News in Brief

Jennings launches PJ Productions; the BBC makes a place for factual entertainment; C4 cuts open a controversy
November 21, 2002

News anchor Peter Jennings has formed an independent production company in a deal with ABC that allows him to make documentaries for other outlets except U.S. competitors CBS and NBC. PJ Productions was unveiled November 17 and born of contract negotiations between Jennings and the network, which has also agreed to pay for and air at least four of his prodco’s docs in primetime each year until 2007, the Associated Press reported.

As part of a radical shake-up of its entertainment division, the BBC is reportedly establishing a factual entertainment unit. The division will be broken into four units – format entertainment, entertainment events, music events and factual entertainment – but no job cuts are in store, The Guardian reports. Entertainment chief Wayne Garvie told the newspaper the Beeb has to be ‘more ruthless’ and ‘has been guilty in the past of not always responding to channel needs quickly enough.’

The U.K.’s Channel 4 has touched off a controversy by broadcasting an autopsy November 20. As a result of the 60-minute program The Autopsy (first taped live in front of 300 spectators in London and then broadcast the same day at 11:45 p.m.), C4 received hundreds of telephone calls and hits to its website, says The Guardian. The majority of the calls were complaints, but the majority of the hits were accolades, the newspaper says.

Japanese pubcaster NHK, Discovery Communications International and NASA are cooperating on a live high definition broadcast from the International Space Station next March. In an historic first, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will make two, 20-minute broadcasts using equipment developed by NHK. NASA will relay the images. The HD gear will be left at the station, meaning other broadcasts will be made in the future.

The National Film Board of Canada has unveiled two initiatives in a bid to increase exposure to its extensive archive, including documentaries. At the end of November the government agency is opening the NFB Mediatheque in Toronto, a public facility containing a cinema, workshop, lounge, and conference rooms, all of which can be hired out, and personal viewing stations offering on-demand access to films. The NFB is also launching the NFB Film Club, a Canada-wide screening series that will include documentaries such as Salvation (Rosemary House), The Unfinished Journey (Jean-Thomas Bédard) and To My Birthmother (Beverly Shaffer).

Alexandria, U.S.-based pubcaster PBS took a step down the digital-TV path on November 21 by announcing the successful build-out of some of the infrastructure needed to make digital broadcasts work. PBS Orion, a Web-based system needed by PBS’ member stations to manage digital transmissions, was made by Accenture.

Debt-burdened media giant Vivendi Universal rejected a US$15 billion offer for its entertainment assets November 21. According to Reuters, the bid included the Paris-based company’s Canal+ cable unit, and was made by a group led by oil billionaire Marvin Davis. It was reportedly turned down because it was too low. The sale of the entertainment group would have meant the break-up of the company.

A freelance filmmaker is suing ABC News and journalist Ted Koppel for US$30 million for allegedly stealing his interview with Pol Pot, the Cambodian dictator who died in 1998. Nate Thayer, reports The Guardian, claims the 1997 interview taped in northern Cambodia was screened on Koppel’s Nightline in breach of an agreement allowing only limited use of the exclusive footage. The claims from the lawsuit (quietly filed in New York, U.S. in October) include copyright infringement, breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment and tortious interference with business relations, the newspaper says. ABC denies the claims. ‘We find it unfortunate that Mr. Thayer and his lawyers have attempted to attack the good name of one of America’s most respected news broadcasts as well as a journalist of impeccable reputation,’ Jeffrey Schneider, the vice president of ABC News, told the paper.

Sedna IV, a three-mast sailboat that included a documentary team as part of its crew, has completed its six-month sail through the Northwest Passage. The National Film Board of Canada, a copro partner, said November 19 that the ship had docked in British Columbia. Partners in the 5 x 1-hour series Arctic Mission, which will feature footage from the voyage, include Canada’s Glacialis Productions and Gedeon Productions of France (see RealScreen July 2002).

Researchers at Manchester University in the U.K. have concluded that the brain likes television. They found the brain assimilates information best when delivered in sound and sight, favoring TV viewing over many other past times like reading. The study also found that watching the tube exercises all of the brain (unlike the rest of the body), according to a report by BBC News.

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