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TRAILBLAZERS RuPaul Charles sashays around the world with Drag Race
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25 YEARS OF HISTORY
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GRETCHEN CARLSON: BREAKING THE SILENCE
JANUARY + FEBRUARY 2020 15 FIRST LOOK
Picks of the best docs of the ‘10s; Abby Greensfelder talks Everywoman Studios; John Smithson on selling your sizzle.
DEVELOPMENT AND COMMISSIONING Producers and commissioners weigh in on trends to watch for in 2020.
The people who are paving the way ahead in the non-ﬁction/unscripted entertainment industry, and your take on the year that was.
THE FINAL CUT
How to use UGC successfully, and legally, in your project.
A look at the ﬁrst quarter century for A+E Networks’ History.
What we at Realscreen loved to watch in 2019.
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Rick Harrison and the Pawn Stars cast are among the many success stories at A+E’s History.
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I sit down and eke out a few minutes to write the ﬁrst editorial of a new decade, I am simultaneously trying to calm my mind in the midst of the annual “frantic and frazzled” season. It’s the time in which magazine deadlines, ﬁnal touches of preparation for the Realscreen Summit, holiday shopping and vacation planning, and the last days of school for my kids before winter break all dovetail into each other, forming a swirling vortex that is equal parts activity, adrenaline and anxiety. Of course, this is not unique to me. But this past year, I made a vow to myself to swim against that tide of tumult and spend a little more “quality” time with what is, really, the only time we have — the present moment. Along with that resolution came the intention to focus more on what I’m thankful for than what I’m afraid of, or anxious about. Maybe this moment — in which I’m perched at a keyboard, scanning the gray matter for something to say about the past decade in the non-ﬁction/unscripted content business — is an opportune time to give this gratitude thing a try. So here goes. Naturally, I’m extremely thankful for the Realscreen editorial team and the many great journalists I’ve had the opportunity to work with as part of that team over the last decade-and-a-bit. Juggling responsibilities for our daily, our quarterly magazine, our market-leading events and a fair bit of work travel makes it not the easiest of gigs, and I’m very grateful that my colleagues — Dan, Frederick and Jill — consistently give the brand their best, as does our ubercreative art director, Mark. Certainly makes my job easier… Continuing with those close to “home,” I’m very thankful for our intrepid sales team, Joel and Kristen, who always ﬁnd new and innovative ways to support our editorial efforts and our events, and our marketing whiz, Suhail, who effectively gets the word out. I’m also full of gratitude for those who work tirelessly to bring the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West to life, year upon year. In particular, our lead event producer, Tiffany, has an uncanny ability to wrench order out of chaos which comes in handy more often than I can say. And of course, I’m exceedingly thankful for the camaraderie and guidance of the person who brought me into the Realscreen fold, Claire. Outside of these walls, I’m also quite grateful for all of the people I’ve had the good fortune of meeting via this role over the past decade-plus. Sadly, a few of them — David Lyle, Matt Gould and Yves Jeanneau spring to mind — are no longer with us physically. But when I think back on the kindness and generosity they — and many, many more of you — bestowed upon me when I ﬁrst took the editor’s chair in late 2008, it ﬁlls me with, you guessed it, heaps and heaps of gratitude. I’m thankful for the great work I’ve had the privilege of seeing that has come from so many of you reading now, and the amazing stuff to come. And last but not least, I’m thankful for those of you who have chosen, in this all-important present moment, to read this, and to be the most vital part of what we do. There. I feel better already. Bring on 2020.
From frantic to thankful
January + February 2020 Volume 23, Issue 2
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elcome to the first issue of Realscreen in the 2020s. It’s mind-boggling that I’m moving into the third decade of penning these missives — from the Noughts, to the Tens, and now into the Twenties. But what’s more mind-boggling is the transformation of the media business in the last 10 years. Looking back on my musings in the January-February 2009 issue of Realscreen, I was marvelling at the way my laptop, PVR, BlackBerry, HD television and iPod had changed the way I consume media and communicate with friends and for business. Having scoured the 72 pages of that issue, there’s no mention of streaming. Netflix was still renting DVDs and Blu-ray while testing out the streaming media business. Fast forward 10 years to this issue, where we look back on 2019’s SVOD expansion among other highlights and trends of the past year. Increasingly, people are viewing a tremendous amount of content on an amazing range of devices when and where they want. The good news is that even as the business has undergone significant change over the past decade — with budget and margin crunches, increasing competition and M&As in the mix — the appetite for unscripted and nonfiction content has not diminished. In the vein of moving forward, there are a couple of Realscreen announcements to share. Firstly, after a wonderful 12-year run in Santa Monica, Realscreen West is packing up and heading down the Pacific Coast Highway to the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa in Dana Point. Just over an hour from LAX, and 35 minutes from Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, Dana Point is breathtaking and offers a relaxing environment for getting business done, away from the rush of the city. Realscreen West takes place June 2-4, 2020. Next up, you all know that the Realscreen Summit relocated to New Orleans last year after an amazing 20 years in Washington, D.C. The move was embraced and has re-energized the non-fiction content community and the event, as is evidenced in the uptick in our numbers over the last two years. It’s with much excitement that I am announcing that we have one more year in New Orleans, and then we’re packing up and heading to Austin, Texas, for a change of scenery. Austin offers exuberant entertainment and culture, inspiring cuisine and stunning outdoor settings, and is home to more than 250 music venues and a vibrant arts scene. The idea is to keep the event fresh and vital, and apart from all of the hard work that gets done at a Summit, there is certainly a huge appetite for world-class cuisine and entertainment. So get ready for more exciting new experiences come Realscreen Summit 2022.
‘Til then, go well. Claire Macdonald VP & publisher Realscreen 013
REALSCREEN AWARD NOMINATION Reality - Constructed Reality (Mums Make Porn)
BROADCAST AWARD NOMINATIONS Best Daytime Programme (The Customer is Always Right) Best Multi-Channel Programme (Emma Willis: Delivering Babies) Best Independent Production Company
BEST OF THE TENS
Not only has 2019 drawn to a close, but we have also bid adieu to an entire decade. We reached out to myriad members of the non-ﬁction screen content community — from festival programmers and commissioners to producers — and gave them the not-so-simple task of picking their favorite documentary and factual projects of the past 10 years.
John Smithson on the all-important sizzle reel
Everywoman Studios’ Abby Greensfelder
Co-founder, Lightbox (Whitney, Murder Mountain, LA 92)
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
OJ: MADE IN AMERICA (Ezra Edelman) This groundbreaking deep dive brilliantly reframes a story we all thought we knew and makes it urgent all over again. This may be the film of the decade for me. MINDING THE GAP Fresh, intimate, full of heart and soul. I was on the Sundance jury the year it premiered and there was just nothing else like Bing Liu’s deeply personal film. SENNA Asif Kapadia’s path-breaking doc drew us into a precinct and a world through archive like nothing else had at that point and brought a sporting icon back to life in the most visceral way. FACES PLACES (co-directors: Agnès Varda, JR) The charming and innovative brilliance of Agnès Varda is on full display in this impossible-to-dislike tour de force. THE ACT OF KILLING (Joshua Oppenheimer) Simply put, the most formally groundbreaking doc of its decade, maybe any decade. Divisive, but indelible. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (Banksy) Witty, mischievous, meta... A unique and highly entertaining document about the selling of art. ARMADILLO (Janus Metz Pedersen) One of the greatest war movies of any genre. COLLECTIVE (Alexander Nanau) Everyone will be talking about Alexander Nanau’s extraordinary film next year. Truly a real-life thriller in which every scene fizzes with urgency and energy. SEVEN UP / THE UP SERIES (Michael Apted) The most ambitious documentary ever undertaken. It remains as potent now as it was when it began. THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST Andrew Jarecki’s six-parter meticulously takes us on a journey from past to present, in which the director himself gets embroiled in the story, and in doing so changes the game for crime documentaries.
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U.S. creative director, RAW Executive producer, Three Identical Strangers and Don’t F**k With Cats CARTEL LAND The bravest, most heartbreaking documentary. Beautifully crafted, Matt Heineman handles complicated characters with an unwavering sense of humanity. OJ: MADE IN AMERICA Is it a film or a series? Either way, Ezra Edelman’s deep dive into the trial of the century manages to tell a seemingly familiar story with a fresh perspective that sheds light on our wider society. THE DEFIANT ONES (Allen Hughes) Covers the last few decades and both rock and hip hop by blending together the story of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. Edited with incredible panache and bursting full of amazing stories and, of course, amazing music. WILD WILD COUNTRY (Maclain Way, Chapman Way) Masterfully tells the twisting and twisted tale of a religious movement that became a dangerous cult. Exceptional use of archive. LOVE MEANS ZERO A relentlessly entertaining portrait of two huge characters: Nick Bollettieri and his protégé, Andre Agassi. Jason Kohn didn’t have access to Agassi but it didn’t matter. The best sports documentary of the decade.
THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST If the 2010s have witnessed the true crime boom, this, to my mind, is the greatest of them all. Cinematic, gripping, and featuring a jawdropping resolution. MINDING THE GAP Bing Liu’s elegant, heartbreaking portrait of three skateboarders growing up in a complicated world. ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN (Morgan Fallon) With an inimitable voice, amazing writing, and of course delicious food, Bourdain’s shows are always a delight. LAST CHANCE U (Greg Whiteley, Adam Ridley) It’s shot and edited with the style and pace of a scripted movie, but make no mistake, this is a true documentary. The filmmakers delicately handle the hopes and dreams of the real people who are trying to change their lives through sport. GET ME ROGER STONE (Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme) You may not like the protagonist, but this is fine filmmaking and feels incredibly timely.
