Editor's Note: First up, big birthday news ----
Happy birthday JKR and Harry!
Today, our favorite author and her brainchild Harry Potter turn 41 and 26 respectively.AND A LITTLE MORE HP'ISH NEWS:
A man for all seasons
JACKIE MCGLONEEditor's Note: In a not-traditionally-handsome sort of way, he is QUITE yummy.
FIGHTING through the crowds spewing out of Sloane Square tube station, I spy Harry Potter's nemesis, Professor Severus Snape, sloping by in the sunshine, chewing on a sandwich. And this, I promise Alan Rickman a few minutes later, will be the only reference to those films and that role over the next hour or so. Editor's Note: Ok...so this has really NOTHING to do with Harry Potter, but Mr. Rickman is yummy enough to deserve reportage...dweeb-relevant or no.
For, sighs the aquiline-profiled actor, who has graced films such as Dogma, Truly Madly Deeply
and Sense and Sensibi
lity, and who is famously lusted after by women of a certain age for his effortless ability to exude languorous sensuality, all anyone ever wants to talk to him about is what it's like being a wizard.
Nonetheless, it must make a change from forever being asked how come he's so good at being bad - Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
and the BBC's Barchester Chronicles
, in which he was the slithery Obadiah Slope, a seductive serpent in a cassock. Or, indeed, whether there's any truth in his co-star Lindsay Duncan's claim that audiences used to leave the theatre after seeing him in Les Liaisons Dangereuses
wanting to have sex. "And preferably with Alan Rickman."
"Oh, God, it's years since I played the villain
," says Rickman wearily. "I haven't played a baddie for ages." Editor's Note: Oh? So what are you telling us? Snape is a good guy!?
Clearly, the 'best baddie' persona and the sultry sex symbol image bore him to tears and bear no relation to the man himself, who comes across as seriously intelligent, thoughtful and amusing, with a nice line in sarcasm. The wickedest man in Britain? It's only acting, ladies, so stop sending him all those mildly obscene fan letters. "I am a feminist, so I don't understand how you can have this effect on me...
" is typical.
The bad news for all who write to him in a similar vein is that Rickman is a one-woman man. He has had the same girlfriend for more than 40 years - Rima Horton, an economics lecturer at Kingston University. Clever, very chic, she has stood twice as a Labour candidate for parliament and lost, unsurprisingly, in cast-iron Tory seats. She also lost her place on Kensington and Chelsea's council in May's local government elections. "She was part of the national shift, so she's a free woman - a dangerous thought,
" says Rickman, flashing a smile.
They met when they were students at Chelsea School of Art. He was 19; Horton a year younger. She was his first girlfriend, to whom he has remained steadfastly faithful, although they've never married or had children. He carefully guards the sanctity of his private life and that of his many close friends, among them the actors Ruby Wax, Juliet Stevenson, Geraldine McEwan and Richard Wilson. Interviews with him, therefore, are few and far between.
Today is an exception, though, because he has both a play and a film coming to Edinburgh next month. And he and I have met before, years ago, when he starred in Tango at the End of Winter
at the Festival. As he shakes my hand - with a grip so firm it makes my fingers ache - he mentions that meeting, out of sheer good manners, I'm sure.
So here we are, at the stage door of the Royal Court Theatre, where, looking elegantly rumpled in jeans, navy pinstripe jacket and black shirt, Rickman is still chomping on his toasted panini. He offers me half - which I politely refuse, although certain women of my acquaintance would have accepted and preserved the crumbs like a piece of the true cross.
He charms the stage doorkeeper into making me a cup of coffee - he has brought his own - and finds us a large, empty rehearsal room, where we talk about the play, My Name Is Rachel Corrie
, and his new film, Snowcake
. This is not bad going, given the fact that he later tells me, somewhat mournfully and sounding very Eeyoreish, that every day he looks in the shaving mirror and waves goodbye to yet another major role in theatre or film. "Suddenly, you're 20 years too old for all those roles you planned to do
He was 60 in February. He has always been guarded about his age, since he was a late-starter - he worked as a graphic artist until he was 25, before going to RADA. In 1991, for example, he told me he thought he was "far too old
" for Hamlet. (He went on to play the gloomy prince on the London stage the following year for the legendary Russian director Robert Sturua.) When I asked how old he was then, he refused to tell me, snorting, "It's ridiculous; I don't know why there is this fascination with age. 'Alan Rickman, blah, blah,' in brackets..."
