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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

April 20, 2006

This was the week of the CINE AWARDS and I am currently President of the organization. In my personal opinion, next to the Emmys, the CINE Award is the most prestigious general award given to programs in film and video. The work this year was superb, with Master Awards going to the television movie FAITH OF OUR FATHERS from A&E and another to CONTROL ROOM, the thought provoking documentary which chronicled life inside Al Jazeera during the early days of the current Iraqi war.

The lifetime honoree was Albert Maysles, an elfin sprite of an eighty year old, who is full of passion for what he does and exudes an energy and enthusiasm that is inspiring. At an age when very few humans are thinking about their next mountain to climb, Albert Maysles is planning a dozen new projects, easily consuming another decade or two.

The student award was won by an extraordinary thoughtful film out of California, MARTYR, which looks at the psychology of the suicide bomber. The evening helped me remember all the reasons why the film and video art form is so important and so powerful. It also reminded me of how difficult it is to create good work today. I have attended a number of conferences of late and one of the recurring themes was that while the plethora of cable networks have created more slots for programs, the demanding network necessities for volume has created, in many places, a factory atmosphere for filmmakers. It feels that some networks are asking producers to turn out the video equivalent of the Model T, vast amount of product that looks basically the same.

Now television, I don’t think, can ever be really a Ford factory yet there is a feeling of discouragement that is running rampant among many producers of video content; a sense of diminished creativity, the “Golden Age” of cable now gone. If they were at all, they were the late 1980’s and the 1990’s, when network executives felt the freedom to encourage creativity and a bit of idiosyncrasy. Cable networks could be quirky in those days when the rules were being written and formulas had not yet been codified. And it is why many producers are turning to the net with their quirky projects, idiosyncratic ideas and artistic visions that can not now find their way onto any network television.

As someone who works regularly with producers, helping nurture their ideas, it is difficult to have to say to earnest men and women that there is no place to sell their vision; that there are few buyers for thoughtful documentaries. All the movement to a common center has been driven by economic necessities, the demands cable networks have these days for steady ratings and ratings growth, driven by complicated and aggressive business plans conceived when ratings and subscribers were growing almost magically.

Those days are gone and harder economic realities have set in. Cable networks now face the challenges that broadcast networks faced a dozen years ago, competition from other networks and from new technologies. The infatuation that young men and women have with the net is posing problems for cable that were not clearly anticipated and with which they are now struggling.

Hence, homogeneity and celebrity are rampant...

After the CINE Awards, I went to a meeting at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. While waiting, my colleague and I observed a bank of television screens tuned to all the news networks. His comment to me: the country is at war, there is a shake up happening at the White House, we have an oil crisis descending and every one of these sets is telling us that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have just had a baby girl and that someone has been arrested in the Natalee Holloway murder mystery.

It was a thought that echoed in my mind later in the day when I was leaving DC on the train. It was difficult to find a copy of TIME in the midst of all the celebrity driven magazines cluttering the newsstands. As I paid for my finally located newsmagazine, I wondered if we had as a nation become like Nero, fiddling while our Rome burns…