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ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN There are few series with a charismatic, deeply personable and relatable host who take us on journeys of discovery, understanding and incredible eating immersed in so many different locations and cultures all over the world. Anthony Bourdain was a one-and-only, inspired talent and is sorely missed. CITIZENFOUR Laura Poitras’ 2014 Oscarwinning documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal, with filmed conversations between journalist Glenn Greenwald and Snowden, is a game-changing, acclaimed documentary that unfolded as the cameras rolled. It explores the important role of journalism and freedom of the press, and reveals invasions of privacy by the NSA. A courageous film. GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF An original take on a competitive baking show format thanks to the BBC, Love Productions [and now Channel 4 – Ed.]. The world has embraced it with much enthusiasm and copy-cat programming. It’s about the judges and the cakes, of course! OJ: MADE IN AMERICA Part of ESPN’s ‘30 for 30’ docu franchise, Ezra Edelman’s five-part documentary series about OJ Simpson is a defining cultural tale of modern America including race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system, and is a super ambitious documentary event. ‘30 for 30’ has changed sports docs forever.
JANUARY / FEBRUARY ‘20
OJ: Made In America
RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE The successful ongoing series, from World of Wonder and RuPaul, is a zeitgeist and cultural agent celebrating drag and the LGBTQ community. It’s inspired viewing parties, spin-off series, international series franchise (Blue Ant Studios is partnered on the Canadian series), and RuPaul’s DragCons in LA and NY. We fly our fierce drag flag high and proud! SALT FAT ACID HEAT Inspired by Samin Nosrat’s cookbook and work, this visually stunning series takes us on a culinary journey of tastes around the world. Directed by Caroline Suh and produced by Jigsaw Productions, it celebrates food and culture, and we also benefit from picking up delicious food tips along the way. It changes the way we think about food. SURVIVING R KELLY A hard-to-watch documentary series on Lifetime that was both powerful and revealing thanks to the work of an incredible team of producers, EPs, and showrunner dream hampton. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, the stage was set to finally shed light on this horrific story. THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST This HBO docuseries directed and produced by Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling set a path for crime documentaries, in which cases unfold during production. The final episode is a shocker, which to this day, stays embedded in our memory. THE MASKED SINGER The spectacular costumes in this Fox series from EP Craig Plestis are only part of why we choose this show. A hilarious panel of judges keeps us laughing with their crazy guesses and the unexpected final reveal makes this appointment TV.
WILD WILD COUNTRY This revealing docuseries embodies the “truth is stranger than fiction” mantra. Rare archive, Super 8 and 16mm film footage of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s 1970s commune engrosses, shocks, and follows the flourishing of the cult that goes from free love and acceptance to money, guns, abuse and mayhem. RUNNERS UP: Amy, Chef’s Table, Leaving Neverland, Making A Murderer, Queer Eye, The Gatekeepers, Trapped.
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ANGELS ARE MADE OF LIGHT From Academy Award-nominated director/genius James Longley, it’s a visually gorgeous and captivating portrait of resilience in the shadow of war. HUMAN NATURE (Adam Bolt) CRISPR is the biggest story in all of human history, and this film expertly explains the why and the how. HUMAN FLOW In staggering drone shots Ai Weiwei exposes the vastness of the refugee crisis and in poignant close-ups he intimately reveals the personal stories refugees carry with them. This epic film leaves you breathless. PARTICLE FEVER (Mark Levinson) The thrilling story of the people behind the launch of the Large Hadron Collider — the biggest machine ever built — powered by high-stakes hopes to discover if the Higgs Boson, or “God Particle,” really exists.
RBG (Betsy West, Julie Cohen) As gracefully and thoughtfully told as the subject herself, RBG is supreme. THE HUNTING GROUND (Kirby Dick) With renewed importance in the wake of #MeToo, this doc gives a powerful face to the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. TRAPPED (Dawn Porter) A powerful “canary in the coal mine” story about the heroic clinic workers and lawyers who are on the front lines of fighting the TRAP laws (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) which are slowly eroding access to abortion. THE LAW IN THESE PARTS (Ra’anan Alexandrowicz) With a cinematic form that is unmatched, the film meticulously reveals how the legal framework of Israel’s occupation of Palestine evolved, illustrating the injustice inherent in designing a legal system based on security concerns.
THE FOURTH ESTATE In this era of fake news, this riveting doc series by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus gives us real access into the trenches of the New York Times. HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (David France) It’s a masterpiece, particularly in its use of archival footage to tell a historical story of deep emotion and consequence, with no shortage of heroic characters.
Senior programmer, Sundance Film Festival 5 BROKEN CAMERAS This is the story of Emad Burnat, a farmer from the Palestinian village of Bil’in, which famously chose nonviolent resistance when the Israeli army encroached upon its land to make room for Jewish colonists. Burnat joins forces with Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi and — from the wreckage of five broken cameras — two filmmakers create one extraordinary work of art. CARTEL LAND Intrepid filmmaker Matthew Heineman redefines “unfettered access” when he embeds himself in the heart of darkness from Michoacan, Mexico to Arizona as drug lords vie with vigilantes in a society where institutions have failed. Brilliant, dangerous and provocative.
THE HOUSE I LIVE IN With surgical precision Eugene Jarecki turns his lens on the true “merits” of America’s War on Drugs. This is not only the definitive film on the failure of that war, it is a mind-blowing masterpiece filled with hope and the potential to effect real change. ICARUS Bryan Fogel won the Academy Award for this heart-pounding, real life international thriller. Fogel bonds with renegade Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov who is both the culprit and whistleblower in a furtive world that leads up the highest chain of command in a Russian state-sponsored Olympic doping program.
MINDING THE GAP Bing Liu turns the tables on the image of skateboarder as mindless slacker and digs into the heart of modern day masculinity. This profoundly moving film explores the gap between fathers and sons, between discipline and domestic abuse, and the chasm between childhood and becoming an adult. THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Lauren Greenfield) A billionaire couple sets out to build the biggest house in America when the economic crisis takes its toll on their time share fortune. A fascinating glimpse into the pitfalls of the American Dream. SENNA Told solely through the use of archive, Asif Kapadia’s film is a thrill ride worthy of its daring subject, putting the viewer in the driver’s seat for an adrenaline rush and a deeply emotional journey.
STRONG ISLAND Superb craft is matched with bravery in Yance Ford’s gut-wrenching work of art that dismantles the wreckage of a family broken by tragedy and reassembles the parts in a blistering cry for wholeness. TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM Morgan Neville illuminates the lives and work of backup singers through moving personal journeys that pay tribute to their indelible role in popular music. WEINER With unprecedented access to Anthony Weiner as he mounts his campaign to become mayor of New York City, Josh Kriegman and Elise Steinberg’s incisive and painfully funny film plays out like a tightrope walk between Shakespeare’s comedies and his tragedies. 021
POINTED ARROW A PRODUCER’S PERSPECTIVE
By John Smithson
izzles are increasingly taking over our world. Previously only necessary in the U.S. market, they are now an everyday part of the UK scene as well. It’s getting more and more difﬁcult to get greenlit without one. They are a high-stakes, high-jeopardy creative challenge. Your beloved idea, nurtured over months or years, can live or die in the 120 seconds it takes for the network exec to view your mini-masterpiece. Forget the fancy deck you’ve been shaping for months, it’s the sizzle that determines everything. I prefer to screen a sizzle in the room rather than just email it in. But this is not for those of a fragile disposition as your project may die right in front of you. Is there anything more terrifying than the pause that follows a viewing? You fumble with your iPad as a distraction and try and observe the tiniest signs of body language that suggest love or rejection. And then, the verdict. Brieﬂy you feel teleported into the world of Simon Cowell. But is there anything better than being commissioned in the room? Yes, it does happen. So how do you play the sizzle game? The bar keeps getting higher and higher, so I’ve got a golden rule. Never, ever show a sizzle that you don’t think nails it. Disclaimers such as, “Sorry it is a bit rough, but at least it gives you a sense of what we are trying to do” just don’t cut it. Network execs view sizzles all the time; they are right to expect the best. Any producer has lots of difﬁcult decisions here. There’s a direct relationship between budget and quality. So you have to spend. Chances are it will come out of your own coffers as it’s tough to get a development exec to
JANUARY / FEBRUARY ‘20
pay for a sizzle. But you don’t really have a choice. And as the expectation gets higher, then so do the budgets. I’ve seen some lavish sizzles of late that must have cost a small fortune. You have to be smart on when and where you spend your money. But there’s no question you have to do it and accept it as an intrinsic part of the cost of development. The DNA of a good sizzle is simple — a clearly-deﬁned story, great source material, slickly put together and packaged with crisp and clever captions. I’ve seen many that are too long. Don’t go over two minutes, and if you can’t tell the idea in that time, then that says something about the idea. I’ve seen others that try and overcomplicate, that strive to tell every beat of the show. 120 seconds is not much time. So be clever, surprising and provocative. Every frame, every second has got to do a job. Comprehensive and predictable is bad. What is vital is that your senior editorial team are across the cuts. Keep viewing, keep tweaking and never stop until you are happy. Clearly editing is critical. It is such a different skillset that you can’t necessarily depend on your favorite editor to crack it for you. Some companies have sizzle teams who do nothing else.
Is there anything better than being commissioned in the room? Yes, it does happen.” However, there is one exciting corner of the sizzle world which breaks all the rules above. If you stumble across a fantastic clip that totally deﬁnes your idea, send it raw. Don’t muck around with packaging it. What matters is that it’s real. A rough, blurry but magic piece of UGC can excite more than any sleek sizzle. I know of three recent cases where the clip got the commission. Bite the bullet. Rise to the challenge. Do everything you can to make sure that your sizzle teases, excites and shouts, “This a great idea you’d be mad not to have!” And you just might get commissioned there, in the room. John Smithson is creative director of Arrow Pictures, a feature and high-end factual label created out of Arrow Media, the leading indie which he co-founded in 2011.
ABBY GREENSFELDER EVERYWOMAN STUDIOS
ndustry veteran Abby Greensfelder was well aware of gender inequality in the production community when she chose to launch Everywoman Studios, a new indie tasked with telling stories with women as the central focus and from a female perspective. Everywoman will work on in-house productions and copros as well as amplifying voices and projects that might otherwise go unproduced or unﬁnished. It is in production on its ﬁrst project, a partnered, feature-length doc, with more projects to be announced throughout 2020. Greensfelder was SVP of programming at Discovery before co-founding Half Yard Productions with Sean Gallagher in 2006. She stepped down as co-CEO of Half Yard last January to focus on Everywoman, but she remains co-owner and executive board member of the company.
