easily been rectified had they been willing to talk, were that it lacked an expiration date and it contained a line giving KPBS the unclarified and unqualified "right to distribute the program in other markets outside of the San Diego broadcast market." This was a most puzzling and troubling clause given that last fall management had sent us a letter, quite out of the blue, stating that they no longer were interested in pursuing syndication of the show—something that for more than two years they had continually claimed they were eager to do.
Richard Lederer, for his own private reasons, decided to sign the contract and preserve his relationship with KPBS. Management decided to continue producing the show with two hosts, so they are currently looking for someone to replace me. In the meantime, they are airing reruns. Their official spin regarding my departure is that I left "to pursue other interests." Now you know the truth.
I should underscore that this dispute had nothing to do with money; I made more in royalties last year from just one of my books than I did producing 26 installments of the show. This dispute was about unclear language, unfair treatment, and station management's blundering, bullying behavior. When they gave me the ultimatum I asked myself, "If you capitulate and sign this contract, how are you going to feel the next time there's a pledge drive and you have to ask listeners to give money to KPBS?" I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a quisling or a hypocrite.
I spent five and a half joyous years with "A Way with Words." It was a labor of love. I loved creating the show and I loved working with Richard and producers Stefanie Levine and Jill Fritz—all wonderful, talented, hardworking people. I loved the show's intelligent, inquiring audience, and I will be ever grateful for their keen enthusiasm for language and loyal support.
I wish things hadn't turned out this way, but they did, and I did what I felt was right. Thank you for being a fan of "A Way with Words." I will miss you too.
As John Ciardi used to say, good words to you.
Charles Harrington Elster
May 27, 2004