January 1, 1999


Carlton Communications has published a 60 page report in which it accepts allegations by The Guardian newspaper that its drug-smuggling documentary The Connection contained serious flaws and should not have been broadcast in the form that it took.

However, it stopped short of blaming any Carlton executives for the debacle. According to its Investigation Panel, which consisted of barrister Michael Beloff, former controller of BBC editorial policy, John Wilson, and Carlton’s director of broadcasting, Nigel Walmsley, Carlton had appropriate checking procedures to ensure that its programs comply with (U.K. regulator) the Independent Television Commission’s program codes.

The panel concluded that ‘no Carlton executives intended a deception or were aware that certain scenes were fakes.’ At the same time, the panel rejected accusations by The Guardian that another program, Inside Castros Cuba, also involved a fake.

The Guardian, however, continues to be dissatisfied with the television industry’s response to the Connection affair. Following a Channel 4 documentary into the matter, the Monday Media Section said: ‘You would expect such a damning series of inventions in one program to cause a certain amount of soul-searching in the television industry. Well it has and it hasn’t – we discover that television folk are remarkably touchy when outsiders peek behind the lens.’

The Carlton report has now been forwarded to the ITC which, in due course, will announce their conclusions, including whether a statutory sanction should be imposed on Central Television, the (Carlton-owned) Channel 3 licensee responsible for the program. Andy Fry

DANGER ON LOCATION: NHNZ crew trapped by Arctic weather

A shoot for Natural History New Zealand’s Wild Asia series nearly lost the crew last month. What was expected to be a short shoot on Wrangel Island, a Siberian holding above the Arctic Circle, lasted for more than 50 days when the three men were trapped by harsh weather and winter storms. NHK producer Tatsuhiko Kobayashi, Australian independent cameraman Rory McGuinness, and Russian guide Nikita Ovsynaikov, were almost out of food when the weather broke on December 1st, and they were able to be rescued by a private helicopter company.

The rescue caused a mini-storm of its own at the United Nations when some suggested using U.S. Coast Guard helicopters stationed at Alaskan bases 600 miles to the east. The Russian government balked at the use of the American military in the rescue of a Russian national on Russian soil.

The shoot was the first of two planned for the ninth program in the series, a ten-part co-production between Natural History New Zealand Ltd, NHK, Discovery Channel and NDR.

Brendan Christie

NAT GEO SHUFFLE: Explorer chief takes on specials

At RealScreen press time, and after 35 years with National Geographic Television, Nick Noxon has decided to hang up his camera. As of June, Noxon, executive producer for National Geographic specials, will step down in favor of Michael Rosenfeld, who is currently executive producer on Explorer. Rosenfeld will retain his role on the weekly series, but with a new title as senior executive producer. Filling the top vacancy will be former Explorer senior producer, David Royle.

The Los Angeles-based specials unit will be heading east as part of the change-over, joining Explorer and the other Nat Geo franchises in the Washington offices. According to Rosenfeld, the move will not affect specials’ relationship with West Coast producers. ‘We have a commitment to continue working with the freelance community in Los Angeles. I’m making a personal commitment to keep working with all those very talented people.’

He says the move is logical. ‘One of the things you rapidly come to appreciate when you come to National Geographic [in Washington], is what a wealth of resources you have here. This is the sort of place where you can bump into Jane Goodall in the hallway.’

The move is already underway. This month, development for specials will have made the switch, and more departments will follow shortly.

The move is not the only change in the works for specials. While aware of what he terms ‘the tradition of excellence’ for the franchise, Rosenfeld also commented on the need for television to evolve. The new executive producer hinted at more stylistic experimentation, younger narrators, and even the possibility of filmmakers appearing in their own films if the situation calls for it.

Most of the 1999 specials season will still carry Noxon’s credit, with Rosenfeld-initiated projects beginning to show up at the turn of the millennium. Although retired, Noxon will still offer his services to specials on a project-by-project basis. Rosenfeld has a good understanding of the task at hand: ‘Nick is one of the giants of television. I’m very conscious that those are huge shoes that I have to fill somehow.’ Brendan Christie


As the scientific field hurtles ever forward, bringing us everything from advances in cloning to the ability to map human chromosomes, the issues faced by scientists and the media are more complex than ever. Such was the premise of the sixth annual World Congress of Science Producers, held this year in Boston and hosted by NOVA, in association with PBS and Discovery Channel U.S.