What led you to launch Everywoman? This is something I’ve been ruminating on — this space — for a long, long time. Obviously, I’m a woman, and I came up in this industry. I worked the ﬁrst part of my career at Discovery, in a large organization, and then started my own production company. The world has evolved in the last couple of years. I’ve always been a supporter of women both as people that I worked for and people that have worked for me. I believe in supporting women in the workplace, and it was a moment of, “I should put my money where my mouth is.” This is really my passion. I want to spend the next part of my career trying to support stories about and by women that we wouldn’t otherwise hear or see. There are all kinds of reasons why there are stories that aren’t told or seen, but I think there’s a real opportunity in this moment, in our culture, to do that and also make an impact.
What are some challenges in the industry that stand in the way of women’s stories being told? Often the people who tell the stories shape the stories that are being told, and I think in ﬁlms and docs and media, for certain reasons over time, that’s often been men telling those stories. It isn’t to say that men wouldn’t be interested in telling stories about women, but there is a unique perspective that women creators can bring, I think, to the cultural conversation, just as anyone with a different perspective brings that to the story.
What kinds of productions will you be involved in? Part of what the vision is really about is developing ideas, IP and ﬁnding topics, untold stories, personalities, interesting women ﬁlmmakers, and then helping to make those things happen. So oftentimes the studio’s role will be to shape projects and put projects together that might not otherwise happen. There could be other instances where the studio itself is producing. But I think often it will be about getting the right partners, the right IP and then the right distribution and partners to ﬁnd the best way to amplify those stories.
What’s the story behind the name? I’ve always made shows for a broad audience. And of course the concept of the everyman is somebody whose unique story is universally resonant. These stories about women can also be universally resonant, but they happen to be about or by women, and the same concept is true. Just because they’re female stories doesn’t mean that they’re just for women. Frederick Blichert
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2020: THE DEVELOPING STORY By Frederick Blichert
From the natural history renaissance to the rebirth of paranormal and the endurance of true crime, factual producers and commissioners share what’s hot going into this year.
Netﬂix’s Our Planet, from Silverback Films, is part of the growing wave of big-ticket natural history projects now in demand.
ushered in significant shifts in the industry, from major mergers and acquisitions to the launch of new heavy-hitters in the SVOD space, such as Apple TV+ and Disney+. It was also a year of further debate and renewed urgency tied to questions surrounding climate change and systemic abuses, as reflected in nature docuseries such as Our Planet and minis with #MeToo connections, including Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland. In this fractured, polarized and fast-moving economic, political and social climate, it’s easy to assume everything’s fair game and rulebooks are a thing of the past. And yet the non-fiction industry continues to operate according to certain patterns of demand, with producers and commissioners alike finding themselves responding to and fostering the trends we can expect to see flourishing in 2020. PRESTIGE PLAYS Outside of genre, scale and prestige status have become major considerations for commissioners, with a need for big, branddefining projects on any given slate. Eli Lehrer, EVP of programming and general manager at A+E’s History, points to the advantage of having a “clearly defined lane” that’s obvious just from the cable net’s name, but even within history programming Lehrer tells Realscreen that he’s following certain emerging and continuing trends. Some of that means sticking to the classics and building on what works. “We’re always hungry for new formats, because strong,
self-contained formats have been the lifeblood of the channel for a long time, with shows such as American Pickers, Pawn Stars and Forged in Fire,” Lehrer says. But the need to go big is certainly felt at History. “Broadly, we’re looking for big, branddefining premium doc Lehrer projects that lean into the historical storytelling we’re known for,” he adds. “In February, we have our Washington six-hour doc that’s executive produced by Doris Kearns Goodwin, that really tells an iconic story in American history, and I think tells it in a pretty unique, fresh way.” The George Washington doc will be followed by a Ulysses S. Grant project with Leonardo DiCaprio on board as executive producer. These kinds of loosely-related, medium-length projects are a winning combo at the moment. “What we’ve found is one-off docs, the kind of two-hour doc that exists as an island, have been harder and harder to bring audiences to over the last couple of years,” says Lehrer. “The marketing heft it takes to bring people to a one-off is often better focused on a multipart doc, or an ongoing series. So we’ve tried to reprioritize what we would call limited series or miniseries, or an ongoing strand of specials, that appear with a consistency across a quarter or a year.”
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MAXIMUM IMPACT Meanwhile, content benefits from tangible impact, as with ITV’s own The Real Full Monty, which capitalized on its ties to the 1997 feature film The Full Monty, launching on the cult hit’s 20th anniversary, while also incorporating a campaign to raise money and awareness for men’s health. Joining Clinton-Davis on stage in Tokyo was BBC commissioning editor Simon Young, who stressed the UK pubcaster’s own commitment to social change, specifically conservation in the face of climate change and global environmental
challenges. As such, the BBC’s nature programming has to aim at connecting with how we relate to the natural world, as with Blue Planet II’s drawing attention to plastic pollution in our oceans, or upcoming projects such as Green Planet, about the massively important role plants play in various ecosystems. “It’s all being broadcast under the ‘Our Planet Matters’ banner,” said Young, of the pubcaster’s natural history slate. “Conservation is at the heart of our programming. It’s not just an add-on.” Natural history is in a bit of a boom phase generally, as the urgency of the climate crisis comes to the fore. Ludo Dufour, SVP of international coproductions and sales at Blue Ant International has seen a rising demand for such programming, with Blue Ant’s Love Nature platform ideally positioned to respond. “The successes of Blue Planet II or Our Planet on Netflix have really generated a renaissance of the genre,” he says. And he adds that conservation is not, unlike in past years, something he needs to shy away from: “That ‘C word’ is no longer something that alienates commissioners. It’s something that people are actively looking for.”
In short, non-fiction content has to keep up with increasingly prestige, or “cinematic,” output on the scripted side. “We’re a channel of entertainment and drama, and our factual has to be the sister of entertainment and drama,” Jo Clinton-Davis, controller of factual at ITV, said during a panel on UK broadcasting at the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers in Tokyo last December. “We can’t be the ugly sister. We’ve got to hold our own. It needs all that ‘oompf’ and high-octane feel.”
One-off docs, the kind of two-hour doc that exists as an island, have been harder and harder to bring audiences to over the last couple of years. The marketing heft it takes to bring people to a oneoff is often better focused on a multipart doc, or an ongoing series.”
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CRIME STILL PAYS, PARANORMAL STILL SLAYS Other specific hot genres are a bit harder to pin down, though the true crime wave continues to grow, seemingly unstoppable. If there is indeed a true crime bubble, it shows no signs of approaching the bursting point just yet. “A couple of years ago, we did as a company sit down and say, ‘We don’t think the crime wave is going to continue because everybody’s doing crime, and it has to come to a stop at some point,’” Kate Beal, CEO and founder of Woodcut Media, tells Realscreen. “Since then, the crime explosion has gone even further and has not stopped, the appeal is still as enduring, and the appetite from the viewers is still voracious.” She continues: “I think it’s now an established genre that won’t go away. There will be an evolution into different types of true crime for different types of audiences, so it’s not just the classic true crime shows for the classic true crime viewer anymore.”
The crime explosion has gone on even further, the appeal is still as enduring, and the appetite from the viewers is still voracious.” Woodcut produces a great deal of content in that space, including The Killer in My Family for UKTV, Jo Frost On Killer Kids for Crime+Investigation and Murdered in the Line of Duty for ID. It did land on a resurgent genre in preparing for a true crime fallow period that never came — paranormal unscripted — which is now a growing part of Woodcut’s slate. While true crime’s audience continues to expand, paranormal
programs can attract hardcore fans, says Beal: “They don’t have as broad an audience as true crime, but what they have is an incredibly passionate, dedicated audience.” Cable nets sporting an uptick in paranormal commissions include A&E and Discovery-owned Travel Channel. When all is said and done, of course, commissioners and viewers tend to look for good stories told well, regardless of genre. As Brandon Hill, president of television at Radley Studios says: “It’s less about true crime as a genre and more about finding a great story, and that comes down to gaining the trust and access that you need to tell that story.”
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Once again, Realscreen highlights several individuals whose work is impacting the nonﬁction screen content industry, and the entertainment world in general. From exposing injustice to celebrating and promoting diversity on camera and behind the scenes, these Trailblazers are taking risks that are paying off, and paving the way for progress.
