News in Brief

A&E launches a new strand; VHI poaches MTV's golden boy; BBC digital gets green light for government funding
May 23, 2002

Now that A&E has milked ‘Biography’ for all its worth, the New York-based cablecaster is launching ‘TVography’, a ‘Biography’ extension that focuses on popular television series and stars. The new strand will debut June 3 with a look at The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

VH1 is about to get a shot of MTV. The New York Times reports that Viacom (parent company to both music channels) has asked MTV programming president Brian Graden to step in and stem VH1′s ratings slide with an infusion of new programming ideas. Graden was ultimately responsible for introducing such hits as Jackass and The Osbournes to MTV.

The U.K. government has received a green light from the European Commission for its funding of the BBC’s new digital radio and TV channels, including arts and culture channel BBC4, as part of the Beeb’s annual license fee. According to BBC News, the European Commission concluded, ‘No real advantage has been granted to the BBC, as the compensation for the digital channels is not disproportionate to the net costs of the new channels, which are provided as part of the public service obligation of the BBC.’ The digi channel funding amounts to £90 million (US$130 million).

U.K. newspaper The Guardian is launching Guardian Films, a documentary production company that will specialize in investigative films with an international focus. Guardian special correspondent Maggie O’Kane has signed on as editorial director. She will be joined by photojournalist Fiona Loyd, who takes the dual post of producer/director of development, and Jacqui Timberlake, previously with Cinecontact Productions, who will be head of business and production.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is teaming up with ABC News to produce a five-minute video titled September 11: Bearing Witness to History. The film will be part of a commemorative exhibition that includes artifacts from all three crash sites. The video will feature ABC news anchor Peter Jennings and his experience that day.

USA FilmsThe Kid Stays in the Picture, from filmmakers Brett Morgan and Nanette Burnstein (produced by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter) has inked a number of deals at the Cannes film festival. Among the companies that signed the film are Amuse in Japan, Bac Films in France, Momentum in the U.K. and Vertigo in Spain. StudioCanal handled the deals.

Michael Moore‘s latest film Bowling for Columbine is also causing a stir at the Cannes festival. The doc, which takes a tough look at the culture of violence in America, was acquired by United Artists last Friday for what is speculated to be the highest sum ever paid for a theatrical doc. Numbers haven’t been confirmed, but some are putting the deal in the US$3 million range. Prior to the festival, Alliance Atlantis inked a distribution deal for the film with Diaphana Distribution in France. Bowling for Columbine was produced by Charles Bishop and Michael Donovan of Halifax, Canada-based Salter Street Films (a wholly owned subsidiary of Alliance Atlantis Communications) and Moore’s company Dog Eat Dog Films.

Hit reality show The Osbournes, which offers a glimpse into the home life of aging rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family, will debut in the U.K. this weekend on MTV. The series was originally scheduled to have its British debut last weekend, but was delayed due to contract issues, which are now resolved. The first season of The Osbournes has already aired on MTV in the U.S., where it attracted 11 million viewers.

Warner Home Video and Paris-based producer/distributor MK2 will release 11 DVDs that feature previously unseen color footage of comic film star Charlie Chaplin. The footage was discovered in a trunk in the basement of Chaplin’s house in Switzerland, and includes film outtakes, home videos and backstage antics. A total of 10 documentaries, each by a different filmmaker, are being produced for inclusion on the DVDs. The first DVD will feature Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator and will be released in October.

The European Union Media Program will welcome eight new candidate countries by 2003 at the latest: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The new members will benefit from greater coproduction and distribution opportunities, as well as the program’s training and funding schemes.

French media company Lagardere has denied any interest in acquiring Vivendi Universal‘s pay-TV operation, Canal+, The Guardian reports. Speculation about Lagardere’s interest in Canal+ arose after it became known that Lagardere is raising US$645 million through a bond issue. Vivendi Universal is under increasing pressure to lighten its substantial debt load – of which US$4.6 billion directly stems from the Canal+ Group – though it has not announced plans to sell its pay-TV division.

The Banff Television Festival (June 9 to 14 in Banff, Canada) was inspired by the 2002 G8 Summit of World Leaders to put a focus of Africa as a prominent theme for this year’s festival. The G8 Summit – which happens June 26 to 27 in nearby Kananaskis, Alberta -is focusing on Africa as a top issue on the agenda. The Banff TV Festival will thus showcase African talent with film screenings, master classes and sessions focusing on Africa. On June 10, there will be a presentation of the Steps for the Future project – a collection of 35 films made by African directors about issues around HIV/AIDS. Chris Haws of the World Bank group will lead a panel discussion on June 11 called ‘Africa: New Voices, New Visions’ on emerging markets in Africa. And on June 12, CBC producer Catherine Olsen will moderate the session, ‘Africa: STEPS for the Future’, about utilizing the media to create awareness for issues such as HIV/AIDS in Africa.

In other Banff news, the Banff Television Festival is saluting the 50th anniversary of the CBC/Radio-Canada by featuring a myriad of the pubcaster’s notable faces in seminars and panels. Foreign correspondent Azeb Wolde-Giorghis and Catherine Olsen will lead discussions about the challenge of making docs in Africa, while Mark Starowicz (Canada: A People’s History) will host a master class called ‘Big History’.

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