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Saturday 10.11.07

Channel 4 to expand its Cutting Edge Strand

Channel 4 is to expand the number of Cutting Edge documentaries and give the strand a permanent berth at 9pm in its schedule.

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Will Wyatt criticises "stupid" Greg Dyke over BBC's current woes

Will Wyatt, the former chief executive of BBC Broadcast, has intimated that blame for the BBC's current round of job cuts can be directed at the "stupid" policies of the BBC's former director general Greg Dyke.

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Adam Curtis - and a change of direction

Adam Curtis, the polemical documentary maker whose films have included the Century of the Self and the 2004 Bafta award winning The Power of Nightmares, is to embark on what he calls a "more emotional" change of direction in his film making.

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Media Monkey at the Sheffield Documentary Festival

Steve Hewlett played an interesting master of ceremonies at the BBC interview with film maker Adam Curtis. Before the interview began, the former Carlton programmes supremo asked delegates at Sheffield's City Hall to all take out their mobile phones (which should have course been switched off), turn them on and type in "Peter Dale" on predictive text - as well as the word "Angus" for some reason. Peter Dale spelt out Peter Fake while Angus - Angus who? Macqueen? - spelt out Angu? on Monkey's rather old Nokia phone. Very mysterious.

When Curtis got to speak, he offered some interesting tips to budding film makers on how to get to the top. At the summit of his list was lying. "When I pitched The Power of Nightmares I told Alan Yentob I was going to make a very traditional series about politics," he said of his groundbreaking 2004 series about the terrorist threat which was anything but traditional. "Television is full of really stupid people at the top," he added later in what Monkey did not take to be a reference to Yentob. "They are making really stupid decisions and you fight your way out of it and just lie". Perhaps not the best of advice in these fakery obsessed times but there you go.

At a session called Question Time on Saturday, Wall to Wall boss Alex Graham proved to be in fighting form, railing against the coverage of TV fakery and taking particular exception to the way the press has, in his view, equated a fib about a Blue Peter cat or the snappy editing of The Queen doc on BBC1 with phone in scams that have fleeced the public of £35m (these were Will Wyatt's figures by the way). "One of the weirdest things has been taking ethical lessons from Fleet Street," he told moderator Mark Lawson. " And I am sorry to say that your paper The Guardian has been one of the more egregious and smug in this whole debate". How very very dare he, Monkey thought.

Still, none of the assembled folk on the panel - Graham, film makers Brian Hill and Molly Dineen, Channel 4's head of documentaries Angus Macqueen, former BBC executive Will Wyatt and BBC2 (and acting BBC1) controller Roly Keating said they would be prepared to be followed around their jobs by a documentary crew. "No, absolutely no - I don't understand why anybody would go on television although I am very glad they do," said Graham. Wyatt thought the answers reflected something quite worrying. "Everyone saying no doesn't reflect very well on what the documentary community does," he said with some oomph. And it was a reflection which also drew much applause.

Alex Graham also proved to be very touchy when asked whether his ratings busting BBC1 geanealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? could be classified as a documentary. He didn't think it should, but said he baulked at what he called the "nauseating" notion that "there is this thing called documentary and everything else is a bit shit". Molly Dineen then cut through the froideur and mild gasps by gently suggesting that he might be a bit more careful about what he says as "this is a documentary festival".

Funniest session of the festival so far has to be indie filmaker Lee Kern on "How to be a TV whore". Prompted by Newsnight head honcho Peter Barron, he went undercover and pitched some absurd ideas to TV execs in a hilarious little film called Monkey Tennis (which was also shown in Edinburgh this year). And while this particular simian may be slightly offended by the use of its name and trademark (thanks Alan Partridge), some of the ideas were quite brilliantly awful. Watching ITV entertainment boss Duncan Gray lying on a sofa at ITV's Grays Inn Rd HQ mulling over ideas such as Urban Safari (people earn 5 points for spotting vomiting at a city nightspot, ten points for drug dealing etc.) had to be seen to be believed. "This is way off tone," said Duncan who reminded the pitchers that his channel was the premiere commercial broadcaster in the country before adding a straight-faced: "There is something a little bit misanthropic about taking pictures of people vomiting". As for the idea "Rolf Harris Reads the News" he was almost stunned into silence. "That's...really....I mean..." were all the words he could muster.

