How PBS is getting a younger, cooler audience with these viral videos

Pbs bill murray blank on blankPBS Digital StudiosThe newest episode of ‘Blank on Blank’ features a 1988 interview with Bill Murray.

Bill Murray’s admission that he built his career “on being an obnoxious guy and making it seem charismatic” could’ve been lost forever. Instead, a PBS digital series repackaged the archival interview, and it’s being discovered by an audience that’s younger than the network is used to.

“Blank on Blank” takes old audio interviews and gives them new life through animation. A PBS Digital Studios series that has been featured on mother channel PBS as interstitial programming between shows, the videos have begun to go viral.

“It’s just a little different,” “Blank on Blank” creator David Gerlach told Business Insider. “And it ends up in different spaces and different people consume it.”

In fact, PBS is finding that its website is drawing younger audiences overall than the broadcast network. More than 80% of viewers are under 35, and nearly half are under age 25, according to YouTube data from PBS. Looking at full-day broadcast viewership for PBS, only 35% of the audience is between 18 to 49 years old.

David Gerlach Headshot 20141025PBSIn 2012, David Gerlach left his job in TV news to create ‘Blank on Blank.’

Reporters typically use a small fraction of recorded interviews for stories. A former journalist, Gerlach saw that as an opportunity.

“I always thought there was this cultural, historic recording gold just sitting there, waiting to be heard,” he said. “And it stayed in the back of my head… I watched as YouTube videos and poor-quality videos were showing up, but if it was good material, people would engage with it, so I knew that even if an interview was recorded by someone on a microcassette player or a phone or MiniDisc, if it had value, impact, it still could be powerful, and it just kind of grew from there.”

In 2012, Gerlach left the news business, started his production company Quoted Studios, and developed the idea into “Blank on Blank” along with PBS Digital Studios. More than 40 episodes and 7 million views later, the series has captured rare (and sometimes wacky) interviews with Dolly Parton, Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Patty Hearst, among many others.

In the case of Murray’s interview, journalist T.J. English recorded it circa 1988 in the comedian’s backyard at his New Jersey home for Irish America Magazine.

“It’s like vintage Murray,” said Gerlach, who explained that each “Blank on Blank” takes a month to produce. “It’s kind of self-deprecating, but also introspective and funny, and it’s just why people love him and get inspiration from him. It’s cool. It was a lot of fun, and then his dog chases him around during the interview and stuff. We had fun with it animation-wise. We sprinkled in some of his characters from various films for our own amusement and whatnot. It was cool to put together.”

Watch Bill Murray’s episode of “Blank on Blank” below:

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