With eminent science scholar Stephen Jay Gould as the keynote speaker and close to 300 registered delegates from around the world in attendance, the congress delved into issues as diverse as upcoming breakthroughs in science, ways to create viable low-budget science programming, and the ever-increasing debate on the future of HD and widescreen TV. Highlights included a screening and panel discussion of IMAX’s highly successful film Everest with Emmy Award winning filmmaker David Breashears; and a debate entitled ‘Visualizing Science’ on the problems inherently associated with getting complex scientific ideas across to the audience via the visual medium of television.

It was, however, the panel discussion ‘Lost Cause – The Media and the Environment’ which generated the hottest debate of the congress. Acclaimed Canadian environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki (host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things) was pitted against Channel 4′s commissioning editor of science and talk, Sara Ramsden, famous for producing the anti-environmental three-part series Against Nature. In the battle of environmental ideologies that ensued, the lack of coverage, and hence, the future of enviromental issues on televison was brought to the forefront.

It was NOVA who provided the most interesting tidbit of coproduction news during the congress, announcing that they will be copro partners with New York’s White Mountain Films on two versions of the story of British explorer Sir Earnest Shackleton and his journey across the Antarctic (as mentioned in November’s RealScreen): a doc to be broadcast on NOVA and a large format 40-minute imax feature film. Paula Apsell, executive producer of NOVA, called the project, ‘one of the most visible documentaries we’ve done in years.’ Both films will be produced and directed by George Butler, with coproducers Caroline Alexander and Louise Rosen. Christine Cowern

WESTERN CABLE SHOW ROUND-UP: digital launches & website support

Proof that U.S. cablecasters are enjoying a healthy television climate was clearly illustrated at the 31st annual Western Cable Show, held in Anaheim, California last month. The convention has become a plethora of non-fiction activity, with numerous fledgling networks announcing new programming slates in hopes of adding new subscribers.

Noggin, the first 24-hour kids’ thinking channel from Nickelodeon and Children’s Television Workshop, will launch simultaneously as a digital network and website on February 2. The channel’s mission is to create a new educational medium combining both television and on-line learning. (For more on non-fiction for kids, see pg. 28)

Gearing up for its U.S. cable launch this spring, self-improvement nichecaster WISDOM Television has entered into several coproduction deals with PBS, and has acquired 112 hours of weekly programming. The network has also begun production on a slate of original programming, committing to 25 new hours.

In other website news, Scripps Networks’ upcoming DIY ‘Do-It-Yourself’ Network is creating a companion website to complement its four thematic programming category blocks (home repair & remodeling, crafting, decorating & design, and gardening & landscaping) when it launches this year. DIY will offer comprehensive content from each individual program on the site, allowing users to get the tools they need to create a hands-on project.

A&E Television Networks was also in launch mode as two digital networks, The Biography Channel and History Channel International, were announced. The two new networks will be available on Galaxy 9 Transponder 23, and through TCI Technology Ventures’ Headend in the Sky (or HITS) service.

FANFARE, the 24 hour classical music channel will be making its debut by Thanksgiving. In addition, FIT TV, the fitness and lifestyle cable channel, is being relaunched later this year.

Newsworld International, the first 24-hour international satellite news channel providing viewers with global, in-depth news directly from their original sources, has made an agreement with Russian TV and Broadcasting to carry their main network newscast, ‘Vremiya.’NWI is currently available to four million subscribers on DIRECTV, Channel 279, and to subscribers on GTE systems in California, Florida and Hawaii, and will be expanding distribution into U.S. cable following a recent agreement with HITS.

Targeting the creation of documentary programming for satellite-delivered cable and broadcast networks, Hollywood actor James Garner’s Cherokee Productions has formed a joint venture, with documentary writer/director/producer Irwin Rosten and marketing executive Bob Klein. Cherokee will focus on producing a slate of historical retrospectives on entertainment history. The first project in pre-production, Private Eye: Knight in Tarnished Armor, will be hosted by Garner. Susan Hornik


At RealScreen press time, London-based Café Productions (with additional offices in Paris and Washington) was in discussions with Paris-based indie science producer VM Productions to combine the companies, either by merger or acquistion. Earlier this year, VM was joined by Leslie Weiner, former head of coproductions at Paris-based Gedeon Productions. The principals of Café are André Singer and Simon Nasht.

ROOT NEW TOP DOG AT BBC2: A insider was most likely choice

At RealScreen press time, 41 year-old Jane Root, recent head of the BBC’s indie commissioning group, was named head of BBC2, becoming BBC’s first female channel controller.

Root joined BBC last year to create the indie group from her position as joint managing director of her own indie prodco, Wall to Wall Television. Root will take the reins at BBC2, and it’s £372 million annual budget, early this year. No word on who will replace her.