Kern also dazzled the assembled throng with his views of the industry after his film was shown. Monkey particularly liked the commissioners Top Trumps in which Channel 5 programmes head Jay Hunt's special skills were "Nazis and Sharks". You also may want to remember some of his choice maxims should you ever be pitching ideas like his in future. "Only the poor knock at the door....If you are a friend of the dollar there is no need to holler" were some followed by perhaps the best: "If you're not Shoreditch House then you're a louse". How tragically true that last one now seems to be.

Later on Saturday, documentary maker Louis Theroux proved to be am amiable interviewee (host: Andrew Billen) following the screening of his latest doc, Louis Theroux Behind Bars in which he visits the notorious Californian prison and occasional gig venue San Quentin. He let slip to the audience that he and the producer of the great When Louis Met Jimmy (Saville) still visit the former Mr Fixit about every year in a hope that he will "tell them where the bodies are buried". So does he bring a camera, Monkey asked Louis after the talk? "We do but it is more of a personal thing, something for ourselves and I haven't done it for a couple of years." Right, so would you release another Jimmy Film? "I don't know...the thing about the bodies was a joke." Monkey has to say that the great Louis doesn't look enormously comfortable when he was being asked the questions.

Still, Louis was prepared to spill the beans on other areas of his work. Apparently he has written to Heather Mills asking to make a film about her and she has politely rebuffed him. And he was on the verge of abandoning his film about the Hamiltons just before the bombshell of the false claims about their sexual assault hit the couple as he was filming. It may not surprise you to learn that the Hamiltons tried to renegotiate their fee once they realised they had become hot property again. Oh yes, and he does sometimes re-do interviews but "not in any questionable way".

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Friday 09.11.07

Will the BBC's Farsi TV find viewers in Iran?

The UK government is to pump £70m into a new BBC World Service Farsi TV news service for Iran over the next three years; while the US administration is putting more than $21m into Voice of America Farsi TV and a further $14.7m into Radio Farda as part of its as "soft topple" policy, writes Dr Massoumeh Torfeh.

However, with officials surveys suggesting international media broadcasting to Iran reach less than one percent of the population and an increasingly competitive media market in the country, will the US or UK television channels manage to attract sufficient viewers to justify this government investment?

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Sheffield Doc/Fest 2007: coverage here this weekend

Ben Dowell is in Sheffield for the 2007 Doc/Fest this weekend and will be covering the event on this blog on Saturday and Sunday. Highlights of the festival programme include sessions featuring Adam Curtis, the award winning documentary-maker responsible for The Trap and The Power of Nightmares, Louis Theroux, and Ross Kemp, who won a Bafta earlier this year for his series on gangs. Film-maker Lee Kern will also be delivering a masterclass on "How to be a TV whore".

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Happy 40th birthday, BBC Local Radio

Pop quiz, bonus question, half a dozen beer tokens up for grabs: which radio station plays a better mix of music from today and yesterday, pumping out the same 200 records again and again until either your ears bleed and scab over or you pass out, whichever blessed act occurs first?, writes Paul Smith.

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Media Talk for Friday November 9

We kick off this week's show at the Society of Editors conference in Manchester. Our man Stephen Brook mingled with the media bigwigs, and heard Independent boss Gavin O'Reilly claim the internet was not the biggest threat to printed newspapers. And Michael Billington, from our colleagues at GMG Radio in Manchester, reports on the big issue discussed at the conference- trust.

Also, with award-wining writers on the picket lines in Hollywood, you're bound to get a better class of banner. ("We write the storia for Eva Longoria" is a particular favourite.) Jeanne Wolf, a reporter with Parade.com, joins us from LA to explain the strike.

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Why the US TV writers' strike could make or break new shows

Thanks to the on-going writers' strike the hardest thing to achieve in US television just got a whole lot harder. The competitive nature of the US TV market means that one in three new shows ends up cancelled. Some struggle through half a season, others like the much-mocked Viva Laughlin make it through only two episodes before the axe falls.

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Thursday 08.11.07

Is the new Guinness ad a knockout?

Guinness's "Tipping point" ad is the latest in the series promoting its strapline "'Good things come to those who wait". But was it worth waiting for, asks Dugald Baird.

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