News in Brief

Discovery drops website credit plan; BBC beefs up arts spending to £3.3 million; PBS plans new history offerings and revisits Ken Burns' greatest hits
June 27, 2002

Discovery Networks has dropped the idea of a website for production credits. The Bethesda, U.S.-based company backed down following lengthy discussions with the Documentary Credits Coalition, a group consisting of indie doc-makers, entertainment industry guilds and unions, and other filmmaker organizations who came together after Discovery proposed moving some creative credits off the air and onto the Web. Discovery’s newly revised credits options plan offers producers the choice of keeping closing credits as they now exist, or shifting credits to the beginning of the program where they would run as chyrons (lettering that is superimposed on footage, rather than a black screen). With the latter option, credits will appear flush left within the lower third of the screen.

The BBC is pouring £3.3 million (US$5 million) into arts programming to stem accusations that it is dumbing down its content in the face of commercial competition. The additional £1.5 million is earmarked to help ‘attract both new arts viewers and satisfy those already interested in the subject,’ says the Beeb. The U.K. pubcaster is also setting up a panel to decide where the current roster is lacking, as well as how to funnel cash between BBC One, Two and Four. The hit Rolf on Art, in which U.K. celebrity Rolf Harris chats about popular artists, has been commissioned for a second series. It won a peak audience of 6.1 million in its first go-round, leading to calls that it was too breezy for the hardcore art fan. Also on the slate is a three-part series on Leonardo da Vinci, docs on the likes of Christopher Wren, Michelangelo and Lord Byron, and studies on writers both active (Patricia Cornwell and E. Annie Proulx) and inactive (George Eliot, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen).

The U.S.’sPublic Broadcasting Service will indulge its fondness for the past with a new slate of history documentaries, which it unveiled at the PBS annual meeting (held in San Francisco) on Wednesday June 26. Topics vary widely, covering three continents and seven centuries. Among the planned offerings are Manor House, a six-hour observational doc series that will attempt to recreate life as it was in Edwardian England, produced by London-based Wall to Wall Television in association with Thirteen/WNET and the U.K.’s Channel 4, and Lawrence of Arabia, a two-hour special from Washington, D.C.-based Devillier Donegan Enterprises and London’s Lion Television that will offer an Arab perspective on the famous British Army officer. Both programs will premiere in fall 2003.

This fall, PBS will again prove its penchant for history by recycling the best of Ken Burns’ works in a new weekly series. Billed Ken Burns American Stories, the series will include such films as Frank Lloyd Wright, Brooklyn Bridge, Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain. Burns will introduce each episode, discussing how the film came into being and its subject matter. PBS will also air a remastered version of Burns’ The Civil War the week before the new series debuts. Ken Burns American Stories premieres Sunday September 30.

If you want a reality show to be a hit, angle it toward a female demographic. That is the conclusion of a study of Big Brother by University of Wales academic Janet Jones, reports the BBC. Her preliminary analysis of 14,000 questionnaires sent to her via the program’s official website reveal that women are Big Brother’s strongest fans by a rate of 65%. She theorizes that women viewers are more likely to be engaged by stories of relationships spread over long periods. Women viewers were also 50% more likely to cast an online ballot – a key component to the show’s success, Jones says. The series’ two previous winners were male.

Israeli digital satellite provider YES has agreed to carry financial channel Bloomberg Television in Israel after striking a deal with Zone Vision, a London-based thematic channel producer and distributor. An English-language version of Bloomberg will debut on the basic tier of YES in July.

In related news, The New York Times reports that YES has said it will continue carrying both CNN International and BBC World, in spite of recnt public outcry over their coverage of Israel.

Vivendi Universal, parent company of pay-TV channel Canal+, has lost another board member with the departure of Bernard Arnault. His decision to leave was announced at a board meeting on Tuesday June 25; he is the fifth director to resign this year. Vivendi chief exec Jean-Marie Messier retained the backing of the board.

New Jersey, U.S.-based Berman-Bogdan Productions recently signed on to represent a collection of images related to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The 9/11 archive includes footage shot by both professionals and amateurs, as well as coverage from recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and Iraq.

California-based From the Heart Productions, which administers the Roy W. Dean Grants, is offering a new writing/research grant to doc-makers. Successful candidates will be whisked away to an idyllic spot in New Zealand for four to six weeks, with room and board covered (and then some). The goal is to provide doc-makers with ‘uninterrupted prime time to work on projects’. International applicants are welcome. For more information, go to //

Entries to the 2002 Sheffield International Documentary Festival (October 21 to 27) have hit record levels. Almost 1,000 films have been submitted, 300 more than previous successful years. Docs have been sent in from Albania, Ecuador and Africa, along with the usual suspects Europe and North America.

The Florida Film Festival now qualifies for short film awards in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy currently lists 47 festivals for the short film awards, including Cannes, Toronto and Sundance, among others., the organization that promotes docs to inspire dialog about social issues, has launched the second annual online Media That Matters Film Festival. The festival, co-presented by the offline Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 12 to 27), showcases a juried selection of 12 shorts and five new media works that address current events which can be viewed on the website. Viewers can take action by following links, signing petitions and giving donations to the films’ causes.

The largest short film festival in North America, the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, returns for its eighth year August 6 to 12. The California fest annually screens over 275 films from more than 30 countries and incorporates short films, live action, docs and animation. Over two thirds of the films presented there are acquired or find sales agents.

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