The years may be advancing, but he shouldn't moan. The dark-blond hair may be silvering, but not only does he still get big, meaty roles in movies (he has made three in rapid succession, and in Snowcake
he even gets bedded by a vampish young woman), he directs too. His critically acclaimed, pitch-perfect production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie
, the story of a young American peace activist who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip, is tipped to be one of the must-see plays on this year's Fringe. He has refused all interview requests about the play, which is superbly designed by Hildegard Bechtler, the wife of Bill Paterson. It has already had a successful run in London, after the original off-Broadway production was dramatically derailed in New York.
, in which he plays opposite Sigourney Weaver (as an autistic woman) and The Matrix's
Carrie-Anne Moss (as the aforementioned vamp), brings Hollywood glamour to the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Weaver - an old friend of the actor since they made the sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest
together - will be jetting in to promote it with him.
All this, plus the release this autumn of a film of Patrick Suskind's bestselling masterpiece Perfume
, in which Rickman stars alongside Dustin Hoffman. He has also made a low-budget American indie movie, Nobel Son
, a darkly comic tale of a dysfunctional family in which he plays a Nobel prize-winning American physicist. "He's an egomaniac beyond belief. It was terribly enjoyable to play, like going back to panto. All I knew was I needed wonky teeth, so I got my dentist to make me a set. I got on the plane with no character and a set of overlapping teeth." Editor's Note: Wonky Teeth ( a great name for a band, by the by) seems like something that would be more Brit than American?
Currently, though, Rickman is rehearsing the Edinburgh production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie
, which he has re-cast with 22-year-old Josephine Taylor, fresh out of drama school. Taylor was chosen in March to understudy the Californian-born actress Megan Dodds, who debuted in the role. (Dodds will play Rachel again when the play transfers to New York in October.) "I've never spoken before about My Name Is Rachel Corrie because it's not about me, and I've always been fiercely protective of Rachel's parents, Cindy and Craig, and of Rachel,"
He edited Corrie's writings with Katharine Viner, a journalist on The Guardian, the newspaper that published the 23-year-old's e-mail messages home following her tragic death in March 2003. A middle-class student from Olympia, Washington, Rachel joined the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza. Barely two months later she was run over and killed as she attempted to stop an Israeli army bulldozer destroying a Palestinian home.
On the morning we meet, the headlines are dominated by the crisis in the Middle East, so the issues raised by this passionate, poignant piece of theatre could not be more timely.
"This terrible situation simply proves that the play needs to be seen, and to go on being seen
," he says quietly, "because it comes from a very human perspective and it's not about taking sides at all."
Does he not find it ironic, then, that the original production, at New York Theater Workshop, was "postponed" by artistic director James Nicola, "because of the edgy situation", citing the fact that the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had recently slipped into a coma and Hamas had been elected? Surely, ironically, the theatre was taking sides?"I don't think so
," replies Rickman, who makes no secret of the fact that he is politically involved, a Labour party supporter.
"The real irony for me was that we had a situation where two independent theatres were in some kind of conflict, which, given the world we are living in, was a great pity. I hope that it's resolved now."
Nonetheless, when the play goes back to New York, it will be to another theatre, with new producers.
Rickman was quoted as saying that the cancellation of the production was due to "censorship born out of fear", after Nicola revealed the vehement response of Jewish friends and advisers to the play, some of whom regarded it as "a piece of anti-Israeli agit-prop".
"Well, I had to say that about censorship, didn't I?"
replies Rickman in measured tones, circumflexing an eyebrow. "We can only guess at the sort of political pressure they were under. I don't feel anything but understanding of their problems. In any case, one of the new producers, Dena Hammerstein, is Jewish herself. Who knows? More rocks may still be thrown in our path, because the subject-matter is a hot potato."
