Upfront: Non-fiction news

May 1, 1998

-ARTE joins the soap and tech fray

French/German pubcaster arte has plans for ten 5 x 26-minute docu-soaps, starting January ’99. Christoph Jšrg, deputy director of thematic evenings, is commissioning half the programs in the new strand, with Kornelia Theune handling the others out of Strasbourg. Jšrg says 12-14 French and German indie production companies will receive about 50,000 francs development money to allow directors to take their cameras out in the streets in pursuit of potential subjects.

Each of the ten shows selected will likely be programmed over the course of a week (Monday to Friday). The soaps are being produced with arte as the target, but outside money may be sought to boost quality, allowing for a longer, more intensive edit. The French channel wants to be sure the soaps don’t blend into one another. ‘What is important,’ explains Jšrg, ‘is that the logic always stays with the soap.’ In other words, a strong storyline – like a real (re: drama) soap. One idea is following church-bound couples through the ultimate soap story: the wedding.

In other arte news, the broadcaster is developing a digital science and technology channel, Eureka, to launch at the end of the year, in partnership with La Cinquime, the French educational broadcaster. The merger between La Sept/arte and La Cinquime has been confirmed by Madame Catherine Trautman, the minister of culture, pending approval by Parliament in early 1999. gk

-Associated and Yorkshire join forces

Toronto’s Associated Producers and London-based producer/broadcaster Yorkshire Television have signed a joint-venture agreement for an exclusive first look at each other’s projects. Budgets for coproductions will be split between the two, but there are no volume quotas in the deal. ap partner Simcha Jacobovici says the deal will be ‘driven by creativity, not by stats,’ but volume will undoubtedly rise.

The back-to-back Emmy Award-winning Associated Producers is currently winning global acclaim for its most recent film, Hollywoodism. bc

-PBS closes its L.A. office

Citing the keyword of the 90s – ‘restructuring’ – pbs closed its Los Angeles press office at the end of last month. ‘The press and people in the industry will be well served by the New York office,’ says office director Lance Webster, who plans to focus on freelance work and hopes to market his seminar on public broadcasting in cities across the u.s.

Both Webster, who has run the office for five years, and assistant, Ken Estep, who has worked there for 18 months, are leaving on amicable terms. ‘pbs is taking good care of us,’ says Webster, who is also a board member of the International Documentary Association. ‘There’s no hard feelings.’

The l.a. office was set up nearly 12 years ago, and Webster says it’s long been a challenge to justify its existence. He figures pbs will save about us$250,000 a year. jk

-MIPDOC reaction: pros and cons

While most sellers and buyers were still in the throes of market follow-up at press time, feedback from participants in the first mipdoc market was consistent: costly, but promising.

‘It’s a positive thing that an event has been born out of our specific genre,’ said Andy Goodsir, vp of sales and marketing at British Pathe. ‘That’s got to be good news for us. If it did attract more buyers, if more of them screen more programs in completion, then we might have a success on our hands.’ Like Goodsir, who had at least one direct sale as a result of mipdoc, the majority of attendees were still on the fence, reserving their conclusions until follow-up was completed.

On the other hand, there was grumbling about the extra us$2500 registration fee, and most attendees resented the extra time spent away from the office, subjected to Canne’s ‘extortionate’ prices.

Many distributors also claimed to see more press present than buyers, noting that those who did make an appearance left miptv early. zdf president, Alexander Coridass was less than enthusiastic. ‘Our buyers and sellers weren’t happy with mipdoc, it was very unfriendly.’

dci made a mark at mip with its new policy of making immediate decisions on acquisitions. dci sent evaluation personnel to the market so they could give projects the thumbs up within the day, rather than wade through a mountain of cassettes afterwards. bc

-Deathbed Controversy: The Human Body features death – live

A cancer victim’s last moments will air in the u.k. on The Human Body, a seven-part bbc science-unit series exploring the evolution, development and function of the human body. Presented by Lord Robert Winston, a professor of fertility studies at London’s Hammersmith Hospital, the series, a coproduction with tlc in the u.s., begins airing in the u.k. this month.

The budget is reported to be in excess of £200,000 per hour. To date, The Human Body has been pre-sold to broadcast outlets in Europe, Australia and the Far East, among other regions. It’s set to air in the u.s. in 1999.

