Up Front: Non-fiction News

New BBC Broadcast doc & features head: Root opts for insider, Nicola Moody...
June 1, 1998

New BBC Broadcast doc & features head: Root opts for insider, Nicola Moody

The BBC Broadcast directorate’s head of independent commissioning, Jane Root, has given up her search for a head of factual programmes. Instead she has appointed an insider, Nicola Moody, to the post of head of documentaries and features. Root herself will continue to double up as factual boss.

Root’s decision to promote Moody comes after an industry sweep that began before Christmas. In the last two years, Root’s Independent Commissioning Group has grown in significance as a channel for factual indie producers to navigate the BBC’s complex commissioning structure. Currently it has more than 30 factual projects in production. High-profile commissions include Stephen Hawking’s Universe.

Andy Fry

ITC knocks ITV again – reports a ‘marked decline’ in factual production

The U.K.’s leading commercial broadcaster, ITV, cut its independent commissions by 20% in 1997, according to figures from industry regulator, the Independent Television Commission. The main victims of the cuts were current affairs, factual, religious and kids’ programs.

The ITC analysis came as part of its annual review of broadcast-license holders’ performances in 1997. It spoke of a ‘marked decline’ which has seen non-regional independent productions fall from 35% of the total ITV supply, to 28%. In the U.K., there is a legal requirement that at least 25% of programming must come from independents.

Critics of ITV have long claimed that powerful in-house program departments at Granada and Carlton have been pressuring ITV to increase their own contributions to the network’s schedule at the expense of smaller indies. However, the ITV Network Center, which makes all commissioning decisions, stresses that it picks the programs likely to perform best in the schedule regardless of where they come from.

The itc stopped short of criticizing ITV for the decline in indie commissions. It appears that the new ITV commissioning team, headed by David Liddiment, has been given a period of time in which to address the decline which occurred under his predecessors.

The ITC said it its review: ‘We have been assured that the decline will be reversed. The ITV Network Centre has made clear to the itc its own commitment to facilitate independent commissions.’

In a separate development, the ITC has relaxed its restrictions on programs which carry the names of periodical magazines. Last year, it ruled that only cable and satellite channels could produce programs with names such as GQ, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. After keeping the situation under review, however, the ITC has decided that so-called `masthead programs’ will now also be allowed on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

Andy Fry

U.K. paper calls Carlton doc ‘fake’: The Guardian pokes holes in The Connection

One of the U.K.’s leading investigative newspapers, The Guardian, has alleged that an award-winning Carlton documentary is ‘a fake.’

The Guardian claims to have uncovered ‘widespread deception’ in the making of a film for ITV called The Connection, which deals with the smuggling of heroin from Columbia into the U.K. The film picked up a total of eight international awards.

According to The Guardian, a number of key sequences in the film were staged. It singles out what it claims were five major deceptions. These include the claim that a character in the story was number three in Columbia’s Cali Mafia, when, in fact, he was a retired bank cashier. The Guardian also says that, contrary to the film’s claims, a drug courier did not have heroin in his stomach when he flew to the U.K.

The film’s producer, Marc de Beauford, issued a statement in which he rejected The Guardian’s allegations. He said: ‘I have repeatedly invited [The Guardian] to interview me and view all the film’s rushes in the face of their constantly changing allegations.’

The matter has now been picked up by U.K. regulator the Independent Television Commission, which is now analyzing a tape of the film.

London-based Carlton received better news last month when U.S. net ABC commissioned a reformatted one-off special of it’s Neighbours From Hell series, to be produced by Dick Clark Productions. Carlton has other … From Hell series in the pipeline.

Andy Fry

Discovery’s management moves: Haws to oversee international production

Setting up a management structure for its neverending international expansion, Bethesda, U.S.-based Discovery Communications has promoted Chris Haws, vp, commissions, copros and production, Discovery Networks, Europe, to senior vp and executive producer, Discovery Networks, International. Aside from ‘stimulating, coordinating and enhancing the original production efforts for all of Discovery’s international networks,’ his new duties include acting as the main programming liaison with the U.S. networks. He will continue working out of his base in London, U.K.