Nicola's decision was condemned by Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Vanessa Redgrave, a longtime supporter of Palestinian rights. Now Rickman only wants the play to be seen by as many people as possible."There are times when a piece of work attaches itself to you in a very deep way. For this important play to be turned into a personality thing would be inappropriate; that's why it's not about me."
Rickman read Rachel's e-mails in the newspaper. "Two things stick in my mind: one was that the writing didn't feel as if it wanted to be trapped on a page for ever, it wanted to be spoken. The second is, I might not have read that paper, just as I haven't got round to reading one today - I might not have known,"
he says, trying to imagine the unimaginable.
Immediately, he left his home in west London and went to the Royal Court to suggest to Ian Rickson, the artistic director, that they should do something with it.
"Then Rachel's parents arrived in London. They were a bit dazed, not just by what had happened to their daughter, but because this theatre was saying, 'We want to do a play based on her writings.' But they are remarkable people. There was never any bitterness or anger, only reasonableness and a desire for justice - because there has never been an investigation into Rachel's death."
The Corries gave Rickman "everything" - Rachel's school notebooks, jottings, diaries, poems.
"We got 182 pages, from the time she was 12 up to the Gaza e-mails. I went to the Corries' home, in Washington, and spent time with them. 'Don't put her on a pedestal,' they said to me. But I was always concerned that this would not be a 90-minute polemic. You come, you make up your own mind
," he says. "Of course, when Cindy and Craig saw the play, they were like human waterfalls."
When I saw the production, I veered between wanting to shake Rachel for her naivety and wanting to embrace this "scattered and deviant and loud" young woman for her intelligence, spirit, honesty and courage.
"I'm so glad you felt that, because that's exactly how I hope audiences will feel,"
responds Rickman. "This isn't a play about Palestine or Israel, it's about being a citizen of the world."
The play ends with a video of a ten-year-old Rachel galvanising her schoolmates with a speech about world hunger. "People say to Craig and Cindy, 'Who wrote that for her?' Unbelievable! But that's not as bad as the person who said at one after-show discussion, 'It's just a pity you couldn't get a better actress for the video at the end.'
"The crucial thing for me about the play is that it corrects the slanders on the internet about Rachel and the way she has been demonised - such as, 'Did you know she was a member of Hamas?' She was just this normal, all-American girl who cared. Do I know her? I go to their home - what Rachel called 'a doll's house, floral world' - and I realise I don't know the half of it. There are all those family photographs on the piano - another life.
"I know Rachel only as I know any character, the way I know Alex Hughes, say, the man I play in Snowcake, who is probably more like me than anyone I've ever played. He's very close to me, because I enjoy playing somebody who is just doing his best - that's me."
If Rickman is Alex, he's also an honourable man with an enormous hinterland of grief and guilt. A kind man - as Carrie-Anne Moss tells him in the low-budget Canadian film, which opened this year's Berlin film festival - who has "a face with interesting baggage". Or, as Alex responds drily, "In my case, haulage."
Rickman asks me not to give away how he ends up caring for the autistic mother - Weaver's character - of a young hitchhiker. But you'll need the Kleenex as the frozen wastes of Alex's heart thaw and Weaver enjoys the orgiastic pleasures of snow.
"I love that movie; I hope people get it
," he says. "It's funny, full of light and hope. Great friendships were made on it. By the time the money needed to make it was eventually raised, it had stopped snowing in Wawa, in northern Ontario, where it's set, but the locals saved snow for us in their sheds and garages."
With Rickman bespectacled and in an anorak, it's all a far cry from the lace cuffs of the vulpine Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses
, or indeed the truly madly creepy Professor Severus Snape.
HE may have aristocratic looks, but Alan Rickman was raised on a council estate in Acton, London. Of Irish-Welsh parentage, he is the second of four children. His father, Bernard, a painter and decorator, died of cancer when his son was eight. That silkily sexy, languid tone and delivery are the result of a speech impediment he was born with - the award-winning actor cannot move his jaw properly, which gives him a voice unlike anyone else's.
