Shirley Brady talks to programming executives at A&E, AMC, Bravo, Discovery Channel, Discovery Times, here! TV, IFC, National Geographic Channel, Ovation and Showtime (plus program distributor Gary Lico) about the state of documentary programming on cable. A&E – Nancy Dubuc, VP of documentary programming Brady: A&E announced the launch of A&E IndieFilms, an on-air prime-time showcase of four documentaries per year, in October. How are you sourcing the docs for this new banner? Dubuc: We’ve spent a lot of time in the last year attending all the festivals, really kind of searching for what’s appropriate for us. Clearly Sundance is one of the—if not the—premier festivals in the U.S. [In October] launched a banner called A&E IndieFilms, and we’re extremely proud to be co-producing a film called Murderball, which has been accepted into the competition at Sundance, which is a major accomplishment for our first year out. We will also be submitting to various other festivals throughout the year. Brady: What should independent filmmakers understand about this new doc banner? Dubuc: The strategy is multi-fold: We may fully commission [documentary] films with filmmakers that we feel have passion and a story that we want to partner in telling. We will also be acquiring films at the festival that we feel are appropriate for us, and then also working out deals where on occasion a filmmaker is already in production and we may add to their finishing costs. Brady: You’ve used the term “docusoap” to describe your unscripted series such as Growing Up Gotti and Airline. How do you distinguish between docusoaps and docs? Dubuc: That term is taking a page from our British counterparts, as it’s a term that’s used quite regularly in the U.K. As a whole I think the industry is struggling to come up with another term besides reality, because reality has certain connotations of a contest or a prize or a game show, and history has created that, nothing else. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. We need a term, and maybe the obvious thing is we’re all storytellers, we just tell stories differently. So a drama is a drama and a comedy is a comedy. Viewers see them that way: They don’t compartmentalize shows in the way that we try to in the industry. It all comes back to the clich� that truth is stranger than fiction, the audiences are reacting to stories that are real and I think we’ve been able to really tap into something by quote-unquote keeping it real. Because there is so much on television that is unreal, the fact that we’re presenting material that is honest and gripping and funny and emotional and not always portraying people in the most positive light, resonates with viewers because there is honesty to it. Brady: Has reality television, the presidential election or the theatrical success of docs in recent years had an impact, good or bad, on TV viewers’ appetite for docs? Dubuc: You can’t deny we’re seeing a major increase in appetite for this kind of programming over the last five years, if not longer. The audience doesn’t compartmentalize it the way we in the industry do. If they think that something is riveting, entertaining and speaks to where their hearts and minds are right now, then it works for them, whether that’s scripted or non-scripted or fly-on-the-wall or a docudrama or a contest or what have you. There are lots of reasons why programs work. I don’t believe people sit down in front of the television and say “tonight I’m going to watch a comedy, let’s see what comedies are on,” or “I want to watch a documentary, let me look for one.” They look for what speaks to them, and it always comes back to great stories, and all television networks tell stories in different ways, just as in the non-TV world you have comedians and novels and many other forms of storytelling. Brady: Meaning great stories, above all else. Dubuc: Yes. Ultimately they’re all stories, and we search for stories with a relevance and contemporary feeling of what affects and reflects people’s lives today. I think docusoap and docudrama are interchangeable. Some networks meld scripted elements into their documentaries because they’re trying to figure out what people in prehistoric times might have said. Brady: Tell me about some of the auteur-driven docs you’ve commissioned under A&E IndieFilms. Dubuc: We are doing a film with Barbara Kopple right now, called Bearing Witness, which is just in postproduction now and will be airing next year. We followed several female journalists for one year in Iraq, and the kind of boundaries and decisions that they have to make and the difficulties that surround that. It’s definitely very real. We spent an enormous amount of time with them and just let the cameras speak. It’s always important to work with preeminent filmmakers and people who push the boundaries in terms of the way that we tell stories. We put a premium on that; we put a premium on the creative community. We wouldn’t be successful without the energy and the passion of the creative community. Of course, we all have limitations to what we can do. And that’s something the creative community sometimes doesn’t realize, that it can be as equally frustrating for the executives; they just assume that we get to make decisions and that that’s easy for us. And of course it’s not. It’s always a case of picking your children and wanting to do more than you can, and that’s the reality we all live in. Brady: And how many docusoaps are on your development slate? Dubuc: We have eight to 10 unscripted pilots in development that may turn into series. There’s always going to be a need for new programming; as something begins to not hold the interest of the audience you always need to have something to replace it. It’s kind of a never-ending flow, and my goal is that there’s always a handful of projects that we’re really excited about, and if we need to strategically schedule something we have that ability without having to think twice. So we’re committing to projects all the time. There are only 21 prime-time slots on our schedule, so that drives some of the economic realities. There isn’t a restriction there, I find that we’re given—much to [A&E president] Abbe Raven’s credit—a lot of leeway to, if we have an idea that we think is going to break out, there’s always a way to make that happen. Unfortunately it’s usually at the expense of something else, but when something truly has that breakout potential, you have to react to make it happen. And we work very hard at that. Brady: Tell me about some of the unscripted pilots you’ve got in the works. Dubuc: I’m really excited about all the projects we’ve got coming up in ’05: They’re all my children and I hate to single out one over the other. I think Intervention really holds a quiet place in my heart. It is a real boundary-pushing show. It’s heartbreaking, very hard to watch, and we may not be well-received for this show. I think whenever in the creative community as large as this, there are going to be praises and criticisms. It’s handled with sensitivity, and the team who’s working on it deserves full credit because it’s emotionally a very challenging show to work on. You can’t not be affected by this, and millions of people in this country are affected by addiction in one form or another, either directly or by people they love. And this is a way of shining a light on that and in a proactive, non-exploitive way. It’s not a fun show, nor is it meant to be a fun show. It’s people saying to people they care about: You have a serious problem and you have to do something about it, and here’s what you can do. It empowers the people, to some degree, who have the addiction. And it gets back to my goal to have diversity in our programming: Everything can’t be light, everything can’t be fly-on-the-wall, everything can’t be the same note because audiences evolve quickly and their tastes evolve even quicker. And I think this show really could be genre-defining in the sense that it’s heavy, and it’s a drama of the utmost form, and it’s taking the techniques that we’ve learned through non-scripted programming and through reality programming and through fly-on-the-wall or whatever term you prefer, and taking those production techniques and applying it to absolutely the most dramatic story you could tell. Brady: Is your hope that each docusoap, like the upcoming Caesar’s 24/7, will be a breakout hit on the scale of Airline or Gotti? Dubuc: I think everything we do has the possibility to break out. In such a competitive landscape, you don’t go to series on something unless you have the utmost faith in it. We clearly hit a nerve with audiences with Airline based on its performance and its recognition, and I hope that Caesar’s can do the same. A lot of the story and action in Airline takes place in one location—the gate—while Caesar’s is infinitely larger both physically and storywise. So there’s kind of a broader palate for the producers to really diversify the stories that they tell. When we were in production there were signs everywhere that A&E is filming and the camera crews are all outfitted so people know there’s a TV crew on the premises. We’re not in the business of tricking people; we want everyone to be fully aware of what’s going on. That’s a commentary on audiences, because they understand these shows and they know what they are. And so they’re inherently more comfortable with cameras, which is just a strange by-product of this genre of programming. Brady: You tried your hand at the home makeover docusoap. Is that genre dead now? Dubuc: Makeovers are a really touchy area right now, and across the board we’re seeing a real reduction in the audience interest, and all that speaks to is you have to evolve and be creative and progressive with viewers. You can’t do the same thing over and over again. So, yes, I’m less interested in that area and I’m less interested in the more contrived reality programs which have a contest or a prize or that kind of show. It’s not to say that we would never do one of those kinds of shows. It just would have to resonate with a clarity and an idea that would really make sense for us. And people always say, well, what would be the perfect show then? And I always say, well, if I knew it I’d be doing it already. It’s one of those things that when I hear it, I know it. Brady: So what projects are you talking up