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Court TV Rules on Day and Night Programming Split

By Tamara Krinsky

From 'Unknown White Male,' which premieres on Court TV in March 2006. Courtesy of Court TV

Court TV has announced its first major rebranding in the last five years. The channel has divided the network into two, reflecting its distinctly different daytime and evening schedules of news and entertainment. Daytime programming will roll out under the banner Court TV News, while the evening schedule of investigation-related series and documentaries, issue-related movies and reality-based fare aimed at the channel's growing younger demographic will play under the tagline "Court TV Seriously Entertaining."

"Our goal in the evening is to build on our momentum as the brand leader in investigation and extend our appeal through more contemporary, faster-paced, reality-driven programming aimed at our growing younger demographic," says Marc Juris, general manager of Court TV.

Art Bell, Court TV's president and chief operating officer, says about the new tagline, "We think Seriously Entertaining is appropriate for a channel that does documentaries in the investigative genre. We also show documentaries that deal with more serious issues like our annual RFK series, our series on The Innocence Project and our documentary series with Al Roker that's looked at things like the effects of hazing on kids and their parents."

The rebranding is potentially good news for documentarians, as it will help to spotlight the nonfiction films and series shown on the channel. Says Bell, "The documentary is really enjoying a renaissance at theaters. I think the reason is partly because of the documentary showcases offered by cable TV, including Court TV and some of our compadres in the cable industry. As we showcase the work of great documentary filmmakers every night, it really has helped develop a taste for docs in an audience, an audience that's now willing to go to theater and pay to see them and [that] thinks of them as entertainment."

Bell says that while the channel has always shown a rich mix of documentaries, such as Home of the Brave and Unknown White Male, they're now working the festival circuit a bit more and keeping their eyes open for interesting opportunities.

Court TV's rebranding will be fully realized on air as of July 18, 2005.

Lions Gate Rize's to the Occasion

Fresh off screenings at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, Rize opens in Los Angeles and New York at the end of June. Director David LaChapelle's feature follow-up to his award-winning short documentary Krumped is an intimate, fresh portrayal of kids in South Los Angeles that focuses on the groundbreaking dance phenomenon now known as "krumping."

The aggressive and visually stunning dance is a mixture of spiritual African dancing and chaotic mosh pit/underground fight club moves integrated with the syncopated moves done to a hip-hop back-beat. The film traces the movement from its roots to its modern day form, beginning with Tommy Johnson (Tommy the Clown), who first created the style as a response to the 1992 Rodney King riots and named it "clowning." Today, the kids use dance as an alternative to gangs and hustling; they form their own troupes and paint their faces like warriors, meeting to outperform rival gangs of dancers or just to hone their skills. For the dancers, krumping becomes a way of life, and, because it's authentic expression (in complete opposition to the bling-bling hip-hop culture), the dance becomes a vital part of who they are.

Rize was produced by LaChapelle, Marc Hawker, Ellen Jacobson-Clarke, and choreographers Richmond and Tone Talauega, and is distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment.

Newly-Formed Picturehouse Schools Itself for Rock Doc

If you loved Jack Black in School of Rock, you won't want to miss first-time feature documentary filmmaker Don Argott's Rock School (Sheena M. Joyce, prod.), an entertaining look at the ups and downs of the Paul Green School of Rock Music. The Philadelphia institution was founded in 1999 and is dedicated to teaching children ages nine through 17 the ins and outs of rock and roll.

Argott's film follows an entire season of classes, in the process establishing school founder, director and self-proclaimed "überlord," Paul Green, as one of the most complex, contradictory and unforgettable characters in recent films. The doc features great clips of the kids performing, but it's Green's thorny relationship with his students that's the heart of the piece. His combination of sensitivity, criticism and theatrics forces the audience to wonder he's fostering his students' gifts, inhibiting them or just living out his own adolescent rock and roll dreams.

Rock School opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 3, through the new HBO/New Line venture, Picturehouse, which is headed by former Newmarket Films chief Bob Berney.


Tamara Krinsky is associate editor of Documentary.


60 Minutes
Producer/Documentarian Al Wasserman: 1921-2005
By Richard Wormser

Although Al Wasserman may be mostly remembered for his work as a producer for 60 Minutes, he was one of the foremost documentary filmmakers in the 1950s and '60s.

Wasserman began his career by making an Academy Award-winning short documentary about physical therapy entitled First Steps in 1947. He eventually joined CBS in 1955, writing and producing for shows like CBS Reports and Twentieth Century, and was later a founding producer, in 1960, of NBC's White Paper.

Even before cinema vérité revolutionized the documentary scene, Wasserman had already recognized that film was "an emotional, not informational, medium that should try to involve people in an experience." Although Wasserman did not label himself a "socially concerned" filmmaker, his best work reflected a deep and abiding concern with the human condition.

Out of Darkness (1956) was a stunning study of a psychotic woman's gradual recovery in a mental institution. Although a portable hand-held sync film and sound system had not yet been developed, Wasserman managed to spontaneously capture her progress and the world in which she lived using cumbersome 35mm sync sound equipment.

Throughout his career Wasserman received Peabody Awards, a George Polk Award and Emmy Award nominations. In 1976, he joined 60 Minutes. Mike Wallace remembers him as "a professional, who brought his documentary experience to the show and was a delightful man to work with."