here are multi-hyphenates, and then there’s RuPaul Charles. The host and executive producer of RuPaul’s Drag Race — the multiple Emmy-winning competition series that crowns top drag queens and, in the words of the New York Times, “skewers expectations and attitudes about gender” — has been, over the course of a career in entertainment spanning several decades, a model, an actor, 2019 marked 10 years of Drag Race, a singer and EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, HOST and in the last couple of years the songwriter. From the series has become a global format. RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE looks of things, he’s Back in the early days, did you even nowhere near ﬁnished adding to the list. entertain the notion that the show would last for a decade, Born RuPaul Andre Charles in 1960, and spawn international versions? Or did you always think the San Diego native moved to this would happen? Atlanta with his sister and her husband Since my days working at clubs in the East Village, I’ve in his teens and took the ﬁrst steps to surrounded myself with like-minded people that dream stardom via appearances on a local big, like Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey at World of program, The American Music Show, Wonder. Over the past 25+ years we’ve taken drag where frequently fronting his band, Wee Wee no drag queen has gone before. That’s taken equal parts Pole. By the mid-Eighties, Ru sought talent, tenacity and delusion. So, yes, world domination has a bigger runway and found it in New always been part of the game plan. York City, where he met and began working with Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato — ﬁrst on musical How have you kept the series fresh over the course of its projects, as Bailey and Barbato were recording and performing as the run? What changes do you see coming in the near future? Fabulous Pop Tarts, and then on visual content. Bailey and Barbato The #1 thing that keeps Drag Race fresh is the queens. Every would go on to found World of Wonder, the California-based prodco season a new crop of sweet, sensitive souls share their stories behind Drag Race and myriad unscripted and documentary projects. and express their creativity in ways that never fail to surprise By the early Nineties, RuPaul had a hit song in the clubs and on MTV and entertain. (“Supermodel”), and a talk show on VH1, The RuPaul Show, by 1996. But as the new millennium arrived, Ru was ready to enter the reality space, This past year has also seen a wave of drag-centric and with World of Wonder’s Bailey, Barbato and Tom Campbell, took programming both in the U.S. and around the world — Drag Race to the world — ﬁrst via U.S. cable net Logo, then on VH1, no doubt inspired by and spurred on by the success of where it has aired since 2017, and now to multiple territories including the Drag Race. How do you feel about imitation — sincerest UK, Australia, Thailand and Canada as a format. form of ﬂattery or.... ? Factor in the success of DragCon, a drag-centric convention held in Knowing that our success has helped executives see drag as LA and London, and one wonders how RuPaul actually ﬁnds time a bankable commodity makes me happy. to breathe, let alone sleep. “I wake up every day between 3 and 4 a.m.,” he tells Realscreen in an email interview conducted just before Is there anything else you’d like to try your hand at in the TV embarking on a brief vacation. “I consider myself incredibly fortunate space? Or ﬁlm? that my jobs include a lot of laughing, dressing up, and playing with all Right now, my cup runneth over. AJ & the Queen, my ﬁrst the colors in the crayon box.” scripted series, drops in January on Netﬂix. I’m currently developing a feature ﬁlm, and have a cosmetics line (Mally x RuPaul) on QVC. But what I really want to do is be a paid audience member on Judge Judy. Barry Walsh
ust one year ago, on Jan. 3, A+E Networks’ Lifetime premiered its hotly anticipated six-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, laying bare allegations against the R&B singer who has been dogged by rumors of abuse, predatory behavior and pedophilia for years. The ﬁrst episode delivered a whopping 1.9 million viewers and instantly became Lifetime’s best unscripted performance in more than three years. The explosive series saw scores of Kelly’s accusers speak publicly for the ﬁrst time, sparking a national conversation amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. In response to the allegations, musicians had their past collaborations with Kelly removed from streaming sites and other platforms. Kelly’s longtime label RCA Records dropped him after a long period of pressure from #MuteRKelly activists. And in EVP, HEAD OF UNSCRIPTED February, Kelly was charged with 10 counts of PROGRAMMING sexual abuse in Chicago. LIFETIME Now, Lifetime is taking the momentum even further. The network recently partnered with Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who helped to expose the sexual abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, for the documentary From Darkness to Light. It’s developing other tentpole Lifetime is a brand docuseries, too, following the show’s success. Its latest, Hopelessly In Love, will take a that is brave and deep dive into love stories of infamous bold... despite gun people in pop culture. threats and legal Brie Miranda Bryant, SVP of unscripted threats, the network development and programming at Lifetime and executive producer of Surviving R. has never backed Kelly, says the Surviving approach to down from its storytelling is in the net’s DNA. commitment to share “You’ll deﬁnitely see more from us in this genre with premieres of Surviving R. Kelly these women’s stories Part II: The Reckoning and Surviving Jefferey and amplify their Epstein in 2020,” Bryant says. “We will voices. “ also continue to produce stories that are holistically reﬂective of the multifaceted women who watch our network.”
What has it meant to you to witness the impact of Surviving R. Kelly over the last year? BMB: Honestly, being able to tell this story has been one of our biggest privileges... Lifetime is a brand that is brave and bold — despite gun threats and legal threats, the network has never backed down from its commitment to share these women’s stories and lift up and amplify their voices. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned through the making of Surviving R. Kelly? BMB: This isn’t a story that hadn’t been told before. There were two documentaries on the same topic that premiered just last year. There are reporters who have been religiously covering this story for almost three decades. And so we had 032
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BRIE MIRANDA BRYANT SVP, UNSCRIPTED DEVELOPMENT AND PROGRAMMING LIFETIME
to sit back and think about how to go about putting the puzzle pieces together differently. And what we realized was that it would be more valuable to our survivors and to us, from a storytelling and corroboration standpoint, to have as many people paint a picture of the last 30 years as possible. The more people who sat down to tell their story, the stronger the story would become. In the end, it took 54 strong individuals to sit down and do that. Therefore, the biggest lesson for us was about the strength and power of numbers. GM: While every survivor story is singular to their experience, when you witness and listen to the collective experience, the horror and the pain is overwhelming... The power of that collective female voice is something that is informing how we are producing Surviving Jeffrey Epstein.
How does the show serve as an example of the potential documentary series can have in shifting public perception? BMB: At some point, the conversation transcended the documentary and became a much needed conversation around sexual violence... By being a catalyst to spark conversations, we hope people feel less shame in speaking out and asking for help. The bravery needed to speak about such circumstances makes these scenarios less taboo. And with that, as we’ve seen, comes change. What do you foresee as some of the biggest challenges for the unscripted industry in the year ahead? GM: I think it’s just the sheer volume of content that’s out there. What I always say to my team, and I say to myself, is to stay on target... Great content transcends any distribution platform. Jillian Morgan
n the UK, the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) was formed to establish a common standard for monitoring diversity across all of the region’s main broadcasters, which are all members and stakeholders. In 2016, it launched Diamond (or Diversity Analysis Monitoring Data), an ambitious online system that allows those broadcasters — among them, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5/Viacom and Sky — to collect and ultimately share data on diversity on and off screen. Individuals can anonymously submit online diversity forms, with that data — including the gender, gender identity, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability of people working on or off screen on all UKoriginated productions — then used to collate annual reports. Since late 2016, Deborah Williams has served as executive director at the CDN, overseeing initiatives such as Diamond and the Doubling Disability project, which aims to double the percentage of people with disabilities working in off-screen roles by 2020, and is also backed by the UK’s major broadcasters. Increasingly, she is looking beyond the UK’s borders to liaise with broadcasters and production companies in other EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR territories regarding best practices in CREATIVE DIVERSITY NETWORK diversity and inclusion. While she’s encouraged by efforts underway in Australia, she sees that North America has work to do. With public service broadcasting not as dominant a force as in the UK, and with “constant competition and limited chance for collaboration and pooling resources to meet a bigger agenda,” Williams sees a lack of movement in an area where North American broadcast outlets should want to be seen as doing their part.
Three years on, what have been the main challenges with rolling Diamond out, and what have been the key successes? In my opinion the main challenges stemmed from the IT nature of the project. Working with technology and external third party developers and several layers of employees internally across all of the Diamond broadcasters meant levels of agreement and sign-off were multiple and complex. It required a considerable amount of collaboration and pragmatism to meet the original deadline for publication. The key success of the whole project is that we were all able to work together and really get to the bottom of what it is we wanted to achieve, 034
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and how to create something innovative and ground-breaking that would facilitate change and lead the way globally in diversity monitoring. I also think that having dedicated staff was a success measure. People working on the project full time and really drilling into all of the issues and concerns meant that we were able to go live as promised. While response rates over the ﬁrst two years of the project have hovered around the 24-25% mark, the number of contributors has more than doubled over that period. In what areas do you want to focus outreach to grow the response and contribution rates? It is true that the rate is a steady one, which in terms of research is a positive thing. When you look at the numbers of people who have engaged with Diamond and continue to, it gives me conﬁdence that the more we publish, and the more the Diamond broadcasters share and discuss how they are using the data, the more interest and participation will rise. It’s a little chicken and egg, really. You need data to tell you what’s going on and you need to know what’s going on so that you can ensure that as many people as possible are willing to share their personal data. Is there interest from other territories in mirroring the Diamond project, or adapting the initiative for their broadcasters/producers? Are you consulting with executives in other territories with that in mind? Australia has been very interested in going down this road and seeing how it may be possible. I was invited to speak with Australian broadcasting executives at Screen Forever in 2017, and have maintained contact with them ever since. Early this year I was there again and got an update on how things are going. It all sounded very familiar, but they now have a staff member and are in the early design stages of a system. It is nice to see and we hope to continue to support them as they ﬁnd their way through things. BW
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he last few years have seen numerous high-proﬁle celebrities accused of being predators and abusers, starting most notably with allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017. Since then, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have once again brought to the surface decades-old allegations against ﬁgures such as Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson, with the late King of Pop facing a major backlash after the release of Dan Reed’s two-part HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, in which Reed offered a platform to two men who claim to have been sexually abused by Jackson as children, decades ago. The project was brought to Reed, along with some seed money from UK pubcaster Channel 4, as he was looking to steer away from the weightier subjects he has tackled via his prodco, Amos Pictures, such as terrorism and armed conﬂict. “Maybe I could do something lighter, something maybe my kids could watch,” he recalls saying to a C4 exec over breakfast. Despite initially hoping to work on simpler fare, Reed was quickly drawn into the Jackson story as he learned more about MJ’s accusers and eventually met with them. The #MeToo movement hadn’t yet gone as mainstream as it would after the Weinstein revelations, so Reed was taking on a difﬁcult subject that would soon be seen within the context of a zeitgeist-deﬁning series of shocking exposes and scandals. Still, his project stood out, achieving acclaim for re-opening a case widely thought to be closed and putting children, some of the most vulnerable members of society, at the forefront.