at the TV Critics Association press tour in January? Dubuc: We will be talking about Caesar’s and our real-life series Robbie Knievel and Chris Angel, but I’m not 100% sure to what level each of them will be featured. AMC – Jessica Shreeve, VP of documentaries Brady: What was the goal for your doc strand, The AMC Project? Shreeve: The AMC Project had been a yearly series of 12 documentaries, a monthly strand, and they were really conceived of as very individual point-of-view docs that looked at the other side of Hollywood. So we were looking for very individual filmmakers and people who had a very specific point of view, an idea that they wanted to express about the world of Hollywood. They weren’t really about moviemaking or about films specifically. So we went through a series of 12 of those and we worked with 12 wonderful filmmakers. We’re very proud of each and every one of those films. Brady: So why is the banner disappearing in 2005? Shreeve: The way we’re handling documentaries now is having them be more focused on films and filmmaking. Although we’re certainly still interested in v�rit� filmmaking, the bigger docs we’re doing going are focused specifically on film, and will be part of a bigger movie festival we’ll have on-air. So for instance, we’re doing a film with Robert Stone, who has a film in theaters right now called Guerrilla, with the working title of Hollywood and the Vietnam War. That will be part of a bigger on-air festival of war genre films (with a specific focus on Vietnam War films) on AMC over Memorial Day weekend. Brady: Why are you scaling back from a doc per month to one per quarter? Shreeve: The reason we’ve evolved into this strategy going forward is because our audience is really thirsty for information about movies. We’re a mainstream movie network, and the vast majority of our programming is movies, and so that’s what the majority of our audience is after. The smaller, more point-of-view docs, they were a little bit harder to work into our schedule between two huge movies, which is where they would appear. They did well critically, and they did all right from a ratings standpoint, but they weren’t as big as we wanted them to be. So we’ve realized through trial and error that the kind of documentaries that work for us are the big tent-pole docs that are tied to usually a major festival. Brady: Do you start with the documentary first, or with the on-air festival or programming event you need anchored by a doc? Shreeve: It’s probably driven for us now more by the festival first, and then the doc. But the reason we are working with Robert Stone is because we saw his film at Sundance [in 2003], and he told an incredible historical story. He made it feel incredibly contemporary and vital, and in some cases that’s really important for us because if you’re looking at a genre, like the Vietnam War movie, you really need someone who can deal with historical elements and give it a really contemporary feel. That’s, some of the time, what we’re looking for. And when we use the doc as an anchor to a bigger on-air event, that delivers for the filmmaker the largest possible audience that we can deliver them. Brady: Is the access to more marketing muscle than you might have given the dozen docs under The AMC Project the pay-off for the filmmaker? Shreeve: Ultimately, everyone works really hard to do these films, and they deserve to have as many people as we can possible deliver seeing them. So you really want to put the documentaries in an environment that makes sense for the documentaries and give them an opportunity to be seen by as many people as possible. So we’ve really found that these tent-pole events is a great way to showcase these documentaries for us. These are often a labor of love for the filmmaker, often a year of their time and, as we all know, no one’s getting rich making these films. What’s really exciting right now is there seems to be a real thirst for these kinds of films and this kind of programming. I think there was a period of time where I think there was a sense that the PBS model was fading away, these really traditional, straightforward informational docs which PBS made popular and successful. So there was a slump where people felt that model would fade away and there may not be a rebirth, which was really sad for people like me who love the form and think it’s incredibly important to have it on television and in cinemas. But it seems to have had a wonderful resurgence. Brady: To what do you attribute this resurgence? Shreeve: I think some of it is because there are so many TV channels and there is so much programming that needs to be made, and there’s an incredible thirst for information among viewers. I also give credit to the HBO model, and [HBO Documentary president] Sheila Nevins, for making documentaries really important and keeping the form really vital—feeling like they can reflect the contemporary world, that they’re not something that’s just from the past. HBO really took the lead on keeping filmmakers engaged and giving them a place to have their work experienced by a very broad audience, and there weren’t that many vehicles for that, at that time, on television. And now that seems to be all over the landscape. Brady: Of course, every network has a different philosophy when it comes to docs. Shreeve: We’re all broadcasters and these are businesses and there is of course a whole world of filmmakers making docs only for theatrical release, who are putting together the funds by themselves and spending five, six years making these films. There are still plenty of people doing that, and that’s a really difficult business model. It’s hard for corporations to support stuff like that, so you see more and more partnerships now, which is great. The BBC and Channel Four in England are very involved in financing and creating docs and keeping the form alive and vital. Brady: And then there’s the theatrical success of docs… Shreeve: I have to assume that the recent success that a number of docs have had theatrically is also fueling the excitement, which is fantastic: Capturing the Friedmans, Spellbound, all kinds of films in theaters that may not have done as well in the past. So that’s great to see, but those are different models really than a television model for a feature-length film. Brady: So are documentaries more or less important now to AMC’s schedule? Shreeve: At AMC, documentary has always been a staple for us, and our audience has always really devoured and loved them. It’s one of the easiest formats for AMC to be successful with. So the tent poles for our new documentary strategy in 2005 will be Danny Akers’ Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust. That is really a film that was started many years ago and will be treated more as a stand-alone project for us rather than as a tent pole. That is slated to be our first quarter ’05 documentary. Second quarter will be Stone’s Hollywood and the Vietnam War, and that will be Memorial Day and that will be part of a war-themed film festival featuring 15 to 20 films. Our third quarter doc is Good Cop, Bad Cop, the evolution of cops in film, and that’s being directed and produced by Barak Goodman, who’s also an excellent filmmaker. And fourth quarter is still up in the air, but we’re looking at a number of things as we haven’t made a final decision on that one. So we will keep our eyes on all of the films and filmmakers at Sundance, because finding the right people for your project is a full-time job. Brady: What are you looking for, exactly? Shreeve: It’s an interesting mix we’re looking for because we’re not looking for pure documentary filmmakers. We need people who also understand how documentary films can work on television, and there’s a big difference between creating and watching a doc on television versus on the big screen. If we don’t’ think the concept is strong enough, whether or not we’re having a film festival, we won’t do the documentary. We’re extremely serious and dedicated to telling really good, rich complex stories and so if it isn’t there we’re most likely not going to do it. A Starz Encore can do a doc on Westerns or Black History Month and that’s great, but those are more like TV specials and there’s a difference. I bet those do well for them, but that’s not our goal: We’re not looking to do TV specials. Brady: What should indie filmmakers know when considering AMC? Shreeve: The conversation I always have with filmmakers when I start talking to them about our creative process is we don’t want to do a television special, but we don’t want to do a film that’s only going to work in a movie theater. And there are conventions that work on television that filmmakers needs to be open to and willing to adhere to, to some degree. We need to work with people who have that degree of openness as well. Brady: So you screen a lot of docs… Shreeve: So we see a lot of films and meet with a lot of people, and some of the time the meetings just end because a filmmaker will say, “Hollywood and film just isn’t something I particularly want to pursue,” or have any great passion or interest in, and that’s fine. But we find that most filmmakers do have a passion and interest in Hollywood and filmmaking, in some way or another, or they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. So then it becomes about just finding the right subject that we think can be successful on our air, and finding the right filmmakers and matching it all up. Because we are a movie network and everybody identifies us that way, people come in with pitches they are almost always, to a fault, extremely targeted to our audience. So it’s rare that we get someone who comes in with a pitch that is way off base with who we are. That would be very unusual. At the same time, there truly aren’t a lot of outlets for Hollywood-centric documentary. Other than like the big obvious things that A&E does, so as a subject matter, there aren’t a lot of homes for those kinds of docs on TV. And it’s even harder to find the right home for really quirky, offbeat projects. Brady: The loss of The AMC Project means one less home for quirky docs on cable. Shreeve: But honestly, a lot of the films we did under The AMC Project banner, people didn’t come in and pitch us those ideas. We met with the filmmakers first and said to them, “We want to do this kind of a project, think