At 12, he won a scholarship to Latymer Upper, a private school in Hammersmith (the alma mater of Hugh Grant and Mel Smith), where his interest in acting was piqued. He and Rima did am-dram shows together until Rickman finally applied to RADA. One of his first major roles was at the Citizens Theatre, in Glasgow, where he was in Giles Havergal's renowned 1980 production of Brecht's Fears and Miseries of the Third Reich
. "Layers of authoritarian corruption are laid bare with merciless economy and real glee," wrote one critic of Rickman's performance."I can't tell you what it meant to know that the Citizens would give you an audition if you asked - and, if they thought you were pretty enough, a job. I miss it. They changed all our lives,"
Rickman says, adding that he is planning a return to the stage soon. "It's still under discussion,"
he says, adding that it will be the first piece of theatre he has done since Private Lives
, in the West End in 2001.
In the past year, Rickman has worked and travelled incessantly. Perfume
, directed by Tom Tykwer, who made Run Lola Run
, was filmed in Barcelona, on a budget of £35 million.
"The malodorous world of 18th-century Paris is brilliantly conjured up in the film, which is very beautiful,"
he says. "I love perfumes. Every morning when my girlfriend and I come down to the courtyard in our block of flats we're assailed by the most delicious scent - jasmine round a doorway. It almost makes me swoon."
There, I think, you have the contradiction that is Rickman: an actor who can do bad-smell-under-the-nose disdain to the manner born and a guy who makes time to sniff the posies. But, ladies, I beg of you, do not bombard him with bouquets of jasmine. Just carry on lusting in the privacy of a darkened auditorium. Editor's Note: What an oddly-written piece. As much about the author as the subject, I think. Still...Mr. R IS yummy.....MOVIE NEWS:
Kidman plots path to NL's 'Compass'
Nicole Kidman is in final negotiations to star in "The Golden Compass," New Line Cinema's adaptation of the first installment of author Philip Pullman's best-selling "His Dark Materials" trilogy being directed by Chris Weitz.
Dakota Blue Richards already has been cast as Lyra, a girl who discovers she is at the heart of a hideous conspiracy and that the fate of many children rests with her. She embarks on a journey to the far north to save her best friend and encounters shape-shifting creatures, witches and a variety of otherworldly characters. Kidman will play Mrs. Coulter, a sinister scholar and socialite with a mysterious past who has a secret link to Lyra. Editor's Note: A PERFECT role for Kidman (who I feel has few roles appropriate to her limited skills). The part is cold and haughty. I think Ms.K can pull that off without stretching too much. (ahem).....
Warner Brothers is BENIGHTED
Warner Brothers and Initial Entertainment have acquired a werewolf novel, BENIGHTED, by Kit Whitfield. Graham King will produce and Andrew Adamson will develop the film with an eye to direct.
BENIGHTED is an alternate reality story in which 90 percent of the population is werewolf. Everyone else must keep the peace during the full moon. Editor's Note: Sort of like PLEDGE week on fraternity row....if 90 percent of the school went Greek. (And had very big teeth).
Random House, which published in the United Kingdom, will also publish the book in the United States. The book has core themes of racism and alienation wrapped in a drama with vast visual-effects possibilities.
Adamson has been busy of late, starting the SHREK franchise before directing THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA for Disney. He is currently gearing up to film the NARNIA sequel.Ryan Philipee is Harvey Dent?
An interesting rumor making rounds around the Internet is that Ryan Phillippe is a possible choice as Harvey Dent in the upcoming BATMAN BEGINS sequel.
This is just a rumor, he has not been confirmed in the role. Another name that has been dangled is Liev Schreiber.
Harvey Dent would likely be a friend of Batman's in the upcoming film, only to turn into Two Face in the third installment.Ratatouille Cast Announced
Pixar's next film gets voice list
Editor's Note: Rodents are funny!
They’ve teased us with a trailer, but now Pixar is finally ready to reveal the full information about their next film, Ratatouille
Disney has revealed that the voice cast for the rodent comedy is a typically megastar line-up that includes comedian Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm and – like it could be any other way – John Ratzenberger.