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As Jackson, his family and many of his fans always maintained his innocence against the allegations, the project wasn’t without risk, and sure enough, the Michael Jackson Estate ﬁled suit against HBO for its portrayal of Jackson in Leaving Neverland less than a month after the ﬁlm premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The Estate was seeking upwards of US$100 million. Still, Reed has carved out a career by walking the knife’s edge of risk and revelation, establishing himself as a bold voice in documentary ﬁlmmaking and consistently tackling difﬁcult subjects while facing considerable risk to tell important stories. His next projects include a deep dive into superbugs and the decreasing effectiveness of infection control in the HBO and BBC co-production Superbug, as well as another HBO/BBC copro looking at the rise of Silicon Valley and technological innovation from the perspective of industry insiders. There’s a lot of risk in a project like Leaving Neverland. How did you protect yourself? Sometimes I’m asked, “Would you have done this if Jackson was alive?” I certainly would, yes. Wade and James [Jackson’s accusers] gave such compelling and consistent and credible testimony, and nothing’s emerged that cast any doubt on what they told me and what’s in the ﬁlm. We don’t just go and speak to you once. We speak to you again and again and again. We hang out with you. I never caught a glimpse of anything that made me suspect that they were being anything less than truthful. And it’s cost them a lot to be truthful. What was your experience with HBO and ﬁnancing such a controversial project? At the time, I thought that it was a no-brainer for an American channel. I don’t know that in the end many other channels in the U.S. would have taken it, because of the perceived risk. It’s more the cultural backlash than the legal assaults, but HBO were unﬂinching. I think it was an all-or-nothing situation. We were either going to get it ﬁnanced immediately, or it was never going to be ﬁnanced at all. How do you see your role as a documentary ﬁlmmaker in the evolving cultural conversation around abuse and the #MeToo movement? Child sex abuse? No one wants to have a conversation around that. HBO has been extraordinarily courageous in grasping the essence of the task, which was that we have to put the explicit details of the [alleged] abuse in the ﬁlm, because that’s the nub of the issue. Frederick Blichert
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A look at some of the topics that generated the most discussion, debate and column inches over the course of the past year.
YEAR IN REVIEW
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M&A: THE BIG GET BIGGER
nother year, another set of multi-billion dollar mergers and acquisitions. October of 2019 saw the resolution of an 18-month sale saga, with the news that Paris-headquartered Banijay Group would be ponying up somewhere in the neighborhood of US$2.2 billion for Endemol Shine Group, creating what will be the world’s largest independent production outﬁt. The acquisition, subject to customary closing conditions, will encompass Endemol Shine’s 120 production labels with an estimated 66,000 hours of scripted and unscripted programming together with over 4,300 registered formats. As a result, Banijay will expand into a global production entity comprising close to 200 production companies in 23 territories and the rights for close to 100,000 hours of content. The pact brings some of the world’s biggest formats, including Survivor and Big Brother, under the same production and distribution umbrella, as well as such major unscripted prodcos as Bunim/Murray Productions and Authentic Entertainment. With both groups housing substantial distribution arms, it remains to be seen who will head up the content sales charge, with Endemol Shine International CEO Cathy Payne announcing her departure from the company a couple of weeks before the news of the deal broke. Elsewhere, U.S. toymaker Hasbro made a signiﬁcant investment in the content arena with the $4 billion acquisition of Toronto-headquartered production studio and distributor Entertainment One (eOne). While eOne’s
JANUARY / FEBRUARY ‘20
kids content brands such as PJ Masks and Peppa Pig were major drivers for the deal, Hasbro, through the purchase, will also own eOne’s ﬁlm, music and scripted and unscripted television production and distribution businesses. But while the deal was originally expected to close in Q4 of 2019, the UK government’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), announced in November that it was conducting a review of the proposed acquisition, to determine whether it could lead to a “substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services.” While its base of operations is in Toronto, eOne trades on the London Stock Exchange. Both deals, however, are overshadowed in terms of dollars and cents by the $30 billion merger of Viacom and CBS. The deal, ﬁrst announced in August and ﬁnalized in early December, marks the second round as dance partners for the two companies, and combines their portfolios of brands — including CBS, Showtime, Nickelodean, MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures — under the ViacomCBS banner. Other deals may have been smaller in size but were signiﬁcant in other areas. For example. LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group, bought a minority stake in Bristol-headquartered Plimsoll Productions worth $100 million. At press time, another major production and distribution group, Red Arrow Studios, is still in the process of a “strategic review” exploring a sale by its German parent company, ProSiebenSat.1. Twenty production companies in seven territories throughout Europe and the U.S. are housed under the Red Arrow Studios umbrella, including Kinetic Content, Half Yard Productions, Karga Seven Pictures, Left/Right, Dorsey Pictures, Cove Pictures and 44 Blue Productions. Distribution arm Red Arrow Studios International is also part of the package on the sales block, while digital studio Studio71 and the German content production business RedSeven Entertainment are not part of the offering. Eyes are also on the companies that are potential targets for M&A action, with Lionsgate, MGM and Discovery Inc. being placed in that camp by various ﬁnancial advisers and analysts. In terms of Discovery, pundits say the completed acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive and aggressive moves into the sports market both in Europe and the U.S. make it an attractive purchase. A CNBC report at the start of 2019 placed Discovery in the sights of CBS as a potential acquisition, but the network’s chief corporate communications ofﬁcer, David Leavy, was quick to throw cold water on speculation, saying, “Discovery is not for sale.” Still, in the race for scale, a lot can change over the course of a year. Stay tuned. BW
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SVOD EXPLOSION HEATS UP
hile Netﬂix has reigned supreme since the inception of subscription video on demand services, the past 12 months have seen ﬂedgling streaming platforms — with backing from heavy-hitting content players — intent on taking a slice of the SVOD pie. The rapidly evolving streaming revolution that consumers ﬁnd themselves in the midst of now means that Netﬂix, which has a paid membership of around 158 million worldwide as of Q3 ‘19, faces a relentless assault from a number of new competitors inﬁltrating the U.S. video streaming market, where more than 300 OTT services ﬁght for viewership. A study from UK-based research ﬁrm Digital TV Research this past year found that combined subscriptions for Netﬂix, Amazon, Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max will reach 529 million in 2025, almost doubling from about 272 million in 2019. Notably, Disney+ entered the fray in November with a library of 300 ﬁlm titles and 7,500 TV episodes, including content from Nat Geo in addition to originals such as an untitled Mickey Mouse documentary with Morgan Neville as producer, the feature-length ﬁlm Howard from director Don Hahn, and People and Places, a 1950s Disney documentary short series reboot. For its part, Apple TV+ launched just before the Mouse’s service in over 100 countries and regions, with a comparatively smaller offering on the original factual front — the only doc title available at launch being Victoria Stone and
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Mark Deeble’s nature doc The Elephant Queen (pictured). Non-ﬁction content on the way includes Bryce Dallas Howard’s intimate Dads, and two original documentary projects from Oprah Winfrey in Toxic Labor (working title), and an untitled second project set to examine topics surrounding mental health. Meanwhile, in July, WarnerMedia revealed that its direct-to-consumer streaming platform HBO Max would launch this spring “anchored with and inspired by the legacy of HBO’s excellence and award-winning storytelling” with exclusive original programming dubbed Max Originals. At launch, the platform expects to encompass more than 10,000 hours of premium ﬁction and non-ﬁction content. Many of the slate announcements coming from the HBO Max camp stem from the team of non-ﬁction and kids EVP Jennifer O’Connell, and they include ﬂorist competition series Full Bloom from Eureka Productions, and LBGTQ+focused docuseries Equal from Berlanti Productions, Scout Productions and That’s Wonderful Productions. The upcoming mobile-ﬁrst Quibi, meanwhile, is said to be spending around US$6 million for every hour of material, and in its ﬁrst year will invest about $1 billion in content. It will be home to the rebooted MTV series Punk’d and Singled Out; the Andy Samberg-fronted miniature food competition series Biggest Little Cook-off; adventure series Killing Zac Efron; and an untitled Cara Delevingne-fronted practical joke series. The mobile SVOD service, set to launch in April, will target a 25- to 35-year-old audience and will be available as a two-tiered service — an ad-free version for US$7.99 and a version with short ads for $4.99. Movers and shakers also looking to disrupt the subscription streaming marketplace in 2019 included First Look Media-owned Topic, which launched in November in the U.S. and Canada with provocative, human interest programming; BBC and ITV’s catch-up service BritBox, which also launched in the UK last November and contains one of the largest collections of British box-sets available in one place; and European AVOD service Rakuten TV, offering a free, ad-supported section alongside its pay-per-view offerings. Daniele Alcinii
YEAR IN REVIEW
DUTY OF CARE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
atchdogs, viewers and industry execs all weighed in this past year on a topic that has dogged unscripted television production for decades. The notion of duty of care owed by networks and production companies to reality TV participants moved to the fore in 2019 as issues around mental health and misconduct embroiled a number of popular shows in controversy. In the UK, questions around where that responsibility lies, and how far it extends, were in part catalyzed by the deaths of two former contestants on ITV’s reality dating series Love Island (pictured), and a participant of ITV’s tabloid-style The Jeremy Kyle Show. Mike Thalassitis, who appeared on Love Island in 2017, died in March, with police conﬁrming suicide by hanging as the cause of death. Just a year earlier, 2016 Love Island contestant Sophie Gradon died, with a coroner ruling suicide by hanging. Just a few months after Thalassitis took his life, ITV canceled The Jeremy Kyle Show after Steve Dymon, who took a lie detector test on the show regarding ﬁdelity to his girlfriend, was found dead a week after the taping. Soon after, the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (DCMS) launched an inquiry into reality TV production practices and duty of care to participants. “Programs like The Jeremy Kyle Show risk putting people who might be vulnerable on a public stage at a point in their lives when they are unable to foresee the consequences, either for themselves or their families,” British parliamentary MP Damian Collins, committee chair for the DCMS Committee, said in a statement May 15. In October, ITV laid out new guidelines to help manage and support the well-being of program participants, before, during and after production. “As these programs have evolved, so have the pressures on those entering the public eye through appearing in our shows, from media and social media interest,” Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of television, said in a statement released at the time. “We need to ensure those people are aware of the implications.”