about it; this is the direction we’re working to go in and we really want to do these different perspectives and points of view on Hollywood, things that haven’t been done before, and films that aren’t about a genre or moviemaking itself. And so come back to us with some ideas.” And every single filmmaker we met with came back to us with ideas, and that’s how we developed The AMC Project. So nobody came to us and said, “Hey, ever thought about doing a film on people who send in their scripts to John Malkovich’s production company.” I don’t think anybody would have thought of that, really, unless we’d first planted the seed, because that kind of film on its own would be an incredibly hard sell. Brady: So these Hollywood-centric docs you’re now looking for have to be broad, not as quirky as what you did with The AMC Project. Shreeve: Yes, the Hollywood focus tends to need to be big and broad and often celebrity-driven, and in terms of doc that’s very difficult. There’s a lot of access issues and politics and it’s a very hard town in terms of documentary to get around. AMC and IFC are very different networks, but at the same time Alison [Palmer Bourke, IFC VP of development and original programming] will send me pitches that absolutely aren’t right for IFC but could be right for us. Because they’ve perceived of us as a movie network; the difference being the kinds of movies that they air. People get a little confused about that, so they might come and pitch us the history of independent filmmakers and we wouldn’t do that, it’s not right for AMC. We don’t air independent films per se, because we have a network completely devoted to that. One could argue that some of the films that were part of The AMC Project actually fit better on an IFC than an AMC. And yet a project like A Decade Under the Influence could have fit on both networks. Brady: How do you intend to market these docs in a bigger way? Shreeve: There will be more marketing muscle we can now bring to these docs. I have said [to filmmakers], “For you to put in a year of your time and energy and for us to not put our marketing and publicity muscle behind it, would be such a shame.” So that’s why we want to do fewer projects, bigger projects, bigger budgets, and then support them with all our might. So while we now have few original docs, the ones we do have we’re going to put all our might behind them. And ultimately for the filmmaker that is going to be a better proposition. We don’t acquire that many docs, though it’s not that we wouldn’t. It’s just that again the subject matter that we’re looking for is so specific, that there’s just so little out there that really makes sense. We prefer to make them ourselves and have the creative control over the whole process. Brady: I assume you’re not interested in the Starz or Turner Classic Movies approach of commissioning a bio doc on a filmmaker as an anchor for an on-air festival about that director’s work? Shreeve: Biography is an interesting question, particularly in the Hollywood genre, when it’s been so overdone. This series of docs in 2005 is about looking at bigger broader subjects but in a very focused way; subjects that are provocative, where film and society intersect, certainly for the Vietnam and Holocaust films this intersection is absolutely fascinating. These are big subjects, including for our cops doc; and the way they have been depicted in film in many ways shapes how people feel about these subjects. That’s how powerful film is and can be, in terms of telling our history and our stories. That’s reflected in our big docs for 2005. Brady: Will they all be narrated? Shreeve: A lot of filmmakers don’t like to use narration, and if your subjects can tell the story for you that’s great. It’s about however the film works best. Bravo – Lauren Zalaznick, president Brady: How do you want independent filmmakers to think about Bravo? Zalaznick: The message to get out to the filmmaking/director community is [about] the rap on TV, [which] is “television is a producer’s medium, not a director’s medium.” That line is really being blurred, in a positive way, for television, because directors and directorial vision can really be realized in these single-event documentaries. And with the proliferation of especially arts and entertainment cable channels, but certainly the rise of nonfiction programming as opposed to just the rise of reality programming—has come to mean that doc programming in and of itself whether it takes a 90-minute form or a two-hour form or a six-part one-hour series form, that’s filmmaking. That’s actual documentary filmmaking. Brady: Which means what, exactly, for Bravo? Zalaznick: What I’ll say for Bravo is twofold. Most fully distributed, big channels need to have the right checkerboard mix of very broad, formatted, repeatable series. But that big-tent mentality has to be supported with a very high-profile, very high-end series or series of specials. We really take our arts mandate seriously. And part of arts is the auteur-driven vision for a lot of these shows. For instance, we have a feature-length doc, Three of Hearts—Bravo found it, provided the seed money and it premiered in September at the Toronto Film Festival where it was acquired by a theatrical distributor. It is a relationship story that is very unique, very Bravo, that traces a 15-year relationship between two men and a woman and the two children that they have together. And that is really one director’s vision, Susan Kaplan, who had access to them in the way that the director of Startup.com [which we aired on Trio] had access to her subject. Kaplan’s vision is supported by phenomenal access to tell a unique story. And that is the definition of arts. Brady: So how do films like these fit into the mix at Bravo, especially when you’ve been aggressively ramping up unscripted series like your Showbiz Moms franchise or Blow Out? Zalaznick: We’re just doing the real nuts and bolts of the ’05 plan right now, so it’s not quite real yet, but it’s my goal to be in the quarterly, very high-profile, very high-end documentary business. Let’s say three or four times per year, truly a unique slice into the culture. It just can’t be like anything else, and it’s about the right stories being brought to Bravo’s attention. Which is going to happen—the fewer commercial films have an opening for risk. There is very little room for risk for full-length feature filmmaking in the independent world. Brady: Certainly at Trio [Zalaznick’s other network, whose future was still up in the air at press-time] you were very committed to feature-length docs and indie short films… Zalaznick: Shorts are probably the only place where that kind of risk taking can happen. And by the same token, it is very tough to talk about with authority the economics of the film business any more. I was in the film business [as a producer] for a long time—and the economics of television are just, in a weird way, better and easier for one-off full-length documentary film. The good news is that people are seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 or Capturing the Friedmans or all these great films that have gotten some notice. But the economics of those [docs] makes them few and far between, a shot in the dark. Whereas on television I think we can create an environment and we can accumulate viewers over a longer period of time because we will have that show for years and we will promote it and play it and people will continue to see it, as in Three of Hearts. Brady: What kind of docs are you looking for, then, at Bravo? Three of Hearts isn’t about the arts, per se. Zalaznick: The right key is always is this the right project for Bravo? These kinds of projects are not the kind of thing where I am going to say, this is going to be my 55-episode strip. No, these are going to be what Bravo needs to do in the arts realm and at the same time appeal to a massive amount of people. So Fahrenheit 9/11 is probably not right for us: It’s a very political film and we don’t need to be in the political realm. But stories that are arts-driven or relationship-driven—really about the art of filmmaking as opposed to filmmaking about art—that is my mandate. No matter what the subject, it is the art of the process that is appealing to the Bravo viewer, it’s particularly not a mandate to do. Do you put plays on television and does that qualify as art? Well, you know what? There really hasn’t been that successful a way to bring theatrical stage productions to television. we’re still searching for that Holy Grail. Brady: So you don’t want filmmakers to get hung up on labels or preconceived notions about what works on television. Zalaznick: I think the old partitionings of “is it television or is it a documentary” really need to be recast, in the way that many genres are merging and converging. So when I look at something like Showbiz Moms and Dads, we could have produced that as a two-hour documentary, period. But even in television you want to get the most life out of something that used to be only available in a theatrical, two-hour form. So we consider that a documentary series, not a reality show. There is nothing produced about it, it’s observational, following people around. And you see what happens. Discovery Channel – Jane Root, EVP and GM Brady: Where do things stand with Discovery Docs? Root: Grizzly Man has been chosen for Sundance. It’s directed by Werner Herzog, a truly great filmmaker and someone who when I was 15 I had a poster for Aguirre: Wrath of God up on my bedroom wall. So it’s an honor to be working with a filmmaker like Herzog. Grizzly Man is truly an astonishing piece of work. I’ve seen rough cuts all the way through. It’s based on the story of Tim Treadwell, an environmental activist in Alaska who came to believe he had a special mission to protect and live with grizzly bears, and did so for 12 seasons, going up there every summer to live with them. He took thousands of hours of video footage, of himself and himself with the bears. But what’s interesting is the way the story ends—he and his girlfriend are killed, eaten by the grizzly bears—and also the process you see in the footage Werner has put together, of a man starting to unravel in front of his own camera. It’s a pretty astonishing portrait of someone who is almost by themselves in this incredibly dangerous place, and