'ABC News Closeup's' documentary blitz
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According to producer Woodhead, who visited my office before his recent return to England: "I can only justify the use of the dramatized form for news programming when an important topic such as this --be told by conventional means. Then, so long as you make it clear to the audience what you are doing and so long as you have a trustworthy witness to guide you, I feel it is valid to go ahead and reenact."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Woodhead was especially impressed by the fact that Miss Hill, despite some past criticism that some of her documentaries tended to be a bit on the sensational "go-go" side, was willing to buy the rights to this documentary for American TV. The other commercial networks steer clear of "outside" documentaries . . . and are especially wary of anybody else's dramatizations.
Now, Miss Hill explains that she convinced ABC News Chief Roone Arledge that "Invasion" should be aired as soon as possible because it is so analagous to the potential situation in Poland. "I believe in searching out new and unusual forms -- and sometimes taking chances with them. Although the dramatization form isn't new, its scrupulous use as a news documentary form differs from the way we have used the docu-drama in this country -- basically as an entertainment."
She says she believes that there is "no one form of documentary that can address the various kinds of problems we are trying to inform people about. That's why we are constantly searching for new forms." Among independent and free-lance documentarians, Miss Hill has already gained a reputation for maintaining an open door. Several of them have already joined her staff, as a matter of fact, despite the unfortunate experience she seems to have had with Marcel Ophuls, who was assigned to do a Closeup on Hollywood and could not make it conform to 'Closeup's' format . . . and left, to Miss Hill's obvious consternation.
As to the innuendoes that ABC trivializes the news, she shrugs and smiles just a but sadly. "I would have thought that with 'Nightline' proving such a serious success and with the fine reputation of 'World News Tonight,' those charges would have pretty much disappeared. In any event, Ifeel free to go about doing the kinds of serious issues which Roone Arledge has hired and then freed us to do here at 'Closeup.'"
Has Mr. Arledge placed any restrictions on her?
"None at all -- only the understanding that we are doing serious issues here. All subjects must merit an hour's analysis. There'd more likely be objections if we tried to do something light or frothy. The commitment to 12 documentaries a year has been scrupulously adhered to. The reason there are two this December is because no network likes to run potentially low-rated documentaries during a sweep period. So the November time slot [during the sweep period when advertising rates are set based on viewership] was pushed into December. The additional slot for 'Invasion' came about because we felt it was so marvelous and timely."
Miss hill reveals that in March or April she will be doing something else unique in commercial TV --portant documentary on nuclear defense systems, "The Apocalypse Game," together with another updated hour on the proliferation of nuclear arms. "There is a real need to do such things in prime time -- we have a responsibility to inform TV viewers on issues we feel are important . . . and being over looked."
Is there any new documentary form which Mill Hill anticipates soon?
"We have not done the very personal profile of an individual yet. And the personal-vision show -- the personal perception of a filmmaker like Ophuls, for instance. I'd still like to see that."
She worries about the current "Real People" trend in entertainment TV these days. "They blur the line between entertainment and information, and that is something that concerns me greatly.
"I believe that we in network news have a sacred duty to hew to the line of truth. There is nothing more important. And, perhaps it sounds a bit pompous, but I never forget that."
It doesn't sound pompous . . . and a conversation with Pamela Hill convinces the interviewer that she means what she says and has the power and determination to hew to the line she articulates.
Take a look at her three powerful documentaries in the next week and you will believe, too.