Though the conversation largely circulated through the UK unscripted industry in 2019, other issues concerning the well-being of unscripted TV cast members have affected U.S. prodcos in recent months. In a Nov. 13 episode of CBS’s Survivor, contestant Kellee Kim accused fellow castaway Dan Spilo of inappropriate touching. A title card during one episode stated that Spilo was given a private warning by producers, and while he apologized during a Tribal Council meeting, he remained on the show. During a Dec. 11 episode, another title card announced that Spilo was removed for an off-camera incident that didn’t involve another player. CBS subsequently announced new policies regarding misconduct, how to handle it when it occurs, and how to educate production staff on issues surrounding duty of care. The network also said it would develop “appropriate enhanced policies and procedures” similar to the Survivor policies for all of its unscripted programming. Elsewhere, in Spain, Endemol Shine Group’s Big Brother (Gran Hermano) came under ﬁre in late November after reports emerged that contestant Carlota Prado was made to watch, in the program’s “diary room,” video footage of her own alleged sexual assault on the show in late 2017. The footage was never broadcast, and Prado’s alleged assailant was removed from the show. Prado was also reportedly taken off the show to receive psychological support, though the producers have received much criticism for how the incident was handled. JM, BW 043
HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
HOW WAS IT FOR YOU? Realscreen’s annual tradition of reminiscing over the year gone by in non-ﬁction screen entertainment — the good and the bad, the stunning and the just plain strange — continues with this collection of responses to our yearend questionnaire. Apparently, you’re still stymied by the success of Dr. Pimple Popper, enthralled with The Masked Singer and are simultaneously inspired by and a wee bit concerned about the SVOD revolution. For more, read on.
ELAINE FRONTAIN BRYANT EVP and head of programming A&E Network
My favorite factual program/series/doc of 2019 was: I would say Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly really changed lives and was a riveting piece of documentary ﬁlmmaking. I never thought they’d make a program about: Pimple popping. The program/series/doc people will be talking about in ﬁve years is: Again, I have to say that Surviving R. Kelly has opened up so many important conversations that I feel will still be evolving in ﬁve years. I think people will still be referencing the series as the start of something big. The most positive development in the nonﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: There seems to be me more interest in telling a greater diversity of stories. The idea I wish I thought of was: The Masked Singer. It is not at all right for A&E but it is deliciously creative. The idea I’m happiest to have had in 2019: Building off of our successful series Live PD, we have been able to create our own little universe by branching out with new programs such as Live Rescue and the upcoming series Top Dog. I’m proud of the fandom we have been able to generate with these series. If 2019 taught me one thing it was: Keep calm and carry on. My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is: Continue to grow the A&E brand and remember to have fun while doing it.
GEOFF DANIELS EVP of global unscripted entertainment National Geographic My favorite factual program/series/doc of 2019 was: Sorry, but I’m going all in for team NG with Free Solo and the Disney+ series launch of The World According to Jeff Goldblum. Incredibly elevated, stylish, entertaining. I never thought they’d make a program about: The happiness that comes from folding socks in the right way… The program/series/doc people will be talking about in ﬁve years is: The Cave from ﬁlmmaker Feras Fayyad. Brutal, powerful, transformative, inspiring at every level. The best factual content I’ve seen online in 2019: The Weekly. Provocative and enterprising with half the self-indulgence. The most positive development in the non-ﬁction/ unscripted content industry this past year was: Streaming wars opening up a vast new range of unscripted opportunities for a far more diverse group of creators than ever before. The most troubling development in the non-ﬁction/ unscripted content industry this past year was: Streaming wars fueling so much content creation it is going to be harder than ever for anyone to break out of the pack. The idea I wish I thought of was: The Deadpool: The Musical franchise. Twisted genius! The idea I’m happiest to have had in 2019: Spending signiﬁcantly more time with people in the real world than following social media or responding to emails. Followed very closely by staging Jurassic Halloween in my front yard. If 2019 taught me one thing it was: No one knows anything so you better know where you stand. The buzzword I don’t want to hear in 2020 is: “Metrics.” I’m an English major so let’s all trade in some more authentic, empowering and creatively ambitious words. My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is: Play more and… learn to fold my socks the right way!
JANUARY / FEBRUARY ‘20
KEVIN BARTEL CEO and founder Best Production Company (All3Media America) My favorite factual program/series/doc of 2019 was: The Legend of Cocaine Island. I love that the ﬁlmmaker shifted the tone on true crime and created a fun entertaining documentary. I never thought they’d make a program about: Lindsey Lohan “owning” a beach club abroad. The program/series/doc people will be talking about in ﬁve years is: The Masked Singer. In 18 months, no one will be talking about: Popping pimples… hopefully. The best factual content I’ve seen online in 2019: Our Planet. The scale was incredible. The most positive development in the non-ﬁction/ unscripted content industry this past year was: The ability to sell and make shows that we are incredibly passionate about.
KOULLA ANASTASI Director, international development Woodcut Media My favorite factual program/series/doc of 2019 was: 8 Days to the Moon and Back — a genuinely fresh re-telling of a very familiar story. The tension was immense, and this was created by excellent use of archive and recon. Even though you knew the ending it was still edge of your seat stuff. I never thought they’d make a program about: Although a frequent feature piece in things like Big Brother Best Bits or Shocking TV Moments, a documentary treatment of reality star Jade Goody and her legacy for British pop culture and TV was one of my standout TV moments of 2019. Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain went beyond nostalgia television to raise some uncomfortable truths about reality TV in the early noughties. The program/series/doc people will be talking about in ﬁve years is: BBC Newsnight’s interview with Prince Andrew. Dominating the headlines at the time of writing and only time will tell what implications that car crash of an interview will have. In 18 months, no one will be talking about: Brexit, programs about Brexit or trying to understand Brexit. Maybe.
The most troubling development in the non-ﬁction/ unscripted content industry this past year was: Dovetails with the previous response. Too many platforms, too many new shows and a fractured audience base make it harder than ever to get a second season. It’s very hard for new shows to break through the clutter.
The best factual content I’ve seen online in 2019: My mind was blown by Netﬂix’s doc special, Abducted In Plain Sight. The clearest and most devastating account of how a whole family can be groomed by predators in order to get to a child. Important television when set alongside the award-winning Surviving R. Kelly.
The idea I wish I thought of was: 90 Day Fiancé.
The most positive development in the non-ﬁction/ unscripted content industry this past year was: The continuation of investment by the new platforms into the unscripted space.
The idea I’m happiest to have had in 2019: Oh man. Really wish I could talk about this one but unfortunately it’s going through the multi-year SVOD series process. If 2019 taught me one thing it was: That cable TV very much still has a place in non-scripted ecosystem moving forward. There is a major competitive advantage in the success of a series and the ability to scale up with number of episodes. 90 Day Fiancé or Live PD are the perfect examples of the cable ecosystem helping create hits. The buzzword I don’t want to hear in 2020 is: “Stakes.” My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is: Continuing to push the envelope to make shows that are story-driven and cinematic and not settling on audience expectations or the path of least resistance.
The most troubling development in the non-ﬁction/ unscripted content industry this past year was: Dramatically falling broadcaster budgets means that nothing ever comes fully ﬁnanced. We spend more time securing money than working on the creative.
SCOTT FEELEY President High Noon Entertainment My favorite factual program/series/ doc of 2019 was: Making It. I never thought they’d make a program about: Zits! In 18 months, no one will be talking about: I’d like to say the Kardashians, but unfortunately, it’s probably Marie Kondo. The most positive development in the non-ﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: The rise of feel good, positive programming, along with the streamers becoming bigger buyers. The most troubling development in the non-ﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: Requiring production companies to ﬁnance network projects. The idea I wish I thought of was: Live PD. The idea I’m happiest to have had in 2019: That’s a secret but stay tuned. If 2019 taught me one thing it was: The business and creation of unscripted content is about to go through some major changes, and that’s a good thing. The buzzword I don’t want to hear in 2020 is: “Loud.”
The idea I wish I thought of was: First Dates. So simple and yet so perfect. Brilliantly executed and wonderful to watch. If 2019 taught me one thing it was: Patience and perseverance. Having recently crossed over from broadcast to production, I can now truly understand producers’ endurance during the development process! My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is: To try not to sign up to every single new subscription service that launches.
HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
ALEX FRASER EVP, acquisitions & content investment Red Arrow Studios International My fave factual program/series/doc of 2019: Difﬁcult choice but because I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much: Race Across The World. I never thought they’d make a program about: A failed festival. Twice. The program/series/doc people will be talking about in ﬁve years is: The Great Hack (unless the algorithms win...). In 18 months, no one will be talking about: This. The best factual content I saw online in 2019: The Great Hack. The most positive development in the nonﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: The great ideas still keep coming despite... The most troubling development in the nonﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: …Increasing examples of networks “commissioning” shows for an ever-smaller fraction of the budget. The idea I wish I thought of was: Suggesting an interview with Prince Andrew.
STEPHANIE DRACHKOVITCH President and co-founder 44 Blue Productions My fave factual program/series/doc of 2019: Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
My fave factual program/series/doc of 2019: Of Fathers & Sons.
I never thought they’d make a program about: Pimples or toes.
I never thought they’d make a program about: Tiny food.
The program/series/doc people will be talking about in ﬁve years is: Queer Eye will still be making the world a much better place!
The program/series/doc people will be talking about in ﬁve years is: The one that exposes all the awful stuff that those politicians did.
The best factual content I’ve seen online this past year: Impeachment hearings — as a former boss of mine would say, “the highest and best use” of television’s power to reach millions.
In 18 months, no one will be talking about: Fyre Fest.
The most positive development in the nonﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: Streamers taking risks on concepts that basic cable would not, hopefully compelling basic cable to do the same! The most troubling development in the nonﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: Programming and greenlight decisions still being made by committee — “the room.” The idea I wish I thought of was: Dating Around.
The idea I’m happiest to have had in 2019: To work from home more: best place to have that great idea.
The idea I’m happiest to have had in 2019: 44 Blue Community Volunteer Day.
If 2019 taught me one thing it was: Things can actually get worse...
If 2019 taught me one thing it was: Trust your instincts.
The buzzword I don’t want to hear in 2020 is: Can we have a year off from “buzzwords” please?
The buzzword I don’t want to hear in 2020 is: Two buzzwords: “bucket” and “premium.”
My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is: Watch TV better, meaning more of the good, less of the bad.
My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is: Less email and more personal contact.
JANUARY / FEBRUARY ‘20
ARI MARK Co-Founder AMPLE Entertainment
The best factual content I’ve seen online in 2019: Greta Thunberg. The most positive development in the nonﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: Phil Lott’s wardrobe. The most troubling development in the nonﬁction/unscripted content industry this past year was: More reboots. The idea I wish I thought of was: Disney+. The idea I’m happiest to have had in 2019: A Rabbinical competition series. If 2019 taught me one thing it was: Don’t eat an entire package of those Starbucks chocolate covered coffee beans before a pitch. The buzzword I don’t want to hear in 2020 is: “Digital.” My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is: Do better.
