CNN Launches Film Unit, Unveils Star-Studded First Project

Oct 8, 2012  •  Post A Comment

[Updated on Oct. 8, 2012 at 3:30 p.m. PT to make it clear that the film unit in question will focus on documentaries. Also includes a CNN executive's confirmation of a story first reported in August, that CNN is also looking at reality programming.]

CNN has announced the creation of a new film venture, CNN Films, aiming to create projects with top filmmakers for theatrical release and to be aired on CNN and CNN International, TheWrap.com reports.

Our friend Joe Flint, of the Los Angeles Times’ Company Town blog, says in his version of the story that the new unit will "acquire and finance documentaries." 

The first documentary is an acquisition, “Girl Rising,” described in TheWrap report as “a look at girls’ education worldwide directed by Academy Award nominee Richard E. Robbins (‘Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience’). It includes voice performances by Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, Academy Award nominee Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, and Selena Gomez. It is executive produced by Tom Yellin and Holly Gordon of the Documentary Group and Paul G. Allen of Vulcan Productions.”

The venture has signed Oscar-winning director and producer Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” and “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”) and director Andrew Rossi (“Page One: Inside the New York Times”) to development deals, the report notes.

In the Company Town account, Flint calls the move a step in the right direction for CNN.

“The network needs to try something different,” Flint writes. “It has, of course, produced its own documentaries on social issues but now wants to become far more active in acquiring content as well.”

Flint also says in his story, "That does not mean that CNN is throwing out its prime-time lineup for documentaries. It is merely dipping its toe in the water. [Mark Whitaker, managing editor of CNN Worldwide] said CNN hopes to air three to four films a year. The documentaries can also help generate other fresh content for CNN. Whitaker anticipates using other CNN shows to promote ‘Girl Rising’ and tapping the topics brought up in the film about women and education as fodder for its news programming."

Whitaker is also quoted in Flint’s piece saying: "It’s no secret we need to develop more compelling programming. With all the various sources of news right now, unless there is a momentous story going on, it is hard to get people to tune in for just the news of the day."

In Flint’s piece Whitaker also confirms a New York Post story, which we wrote about in August, that CNN is looking at getting into reality programming. Writes Flint in today’s article, "Moreover, CNN is looking to get into what Whitaker calls ‘narrative nonfiction’ programming, which many fear is code for reality shows. Whitaker argues that not every reality show has to be TLC’s ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.’ ‘There is a lot of downmarket stuff out there but what we’re hearing from people in that space is that they are dying for a programmer who is interested in serious, sophisticated nonfiction programming,’ Whitaker said. ‘We’re not getting pitched schlock at all.’ "

Flint adds about the documentary programming that it "does not mean that CNN is throwing out its prime-time lineup for documentaries. It is merely dipping its toe in the water. Whitaker said CNN hopes to air three to four films a year.

“The documentaries can also help generate other fresh content for CNN. Whitaker anticipates using other CNN shows to promote ‘Girl Rising’ and tapping the topics brought up in the film about women and education as fodder for its news programming.”

2 Comments

  1. Anybody remember what C.N.N. stands for? Apparently the folks at CNN don’t….

  2. This shows how far behind they have fallen in the ratings war. They need something every quarter to get people back to their network. The other thing they need is for Romney to win. Fox News has shown that being the opposition network drives viewers to you.

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