‘Since the series follows a young woman experiencing puberty, a couple going through pregnancy, an aging couple and many other things, we wanted to follow a dying person,’ says exec producer Alan Bookbinder. ‘Naturally, we realized that the issue would have to be handled with the utmost care and sensitivity, so we needed someone who actively wanted to be filmed. In addition, we had to be certain that the person’s relatives were equally enthusiastic about the program.’

The episode was filmed with the consent of the cancer victim, known only as Paul, and his wife. Due to air mid-June, the program shows Paul dying peacefully at home in a close-knit rural community, with his wife at his side.

‘Some people will find this program too distressing to watch,’ says Bookbinder. ‘So, through prior advisory warnings, we are going to make sure that everyone fully understands the nature of this episode. At the same time, we hope that those who do watch the episode will gather strength from Paul’s experience and understand that death and dying doesn’t have to be filled with pain, fear and visceral horror.’ simon bacal

For the Record…

-Carlton & Dick Clark to cook up U.S. docu-soap

As predicted, the u.k. docu-soap trend is spreading stateside. Carlton Television has landed its first u.s. network slot, on abc, with a one-off special based on its popular Neighbours From Hell series. The special, produced in association with l.a.-based Dick Clark Productions, may extend into a series if numbers warrant. dcp and Carlton have entered into a venture to develop other docu-soap concepts for the u.s. market.

-FilmRoos alive and kicking

Reports of the demise of l.a.-based production company FilmRoos are premature, according to company spokesperson Rebecca Fry. The doc prodco recently pulled the plug on the In Search of History series for the History Channel, resulting in lay-offs. Fry explains FilmRoos dumped the daily show strictly for economic reasons, and plans to focus on producing specials.

In the works is History of Christianity, 4 x 1 hours for a&e, and Top Secret, 3 x 1 hours, narrated by Johnny Depp for Discovery. jk

-Canal+ digital at 1.5 million

The Canal+ Group reached the 1.5 million subscriber mark for its digital services last month. That figure includes: 860,000 in France, 412,000 in Spain and 265,000 in Italy.

-NOVA wins science award

pbs’ nova and primatologist Jane Goodall are the first-ever recipients of the National Science Board’s Public Service Award for contributions to public understanding of science and engineering. Established in 1996, the award will be presented each May to an individual and an organization who excel in either of the two fields. Produced by the Science Unit at Boston-based wgbh, nova will be beginning its 25th year on pbs.

People on the move

-To facilitate the new partnership, dci has appointed Bob Wise to the newly created position of senior vp, Discovery/ BBC Ventures. Wise was previously senior vp, operations and administration, and deputy to the president, Discovery Networks, U.S.

-Replacing Bob Wise is former vp of shared program services, Jo Ann Burton. Her new title is senior vp, operations and administration for Discovery Networks, U.S.

-National Geographic Channels Worldwide has named Lawrence R. Meli to the newly created position of senior vp of programming operations. Meli served as a business development consultant to ngcw since January 1997 through his Program Syndication Consultants firm. Prior to that, Meli was general manager of New England Cable News, a 24-hour news channel.

-Lia Tysdal has been named vp, network distribution of affiliate sales and marketing for Discovery in the U.S. Tysdal was formerly vp of satellite and commercial markets for The Golf Channel. Previously, she was director of sales and marketing for the Playboy Entertainment Group.

-espn has named Dick Glover executive vp of programming. Glover was previously senior vp, ESPN Enterprises. Also at espn, it was announced that Judy Fearing will assume the added responsibilities of brand management and business development. Fearing is currently the senior vp, marketing.

-dci has appointed Jessica Algazi vp, business affairs, specializing in coproduction, acquisition and commissioning arrangements for all of the dci networks. Algazi was previously vp of business affairs at mgm’s International Television Distribution arm.

-Worldvision Enterprises, a division of Spelling Entertainment Group, has appointed Lesley Drukker and Charles Farmer as directors of sales for the company’s London office. Prior to joining Worldvision, Drukker was a senior sales executive for Turner International and a sales consulatant for Warner Bros. Since 1990, Farmer had been the international sales executive for London’s Primetime Television.

Also see:

-Nat Geo and Carlton: 300 new hours

-Hewlett snags Dale for C4

-Discovery/ZDF: Programming and copro agreement part of slate of DCI announcements

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.