Collectively, the cuts, which will not be official until April 25, would strip more than $1 million in federal production aid from PBS shows, which have been hard-pressed for financing in recent years. The money falls under the N.E.A.’s 2012 Arts in Media grant program.
The N.E.A. began notifying applicants by mail late last week of the grant amounts they could expect. According to public television executives apprised of the numbers, who would not speak for attribution because the figures were confidential, “Great Performances” and “American Masters” were told they would receive $50,000 each in the 2012 financing cycle, down from $400,000 each in 2011. The 2011 figures are in the public record.
The independent documentary series “Independent Lens” was told it would get $50,000, down from $170,000, while the documentary series “POV” learned it would receive $100,000, down from $250,000.
Art21, producer of “Art in the Twenty-First Century,” is expecting $200,000, down from the $290,000 in was awarded in 2011 (including money from a separate pool for education grants). KQED in San Francisco, which received $200,000 in 2011 for its PBS music series “Sound Tracks,” was turned down after requesting $350,000, but encouraged to reapply for 2013, KQED officials said. Not every PBS show that requested money has been notified.
Neal Shapiro, president and chief executive of New York public media provider WNET, which produces the biography program “American Masters” and the performing arts show “Great Performances,” called the loss of N.E.A. money “damaging.” He said it was his understanding that the cuts were not definite.
“We are hoping people will look at them and say they are way too severe,” he said. Public television “is the only place you see these things,” he said.
Simon Kilmurry, executive director of American Documentary Inc., which produces “POV,” called the proposed cuts “a huge surprise and a blow to how much we can support filmmakers, and it’s perplexing.”
In a statement, Sally Jo Fifer, the president and chief executive of ITVS, which produces “Independent Lens,” expressed gratitude for past N.E.A. financing.
“We are committed to working with the N.E.A. to identify new opportunities for future support of independents,” she said. “And we trust that the N.E.A. and other funders recognize the unique and vital role that independent filmmakers and public media play together in supporting our democracy.”
Ratings for new episodes of “Independent Lens” declined nearly 40 percent this season after the show was moved to a less prominent slot on the PBS schedule, according to Nielsen ratings. PBS has said it will find a different slot next season. Last year, the N.E.A. distributed $4 million in the Arts on Radio and Television category, about half of it to PBS shows. For 2012, the renamed category was opened to any media platform, including Web and mobile projects, content for theatrical release and digital games.
Public television officials said they had been told the N.E.A. had about 350 applicants this year, compared with about 150 last year, but the amount of money did not change. The category is overseen by Alyce Myatt, a former PBS programming executive who is the N.E.A.’s media arts director.
An N.E.A. spokeswoman said the endowment and Ms. Myatt would not comment until April 25. Susan Sollins, executive director of Art21, said her organization would “have to scramble as a result” of the cuts, noting that other financial backers often take their cues from the N.E.A. in deciding what to support.
But she said: “I don’t think it’s a fault on the N.E.A. side. I think it’s a fault on the Congressional side. The N.E.A. should be funded more amply so it could serve more people.”