She Makes Sure PBS Is Well-Programmed
October 08, 2020
As a teenager, Sylvia Bugg '92 stood in front of her bedroom mirror, holding a brush as if it were a microphone, and recited her book report. She was practicing for her future career as a TV reporter.
Bugg never realized that dream. Instead, she climbed a lot higher.
Bugg has spent most of her 28-year career behind the scenes in public television. In February, she became vice president of programming for the Public Broadcasting Service.
She oversees a content team of seven and approves every new show, from arts to science. "I spend a lot of time screening cuts and programs, looking for those films that resonate, finding that next title we want to produce or commission," Bugg said.
Her previous job, which she'd held since 2014, was vice president of diversity and television content at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the overseer of federal funding for PBS and other public media. Diversity still ranks high among her priorities.
"It's not just what people see on their screen. It's what happens behind the camera. We're bringing more diversity into the pipeline of producers."
Almost immediately after Bugg, 49, got her new job, another issue drove to the top of her agenda: the coronavirus. "Our top concern," she said, "is for the health and wellness and safety of PBS employees."
She's also sought to strike the right balance for viewers. They crave the latest information. But "we don't want to drop everything and do nonstop COVID," said Bugg, who left her Arlington office to work out of her home in Montgomery County, Md., less than a month after she had rejoined PBS. "People are looking for comfort and some sort of normalcy, and we will continue to do that."
Bugg grew up in Brunswick County, two hours west of Norfolk. "Old Dominion felt like a great choice for me," she said. "It wasn't too far from home. It had a good communication program.
"I say to young people, make sure you have that basic foundation. You want to have great writing skills and be a great storyteller. That was something I was grounded in at Old Dominion."
Her first go-round at PBS was from 1993 to 1999. "Each year," Bugg said, "I was able to advance to the next role," rising from administrative assistant to associate director of programming. "I worked with filmmakers to get shows packaged and ready for air. I also may be the only person, outside of Ken Burns and his staff, to watch every single frame of his baseball documentary."
After 13 years at Discovery Communications, Bugg returned to PBS as director of general audience programming. From there, she went to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and came back to PBS this year as vice president. She also is pursuing a doctorate in organizational change and leadership from the University of Southern California.
Bugg is so private, said Barbara Stith '92, a friend since elementary school, that she kept the new job a secret for a while. When Stith learned the news, she wasn't surprised.
"I've never met anyone as focused and determined as she is," said Stith, whose husband, Bryant, is an assistant men's basketball coach at ODU. "She always knew what she wanted. And if she didn't know how to get where she wanted to go, she knew how to network, talk to people, market herself and learn whatever she needed to learn to get there."
From an early age, Bugg said, she was taught: "You get a good job. You get an education, and then you give back." Now, she said, "I think I'm working for a company that does just that."
Read a longer version of this article in the fall issue of Monarch magazine at www.odu.edu/monarchmag