The plot sees a rat named Remy (Oswalt) dreaming of becoming a top-rated French chef despite the fact that he’s the sort of pest banned from kitchens for health reasons. Still, Remy hasn’t given up hope and when he’s lucky enough to find himself in the sewers of Paris, beneath the restaurant of his hero Auguste Gusteau (Garrett) he sees his chance.
The film will arrive next year, and is co-directed by The Incredibles’
Brad Bird and Geri’s Game
short film maker Jan Pinkava. Editor's Note: These animated celeb-fests are all pretty good, but they're starting to blur together, huh?Justin Long joins DIE HARD 4
Justin Long has signed on to join Bruce Willis in the upcoming film, DIE HARD 4, according to IESB.net
IESB.net writes, "While the official announcement is expected within the next few days, the IESB can confirm that he is in the final stages of his negotiations. He will either play the son of John McClane, of course, reprised by Bruce Willis or a computer hacker that he teams up with."
"We're as close as we've ever got to getting Die Hard 4 started,"
Willis said of the film a couple months ago. "It won't be called Die Hard 4 but that will be the story. Hopefully it will be out next summer." Editor's Note: oooo...danger will robinson, danger danger. Sounds kinda iffy on having the act (ie script) together, hmm?
A rumored working title was Die Hard 4: Die Hardest
, but that will probably change in the near future if the project gets underway again.
The original Die Hard
hit theaters in 1988.Adams on 'War' path with Hanks
Amy Adams is in negotiations to star opposite Tom Hanks in "Charlie Wilson's War" for Universal Pictures. Mike Nichols is directing the drama, which is being produced by Hanks and Gary Goetzman via Playtone.
The story tells of the CIA's largest and most successful covert CIA operation, the arming of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. The covert ops were engineered by Charlie Wilson (Hanks), a charismatic, wheeler-dealer, liberal Texas congressman who teamed with a rogue CIA operative. The two manipulated Congress, the CIA and a host of foreign governments in order to assist the Afghan rebels in their fight against the Soviets in the 1980s. Many of the men armed by the CIA went on to become the Taliban's enforcers and Osama bin Laden's protectors.Melissa George in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT
Melissa George will star opposite Josh Hartnett in the upcoming film 30 DAYS OF NIGHT for Sony. Editor's Note: Not sure if I have forgiven her yet for stealing Vaughn from Sydney Bristow in "Alias". (And then there's the whole problem of any movie with Josh Hartnett having a warning sign on it....)
Based on a Steve Niles graphic novel, the story is set in a sleepy, secluded Alaska town called Barrow, the sun sets and doesn't rise for over thirty consecutive days and nights. From the darkness, across the frozen wasteland, an evil will come that will bring the residents of Barrow to their knees. The only hope for the town is the Sheriff (Hartnett) and Deputy (George), a husband and wife who are torn between their own survival and saving the town they love.
The film will be directed by David Slade.Stephen David Brooks will direct BREW
Stephen David Brooks (Heads N TailZ) will direct the upcoming horror film BREW for The Ilya Salkind Company, according to ComingSoon.net
BREW is the story of a self-styled loser who inherits a family brewery drowning in debt. His girlfriend convinces him to restart the family business despite the rumors that the brewery is haunted by his blood thirsty relatives, The Rhineharts.
Larry Kirchner and the late James Dean Schulte penned the screenplay. Joe Majestic will produce the film for the company.
The cast will be comprised of horror veterans, upcoming talent, and unknowns selected from a nationwide talent search. Editor's Note: Well...I always say, if you can't buy a decent script, get a catchy casting gimmick! TV NEWS:Randle passes bar for regular role on 'Intent'
The casting reshuffle on NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" continues, with Theresa Randle joining Dick Wolf's crime drama next season.
Meanwhile, Dan Byrd and newcomer Adhir Kalyan have landed the two leads in the CW comedy pilot "Aliens in America."
Additionally, Julie Gonzalo and Chris Lowell have closed deals to join the cast of CW's drama series "Veronica Mars" as regulars.
Randle has been tapped to do three episodes of "CI" with an option to continue on the show as a regular. She replaces Nona Gaye. Editor's Note: With all the casting shifts, the "CI" cast will need to hold little id signs for the first couple of episodes, so we can figure out who's who.Polo has 'Legacy' at Lifetime
Teri Polo has signed on to star in "Legacy of Fear," a telefilm for Lifetime.