With Mark Thompson’s appointment as director of BBC national and regional broadcasting late last year, the race began to find a successor. The likely candidates were predominantly senior factual programmers within the BBC, including BBC director of production Jana Bennett, BBC2 head of docs and history Paul Hamann, and head of BBC features Jeremy Gibson, based at BBC Bristol. A long shot was Stephen Lambert who quit his post as editor of Modern Times to team up with RDF Television this fall.

Thompson leaves BBC2 in healthy shape. It attracts around 11.2% of the U.K. TV audience – a small year-on-year increase. It’s also about 0.5% ahead of its nearest competitor, C4. Key factual includes Natural World, Nurse and lifestyle series such as Delia’s How to Cook, Top Gear and The Antiques Show. Andy Fry


Henry Hampton, founder and president of Boston’s Blackside Inc., died last November of complications related to lung cancer. One of the most honored filmmakers in the business, Hampton leaves behind a legacy of film productions which will long be remembered for both their artistic excellence and their challenge to social mores. Films such as Eyes on the Prize, The Great Depression and Malcolm X: Make It Plain, as well as more than 60 major film and media projects, saw him win the IDA’s Career Achievement Award last year, an accolade which Hampton could add to his 14 honorary degrees and extensive list of awards.

Hampton explained the common thread in his work during a RealScreen interview in October, 1997: ‘We’re interested in the nature of democracy, the obligations of a society to its people, and the responsibilities of those citizens to its government.’

In a recent interview with Paul Kahn, editor of Access Expressed, a newsletter published by Very Special Arts Massachusetts (a non-profit organization promoting opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities), Hampton eloquently summarized his craft as revelation brought about ‘by leading people to moments of recognition.

‘I’m not presumptuous enough to think that you can move the world by ten degrees, but you can move it half a degree… I believe in the power of arts to create a positive change. I also think of myself as an historian. Then there is this filmmaking – which means being the messenger. I think of myself as being a propagandist too… [for] justice, equity and fairness. People don’t particularly think of stories as political weapons – as tools for learning – but they are.’ Brendan Christie


At CBC Newsworld’s new documentary unit, Jerry McIntosh, has been named executive producer of documentaries, Tassie Notar is commissioning editor/producer of docs, Catherine Olsen is series producer for The Passionate Eye Sunday Showcase, and Angelina Stokman is producer responsible for packaging The Passionate Eye Friday, Passionate Eye Sunday Showcase and Rough Cuts.

Effective the first of this year, Phil Roter has been moved from managing director of HBO’s interests in the Czech and Slovak Republics to those in Poland. Bruce Zeller from the Chicago office will be his replacement.

Richard Brooke, former group finance director at BSkyB, has joined the board of directors of Tiger Aspect Productions.

TLC has promoted Mary Ellen Iwata to VP of development and special projects. Iwata joined DCI in 1989 as an executive producer.

Colin Jarvis has been appointed the director of programming and operations within BBC International Television.

Paris-based BKN has named Cindy Coughlin as VP of domestic licensing and merchandising, and has promoted Veronique Angelino to senior VP, worldwide licensing and merchandising.

In L.A., Greystone Communications shook things up with a series of executive promotions. Craig Haffner, has been named chairman and CEO. Donna Lusitana has been named president. Melanie Blythe, Raymond Bridgers and Glenn Kirschbaum have been promoted to vice presidents. Robert Housch is the new GM of Greystone’s American History Stores.

Norman Walker has been appointed to HIT’s board of directors as a non-executive director. Walker is dubbed an international toy and licensing expert.

The new director of advertising and promotions for Discovery Digital Networks is David Falcone. Falcone joined TLC in 1995 as a writer/producer of on-air promotions.

Steve Anderson is returning to ESPN as senior VP of production, ending his three-year stint at ABC Sports.

ESPN has named former president, Steven Bornstein, to the post of chairman. George Bodenheimer is his replacement.

GOOD NEWS FOR ITV: wins battle for late broadcast, says docs will benefit

Despite stiff opposition from members of the U.K. Parliament, leading commercial network ITV finally won the battle to shift its main evening news bulletin from 10pm to 11pm.

In granting its permission, U.K. regulator the Independent Television Commission pointed to research which showed younger audiences were broadly in favor of the switch. It also stressed that when the implications of the move were explained fully to focus groups, they had reacted positively.

The ITC’s approval came with a series of riders however. It has asked ITV to broadcast a brief news update in the ad break nearest to 10pm and stressed that it will not accept any reduction in the budget allocated to news. It also made a condition that ITV must offer a greater diversity of programs in peaktime.

The main genres to benefit from the shift will be drama and movies. However, ITV has also argued that popular documentary formats stand to benefit. It has already commissioned a one-hour long weekly current affairs show from Granada and plans to put at least two additional high profile factual series in 9pm-11pm midweek slots. Once the new schedule is in place, the ITC will give it a 12 month period to bed down before reviewing it.