yet trying to connect with the world in a way that ultimately goes terribly, terribly wrong. Brady: So more auteur-driven and less of the natural history-style doc that Discovery is famous for. Root: It’s so far from the classic natural history film in that it’s very raw, very powerful, and some of the sequences that he filmed are unbelievable. It’s got a new approach, a real authorial voice in there saying something different about the world, which is what all truly great documentaries have. Brady: Is the goal—as previously announced—for Grizzly Man to still release it theatrically in spring ’05 and then air it on Discovery in the fall? That was the plan before you came on board. Root: Nothing has been organized yet but that’s one of the plans we’re thinking about. Brady: What other independent filmmakers are you working with under the Discovery Docs banner? Root: We’re working with some great people, such as Vikram Jayanti, who made When We Were Kings, which won an Oscar, about Muhammad Ali. He’s just released a new film [Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine] about Garry Kasparov’s match against the IBM computer, and he’s working on a big film for us that I can’t talk about quite yet. Werner and Vikram are examples of the kind of people we want to work with: really high-level projects, high-level people. Brady: What happened to the Discovery Docs partnership with CameraPlanet? The company recently shuttered. Root: The CameraPlanet relationship led to our first film, With All Deliberate Speed [from director Peter Gilbert], which was before I was here. But right now, quite honestly, I’m not quite sure what stage our relationship with CameraPlanet is. I know they’ve had a lot of changes going on. In the past few months that I’ve been here, it’s been people like Werner and Vikram that I’ve been working with on that front. Brady: What kinds of independent doc projects are you now looking for? Root: Projects that are really inclusive, work for other people and have a real sense of adrenaline and excitement and energy about them, but which also tell you something about the world we live in, reaching out in different kinds of ways. Brady: Herzog and Jayanti are both European. Are your docs going to be primarily co-productions with the BBC, that kind of thing? One of the goals of Discovery Docs—which was launched before you came on board, as mentioned—was to create opportunities for American filmmakers on Discovery. Root: Our aim is to work with a lot of different people. And the best supply is basically throughout the world, both companies and individual filmmakers. We’ve been doing a load of different meetings, breakfasts, drink things with groups of people and meeting people individually. Brady: And what are you telling them you’re looking for? Root: Things that are different to what’s currently on television. Including Discovery. Including everything. The background that I come from is very much about making breakthroughs and inventing new kinds of programs, and that’s what we’re looking for: things that are genuinely fresh, genuinely exciting. And that can come in a lot of different directions. But always, things that viewers have not seen before. And that’s a really important role for Discovery to take. Brady: Besides these select auteur-driven docs, Discovery has a lot of international co-productions in the works—such as the forthcoming BBC/NHK/Discovery co-production Planet Earth—that are big doc events being shot in high definition. Is HD going to be the hallmark of all your big doc projects going forward? Root: HD is something we’ll either be simulcasting or doing alongside Discovery HD Theater. We want to give people who’ve invested in all this great new HD technology something special. The initial idea behind Discovery was a network that was really proud of factual programs, really had some of the best filmmakers in the world on its network and also would try to have a global perspective. All of those things are really important to the network today. What has changed are some of the methods of filmmaking. Nobody ever contemplated the impact of high definition or the Internet 20 years ago. So there are things which have moved enormously in the past 20 years, and which it’s our job to channel. I like to say it’s about finding new clothes for a new era. You still have the same body, but you want to wear this year’s fashions, you want to take advantage of new fabrics, new styles, new colors. But never lose heart with what the core of the brand is. Brady: You’ve only been a few months in the job, having joined Discovery from BBC2 in June ’04. What are the differences and similarities you’ve noticed between American and British viewers’ tastes? Root: It’s really interesting. You change continents and some things are the same, like trying to get things to deliver on time; and some things are very, very different. America is ahead in lots of ways; things like high definition barely exist in Britain. But other things, like participation in and interacting with serious TV projects. For instance, in America, the idea of voting is still pretty much confined to news channels or entertainment. And one of the things we found in Britain is that there’s a huge intermediate area in the middle, where you can take really big serious subjects and yet finding ways for audiences to connect with them. Brady: It seems that these auteur-driven docs like Grizzly Man will be the exception to the rule at Discovery, which will continue to thrive on series. What’s the future, if any, for one-off docs or will your need decrease? Root: The real challenge for people who make great one-off documentaries is to figure out in the next five years how to make them on a huge scale. That might be multiple hours, that might be across several weeks, but the best filmmakers I’ve ever worked, they want big canvases. And that’s what makes their projects interesting. You see that in drama, where you see people wanting to—whether it’s movies that have a whole series of companion movies to them, like Lord of the Rings, or whether it’s a drama with the scope and aspiration of [British director Michael] Apted’s 24—make a project with real impact. And that’s the challenge for documentary makers and factual program-makers. Things that the whole nation can be talking about. So something like Greatest American [a variation on Roots’ Greatest Briton event series at BBC2; coming up in ’05] is just right for us. Discovery Times – Vivian Schiller, VP and GM Brady: Discovery Times Channel is still very young, and has subsisted heavily on docs to date. Do you see that changing? Schiller: We’re coming up on our second anniversary, and our feeling is we’re not a launch network anymore. And we have been successful in our launch strategy, which is we set out to do programs that are incredibly high quality, befitting the two brands. And that would be important, award-winning and clearly communicate to all the people that you communicate to when you launch a network—which is most importantly the viewers but also the advertising community, the affiliate community, the producing community, the press community, everybody—exactly why we’re unique and different. All of that, and then to reach the target audience that we’re trying to reach. So while we’re still a baby network and we’re still new, we’re not a launch network any more. Our single-minded focus for 2005 is to say OK, we’ve established this very specific brand for the network through our programming. Now, how elastic is that brand, and how can we expand it to bring more forms of storytelling and different and a broader range of content on our network? Brady: Meaning what, exactly, in terms of how your programming evolves? Schiller: So what you’ll be seeing is other kinds of genres of programming, and also perhaps broader kinds of subject matter than you might ordinarily think of when you think of Discovery Times Channel. We’re unique in that because we have these two brand names on our channel, not just Discovery but The New York Times, both of which are so well-established within consumers’ minds, that we’re living within a subset of what those two brands represent. So for example one of our goals with this network is to absolutely reflect the best that The New York Times has to offer, in television terms. Brady: Such as? Schiller: I would say that up to this point, most of the programming we’ve done, whether directly tied to New York Times reporting or even if it hasn’t, has been tied directly to what a classic New York Times reader would say is from the “A” section, or the “A” book. Now, if you read The New York Times, you read the A section and you read the Week in Review, but you also read Arts & Leisure, you read the Style section, you read Vows, you read about science and food and dining, you name it. That’s not to say we’re going to become the food network, or the science network, or any of those things; and it’s not literally like on Tuesdays you’ll see the Science Times and Thursday you’re going to see Circuits. But there’s no subject in any of that, that we couldn’t take and make uniquely our own. The strategy has never been to take a newspaper and turn it into television; you will never see a literal version of The New York Times on TV, no newspaper imagery or other hackneyed clich�s. Nobody wants that, especially New York Times readers. But in 2005 you will see a broader range of content and different kinds of style, and dare I say, even more of a sense of humor. So more breadth and a reflection of the sensibility of the newspaper, such as its swing from seriousness to humor, for example. Brady: What has worked, so far, in that vein? Schiller: Anthologies have been very successful for us in the last year. World Wire, which is the only weekly international series on all of American television, when we branded it and put it out there, we saw the needle move and it really galvanized our viewers. And then we launched Screening Room on Thursday nights, which was our theatrical feature slot, really the authored film: quirky looks in the filmmakers’ voice about Americana and international and some classic documentaries like Don’t Look Back. And then we just launched Risk Factor on Saturday nights, where we’re looking at things that are more related to the military, war, terrorism, surveillance, and that’s been