News in Brief

MSNBC cuts doc unit, signs Donahue; Canada's Shaw Communications drops Court TV U.S.; Oliver Stone chats with Arafat for his upcoming doc.
April 4, 2002

MSNBC has signed veteran TV talker Phil Donahue to host a new one-hour talk show, airing weeknights at 8 p.m. The program is tentatively scheduled to debut this summer. The announcement comes only a few weeks after MSNBC’s decision to downsize its long-form documentary unit and focus more attention on live programming. MSNBC refused to say how many staffers have been cut, but one Reuters report says it was 25 out of 35. Heather Vincent, VP of program planning, heads up the doc unit.

Canada’s Shaw Communications has ended carriage of the Court TV U.S. service on its cable systems and its digital provider, Star Choice. The U.S. cablecaster had been blacking out evening and weekend programming for which it did not have Canadian broadcast rights, a move which apparently prompted Shaw’s decision. According to Court TV U.S., Shaw and Star Choice have long known of the restrictions and had agreed to honor them. Glenn Moss, senior VP of business affairs for Court TV U.S., said he is ‘surprised and disappointed’ at Shaw’s actions.

CNN is still ahead of the Fox News Channel when it comes to ad revenue, but not viewer numbers. A recent New York Times article reports that the latest Nielsen ratings show a widening gap between CNN and Fox, with the former drawing an average audience of 546,000 during the first three months of 2002, compared to 666,000 viewers for the latter.

Hollywood director Oliver Stone filmed an interview with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah on Monday as part of a documentary on world conflicts, according to a Reuters report. Stone has released few details about the non-fiction film, though he said he has already interviewed ‘a series of Israeli leaders’. Spanish and French TV outlets are reportedly involved. Stone filmed Cuban president Fidel Castro in February for a separate doc, Looking for Fidel.

Ed Turner, one of the co-founders of CNN, passed away on Saturday from liver cancer. His nickname was ‘No Relation Turner’, in reference to his friendly but non-familial ties to former CNN head Ted Turner. Ed Turner was 66.

The Discovery Science Channel – one of the digital offerings within the Discovery family – has rebranded itself The Science Channel.

The A&E Television Networks have partnered with GeoPassage and Collette Vacations to offer customized and pre-packaged vacations to surfers visiting A&E websites. The travel packages will be supported by a marketing push on all of the A&E broadcast outlets and online ventures.

In other A&E news, the cablecaster is now carrying popular ABC daily talk show The View. As previously agreed between the two parties, A&E airs the program (hosted by Barbara Walters, Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Joy Behar and Lisa Ling) 24 hours after the live broadcast on the U.S. network broadcaster. A&E is also partnering with fellow cablecaster The Weather Channel this month, to cross promote A&E’s presentation of Shackleton and ‘Storm Week’ on The Weather Channel.

MTV has struck reality show gold yet again, this time with The Osbournes, a half-hour series that follows the daily life of rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family. Some observers note the program may have spawned a new genre: the docu-sitcom.

The BBC has now implemented changes in the way it’s governed, drawing clearer distinctions between the role of the governors and the executive committee. In addition, BBC Broadcast, the British pubcaster’s wholly owned commercial subsidiary, officially launched this week.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will reconsider its rule that, in effect, prevents any one company from owning more than one TV station in a small or medium-sized market, The New York Times reports. The move was ordered by a federal court in Washington.

Warren Miller Films, the groundbreaking 50-year-old extreme sports prodco, has signed an exclusive worldwide distribution agreement with California’s Powersports – Powerdocs.

Canadian prodcos Infinite Monkeys and MicroTainment Plus International have joined to create Toronto-based DocuTainment Productions. The new company, headed by Garry Blye, Howard Bernstein, Mark Shekter and Lon Appleby, is focusing exclusively on factual entertainment.

The Toronto Documentary Forum has selected 37 projects to pitch at this year’s event (May 1 and 2), 50% of which originate from North America (10 Canadian, eight American). Filmmakers on board include Peter Gilbert, who will pitch Lost Boys of Sudan, and Simon Nasht, who will pitch The Showman: In the Footsteps of Frank Hurley.

The Museum of Television & Radio‘s third annual Television Documentary Festival will open on May 1 with a panel discussion titled ‘To Testify or Sanitize: Portraying 9/11′. Panelists will include 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, HBO exec Lisa Heller and filmmaker Jon Alpert. The New York festival will run from May 1 to 19.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival (August 14 to 25) is accepting submissions for both feature length and short films until April 19. For details, visit

For New York-based filmmakers who wish to take a shot at the Anthony Radziwell Documentary Achievement Award, the IFP Gotham Awards are now accepting entries. For more details, visit

Lunafest, a festival showcasing films (including docs) by, for or about women, is accepting program entries. Proceeds from the event will benefit The Breast Cancer Fund. Though dates have not yet been posted, Lunafest is scheduled for the fall. For more info, go to

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.