Continue the Conversation at Our Year Round Events MAY 12 - 14
JUNE 30 - JULY 3
UGC BECOMES “WTF?” By Daniele Alcinii
In the smartphone era, we are all archivists, and many of us have shot some incredible stuff. But posting it on YouTube or other video sharing platforms doesn’t necessarily make it up for grabs. Here’s how to navigate the tricky terrain of user-generated content.
arly in 2019, Netflix was once again front and center in the cultural zeitgeist with the release of Chris Smith’s acclaimed featurelength documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. But since its January release, the streaming giant has been forced to put out fire after fire related to the multi-Emmy Award nominated film, which exposed the fiasco behind the failed “luxury” Fyre Festival that was scheduled to take place over two consecutive weekends in the Bahamas in April and May of 2017. At issue are videos and still images that appear throughout the 97-minute documentary without, according to claimants, permission from the copyright holders. As such, Netflix, Jerry Media — the social media agency responsible for promoting the ill-fated festival — and Vice Media have been named in three separate copyright infringement lawsuits. The first of those grievances was filed by Clarissa Cardenas, a festivalgoer who claimed footage she took of Fyre’s accommodations was used without her permission. Filed in March, Cardenas’ lawsuit sought US$150,000 in damages from Netflix and Jerry Media or a cut of the documentary’s profits. By July, Netflix and the plaintiff had
We live in a world where we are constantly consuming usergenerated content on social media and it is pretty easy to think that the content is available for use by any means. But that’s a common misconception.”
reached an undisclosed settlement. However, in August a second complaint was filed in a New York federal court, this time from Nicole Pinedo. The Washington DC-based filmmaker accused the production team of using three of her behind-thescenes videos for its doc without her permission or consent. Fyre attendee and social media influencer Austin Mills, meanwhile, is also suing Netflix for using 15 seconds of his filmed footage without permission. Filed in a California federal court in September, his suit claimed that producers initially approached Mills for approval, but when he refused to consent, the footage was instead pulled directly from YouTube. The latter two federal court actions remain unsettled as of this writing, and both Pinedo and Mills are seeking injunctive relief, which would force the defendants to edit the film by removing the disputed content, as well as monetary and punitive damages. In a world overrun with smartphones and social media, this is an issue that will only become more prevalent. First-person, user-generated content
(UGC) can be incredibly valuable for documentary filmmakers. After all, modern day events are now captured on a daily basis by billions of people and their smartphones (Samsung alone in 2018 shipped 293.7 million handsets worldwide). However, using amateur footage represents myriad unique challenges, as the Fyre filmmakers can confirm. “We live in a world where we’re constantly consuming user-generated content on social media and it is pretty easy to think that the content is available to use by any means. But that’s a common misconception,” says Brendan Mulvihill, SVP of licensing at
Los Angeles-based Jukin Media, which utilizes UGC in the creation of long- and short-form programming for such franchises as FailArmy, People Are Awesome and The Pet Collective. Instead, documentary filmmakers keen to exploit user-generated content should engage with copyright holders in the same manner that they would approach thirdparty sources — national archive houses, video libraries, news organizations and others — in order to acquire clearance for that content. “The copyright is the same for an individual as it is for a large media holder,” Mulvihill notes. When considering the use of user-generated content, it’s imperative that producers protect themselves by practicing caution from the outset to minimize any potential litigation. In a perfect world, the desired content that has been posted by a user can be traced and cleared immediately before sourcing the highest quality version of the material and reaching an agreement for payment. But because it’s UGC, it’s quite often not as straightforward as that. First and foremost, creators must apply due diligence in identifying the original copyright owner; a process that can be as grueling as it is frustrating. This is where hiring certain trusted third-party production outlets and archive producers such as Jukin Media can come in handy, providing the necessary detective work to obtain the highest possible quality video. Experienced archivists will look to crosscheck the content publisher’s social media presence to help find clues as to the true identity of the video’s uploader. “It behooves anyone, if you’re using UGC, to think about using a partner in terms of how you track these people down and to make sure you explain to the individual that you’re acquiring content from what is happening, because that’s really important too,” advises Mulvihill. “Education is super important and it helps me make that process easier so that everyone knows what’s going on.” The big problem, of course, arises if producers are unable to trace the copyright holder, but the material is deemed important editorially because it’s central to the program or necessary for advancing the story. Should an uncleared sequence be used, producers are advised to keep a log of all the steps they’ve taken to trace the identity of the license holder. But if, as the producer, you’re trying to assert fair use laws, you need to have an opinion
Our standing rule is that we do not like to use uncleared material. But you’ve got to work out how important it is — are we prepared to try and go ahead with something we can’t clear?”
letter from a lawyer noting that the attorney believes certain materials are eligible for inclusion as they meet the criteria of the fair use standard. “Our standing rule is that we do not like to use uncleared material,” explains Nick Metcalfe, an executive producer at Arrow International Media. “But you’ve got to work out how important it is, and are we prepared to try to go ahead with something that we can’t clear? “We have to consult with our lawyers, with our insurers, and so on, because we want to ensure that our insurers who cover us for errors and omissions are going to be happy with the position we’re taking. We always do things in consultation with them.” When procuring errors and omissions insurance, production teams must disclose to the insurer that all materials have been cleared. If they have yet to be entirely okayed, the producer must alert the insurer of the
specific clips in question while explaining why clearance hasn’t yet been obtained. Companies can also mitigate the issues that UGC can create by employing a good rights and clearance professional,
somebody wants to include in their project by asking a number of important questions, chief among them: Where did you get it from? Do you have the rights to use it? Are the people who are in
“You can’t just deliver something and say it’s good to go without doing the work of clearing everything,” Page adds. “The broadcaster will completely expect that you have done that, and every broadcast agreement will have a provision that says, ‘If you didn’t do that and you told us that you did and we get sued, you’re going to indemnify us for any lawsuit.’” You can’t just deliver But while user-generated something and say it’s good to content comes with its go without doing the work of potential share of headaches, it is still a valuable resource for clearing everything.” today’s documentarian. “Keep in mind that it’s while also engaging in a this footage cleared? Have protected and just do the pre-publication review by they signed releases? steps like you would in any an experienced attorney to “Before you’re delivering other process for building ensure that producers are not content, you have your lawyer do your creative, making sure it’s delivering anything illegally the pre-publication review, and all buttoned up and legally obtained, stresses Nicole Page, that’s where you go through appropriate,” offers Mulvihill. a partner at Reavis Page Jump. everything in the episode “Every day people are out Page notes that she would frame-by-frame to make there shooting really great approach UGC the same sure that there is the proper content,” he adds. “And it’s such way she would look at any clearance,” the New York-based a great storytelling tool. We other piece of material that entertainment lawyer says. shouldn’t be afraid of it.”
1896 - 1984
By Brendan Christie
MAKING HISTORY In 2020, A+E Networks’ History celebrates 25 years of delivering a wide range of history content to millions of viewers. From documentary to “artifactual” unscripted, over the course of two and a half decades, the network has reinvented itself, and the genre. Rick and Marty Lagina, from The Curse of Oak Island.
JANUARY / FEBRUARY ‘20
“I think the channel has always had a relatively stable ratio of ongoing scripted series which, from a programming standpoint, provide a foundation, and then layered on top of that have been these big premium event docs — monumental doc series that have helped define the brand and differentiated us from others in the marketplace,” he adds. “Over the last 10 years, that ratio has been pretty stable. I think one of the things we’re looking to do now is to figure out if there’s a strand of programming that splits the difference — big historical stories that are done as ongoing series.”
Not that it was easy…
Cable began as an untested medium. “There were a lot of questions about the factual space,” recalls president of programming at A+E Networks Rob Sharenow, who began his career with A+E by writing shows for History Channel. “Will anyone watch this? Would there ever be a hit unscripted show or a huge documentary success? It’s almost amusing to look back now, but it was a very different gambit 20 years ago when the genres and audiences weren’t yet built.” To create them, says Sharenow, it came down to trust. “I’ve seen a lot of networks trying to speak to a particular moment,” he observes. “Or speak to a different demo they think they need, as opposed to just loving the audience they have and trying to grow from there.” So, for Sharenow, it’s always been less about SVOD, AVOD, linear, or any other technology or fads. What defines success has remained the same: quality of execution and serving viewers. To that end, even as it reaches the quarter century mark, the brand is making an aggressive push into landmark core documentary and history. “If you look at our slate over the next year or two, there really is a re-emphasis on going back to our roots and the core of what has made this such an important channel over the past 25 years,” says History EVP and GM, Eli Lehrer.
We have an enormous opportunity to speak to even more people, everywhere, through the lens of history.” Lehrer and Sharenow point to two upcoming series as prime examples of what they’re describing. Washington is a landmark six-parter created in partnership with Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and produced by Railsplitter Pictures, Kearns Goodwin and Beth Laski, who serve as EPs through their Pastimes Productions. Grant, meanwhile, is based on Pulitzer Prizewinner Ron Chernow’s New York Times bestselling bio. Also a six-parter, it’s produced by Appian Way Productions and RadicalMedia in association with Lionsgate. Chernow will executive produce with the help of some guy named Leonardo DiCaprio. “George Washington is almost a historical figure we take for granted at this point,” says Sharenow. “We’re really bringing every storytelling tool we have
in our arsenal to tell the story of Washington in a way we have never told it before.” The series will feature ambitious cinematic dramatizations and has attracted a bevy of talent, including voices such as retired four-star general Colin Powell, who will speak to the military aspect, and Scottishborn Nicholas Rowe (Young Sherlock Holmes) to play the lead. Asked how producers can successfully pitch going forward, Lehrer jokes: “Other than trying to attach DiCaprio your projects? Look, I think the challenge is: How do you break new ground? How do you tell familiar stories in really fresh ways? It’s an incredibly difficult challenge, but there’s nothing more exciting than when one of those projects walks in the door. That’s the inherent challenge, for the producers and for us, but it also makes it incredibly satisfying when someone does crack that code.”
here’s a Mahatma Gandhi quote that perfectly captures the “how” behind the rise of one of cable’s most trusted brands: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” History (at least in cable terms) began on January 1, 1995 — an upstart ‘caster that now reaches more than 380 million homes worldwide. First launched as the History Channel, the venture was built on two simple premises: that history is made every day, and that a dedication to great stories, well told, would resonate with viewers.
