News in Brief

U.K.'s Sky Digital gets Simply Nature channel; BBC offers 24 free-to-air digichannels; RTV Family Entertainment gets Off the Fence off its books
July 4, 2002

A new natural history channel is set to debut in the U.K. on Sky Digital this summer. Titled Simply Nature, the editorial channel is the brain-child of U.K. channel developer Simply Television, which until now has focused on shopping channels. Simply Nature’s content will come from the library of London-based prodco Parthenon Entertainment (headed by Carl Hall, former MD of HIT Wildlife), which in turn will receive revenue share. Simply Nature, which will transmit from 8p.m. to 1 a.m, officially launches September 2, though a preview service will be available as of July 22.

The BBC will take a run at reinvigorating interest in digital television after winning the licenses left by the demise of ITV Digital. The Beeb – which partnered with transmission company Crown Castle to beat out ITV and Channel 4, among others – will offer 24 free-to-air digichannels, including some from satcaster BSkyB. The new BBC/Crown Castle channels are scheduled to launch this fall.

Germany’s RTV Family Entertainment has sold its stake in Amsterdam, Neth.-based doc prodco Off the Fence as a way of freeing up cash flow this year and next. Ellen Windemuth, managing director of Off the Fence, now holds all shares in the prodco. RTV has been struggling to stay afloat over the past few months following a series of setbacks, including losses on bad debts and the insolvency of both Kirch Media and copro partner Phenomedia.

After a tumultuous term as chief executive of Vivendi Universal, Jean-Marie Messier has stepped down. According to The Guardian, Messier said the U.S. members of the Vivendi board convinced the European members to join in demanding his resignation, which they did last weekend. Messier contends that he is leaving so the company will remain intact. Jean-Rene Fourtou, vice-chairman of drugs group Aventis, is Messier’s successor.

What do you get when you combine successful series Big Brother and Pop Idol with a hint of ’80s hit Fame? The BBC’s new big-budget talent-search show Fame Academy. The show’s premise is this: stick 12 wannabe stars in a facility (think boarding school) stocked with recording and rehearsal equipment and staffed by entertainment pros. Then, submit the dozen to ‘eviction’ votes, with input from the viewing public. The prize? A year-long development deal in the entertainment branch of the winner’s choice. Fame Academy, a copro with Endemol UK, will air on BBC 1 and BBC Choice.

ITV1 is gambling that viewers in the U.K. want more Popstars, and will enjoy a more hands-on format. The second series of the show, Popstars: The Rivals, to be launched in the fall, will feature two bands going head to head. Which group ultimately wins falls on the hands of the voting viewership. ITV’s fall schedule is being supported by an extra £25 million (US$38 million). Popstars is produced by London Weekend Television.

Court TV can’t get enough of Dominick Dunne. The U.S. cablecaster has signed on for seven additional episodes of Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice, a series about the sinister side of high society hosted by the popular writer. Court TV says the program set a ratings record for the channel when it debuted June 19, with 1.1 million homes tuning in.

A court in Australia has tossed out a warrant for the arrest of New York-based filmmaker and writer Robert Hughes. The warrant had been issued for Hughes in April after he and his lawyer failed to appear at a hearing into dangerous driving charges, stemming from a May 1999 accident that nearly killed him. Under the warrant Hughes, 63, faced arrest if he returned to his country of birth, according to Reuters. The case has been put off until August 1.

The 27th Toronto International Film Festival (September 5 to14) has announced some details of its lineup, which includes a Canadian Retrospective on documentarian Allan King. A selection of King’s films will be shown, including Skidrow, one of the first ever cinema verité films, and Warrendale, King’s ‘actuality drama’, which blurs the line between fiction and documentary film. On the business side of TIFF, the Rogers Industry Centre will welcome 700 sales and acquisitions executives at the OMDC Sales Office.

At the Los Angeles Film Festival (June 21 to 29), Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s film OT: Our Town, about a Compton, California high school determined to stage its first student play in 20 years, picked up the jury prize in the documentary competition. The doc audience award went to Jeff Blitz’s Spellbound, which was also honored with a special jury prize.

Georgie Girl by Annie Goldson and Peter Wells took the inaugural Stu & Dave’s excellent documentary award at the Frameline San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (June 13 to 30). The award recognizes the best doc feature having its Bay Area premiere at the festival. The audience award for best doc went to Dee Mosbacher’s Radical Harmonies.

The Urbanworld Film Festival, a showcase for films by Asian, Latino and African-American filmmakers, has announced some details about the New York City event taking place August 7 to 11. HBO is sponsoring prizes for best doc feature and best doc short and fest attendees will vote in the audience award section. The event will include the world premiere of the film Drumline, a look at show-style marching bands, along with a special screening of Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac, which looks at the circumstances around the murders of rappers Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. The full festival lineup will be available July 10.

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