The project, from writer John Benjamin Martin, centers on JJ (Polo), a thirtysomething female detective in pursuit of a serial killer who 30 years earlier murdered her mother before her eyes.
Also cast in the film is Zachary Bennett. Don Terry is directing the movie, which is being filmed in Montreal. Jean Bureau, Stephen Greenberg and Anne Carlucci are executive producing. Editor's Note: From "The West Wing" to Lifetime chick-in-jep....poor thing.BIGTIME DIRECTORS DO TV:
Singer in pilot deal with ABC
Bryan Singer has inked a rich, three-for-one deal with ABC. Under the seven-figure pact, Singer, the director of such blockbusters as "X-Men," "X2: X-Men United" and most recently "Superman Returns," will develop three scripts for the network, one of which is guaranteed to go to pilot.
Singer, who will develop the projects through his company Bad Hat Harry Prods., will executive produce and direct the pilot.
This is the first formal television deal for Singer, who spearheaded the early development of Sci Fi Channel's critically praised series "Battlestar Galactica," executive produced the channel's miniseries "The Triangle" and directed and executive produced the pilot for Fox's medical drama "House." Singer is an executive producer on "House," which has emerged as a blockbuster hit for Fox and recently landed a best drama series Emmy nomination.Del Toro goes small screen for deal at Fox
Filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro is crossing over to television with an overall deal at 20th Century Fox Television.
Under the one-year deal, Del Toro, known for such sci-fi/fantasy features as "Hellboy" and "Blade II," will develop and executive produce one-hour series projects for the studio. He plans to write or co-write a drama for the studio. He also is set to direct a one-hour pilot.
"He is the pre-eminent genre writer-director in the feature world
," 20th TV president Gary Newman said of Del Toro. "When you sit in a room with him and see how wildly imaginative he is, you know you're going to get projects that are unique." Editor's Note: Ever feel like these studio guys have a refrigerator magnet packet that they rearrange semi-randomly to spew out PR mishegas like that?
Sam Raimi to develop SWORD OF TRUTH mini-series
According to ComingSoon.net
, director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) and his producing partner Joshua Donen will develop a mini-series based on the bestselling SWORD OF TRUTH book series.
ComingSoon writes, "Having been approached by Hollywood a number of times over the past decade, Goodkind was never convinced that his 400,000 word novels could be successfully compressed into worthwhile feature films. In a meeting at the author's home, the renowned director [Raimi] and producer instead conceived [him] of a groundbreaking mini-series. Within two hours Goodkind was sold on the concept and negotiations commenced. Ten months later the deal was finally concluded."
"It's a dream come true to work with someone of such remarkable vision, talent, and ability,"
Goodkind said. "Given Sam's sincere love for these stories and his determination to only make great films, this mini-series will be a watershed event."
Development is said to begin while Raimi finishes SPIDER-MAN 3, the first mini-series will be based off the Wizard's First Rule novel and production should get underway within the next year.DWWEBTECH AND SUCH:Dolby Labs likes sound of 3-D
Dolby Laboratories has staked a claim on the emerging field of digital cinema with plans to introduce its own proprietary 3-D system. The San Francisco firm, best known for its high-quality audio products, has made a deal to license technology from Infitec GmbH, a manufacturer of virtual-reality 3-D technologies.
Infitec's 3-D application is expected to allow exhibitors that use Dolby d-cinema servers to project digital stereoscopic movies. Infitec's 3-D server widget will be more cost-effective for theater owners than systems already on the market because images stored on a Dolby server should project directly onto a standard screen and be viewed with disposable 3-D glasses, said Tim Partridge, Dolby Laboratories senior vp and general manager, professional division.
