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Editor’s Letter

The novel I'm reading (Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde), starts off with a list of 'sample viewing figures for major tv networks in England, Sept. 1985.' Mole TV scored well with its game show Name That Fruit! (over 15 million viewers) and its chat show Dangerously Dysfunctional People Argue Live on TV (11 million). Then things drop off a little. Owl Vision's reverse extinction show One More Chance to See! grabbed just over 2 million, and dead last was Goliath Cable Channel's docuganda entry Cots to Coffins: All You'll Ever Need (9 - disputed).
February 1, 2004

The novel I’m reading (Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde), starts off with a list of ‘sample viewing figures for major tv networks in England, Sept. 1985.’ Mole TV scored well with its game show Name That Fruit! (over 15 million viewers) and its chat show Dangerously Dysfunctional People Argue Live on TV (11 million). Then things drop off a little. Owl Vision’s reverse extinction show One More Chance to See! grabbed just over 2 million, and dead last was Goliath Cable Channel’s docuganda entry Cots to Coffins: All You’ll Ever Need (9 – disputed).

What I really like about it is the clarity of the labeling. Docuganda. Right, I can sort that one out.

The novel is set in a very alternate reality, where lucky denizens can pop in and out of books. This whole dodging back and forth from the real world to the world of fiction, and the confusion that ensues in both worlds, reminds me of the increasingly porous nature of docs and drama.

Lately, when considering which new projects to include in our On The Slate section, I began to suspect a Doc-content point system may be needed. How much reenactment – and how approached – constitutes docudrama? If it’s a reality series, but features ‘dramatic, cinematic’ reenactments, where does that fall? Unreal reality?

It was a topic discussed, albeit in a much more scholarly (yet heated) manner, at the World Congresses of Science and History. In science circles, you can animate animals of the future and that’s a real doc. And, it’s not a docudrama if you reenact vast quantities of history.

The blurring is coming from both sides. Eyengui, the God of Dreams, a scripted feature by vet doc-maker Jose Manuel Novoa, is acted out by a real African Baka pygmy tribe. It was cited as having true anthropological value for its portrayal of Baka traditions in a Variety review that dubbed it a semi-doc, and Googling reveals it classified on the Web as a doc by some, and a drama by others (producer Transglobe Films calls it a docudrama). Despite the script, it sounds like it has a lot more authenticity than certain forms of non-fiction. And in the end, maybe that’s what should be considered. I may be alone in finding it easier to suspend disbelief reading a sci-fi novel that features re-engineered pet dodos, than during a doc that draws on sci-fi to entertain me (probably, in fact). But, if a viewer is darkly muttering ‘yeah, right’ over elements of a doc, you have a problem.

In a bid to face off with drama on the sked, mixing things up a bit is good. But, if a certain threshold of high concept entertainment content becomes de rigueur for docs, drama tends to have the budget advantage. And if it gets to the point that viewers expect that kind of entertainment value in their non-fiction viewing diet, it can get really weird really fast. Just look at reality TV.

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This issue debuts a few new regular features. Reality Check is a forum for verbatim industry insight on a topical issue. With hordes still leaping into the reality market, this issue we asked vets and newcomers for the wisest approach to reality today. Also new is the RealScreeningRoom, a snapshot of buzzworthy projects, hot-button trends and novel biz models.

We’re also delighted to welcome back a new (old) member to the RealScreen team. Kristen Vinakmens has returned to the fold as senior writer. Kristen was copy chief/writer on RealScreen prior to her most recent gig as linchpin feature writer/reporter for Canadian marketing publication Strategy. Kristen will helm the Programming column as well as the CloseUp feature, and is the point person on the new RealScreeningRoom page, which she was also instrumental in developing. It’s like she never left. Anon, MM

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