U.K. commercial broadcaster ITV has unveiled its program policy for 2003, including its plans for docs and factual programming. It has pledged to run a minimum of 91 hours of non-fiction content on ITV1 in 2003, the same goal it set for itself in 2002, a year in which it actually showed 188 hours of docs (swollen in large part due to programs tied to the Queen’s Jubilee) it disclosed January 29. Projects penciled for transmission this year include political-history bios Margaret Thatcher, Churchill and Harold Wilson and the ‘what-if’ history doc When Hitler Invaded Britain. Observational docs include Posh School, a look at an exclusive Catholic boarding school, Young Doctors, about the training of physicians, and Don’t Drop the Coffin, about a company of undertakers. On the natural history front, ITV said in 2004 it will let loose a new series by Granada Wild called Jungle.
New York-based Magnolia Pictures acquired Bukowski: Born Into This by John Dullaghan on the final day of the Sundance Festival (January 16-26). Bukowski, about the U.S. writer with a cult following, was screened as part of the competition documentary. It will receive a theatrical release in the summer.
The Toronto, Canada-based Documentary Studio rolled out its inaugural slate of six projects January 30. A doc-development agency launched by Canadian filmmaker Allan King at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival (See RealScreen, October 2002), the Studio’s first ‘Inner Eye’ films are: Ode to the Jaguar by Toronto’s Maria Teresa Larrain; Orphaned in Exile: The Unaccompanied Children of Tibet by Vancouver’s Susan Murray; Melody Ranch: The Last Matinee by Toronto’s Paul Perrier; Parvaneh (Butterfly): The Story of a Girl who Becomes a Woman at Age Nine by Montreal’s Marjan Radjavi; Confessions of a Sit-Up King by Vancouver’s Ilan Saragosti; and Self Love, by Toronto’s Jessica Wise. The docs will be aired by Toronto-based Documentary Channel when they are wrapped.
Unscripted reality formats have revolutionized network television in the U.S., broadcasting executives proclaimed to The New York Times. Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS Television, told the newspaper January 25 that the impact of realities has grown from a blip to an industry-changing force. In the week beginning January 20, reality shows dominated 15 of 18 half-hour timeslots on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night, according to ratings cited in The Times. American Idol, made by Los Angeles, U.S.-based 19TV, drew Fox Network’s largest non-sports audience ever with 25 million viewers two nights in a row that week. Fox Network president of entertainment Gail Berman told the paper that a 50-year-old economic model has been thrown out. The end-of-the-world developments might include the demise of the standard scheduling season and the use of reruns as grid-fillers.
VH1, the New York-based network owned by media powerhouse Viacom, has announced a further foray into reality formats and music-oriented documentaries. The slate unveiled January 28 includes Destination Diva: The Search for a Superstar (w/t), a talent series which hunts for a female or male performer ‘worthy of the title’; Dashboard Dreams, a one-hour special focusing on cars and rock music; Hip-Hop Babylon, a special on the evolution of the influential music form; and Fountain of Youth, a one-hour cinema-verité on how America’s 78 million baby-boomers are reshaping pop-culture in their fight against the inevitable (Boomers spend roughly US$30 billion a year on everything from anti-aging creams to botox injections and yoga classes, VH1 claims).
In other unscripted news, Born to Win is the name of the BBC’s new sports-oriented reality show to be broadcast on BBC One in the fall. After a series of regional trials the British pubcaster will take the finalists (of both sexes, aged 16 to 18) to a championship held over two weeks throughout Europe. The two winners – male and female – will receive generous scholarships.
Don Hewitt, the 80-year-old creator and executive producer of CBS’s 60 Minutes newsmagazine, has finally decided to hang up his hat. New York-based CBS News announced January 27 Hewitt’s intention to retire in June 2004. Jeffery Fager, the executive producer of 60 Minutes II, will step into his well-worn shoes. Hewitt started the franchise 35 years ago.
To commemorate its first television broadcast 50 years ago February 1, Japanese pubcaster NHK is opening a publicly accessible archive. The total amount of visual and audio tapes totals more than 1.7 million items, most of which have been systematically collected since 1981. Its Program Library will be viewable for free from a variety of locations in Japan. It will be headquartered in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
Channel 4 has been cleared of any breach of broadcasting standards in connection with the transmission of a live autopsy in November. According to BBC News, the Independent Television Commission launched the investigation after more than 130 complaints were filed with C4 and the ITC. The special, taped-live and then aired at 11:45 p.m. the same day, was no more gruesome than other fare already on TV in the U.K., the commission concluded.
Financially ailing Vivendi-Universal and U.S. media company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are discussing a possible merger of their entertainment assets, The Wall Street Journal reported January 30. Citing sources close to the negotiations, The Journal said the plan – which does not include Universal Music Group – would see VU holding a majority stake in the new company. Paris-based Vivendi is also hard at work trying to untie its Universal Studios from a December 2001 pact with TV and film assets owned by Barry Diller, the newspaper said. That deal created Vivendi Universal Entertainment.