In a separate development, some members of the ITV Network received a second Christmas present from the ITC. Following a review of the license fees paid by regional ITV franchise-holders to the ITC, most companies are to receive rebates for the new license period which starts in 1999.

Granada-owned Yorkshire Television, one of the U.K.’s most prolific documentary producers, will save £17 million a year. United Broadcasting & Entertainment’s HTV will receive a £16.5 million a year boost while Carlton gets £9.5 million back from the ITC.

The readjustments are a necessary by-product of the last franchise round which was held in 1989. At that time, companies bid for their licenses in a blind auction. Subsequently, some were deemed to have bid unviable sums of money.

The ITC’s rebates are seen as an opportunity for them to boost programming budgets. The only loser in the process appears to be Carlton-owned Central which won its license unopposed for a tiny sum last time round. The ITC now wants to extract an extra £17.5 million year from the company. Andy Fry


Wild Dream Films of Wales picked up £3000 at Sharing Stories via the ‘Two in a Room’ exercise with La Cinquieme’s Ann Julienne and Nicola Moody of the BBC’s independent commissioning group. The cash will aid development of a series entitled Great Rivals.

Southern Star announced a first half profit (before interest and tax) of 7.2%.

Mosaic Films, producers of the award-winning documentary series Russian Wonderland, are looking for filmmakers throughout Europe to work on their latest commission, EUreka-EUtopia.

Post DCI’s buy-in on Eye on People (formerly CBS Eye on People), all programming decisions are now going through Bethesda, and another name change is pending.

The History Channel has re-launched its website with a `smart search engine’ allowing surfers look up historical events (

Discovery Channel Pictures has expanded its production slate to include live-action motion simulation films, thanks to a development deal with Iwerks Entertainment Inc. The first project, Wings, will be available in the spring of this year.

DDE and Hamburg’s Trebitsch Produktions International have inked a multi-year partnership which will see the creation of 20 hours of original programming. TPI has also acquired the distribution rights in German-speaking territories for an additional six hours of Devillier Donegan programming.

Discovery Channel Turkey celebrated its first anniversary by switching from a 12-hour service to 24-hours.

Discovery Channel Asia and India have switched from a weekly block of kids programming to a daily. Also in launch mode is Discovery Australia’s first-ever kids line-up.

Action Products International Inc. announced a licensing deal with DCI to develop, manufacture and market toys bearing the DCI brand name and logo.

The Latin-American incarnation of Animal Planet experienced 436% subscriber growth over the last year.

The BBC and Discovery are planning to launch a 24-hour Animal Planet into India on January 5th.

A report commissioned by the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia has decided that a ‘special interest documentary channel funded solely by advertising is feasible, despite tight market conditions’. Rough calculations put the budget for such a channel at US$65 million a year.


Environment channel to launch in U.K.

Channel Earth, a U.K. digital channel, is planning to launch in mid-1999. Themes are natural history, environment and `the outdoors’. Chaired by Liz Forgan, former C4 and BBC senior exec, the channel plans 70% original programming. Chief Executive is Elin Rhys, head of Welsh indie company Teledu Telesgop. JMA

Science channel to launch into Germany

Einstein, a Berlin-based digital science and technology channel, is set to launch in early 1999. Promoted by Bristol indie CST Productions, it has £15 million of backing from German banks and a major European broadcaster. Plans are for four hours per day to start, rising to eight hours after three years. Programming is to be produced initially in-house by CST but opening to other qualified indies over time. Managing Director is Steve Timmins of CST. JMA

New Japanese Documentary Channel

Vaio Net (run by Digital Media Entertainment, owned by Sony/Broadcasting Media [80%], Sony PCL [10%], and Dentsu Inc. [10%]) has begun broadcasting in Japan as a specialist documentary channel on a digital platform. Programming is stripped by night and theme, the latter being: Style, Science, Contemporary, Heritage, Life, Art, Travel. JMA

Granada Media Buys Australian Producer

Granada has purchased 100% of Melbourne-based Artist Services’ share capital. Artist Services has been producing comedy, drama, children’s and an increasing amount of factual programming, for over nine years. The Oz prodco is planning to increase production amounts with the support of Granada and its international distribution arm.

Termite Art busts record

Termite Art Productions, an L.A.-based subsidiary of Vancouver’s Lions Gate Entertainment, says it made ratings history last month with its non-fiction program Busted on the Job, which aired on FOX. According to the company, Busted was the ‘top-rated non-baseball Thursday special in FOX history in homes and adults 18-49.’

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.