News in Brief

Brook Lapping is bought by Ten Alps; the BBC's Omnibus is revamped; TechTV lays off staff in New York, Seattle and the Silicon Valley
November 7, 2002

London, U.K.-based Brook Lapping Productions (The Death Of Yugoslavia) has been bought by Ten Alps, a U.K. company backed by Bob Geldof (who is also an owner of reality prodco Castaway Productions) in a deal worth more than £4 million (US$6.25 million). According to figures published by The Guardian, Brook Lapping made a pre-tax profit of £842,000 ($1.3 million) in 2001, on revenues of £4.6 million ($6.25 million). Ten Alps plans to keep Brook Lapping in the doc business.

The BBC‘s well-known arts program Omnibus is not being scrapped, but re-named and given a new presenter in a radical revamp, BBC News reports. Imagine, the relaunched show, will hit the airwaves in early 2003. The disclosure at the start of November touched off a wave of criticism that the Beeb is dumbing down to chase ratings. Omnibus has been on the air for 35 years.

TechTV, a technology-lifestyle cable channel based in San Francisco, U.S., disclosed November 4 that it is laying off 19 people and closing offices in New York, Seattle and the Silicon Valley as part of a restructuring. Its home office and a bureau in Washington, D.C. have been spared major changes, it noted in a prepared statement.

NBC has agreed to pay US$1.25 billion for Bravo, Cablevision‘s arts-and-culture cable channel, and has pledged not to turn it into a dumping ground for Friends reruns. According to the Los Angeles Times, NBC chief executive Bob Wright said ‘repurposing [Bravo] is not an objective’ of the deal announced November 4. Just the same, the newspaper says, there are plans to maximize ratings and advertising revenue for the corporate parent – such as using NBC News, CNBC and MSNBC footage as the raw material in new factual programs on Bravo.

According to Reuters, a knock-on effect of the deal could be that Bravo’s minority shareholder Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer may make a play to buy the cable channel American Movie Classics. MGM and Cablevision own AMC in a 20%/80% split, the same as Bravo.

Entertainment company VH1 is rolling out several new documentary and reality music programs. Inside/Out, will take a behind-the-scenes look at the real-life pressures artists deal with (such as the fight Tommy Lee had with actress Pamela Anderson for custody of their child). Rock Med will catalog the hard-knocks fans suffer at concerts and music festivals – everything from ankle sprains to drug overdoses. Mock Rock offers a tag-along view of up-and-coming bands given ‘a once-in-a-lifetime chance’ to land a concert at a big-time music venue. In VH1 Ambushed, cameras follow unsuspecting minor-league musicians as they score a surprise audition with world-famous artists such as the Goo Goo Dolls.

In a bid to provide educators with videos for schools and universities, Films for the Humanities & Sciences (a unit of multimedia company Primedia) has joined forces with Bethesda, U.S.-based Discovery Channel to coproduce a one-source archive. Called the Science Video Library, the archive – consisting of 300 video clips and nearly 20 hours of instructional viewing – will be available on DVD or VHS starting in January.

In a scheduling move that could make viewing the program as challenging as one of its own competitions, Channel 4 is gambling that viewers will watch marathon broadcasts of Celebrity Big Brother. The U.K. show, cast with six as-yet-unnamed celebrities, debuts November 20 and will run for 10 days in a row. After the first two nights of one-hour episodes, Channel 4 will air four-hour blocks of Celebrity Big Brother programming (a mix of live broadcasts, highlight and tie-in shows) for the remaining eight days, The Guardian reports.

A Sunday Times survey of earnings by the 500 highest-paid Britons calculates that formats guru Simon Fuller of prodco 19 TV earned £30 million (US$47 million) for creating and producing Pop Idol.

Al-Jazeera, the Arab-language cable channel that was virtually unknown outside the Middle East before last year’s attacks on the U.S., wants to be the next BBC or CNN. Ali Mohammed Kamal, al-Jazeera’s marketing director, told The Times of London: ‘After September 11, we became global and were highly viewed for the first time. Suddenly we had the upper hand on the Western media.’ He said the Doha, Qatar-based channel is planning to relaunch as an international channel – with English as well as Arab broadcasts – and is pumping up its production values and opening more offices around the world. It already has 27, The Times notes. The English launch is planned for the first quarter of 2003.

In the what-will-they-think-of-next category, producers at Fox in the U.S. are planning a reality series in which viewers at home will arrange marriages for a group of singles. Producers pointed out that since divorce rates run at roughly 50% in the U.S., the odds of the audience making a lasting relationship are no worse than the average man and woman on the street. Married in America is set to debut in fall 2003, reported Reuters.

In one of those rare moments when real-life concerns threaten to shatter the insulated world of reality television, Sharon Osbourne vented her performance fatigue and seemed to nearly derail the MTV hit The Osbournes by confessing, ‘We can’t do it anymore.’ According to The Guardian, Osbourne, who has cancer, said in an interview for ABC‘s 20/20 the family was pulling out of the show with 10 episodes remaining to be taped. On November 6, the same day as the 20/20 interview aired, she announced a change of heart and said the show will go on, at least for its 20-episode commitment.

Adding new meaning to the term ‘celebrity-driven’, actor Don Johnson (of Miami Vice fame) has launched a prodco that will develop a reality series. DJS, reports Reuters, is backed by Johnson and producer Scott Steindorff (The Human Stain, an upcoming feature). They are bidding for the option to make a reality show based on the bestseller The One Minute Millionaire; the premise is a blend of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Survivor, Johnson told Reuters.

It turns out The Anna Nicole Show is more appealing than many critics (and there were many) thought. Los Angeles U.S.-based E! Networks says the series has been picked up by TV3 in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, and by Finland’s Channel 4.

About The Author