Special Report for MIPDOC: ABC/Kane

March 1, 1998


A MIP of its own: Golden Age or Fleeting Frenzy for Non-Fiction?

Like its kiddie cousin, non-fiction now has a market of its own in mipdoc. Dedicating two days of screenings, meetings and greetings prior to miptv, Reed Midem has officially bought into the idea that this is, indeed, a Golden Age for documentaries. Gaggles of sellers and buyers will be hitting the Hotel Martinez (in the daytime, even), hoping to cash in on this widely heralded boom. On the trail of the cable explosion, new global links for production and distribution, and an ever-changing, ever-expanding definition of what’s in the genre and what’s out, RealScreen goes tri-continental and quinti-national and asks five very different Cannes-bound production companies: ‘Is this golden, or what?’


Even for a blue-chip natural-history veteran like ten-year-old ABC/Kane, the cable boom hasn’t left it laughing all the way to the bank. Two years ago, ABC/Kane, a partnership between former National Geographic Television executive producer Dennis Kane and ABC Television, found itself having to justify its existence in a corporate game of mergers and acquisitions. Disney’s us$19 billion takeover of abc’s assets meant changes to the parent, but left the bi-coastal u.s. production company untouched.

What appealed to Disney was ABC/Kane’s programming versatility, especially its expertise in natural history. ABC’s World of Discovery was the network’s flagship blue-chip natural-history series, with 29 episodes and yearly specials that continue to be produced. Disney had been built on animated features and nature programming, but let the latter fall off in favor of the former. ABC/Kane offered an opportunity to reclaim lost ground.

ABC/Kane had been distributed by ABC Video Publishing and ABC Distribution, along with subsidiary Washington-based, Devillier Donegan. Disney axed the two internal divisions in favor of Mousecorp’s distribution arm, BuenaVista International. dde was spared a similar fate, thanks to a documentary expertise bvi lacked. dde now distributes all of ABC/Kane’s product, except for the few areas where bvi’s influence is stronger.

With survival assured, ABC/Kane has a full slate in development, including six one-offs for Discovery and tlc (on everything from tattoos to Fort Knox). Germany’s rtl is interested in three more episodes of Mysterious Worlds, which it coproduced with tlc last year. Discussions are underway with ngt for four 20-hour series for its u.s. launch. Confirmation should come within the next three months, and a firm deal would see ABC/Kane doubling its L.A. staff.

Mousecorp has turned to ABC/Kane for programming on its Animal Kingdom (a park three times the size of the Magic Kingdom, rumored to cost us$2billion), which opens in Orlando this April. This will include 13 half-hours on the making of the park for Disney Channel, four half-hours for Disney Educational and an infomercial.

However, the most important iron ABC/Kane has in the coals now is The Living Edens. Coproduced with bbc, Edens was an immediate success with domestic broadcaster pbs. After having seen only rough cuts of the first four, it exercised its right for eight more episodes on top of the 12 already contracted. With four hours delivered annually at up to a million dollars each, production will continue to the turn of the century. The budget is split between pbs, with bbc and dde picking up the other half.

The case of Edens highlights the difference between broadcasters. Cablecasters prefer magazine-style – cheap and quick – and won’t get involved with a million-dollar production. ‘You know how much money they’re going to bring to the table, so some projects you don’t even take to them,’ explains director of administration and business affairs, William Larkin. ‘It’s either too expensive, or it’s not their cup of tea.’

While ABC/Kane can swallow a quarter-million dollars on a show destined for cable, recouping it at the international market, series like The Living Edens require partners up-front. On top of the usual suspects, ABC/Kane has started exploring the possibility of new partnerships with smaller companies, such as United Entertainment, Unapix, Hit Entertainment and Cambium, in order to find new revenue streams for high-end productions.

Available at the market will be the four newest episodes of The Living Edens, two new Mysterious Worlds, and two new ABC’s World of Discovery specials.

Also in this report:

-Germany: Egoli Films

-Australia’s Emerald Films

-France: Gedeon Films

-U.K.: Lamancha Productions

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.