The management shift includes moving Jim Boyle, senior vp, corporate communications, DCI, to senior vp, marketing and communications, DNI. GK

Ever-expanding: Discovery bid for Court TV

In a move reminiscent of its purchase of Travel Channel in Latin America, media conglomerate Discovery Communications made a bid last month on Court TV – the ailing service owned by NBC, Time Warner and Liberty Media Corporation. The Bethesda, U.S.-based network is possibly considering the carriage space as a distribution means for Discovery Health or Wings, its sky- and space-themed channel.

Discovery’s bid goes up against an offer from NBC Cable president Tom Rogers and Evercore Partners. Discovery got its foot in the door when the Rogers group allowed an exclusive negotiation period to lapse.

If the sale were to take place, Discovery would acquire only 51% of the service. The three current partners would retain a 16.3% stake in order to grab a share of any profits generated, should the new owner be able to turn the operation around.

This may not sit well with DCI, as contention between the current partners is said to have plagued Court TV in recent years.

On the upside of the possible deal, a sale to Discovery would quell fear at Time Warner that the service might be resold to another player for use as a competitor to CNN.

On the other hand, DCI is 49% owned by Liberty, so the deal could be seen by the other partners as, in essence, a sellout to parent company Tele-Communications, Inc.

Rhino makes music: for DCI’s brand explosion

A new partnership between Rhino Entertainment and Discovery Communications to create audio products is music to the ears of DCI. ‘We see it as a way of getting our brands out there in a new vehicle,’ explains dci spokesman John Buffalo.

DCI signed the exclusive multi-year agreement with Rhino in May. It’s the first comprehensive music distribution deal for Discovery.

The first three releases, scheduled to hit store shelves the end of this month, are: Discovery Channel Presents Great Chefs Dinner Music, Travel Channel Presents Songs From Around the World and Animal Planet Presents Sing With the Animals.

None of the titles have any direct connection to DCI programs, but Buffalo says eventually the company will lend its names to CDs of original music from some of its own strands and specials. ‘We often get requests for soundtracks,’ he adds.

Buffalo says DCI has some input in the content of the compilations but acknowledges that L.A.-based Rhino has the expertise to create the products. The CDs will be sold through music retailers, Rhino’s mail-order division and Discovery’s 125 retail stores, including The Nature Company. JK

CANAL+ POLSKA: and @ Entertainment develop services

@ Entertainment and Telewizja Korporacja Polska (parent company of Canal+ in Poland) have announced their intention of bringing a joint-venture direct-to-home service to the Polish market for September 1998 (subject to approval by Polish regulatory bodies). Wizja+ will offer a choice of Polish and international channels broadcast in the Polish language, including three multiplexed versions of Canal+ Polska. BC

People on the Move

Rupert Gavin will become chief executive of BBC Worldwide on July 1. Gavin was previously the managing director of BT’s consumer division.

Pat Holland, who joins the independent commissioning group of BBC Broadcast from BBC Features in Bristol, has been recruited by head Jane Root as a commissioning executive. Holland will oversee a number of projects, including Folio Productions’s Crime Beat, the bbc1 show. She has produced BBC Bristol’s The Great Antiques Hunt for two years.

Joe Abrams has joined London’s Pearson International as executive vp. Abrams has a long list of credits, including a recent stint as president of ABC Distribution, various positions (including senior vp, worldwide pay television) at MGM/UA, as well as creative, financial and sales positions at CBS.

National Geographic Ventures has appointed Mitchell Praver as senior vp of new media. Praver previously held the position of vp of new media distribution at Discovery Communications, Inc.

Deborah Stewart is the new director of programming operations at U.S.-based Discovery Showcase Networks. Stewart comes from Discovery down under, where she held similar responsibilities at Discovery Channel Australia.

See also:

Upfront: For the Record

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.