News in Brief

Sundance launches film series; Chronicle DTV and Warner Bros. distrib sign $21 million deal; toning-down product placement
January 23, 2003

The Sundance Channel is launching a branded theatrical film series. Announced January 20 at the Sundance Festival (held in Park City, U.S. from January 16 to 26), the series will see four films – possibly including docs -released in ten Loews Theater markets in the U.S. One film will be released each month from August until November, followed by a release on video and DVD by Sundance Channel Home Entertainment. The films will then premiere on the Sundance Channel (film titles weren’t disclosed).

U.S. doc/reality channel Chronicle DTV has signed a $21 million programming-acquisition contract with Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution. Covering not only Warner Bros. programs but also Turner Productions and CNN, the five-year deal unveiled January 22 includes 130 feature docs. Chronicle DTV says it now reaches 750,000 U.S. homes.

The amount of product placements in the newest season of American Idol on Fox has been reduced, says The New York Times. The branding of AT&T Wireless, Coca-Cola and Ford Motors has been woven into the story, but their moments on the screen are fewer because of the threat of overkill. ‘Some elements didn’t work in the first shows; they were a little forced,’ Fox Broadcasting sales president Jon Nesveg told the paper. Broadcasters and advertisers are still figuring out the product-placement gross-out factor, the newspaper concludes.

In related news, Los Angeles, U.S.-based 19TV, the producers of American Idol, are being sued by a university professor who claims the company has discriminated against him. Drew Cummings, alleges he was turned down at an audition in Miami, U.S. in November because he is 50, BBC News reported January 21. Under U.S. employment law, a job applicant cannot be refused a position on account of his age. Auditions are only open to performers aged 16 to 24, BBC News says. Legal precedent may be against Cummings, however: A California judge on January 22 threw out 23 class-action lawsuits filed by script writers in which they allege they are victims of age discrimination on the part of TV production studios and talent agencies, Reuters reports.

Hilversum, Netherlands based format maker Endemol has contracted Miami, U.S.-based Tepuy International to distribute its entire catalog to the Latin American territories where it doesn’t already have format deals. Unveiled at NATPE’s 2003 convention in Las Vegas January 22, the deal covers everything from what Endemol calls its ‘real life soaps’ to its proven Big Brother format. Endemol has affiliates and joint-ventures in 21 countries around the globe. Tepuy has offices in Caracas, Venezuela, and Madrid, Spain.

In other format news, Montreal, Canada-based distrib Distraction has sold its court format You be the Judge to Singapore-based pubcaster Mediacorp. It will hit the airwaves in the first six months of 2003. Distraction also locked in a sale of its Strip Search: The Real Full Monty format with French broadcaster TF1. Produced by Endemol France, it too will air in the spring.

NATPE made some housekeeping announcements. It has locked in a deal that sees the NATPE convention held exclusively at the Venetian Hotel and Sands Expo Center in Los Vegas, U.S. starting next year (January 13 to 16 2004). In a prepared statement, NATPE said attendees will be able to book suites and/or exhibition space, the lack-of-which raised some issues with attendees at this year’s convention in New Orleans (See RealScreen, January 2003).

The Canadian Film and Television Production Association and the Writers Guild of Canada announced January 20 a tentative deal overseeing independent production agreements. Covering ‘fact-based programming’ as well as other screenwriting jobs, the pact manages all new film and television productions in English Canada until 2005. The agreement needs ratification, but both sides are recommending that union members accept it.

Everest, an Imax doc by Laguna Beach, U.S.-based MacGillivray Freeman Films, has earned more than US$120.6 million worldwide, according to the company’s figures. MacGillivray Freeman says $84.4 million of that amount was netted in North America alone since the doc about a killer storm on Mount Everest was released in March 1998. The company added that Everest, which has played in 243 theaters in 236 cities, has bested its previous largest earning doc, 1976′s To Fly!, which has pulled in $115.7 million. The prodco will launch the large-format film Coral Reef Adventure on February 14.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has announced plans to roll out a new information channel that will carry docs. ABC Daily will provide hourly news updates, documentaries, sport, weather updates, regional coverage and parliamentary debates. The number of hours dedicated to docs wasn’t specified.

Getty Images has secured the rights to market and distribute Time’s image library. The images – more than 450,000 stills – will be accessible via or Getty’s own by the end of the quarter.

Extreme Sports Channel is expanding into the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Extreme Group has locked in a satellite carriage agreement with Canal Digital, and Extreme Sports will be part of the basic package in all but the Netherlands, the London, U.K.-based company notes.

Playboy is getting into reality TV. Los Angeles, U.S.-based Playboy TV Networks announced January 21 that it is searching for couples that want to explore ‘their sexual lives through hypnosis,’ during a format show that will air on the channel (bye-bye inhibitions). The company says it is inspired by Hypnosex, a series on London, U.K.-based broadcaster Channel Four. Production begins in February in L.A.

U.S. college students have another reason to cut class. National Lampoon TV was launched the week of January 23 to coincide with the start of the winter term. According to National Lampoon, the channel reaches roughly one in four (3.5 million) students on America’s 420 campuses. Its program grid includes four hours of original shows three times a week, including the reality show Bridget the Midget, and Half Baked, a celeb-focused food show, the company says.

In other reality programming news, the National Basketball Association has green-lit a talent-search format. According to Reuters Who Wants to Be an NBA/WNBA Player? is produced by New York-based Reveille Entertainment and Original TV. The show will follow the hunt for the next Michael Jordan in the U.S. and elsewhere. One male and one female winner will be crowned, and the show is expected to air in the summer.

Don’t look now, but your baby may be hooked on Baywatch. Children as young as 12 months make decisions based on the emotional reactions of adults, including people on TV, Tufts University professor Donna Mumme told Reuters. Mumme and her colleagues performed tests in which babies aged 10 months and 12 months were given objects they had seen actors using on videos, such as colored balls and a garden-hose attachment. Although the 10-month olds didn’t seem influenced by the people on the screen, the one-year olds did, she says. Her findings are published in the journal Child Development.

About The Author