A creative culture
One such instance of cracking the code came in the form of Hatfields & McCoys, the scripted series from Thinkfactory Media starring Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton and Tom Berenger. Over three nights, the series averaged 13.8 million total viewers, making History the first and only cable network at the time to win the week among total viewers in primetime over all the broadcast networks. It was the pet project of EP Leslie Greif (who has since formed a new shingle, Big Dreams Entertainment). Greif had been carrying the idea around for three decades, but when he heard from Sharenow that then History president and GM (and later, A+E president and CEO) Nancy Dubuc was eyeing scripted, he made his pitch. And in the time-honored tradition of asking forgiveness rather than permission, he also went ahead and offered the lead to actor Kevin Costner, figuring it would be harder to say no if the A-lister was involved. The actor got back to him immediately, offering: “This is the best script I’ve ever read. I’ll do it on one condition: You don’t 055
American Pickers’ Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz
change a word.” Says Greif, “I thought: Well, that’s the best condition I’ve ever heard.” Dubuc championed the project in-house, but her diplomatic work wasn’t over. Greenlit as a fourhour series, Hatfields & McCoys ran to six-and-a-half hours for broadcast, which left Greif in a bind — he’d given Kostner his word. Dubuc honored the commitment and ran the series uncut for its premiere (and video), with re-runs conforming to time. “It basically changed television and galvanized the whole business,” offers Greif, “because it awoke the networks and future streamers to the demand for serious scripted drama.” It didn’t happen in a vacuum, however. It only came about because the History execs became advocates for the project — something Greif says is the norm. “So many young network executives today don’t know what it is to be a good executive,” he says. “They think they need to be the producer, the final authority and the expert. History empowers, 056
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encourages and motivates the producer to strive for excellence, and they’re not afraid to let you go off and make your vision. They invest as much in the producer as they do in the project.” Talos Films co-founder Julian P. Hobbs (himself a former VP and EP at History) agrees, saying that when he was brought into the network as an exec, “this philosophy spread across internal departments — marketing, programming and press were as creative as development and production. They became the secret weapons in launching hit shows. “[That] culture was infectious with production companies; the channel became a go-to place for both establishment shingles and start-ups.” Talos recently produced an eight-part mini for the network, America’s War on Drugs. “It was a bold swing,” says Hobbs, “but our executive Mike Stiller was relentless in freeing us up to be innovative; not driven by fear, but a supportive ‘go for it’ attitude.”
Building franchises, serving fans
That collaborative and openminded approach is a primary reason why the same brand can air scripted projects such as Hatfields & McCoys, and the fantastically successful Vikings, which aired its final season in 2019, and nonfiction fare such as The Curse of Oak Island, which sits as cable’s top rated non-fiction series, and American Pickers, which has logged over 400 episodes. Diverse approaches to historical fare all seem to fit under the History umbrella. The brand has also become adept at following promising threads. Consider the multiple spin-offs from the massive hit Pawn Stars. Brent Montgomery, now CEO of the Wheelhouse Group, brought the series to History through Leftfield Pictures. Besides being a ratings groundbreaker and long-running success, Pawn Stars has also been a breeding ground of talent, with stars such as Rick Dale going on to American Restoration, Danny Koker coming to Counting Cars, and others. “The executive who develops the project is the one who stays on it,” notes Montgomery. “There’s no game of telephone as it’s being transferred between executives. When you’re going to battle with a History exec, you feel a little bit like Thelma and Louise. You’re in it together.” So, if you’re looking for advice from Montgomery, it’s to be creative and bold. “Don’t wait for them to tell you what they want,” he says. “Go in with what you want to do and be open to letting them help you make it better. Leave the ‘Hey, what do you want?’ question to other buyers. Rob Sharenow’s
standing charge to producers is: ‘I want to hear your story. How are you going to tell it?’” Charles Tremayne, president of American Pickers prodco Cineflix, agrees. “Bring in a good concept, but be prepared to develop it together. We all want returning hit shows, and American Pickers’ long-running success is because it’s not just two random guys rummaging around in a barn. It has great talent in Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, but it’s also about the compelling characters they meet, the fascinating stuff they discover and the deals they do. These [aspects] are not made explicit, but cleverly disguised as a show about two guys on a road trip searching for rusty gold, set against an American landscape of big red barns, rolling corn fields and big sky.” In other words, it’s about those honest stories that resonate with viewers… History that’s made every day. For Paul Buccieri, president of A+E Networks Group, over the course of its quarter century, History has held its own as “a premium brand that has been able to remain successful across all platforms by blending stories from our distant and recent past in an engaging, informative way. We are truly living in historic times and it’s our mission to present these rich stories in a way they will not find anywhere else across the landscape.” “I’m incredibly proud of this brand and all the great work that’s been done,” sums up Sharenow. “I don’t think we’ve come close to embracing or owning the history category as much as we can. I think we have an enormous opportunity to speak to even more people, everywhere, through the lens of history.”
THE FINAL CUT
WHAT WE L VED Throughout this issue of Realscreen, you’ve seen various members of the unscripted and non-ﬁction screen content industry weigh in on their favorite projects of the year. “Ah, but what about the Realscreen editorial staff?” you may be asking. “What, pray tell, were their top picks of the year?” All shall be revealed below…
Picking a standout documentary project was a formidable task this year. With premieres from the jaw-dropping (Leaving Neverland, XY Chelsea, One Child Nation) to the awe-inspiring (Apollo 11, Midnight Family) gracing the silver screen, audiences in 2019 were spoiled for choice. But after some reﬂection, it’s Asif Kapadia’s archive-driven Diego Maradona that gripped me from beginning to end. Drawn from more than 500 hours of rare footage from Maradona’s personal archives, the tour de force documents the career of the Argentinian wunderkind — widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time — during his tenure at Italian Serie A squad SSC Napoli from 1984 to 1992, when he elevated the club to its most successful era. The feature-length documentary from the Academy Award- and multi BAFTA-winning ﬁlmmaker pulled heavily at my sense of nostalgia. In its 120-minute run, I was transported back to my childhood home watching Napoli, led by Maradona’s magic, topple Italian giants Juventus, AC Milan and AS Roma, time and again. Throughout, Kapadia also skillfully peels back the troubled No. 10’s fall from grace in top ﬂight football. Wracked with demons and struggling with a god-like status in Italy’s south, Maradona suffered through a scandal regarding an illegitimate son alongside a 15-month ban for failing a drug test for cocaine, and endured a trial concerning alleged involvement with the Neapolitan maﬁa, or the Camorra, and drug trafﬁcking. Thus, the ﬁlm, which premiered in the U.S. via HBO in November, also opened my eyes to Maradona, the man. Daniele Alcinii, News Editor
JANUARY / FEBRUARY ‘20
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE
2019 was seemingly the year of the Bon Appétit test kitchen — at least in certain corners of the Internet — with a vocal Twitter and Instagram fandom forming almost overnight. (Full disclosure: I was part of a Bon Appétitthemed group costume this Halloween and thus can hardly claim objective distance from The Cult of BA.) Of the many video series being produced by the Condé Nast-owned culinary media brand, from Brad Leone’s cooking experiments with living organisms to Chris Morocco’s attempts to recreate famous dishes without ever seeing them, a clear winner has emerged in Claire Safﬁtz’s Gourmet Makes, in which the expert baker takes an iconic item of junk food (Sour Patch Kids, Snickers, Doritos, Krispy Kreme donuts, etc.) and uses her skills and know-how to create a gourmet version of the not-so-gourmet classic. Ostensibly all of Safﬁtz’s recreations can be made at home. She offers step-by-step instructions on every last detail, including jury-rigging structures to air dry DIY M&Ms once a sugary coating has been applied. Other recipes include less home kitchen-friendly tips, such as drilling holes into a salad spinner. But the feasibility of individual makes is hardly the point. Safﬁtz is incredibly charming and easy to root for, and her considerable skills and curiosity make for fascinating looks at the science of food. What’s in all the junk we consume? What would it mean to actually make these things in a home kitchen? How can we improve on what’s available at the grocery store? Gourmet Makes is comforting, a way to unwind and enjoy light, silly and oddly informative fare. It’s built on positivity (after all, only a monster would hope for Safﬁtz to fail) and offers a brief reprieve from the real world at the end of a long day. Frederick Blichert, Senior Staff Writer
Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick’s Knock Down the House offers an eye-opening glimpse behind the scenes of the grassroots movement that propelled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC, as she is popularly known) to the U.S. Congress. That storyline initially drew me to watch the documentary, but the issues tackled by Lears and Blotnick go beyond Ocasio-Cortez’s triumphant run. Knock Down the House follows four women who, with no political experience or corporate money, challenge the well-funded incumbents of their respective districts and run for ofﬁce in 2018. It’s galvanizing to watch the women — a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada, a registered nurse in Missouri and the formidable AOC, then a young bartender from the Bronx — ﬁght powerful political forces, lose or win. The ﬁlmmakers take a journalistic approach, documenting the journey of each candidate who — despite personal attacks and divisive politics — show up for their communities in ways the (often) rich, white men in government have failed to do. It’s really the best antidote to the current political climate. At the end of the documentary, AOC watches the results roll in, hands clasped over her mouth and supporters cheering in the background. It’s truly moving, even as her political comrades lose their respective ﬁghts. Lears and Blotnick, who funded the ﬁlm through Kickstarter, sum up the core of the documentary on the funding platform: “Running on their own, they never stand a chance. But running together, as part of a rising movement, they’re ﬁnding the courage to do something extraordinary.” Jillian Morgan. Staff Writer
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