Competing digital 3-D systems in the field today require either a silver screen or costly active stereoscopic glasses. Editor's Note: hmmmmm....I wonder if this might change anything time-table-wise at Lucasfilm (vis-a-vis the Star Wars 3D project)?And now....an explanation (of sorts) for why the SciFi Channel (yes, one of my favorite whipping boys) doesn't broadcast in HD. (When TNT and some other less obvious networks DO).For those of you with HD TVs and HD cable (or satellite), who are gluttons for shows you like to look purty....The Trouble With UHDCatch-All Nets Prove Problematic for Advertising
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
When NBC Universal devised a high-definition strategy for its cable networks, the company opted not to create separate simulcast HD channels for Bravo, USA Network and Sci Fi Channel.
Instead, the company launched a stand-alone network in 2004 that could run content from all three networks as well as repurposed movies and TV shows from the NBC Universal library. But the result, the network called UHD, has become a weak anomaly among HD networks.
It features 1980s relics such as "The Equalizer" and "Knight Rider" instead of NBCU's most popular shows. One member of the online audio-video fan community AVS Forum derided the channel as "a waste of bandwidth."
That's the ultimate insult in a business controlled by cable operators who view HD channels as hogging three times the space of standard-definition channels while delivering scant few viewers. In addition, some fans say popular HD programming is going to waste.
Sci Fi Channel's critically acclaimed "Battlestar Galactica" is shot in HD and is an on-target program for HD's male early-technology-adopting demographic. But episodes don't make their way around to UHD until a year after they run on Sci Fi, much to the frustration of fans.
This tactic might seem odd for a company that's embraced cross-platform programming, airing episodes of "Battlestar" on NBC or Sci Fi's "Ghost Hunters" on USA.
The difference is the cross-platform efforts were promotional. The main problem with regularly running new episodes of NBC Universal's "Battlestar," "Monk," "Dead Zone," "Project Runway" and "Stargate: SG-1" on UHD is that advertisers pay considerably less for a spot on the HD stand-alone network than for a spot on Sci Fi, USA or Bravo, according to media buyer sources. So if the HD version is made available on UHD at the same time as the standard-definition version on a show's flagship network, fans might switch to the HD version, thus cannibalizing ratings on the higher-priced networks. And costing NBC Universal ad revenue. Editor's Note: So very sad. And shortsighted. And typical.
Simulcast networks such as ESPN HD or TNT HD don't have this problem, as both networks run the same programming and commercials.
Other complications exist too.
To get all of NBCU's most popular shows on UHD, many productions would have to be upgraded to HD, and the company might have to negotiate the right to repeat the episodes on the HD channel.
But the primary concern about -- and the main drawback to -- the catch-all UHD channel as it is now, is the lack of available ad revenue. (Of course, this is a Catch-22 because ratings will stay modest, and ad rates will stay low, as long as there's no first-run programming driving viewership.)
Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group, said simulcast channels make more sense from a consumer standpoint. "What's most natural to the consumer is a channel that echoes the schedule they're used to,"
said Mr. Leichtman said. "Eventually you're going to have HD channels for [all NBCU's networks], but until then I think it would be smart to make UHD into USA HD." Editor's Note: Yep. Duh. Or Scifi HD. Either one.
UHD is not alone in this dilemma. MTV's catch-all network MHD and Discovery Networks' Discovery HD Theater face a similar risk of cannibalization, and both are mostly stocked with programming that's already well-worn from running on their main channels.
But UHD's problem is more pressing, as the company has so many scripted dramas that viewers are increasingly accustomed to finding in the HD format.
Sci Fi's Thomas Vitale, senior VP of programming and original movies, said the company currently views UHD as a separate distribution window, like home video or pay-per-view.
"We really do care about UHD … but first we need to build 'Battlestar Galactica' on the Sci Fi Channel,"
he said. "But that window [the time between when a show debuts on Sci Fi and appears in UHD] will eventually shrink." Editor's Note: of all the idiotic.....Yes, you need to build the viewership of the show (s) in general. But the Scifi fan is the MOST likely to appreciate...and DEMAND....HD. And these doofusi act like having HD is not important. To the scifi fan, it can even be a reason to NOT watch shows.
Until that window shrinks to the point where first-run HD viewing is a real option, Sci Fi, USA and Bravo fans will have to continue to wait -- and wait -- for the HD versions of their favorite shows.