really successful in its first month of launch. So we’re launching a new show in January called American Pulse on Sunday nights, which gives us the opportunity to have a little more sense of humor. It’s going to be the really unique stories from American culture, and I don’t mean high culture like opera. Brady: Will these be one-hour docs, or longer? Schiller: These are mostly one-hours, but some of them are feature-length films. We have everything from a film about the making of a hip-hop dancer to another one about the history of the paparazzi. Another one is called Fly With Me, which is the history of the flight attendant but told in a fun way, and it also tells the story of American culture and society and business and feminism, but in an interesting and provocative package. Brady: Is that your biggest on-air change in ’05? Schiller: One of the other trends you’ll see in 2005, particularly as we get ready for upfront, is there are some series that we have in active development that we’re going to be launching that really represent an enhancement of our schedule. We are acquiring a lot of independent films that are already out there, we’re also doing a lot of co-productions, or it’s a film that we’ve commissioned. So we try to have somebody at all the festivals, and RealScreen will be big because it’s right here in town. The filmmaking community really loves us because DTC has an appetite for international subjects, there’s no other place to go, nobody else in the U.S. is acquiring documentaries about international subjects. There’s a perception out there that Americans aren’t interested in what’s going on outside our borders, but in our Screening Room strand on Thursday nights, that’s opened up an avenue for filmmakers to put some of those labors of love on TV. We’re picking up a lot of those films, whereas other networks—and I’m not talking about any Discovery networks—there is something of a chase to the bottom going on. And we are very proudly saying we’re really high-minded, which is a bad word because it makes it sound boring in an “eat your peas” kind of way, but we’re maintaining journalistic standards and quality and filmmakers, viewers and advertisers have all responded to that. So we’re getting a great demo, even though we’ll never be as big as a broadcast network with this strategy. But there’s a huge untapped audience that loves this kind of programming, and that’s having a hard time finding it anywhere else on TV. Brady: Does the theatrical success of docs make it more competitive to acquire these independent films? Schiller: There are a lot of great films out there that are not reaching an audience. The supply is there. What I’m thrilled about is it’s a positive because it’s increased the appetite for people to watch documentaries, whereas before they might not have tried it because they might have assumed it was boring. And it’s also given the creative community some different approaches and ways to do things, and a little more hope that they can make it. So anything that raises the profile of documentaries is great for us. Brady: As an emerging digital network, how important are new technologies and platforms, which Discovery has a commitment to on a corporate level, to your channel? And does that represent any opportunities for the producers you’re working with? Schiller: The impact of new technologies on the appetite and commissioning rate for docs hasn’t hit yet. VOD hasn’t driven documentary demand yet, which doesn’t mean it won’t. It is driving viewership of our programs that we have on Comcast’s VOD and that has been terrific, but I’m not aware at this point of anything being commissioned as a direct-to-VOD project. Brady: The New York Times recently shuttered its TV production arm. What does that mean for the channel? Schiller: In personal terms, there were a lot of great people we worked with, so that has been somewhat difficult because I’ve loved working with a lot of these people over the last couple of years that I’ll no longer be working with. But in practical terms, it doesn’t mean anything in terms of I can’t think of any film that we might have made with NYTTV that we still couldn’t make. And several people are going to stay on board. And so we’ll put together a production team on a case-by-case basis. But there will be no longer be one facility that has [Avid nonlinear editing systems] and all that kind of thing. So it won’t change the quality of what we have on the network. It was really a business development. here! Networks – Karen Flischel, GM Brady: What opportunities does here! provide for independent filmmakers? Flischel: Paul Colichman and Stephen Jarchow founded here! two years ago to provide gays and lesbians with a television network offering a variety of content they can relate to and enjoy. An important component of here!’s business is creating a television destination where independent productions that appeal to our audience can find a home and an on-air environment that cherishes these films. Our community has always been especially supportive of independent films and filmmakers. Our goal is to work closely with cable operators to market these movies along with here’s entire schedule to create new revenue streams and a loyal subscriber base. Brady: Here! made a lot of noise at last year’s Sundance Festival. Are you going again in January? Flischel: Here! has maintained a strong presence at gay and lesbian as well as independent film festivals nationwide in the past several years. The annual Sundance Film Festival is a perfect example of this commitment. Here! will have the following presence at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival: we are a major sponsor of the Queer Lounge [hospitality suite with free admission to guests, gay or straight]; here! will be producing daily written and video reports of the festival and will be producing three 15-minute on-air segments from the festival to be aired on here! following Sundance. Also, our executives will be in attendance to network with emerging and established filmmakers and acquire new product. IFC – Alison Palmer Bourke, VP of original programming and documentaries Brady: What docs have you got coming up in ’05? Palmer Bourke: For 2005 we have the Wanderlust documentary directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, who did American Splendor, that we’re incredibly excited about. That is a feature-length documentary that examines the notion of the road, but not just “the road” as has appeared in movies and books and music. It’s really a philosophical meditation on the dream of the American road, which ties to notions of success and the American dream. It’s a subject that in this current political climate is appropriate to question: Is the American dream still alive, where is the American road? The road, as many of us know who have gone on journeys across country or in the Midwest, is mini-malls and Wal-Marts. Brady: How did it cross your radar? Palmer Bourke: Bob and Sherry came to us with this wonderful idea for a film that would examine that concept both through talking to artists who’ve done road movies; and then Bob and Sherry, as artists themselves, putting their own unique stamp on it—like they did in American Splendor—with the blending of both documentary and fiction elements. Part of our job as development executives at IFC is to continue to outreach to filmmakers through our attendance at festivals and other important industry events. Bob and Sherry are filmmakers we’ve been meeting with over the years, and I think that for them—and I don’t want to speak for them—and many of the marquee filmmakers like Bob and Sherry and Richard LaGravenese [director, IFC’s A Decade Under the Influence] and others that we’ve been able to work with, I think the reason they choose to come to IFC is we consistently provide them with a platform for their voice and their vision. We are not overly involved in providing creative direction. We very much, through our original programming mandate, want to provide a place for filmmakers to exhibit and express their voice. Brady: Just as AMC is retooling its docs strategy by scrapping The AMC Project and going quarterly, are you also rethinking the way that independent films like this are scheduled and promoted on IFC? Palmer Bourke: Yes, we are. It’s probably something that we’ll announce later on in the year, but for now, for instance, Friday nights have been our main focus for our series: Dinner for Five, Ultimate Film Fanatic, Rocked With Gina Gershon. But we’re just in the middle of talking about creating a permanent home for our originals. Brady: Talk about the Rosie Perez project, and why she’s working with Moxie Firecracker, for instance, on her doc for IFC. Palmer Bourke: Actually, that was a pairing that Rosie brought to IFC. She and [Moxie principal] Liz Garbus were on a film festival jury together and became friendly and apparently they bonded over some death-defying plane ride on the way back. And so when Rosie brought her idea to IFC, she brought Liz and Rory (Kennedy, Garbus’ producing partner) with her, which absolutely thrilled us for a number of reasons. Number one, it showed us how intuitively what a smart director Rosie is: that a director is only as good as the people that they have with them, and she really couldn’t ask for any better partners than Liz and Rory. Secondly, Rosie is a really intuitive, creative, really expressive director and I think Rory and Liz give Rosie an anchor, which is something she has expressed, because they’re so experienced. Brady: When will these original docs premiere on IFC? Palmer Bourke: Wanderlust will definitely be on-air in 2005. Rosie’s film, because of the v�rit� [it’s shooting fall ’05], probably won’t be ready until 2006. We will also have Z Channel on IFC, after its worldwide and acclaimed run on the festival circuit and fresh off its National Board of Review honor: It was named one of the top five documentaries of 2004. We plan to really blow it out on-air, it’s going to be the centerpiece of a month of programming in May, which is our celebrating Cannes month. We’ll also be exclusively broadcasting the opening and closing nights of the Cannes film festival. Because Z Channel premiered at Cannes in 2003, we thought it would be fitting to program Z and other films that have made their premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on IFC in May. We may try to run some of the films that were on Z Channel back in the day. Brady: Talk a bit about your development and acquisition process. Palmer Bourke: Interestingly, we don’t find projects at film festivals or at markets. Most of our ideas are developed by directly working with the filmmakers. We use festivals such as Toronto and Sundance as an opportunity to meet emerging filmmakers, to see their work, and it’s really rare that I would go to a festival these days, like a Sundance or a RealScreen, and say this is the perfect documentary for IFC, because often either those films have been bought by a distributor, or financed by someone else to get there in the first place. And so we really use the festivals as a networking and opportunity to screen new work, and secondly to premiere our documentaries, as we have done at nearly every major film festival. Brady: Do you see TV opportunities expanding or shrinking for independent filmmakers? Palmer Bourke: As far as what’s on cable right now, it’s only good for filmmakers. Many of the networks—not just HBO any more, but Showtime, A&E, IFC—are really stepping up their commitment to documentary filmmaking, and 2004 really was the year of the documentary. What that means for documentary filmmakers who for so long have been the red-headed stepchild of the filmmaking community—not just Barbara Kopple, Albert Maysles—is more opportunities for financing. So I actually think that it’s only a good thing. Brady: What are you looking for going forward? Palmer Bourke: From an IFC perspective, we are looking to work with filmmakers who have a distinct and unique voice. So to that extent we somewhat shy away from, “Oh, they only do political documentaries” or “We only do documentaries that are historical.” We not try not to paint ourselves into a corner or to say, “this is the niche that we’re trying to put our IFC stamp on.” Brady: So “director as auteur” is more important to you. Palmer Bourke: IFC is a network that celebrates independent film and independent filmmaking, so we’re really looking to work with directors who want to do a director-driven documentary, where there’s something of a personal story such as in Rosie’s film. Or there’s an exploration of a new format, such as in Bob and Sherry’s work, or with something like Z Channel, which is Xan Cassavetes’ passion project—she’d been watching Z Channel since she was 14 years old and the film is also her directorial debut. In each case there is a unique set of elements that combine, so that each project—while they’re all very different—you could say that they’re all director-driven, and very distinctive in the way that they treat their subject matter, and therefore they are all uniquely IFC. It’s that perfect storm for us when a unique set of elements combine for us and we say, that’s it. Brady: So you know it when you see it? Palmer Bourke: For me, because I’ve been doing this for a while now, I can usually tell right away. The documentary filmmaking pool of money is not big, so, yes, I will steer filmmakers to other networks and opportunities if it’s not right for IFC. Almost all the executives doing this at networks know of one another, so it’s not unusual for us to pass projects along that way, and certainly projects come to us that way. Brady: Is it harder when filmmakers come to IFC seeking completion funding? Is that less desirable to you? Palmer Bourke: If you talk to filmmakers when they haven’t gotten their financing, it’s really difficult, but I see both sides of it. Of course it’s very frustrating to see talented people with amazing ideas and they can’t get money for it and we can’t give them money for it because their project isn’t right for us. Particularly in documentary filmmaking, what I see in smart producers like Liz Garbus and Rory Kennedy, is you actually see them—and particularly Albert Maysles has done this—show an enormous degree of versatility as to what their company will produce. So they’ll do a wide variety of different types of docs: Liz will produce stuff for A&E that is very different than what she’ll produce for IFC or for HBO. From a business standpoint, that is very, very smart. Brady: As television evolves into new platforms, do you see that opening up new platforms and opportunities? Channel 4 in the UK recently announced they’re launching a documentary channel strictly for broadband to create more opportunities for filmmakers, and IFC already has a VOD and broadband platform, for instance. Palmer Bourke: There may be an upside for the viewer, but I don’t see an upside for the filmmaker in terms of financial viability, but for viewers, with all of these different platforms, it’s terrific. So thank God for Channel 4. We actually just met with them because they produce and finance so many documentaries, and have a boundless appetite for production of docs. I think what they’re doing is fantastic. National Geographic Channel – John Ford, EVP of programming Brady: How have you seen docs evolve since the early days when you were working with independent producers on natural history films for Discovery? Nowadays it seems to be all big idea, CGI-driven, ratings grabbers, at least on television, whereas theatrically there is a thirst for almost old school docs such as Spellbound, Capturing the Friedmans and the like. Ford: We use all the modern tools for storytelling. They’re not necessarily needed in all programming but when they’re needed we’ll use them. That version of documentary—Supersize Me, Fahrenheit 9/11, the sort of sociopolitical commentary documentary—it ebbs and flows. It has its moments. Think back to the movie Hoop Dreams, which was all the rage about 10 years ago. When I was at TLC we did a show called On the Ropes, which was nominated for an Oscar; that was sort of a boxing Hoop Dreams. Last year there was a feature doc in the theaters, Touching the Void, which was all the rage, based on a true story. And of course 2004 being an election year there was a slew of political docs coming out, some anti-Bush and some anti-Kerry and everybody competing with somebody else’s documentary. Those are such works of the heart, if you will, that they will always be around. And there will always be some sort of audience for them. Brady: How do you work with doc-makers now at National Geographic Channel? What’s your brief to them? Ford: Our work tends to be more collaborative with filmmakers, where we’re working together to create something rather than they come to us with their vision for their singular idea and we give them a lot of money and they go off and make it. We need to make sure that it’s going to meet the needs of cable affiliates and cable audience. We’re much more in the mode of inviting filmmakers to come in with their ideas and then we work together to shape them into something that’s going to work on our channel and be true to our brand. One of the core values of a good show on National Geographic Channel is daring, suspenseful and adventurous, or at least one of those three. And if it isn’t going to be one of those three then it’s not likely we’re going to pursue it, with some exceptions. And there will always be exceptions—we create the rule in order to break the rule. We set guidelines, not rules, and we want people to break those rules if they’ve got a great idea. Brady: You must be pitched a ton of ideas. Ford: Yes, we look at a lot of things. And we’re so broad—because we do natural history, science, history, adventure, exploration—that we can work in a wide variety of genres so long as we compelling storytelling going for us. That’s really the key. We’ve got to be able to tell a story. We explain that ad nauseum to producers. We have so many producers talking to us in a given moment that we have actually set up a website [NGCideas.com] where producers can submit everything and it makes everything easier, because as we go through the process we can move everything around electronically rather than killing a lot of trees to make copies. Brady: With the increased pressure to up the entertainment value in docs for television, are the facts in danger of being left by the wayside? Ford: We’re absolute sticklers on accuracy. Our research department fact-checks every single item in every single show, and I think we’re the only nonfiction network that has a dedicated staff that does nothing but fact-check. If you’re a new producer working with National Geographic Channel, it’s something of a cold shower to come in and find out you have to annotate with source information every script so everything’s sourced. That protects us from blurring any lines. Another is just a simple matter of exercising taste and judgement, which any network has to do. It has to define its boundaries. You define yourself to some degree as much by what you don’t do as what you do. We’re pretty clear about not wanting to do anything mindless, or that would promote illegal behavior, or a whole string of things that fall into that category. It’s up to any executive at any network to determine what falls into the realms of taste and good judgement and brand truthfulness for that network. Brady: You pioneered hi-def filmmaking at Discovery, and have started shooting in that format at Nat Geo Channel. How important do you see HD, and even VOD, being as new platforms for filmmakers? Ford: Producers are becoming more aware of all that. VOD is growing by leaps and bounds. Hi-def is something that we’re asking filmmakers for more of. Those are the two platforms. VOD is particularly a very good promotional tool for it, because it promotes the network and our programs. Certainly filmmakers are aware of these new platforms, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot to them because nothing’s going to be made strictly for the VOD market. In terms of television, a film is always going to be on a channel and then going to VOD. Brady: Talk about what you’ve got coming up in the way of docs. Ford: At the TV Critics tour [in January] we’re focusing on a two-hour special called Search for the Ultimate Survivor, and we’re not talking about the reality TV show. It’s a show that will open people’s eyes all over again to humans and how we got here. We’ve done research all over the globe for the last year and put it all together into one two-hour documentary with interviews, CGI