For years, PBS has put forth the idea that it's too high-brow for commercials. Ads have been creeping onto the network in the pre-show sponsor acknowledgements you don't watch, but starting this fall programs will feature in-episode breaks for promotional messages.

The New York Times reports that at its recent annual meeting, PBS revealed that in a few months Nature and Nova will start running messages from sponsors at four points during the shows. If this new model is successful, it will be introduced to other programs as well.

Executives say the change is necessary because no one is watching the sponsor messages between programs that can run to nearly eight minutes. John F. Wilson, the chief programming executive for PBS, explains, "It's almost as if someone pulled the fire alarm and they scrambled for the exits." Or someone put up the "time to pee" sign and everyone meandered into their bathroom. This also means fewer people stick around for the following program. Taking a cue from cable, the new format will feature no breaks between shows.

Wilson argues that this doesn't mean PBS has totally gone commercial because its shows will still be, "the longest hour in television in terms of content. No break will be longer than two minutes, and shows will run at least 54 minutes per hour, which is much longer than the 40 minute average on commercial TV.

The network is meeting with some concerned producers this week, and says some shows may be exempt from the new system. "I'd look really carefully at a ‘Masterpiece' drama, at how we'd do that or how often we'd do that," Wilson says. For now, viewers who like their British period dramas uninterrupted can breathe easier. However, the new policy still represents a major shift at the network. While many viewers have come to see PBS as a place to seek refuge from squalking commercial breaks, it seems that eventually kids will know that Sesame Street is brought to them by more than the letter "D" and the number "10."

PBS Plans Promotional Breaks Within Programs [NYT]