recreation and expert analysis to explain how humans evolved from their pre-hominid origins. The punch line is that we almost didn’t make it. According to the paleontological record, it wasn’t as though apes led to humans; there was a bunch of competing near-humans at the same time. And the fact that Homo sapiens won out, in the judgement of the leaders in the field, was a close call. It’s a fascinating story, we’ve got Louise Leakey, granddaughter of Richard Leakey, who still works near the Kenyan border uncovering fossils. Our other show [being previewed at TCA] is Inside the Mafia, building on our Inside franchise, where we went Inside the Secret Service and got a 1 rating. You know how the Mafia always says its not personal, it’s just business? This focuses on how big business the Mafia really is. It looks at the Mafia as the global multinational corporation that it is—it just happens to be illegal. At one time, its global assets were on a par with the world’s 12th richest nation. It’s phenomenal in size. So we tell the story of how it came to be; how it got to be big business; and then how its wings got clipped when John Gotti fell and how the law brought it partially down in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ve got Joe Pistone, who is better known as Donnie Brasco, who spent years infiltrating the Bonanno family. We also go to Sicily, and the Italian prosecutors there working to tear down corporate headquarters. Ovation – Hal Morse, president Brady: How important are docs to your schedule? Morse: About 60% of our schedule is documentaries. For us, it’s a niche that we looked at very carefully when we started. Documentaries had been popular on the analog channels for a long time, Discovery being a good example of that. But we felt that as a broad arts channel we should take advantage of the tremendous programming that was being done, primarily performances of the arts that go along with our network. The audience for that meshed with our demographic, and so we have several good partners—such as NVC, which is now a private company called Digital Classics; the BBC; and we work with about six or seven smaller companies such as Eagle Rock to help us produce that programming, and so we are able to create a good niche brand in Ovation. Susan Winburn, our VP of programming, develops those alliances. For the most part these are acquisitions, but they’re very new acquisitions produced in the last year. Brady: What’s coming up in ’05? Morse: We’ve got a doc coming up on Abba, called Super Troopers, slated for mid-January. It’s kind of a reunion of the band and a look back over 30 years, and the timing is great with the popularity of Mamma Mia. This doc has never been seen in the U.S. Another one is on Sid Caesar, which is another reunion show we came across that we thought was perfect for us. It has Caesar, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, and again with the popularity of The Producers we expect that to do well for us. So we try to tie into the popular mainstream such as Broadway, and not be obscure in our arts coverage. We have another great documentary coming up on John Cleese, who’s a very interesting guy; and we’ve got a documentary on January 20th called Goya: Crazy Like a Genius with the art critic and commentator Robert Hughes, which is a very enjoyable documentary from the BBC. Hughes also has a book on Goya out, and so we’re always trying to tie it into something that people are talking about, thinking about or hearing about. Brady: Do producers know about Ovation’s commitment to arts docs? Is the word getting out there? Morse: Larger networks are focused on reality programming so producers are coming to networks like Ovation, basically because we have a much clearer demographic and they feel more comfortable here. And we have a growing demo and they, just like anybody else, like to develop partnerships with a network that’s growing than the more formidable juggernauts to crack. Brady: What’s your demo? Morse: Our demo is from age 40 to 65; it’s the highly educated, wealthiest biggest spenders on TV. That’s the demo that cable television has been trying to search for forever. Brady: Do you have to compete against Bravo and A&E? Morse: Bravo has always been more general entertainment. Networks are always changing but you have to keep your finger on the pulse. You have to tie it into what’s going on and what’s popular. Ovation moved in that way in music for example; we have something called Musicfest on Friday and Saturday nights, featuring very contemporary popular artists. And that has been attracting a lot of younger viewers, with whom it’s extremely popular. Like every network, we’re always looking for newer eyeballs in terms of younger viewers. Brady: Has Trio also been a competitor? I’ve noticed some crossover in arts and music docs between your network and Trio. Morse: We have developed our own art brand, just like Trio developed its own art brand. Trio was always more pop culture than arts, much like what Bravo has started to become under NBC. I really enjoyed when they got a lot of the programs that didn’t make it on the networks, Brilliant but Cancelled. The important thing is always to bring something to the viewers that they want and that you can prove that and it continues to grow. It’s pretty simple. No matter what happens to Trio…if we become the only arts programmer on cable, that’s good for us frankly. But we’re not sure what’s happening with them. Showtime – Ann Foley, EVP of programming Brady: What’s your docs philosophy? Foley: It goes back to what we believe one of our challenges is, which is to present stories that we can tell perhaps better than other people, or that other people won’t tell. Documentaries certainly fit into that because it’s an opportunity to shed light on a moment in time, a subject, a person in an in-depth and thoughtful way that I think adds a great deal to the portfolio of programming that we have on the air. Our documentaries receive prime-time exposure, there’s one a month. It’s a combination acquired and in-house-produced material, and it’s a big commitment on the part of Bob Greenblatt, because he initiated the Sho Exposure label and certainly has been incredibly supportive of the projects we’ve brought forward. Brady: Has the range of projects expanded with Showtime’s commitment to documentary filmmaking? Foley: There is a real range in the stories we’re presenting. Sometimes at the 30,000-feet level you might think documentaries are terribly intense, earnest efforts looking at some minute portion of the world or of a subject. But actually if you look at the documentaries we’ve got coming on the air, from the transforming work of Michael Moore through the more quiet or unknown stories like Rikers High to projects like Morgan Spurlocks’ Super Size Me, which tells a story with great good humor, we’re fortunate to have a range of projects that we’re proud of. Brady: Do you think it’s getting tougher for documentary makers to get their work on television? Foley: The majority of documentary filmmakers come up through shorts and following a path similar to an independent feature filmmaker. Reality TV, as it’s currently configured by the broadcast networks, is a very different animal than documentaries. There are wonderful filmmakers out there who have wonderful stories, but we just may not be the best place for them to tell those stories. I recently referred a producer to Court TV because I’ve been watching what they’ve started to do there with Marc Juris coming on—they’ve started to take an interesting turn in their original programming. A&E is shifting what they’ve been doing the past year under Bob DiBitetto. There are interesting opportunities coming up from some cable networks that filmmakers might not have thought of immediately to bring projects to, and I’m certainly happy to provide that introduction if I can and if it’s appropriate, and certainly other networks as well have done the same for us. Brady: So talk about what you’ve got coming up in ’05. Foley: Rikers High is now in editing, and it’s been a very long and intense one, but it’s really starting to shape into a marvelous movie. We were very fortunate to get a documentary into the Sundance Festival, After Innocence, and that is a fascinating story following exonerees who’ve been freed by The Innocence Project, the DNA-based project that gets wrongfully imprisoned people freed from jail. It follows a handful of exonerees in various stages of their life through the Innocence Project; four of them have been released, one for five years, one for a month; and also follows an inmate in the final stages of trying to get out of jail. The film asks the question how do you put a life back together that’s been so horribly interrupted by a wrongful conviction. That came to us from very young filmmaker in California who received an Academy Award nomination for her short film and a producer who is also a lawyer on The Innocence Project. We sometimes joke that between Rikers and After Innocence, I’ve wept my way through most of the fall. But it’s really compelling material, and I hope audiences will love them as much as I do. We’re also finishing up a documentary whose working title is Same Sex America. It looks at the battle for gay marriage in Massachusetts. It certainly gains some resonance from the recent election and the divide between states over the issue of gay marriage. Brady: And of course, you’ve got Fahrenheit 9/11. Foley: Yes, in 2005 we will be showing Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 under the Sho Exposure banner, which brings to light all kinds of documentaries, from big and well-known to smaller ones. Because that film was one of the breakout hits of last year, it will be afforded that kind of attention on Showtime—it’s penciled in to tentatively air in the first half of the year. Brady: You’ve been doing this a long time. How has independent filmmaking changed, and what does that mean for a cable outlet like Showtime? Foley: Certainly [with] the changes in technology over the past five or 10 years, the availability of wonderful technical equipment that can be bought cheaply so material can be edited cheaply, you no longer need to haul an eight-person crew and a 35mm camera in and out of people’s lives. Look at how small, how light, how cheap and how accessible video cameras have become: It’s a whole different undertaking now than it was 10 years ago, and I think people are taking advantage of that to bring cameras to places that they just couldn’t go before. I also think—and Michael Moore is the current godfather of this phenomenon, though there have been others in the past—there is trend of making the filmmaker a part of the story. Super Size Me is as much about Morgan Spurlock and his experience and fearlessness at putting himself at the center of that experience; and with Michael Moore’s films, it is about his voice. It is not an attempt to tell a distanced or objective story; his humor, his rage, his point of view is felt in every frame of his movies. And that confidence is empowering to young filmmakers, but of course not every filmmaker wants to do that. The extraordinarily talented [director Jessica Sanders], who is doing After Innocence for us, is invisible in every frame. There is no concept of the filmmaker as a presence in this movie, and that’s a choice she makes and that a lot of documentary filmmakers make. I just think it’s nice to see the range of possibilities of these beautifully crafted, lovingly produced films. They can be shot quickly with the best available equipment but gain real power through their rawness and lack of sophistication. We’re pretty active at this Sundance Festival for a number of reasons. Not only will we be there with After Innocence, but Reefer Madness, a big Showtime movie for 2005, is also premiering there. We also have a new independent films division, so it is a good place for us to meet new and emerging voices and also understand the rhythm of what’s being produced, by whom and why. It’s great to see how rich and deep the Sundance submissions were this year. It’s staggering to imagine the physical challenge of weighing up the 2600 films they have to evaluate. Brady: With so many docs competing at Sundance, are there enough opportunities for them on television? Foley: There is enormous opportunity today because there are so many more channels, so many more distribution outlets. You can work in HD, you can work in a very small genre and contribute a documentary or voice to an existing or planned outlet with a specific target, such as the gay and lesbian community with here! or Logo. Those are new outlets for filmmakers on both the documentary and feature film side. Certainly the basic cable networks are becoming more aggressive in pursuing that, and I think HBO and Showtime have taken significant steps forward in terms of documentaries on premium cable. Even in the on-demand universe you’ve got the opportunity to expose your work a good deal more broadly and without much restriction to a new audience. Brady: Showtime has made a huge commitment on the original programming front to HD. How critical is that on the documentary front? Foley: Hi-def is a commitment that our network has made and we have dramatically increased the number of programs we both produce or acquire in HD. The documentary front, for me, starts with the story. What story are you trying to tell and what is the best way to tell that story? If you’re doing something with a handheld camera that’s trying to tell a very spontaneous or on-the-fly kind of story, then perhaps HD is not the right format for your film. So I don’t think we’re going to set a rule that filmmakers must do this or do that. The choice of format and delivery in this category is part of a creative conversation and you will reach the right decision if you understand what you’re creatively trying to accomplish. Brady: What’s your advice to indie filmmakers who approach Showtime? Foley: If you think broadly about the network, it goes back to: Is this a story that we can tell that other people either can’t or won’t? And it’s got to be a story that has complete passion and commitment, both from the filmmaker and from us as the network. If you try and think it through as an equation and as a formula, it won’t work because it’s contrived and conceived out of artifice and strategic thinking, not out of feeling compelled to tell that story. So it has to start with a great story and then goes to whether or not we have the audience and the sensibility that will give the film the right home; and then we look to strike a great partnership. Brady: Is there an opportunity for the emerging talent on your independent doc side to get a stab at a scripted project? Foley: I can’t think of anybody who has worked in nonfiction programming here and then gone on to direct a series or a pilot. Interesting emerging voices come up through independent film, and powerful and interesting voices come back to those genres, so I like to think there’s a certain fluidity in your ability to handle budgets, scripts, shooting that lends itself to documentaries, or features, or series or other forms of programming. But many documentary filmmakers want to be documentary filmmakers, they don’t consider it necessarily an entr�e to another form. I’ve yet to meet a documentary filmmaker who considers it a poor cousin to feature films. CableReady, program distributor – Gary Lico, president and CEO Brady: What requests are you getting from cable nets in terms of docs? Lico: The clich� I’m hearing in general is characters and storylines—you know, good solid colorful characters, with good storylines. Character-driven, bigger than life, on-camera talent is the key—as in people who just jump off the screen. In fact, some networks even tell us, you bring us the talent and we’ll figure out a show for them. Brady: Is it hard for independent producers to sell a one-off to a network versus a series pitch? Lico: More and more networks are just begging for series. Including networks that in the past have been known for one-offs more than series, are now looking for series more than one-offs. Brady: Are you starting to get requests for programming to fill nonlinear—VOD and broadband—platforms? Lico: That’s not driving program purchases. Nobody is saying I need X program for video on demand. Instead, they’re dialing that into a contract as another delivery. Our feeling is if it’s another way of delivering what you’re doing already, then no, we’re not looking for any compensation. But if you are charging money for it and it is another commercial enterprise, then we’re looking for some compensation on that. Brady: What do you think when you hear about yet another independent production company such as CameraPlanet shuttering? Lico: That’s just another example of these companies that are midsized, have growth ambitions and just grow beyond their means. I’m real sorry to hear that. I don’t want to wish anyone ill. It’s tough to be a Discovery Channel. They’re living in fear that if they don’t step up to the plate and get a home run every time, they’re going to get kicked off the team. Thankfully, we’re not in the production business. We don’t put ourselves at risk. In fact, what we try to do for our producers is minimize their risks by going out and looking for commissions, or at the very least minimizing the expense of jumping into a production by spreading the risk around. Brady: Networks would counter that it’s tougher than ever to get eyeballs and advertisers, so the demands are tougher and the bar must be higher. Lico: It’s tough? Only when they don’t know what they want. Only when they string you along and say, yeah, we want that, and then six weeks later they say, well, we thought we wanted that. Or they change their horses midstream. But they still need programs, and it’s our job to meet their needs. Our job isn’t to meet our needs: Our job is to help them meet their needs. We get what we want when we help them get what they want. Brady: So what are the programming needs that you’re trying to meet? Lico: I don’t buy into this week’s view that reality is dead. I think reality will continue to be a genre, it’s an affordable program strategy, there is a vast quantity of rich vibrant characters out there demanding to be in front of the camera, and viewers enjoy watching them. Whether it means planting a camera in front of them and creatively telling their story, or putting them in contrived situations to come up with some sort of dramatic conclusion to have a good television show, it will continue to be an important strategy. Brady: Where do you find the producers and filmmakers to create these shows for cable networks? Lico: We don’t hit Sundance, because at a lot of these festivals producers are really looking for funding and we don’t do that, and I hate to let them down. But we’re a platinum sponsor at RealScreen, that’s a big deal for us, and we go to the two MIPs, MIPTV and MIPCOM; and Asian television Forum. I went to Sunny Side of the Doc last year; I don’t think I’ll go again. Brady: You took a big booth on the floor at NATPE last year. Are you doing that again this year? Lico: I just hope more people come this year. I looked at the list of buyers who were coming and I wasn’t doing cartwheels. I don’t use NATPE to launch product to cable networks. If I have five customers wanting product, that’s a lot. The very nature of cable is if you have a niche idea, it’s not like syndication where you’re trying to get 100 stations in the tent. We’ve actually left the floor at NATPE and decided to try a suite this year, just because we’ve never tried a suite, and our feeling was we were seeing a good number of our buyers at RealScreen two weeks later, and frankly I never even got around the floor last year. So I’m going to spend one day in the suite having meetings and then another day wondering the floor, taking some meetings there, so I’ll get to see more. Brady: So it’s tough for independent producers, in your view, to get a big commission for, say, a doc series on a cable network. Lico: It’s always subjective, but it’s tough. It’s tough for these independent producers coming to NATPE. Because they’ve got a very slim chance of getting anything noticed. Twenty, 25 years ago when the business wasn’t in a stranglehold by station groups, you had a much greater democracy and you had a much greater chance of getting your program noticed by a television station and maybe getting a shot. But [with] these large station groups and a far more competitive marketplace, nobody is going to walk by and say, “Hey I like your cooking show, I’ll give you a shot.” It’s not going to happen.