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Channel 4

Discussion in 'toonzone Animation Wiki' started by Harley, May 27, 2011.

  1. Harley

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    right|The Channel 4 logo
    Channel 4 is a British television channel which has commissioned a large amount of animation.

    History

    Origins

    Following the launch of the third British television channel - BBC2 - in 1964, the possibility of a fourth started being discussed. Talks came to a head when, in 1979, Jeremy Isaacs (in due course to become the channel's first chief executive) gave a lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival outlining the structure of the new channel; the following year saw the newly-elected government issue the 1980 Broadcasting Act. The Act allowed the Indepentant Broadcasting Authority (the government regulatory body for commercial television) to create the fourth channel, and in November 1982 Channel 4 began broadcasting.

    Relationship with animation

    The Broadcasting Act specified that the fourth channel should cater to different tastes to ITV, the other commercial British channel of the period, and from its early days people involved with Channel 4 made a push for adult animation to be one of the special interests covered. Derek Hill, who worked at Channel 4 as a film purchaser, was an animation enthusiast who felt that the medium had been "abominably abused" by television and that the new channel had the opportunity to rectify this situation. Two of Hill's associates, Eileen Baldwin and David Curtis, personally spoke to Jeremy Isaacs about the idea of giving animation its own commissioning editor, a role which was one of the many given to all-rounder Paul Madden.
    Elsewhere, the veteren animator Bob Godfrey persuaded Isaacs and channel controller Paul Bonner to visit the 1981 Cambridge Animation Festival, where they announced that Britain's best animation would appear on the new channel. During the course of the Cambridge festival, inventor Clive Sinclair held a party attended by Isaacs, Bonner and several animators, amongst them Aardman co-founder David Sproxton. Isaacs was impressed by Sproxton's showreel and commissioned Aardman to make a series for broadcast during Channel 4's first week.
    This commission led to Conversation Pieces, which missed the deadline and instead aired on Channel 4's first anniversary. Other pieces of animation commissioned during Paul Madden's time at the channel include the 1982 Christmas special The Snowman and Aardman's follow-up to Conversation Pieces, Lip Synch.
    In 1987 Michael Grade became chief executive of the channel, replacing Jeremy Isaacs. And in 1989 Madden left the channel and his role as animation consultant was taken by Clare Kitson, who was appointed the position "assistant commissioning editor, animation" (despite the "assistant" status of the title, animation had no full commissioning editor at the channel); unlike Madden, Kitson was put in charge of acquiring as well as commissioning animation. Although Grade moved the channel in a more commercial direction, the experimental and relatively costly funding of animation actually increased, with Kitson being promoted to full commissioning editor. Kitson later attributed Grade's generous handling of animation to his desire to counter allegations that he was "dumbing down" the channel.
    To resolve the scheduling issues raised by the television broadcast of short films, Kitson conceived Four-mations, a television series repackaging animated shorts from around the world alongside documentaries on animation. And as well as funding a large amount of animation, she also set up two funding schemes for lower-budget work, animate! (which later gave rise to Animate Projects) and Animator in Residence, the latter a collaboration with the British Film Institute's Museum of the Moving Image.
    In the mid-90s the channel attempted to move away from its reliance on short films and made several attempts to find an adult animated series in the vein of The Simpsons; the results were mixed (see television series, below). In 1997 Grade was replaced as chief executive by Michael Jackson; although a hot figure in the British television scene and expected to shake things up at the channel, Kitson has observes that Jackson - unlike Grade - had no personal reason to emphasise animation funding.
    Jackson was succeeded by Mark Thompson in 2001. By this time the state of Channel 4 animation had changed heavily since what is now widely regarded as a "golden age": Kitson had resigned in 1999, and the channel's yearly animation budget had been almost halved, dropping from £2 million to £1.2 million. Although high-budget commissions of individual shorts had been curtailed, the lower-budget schemes remained: Mesh, which operated from 2001 to 2007, commissioned digital animation for the Internet, while 4mations, set up 2008, both took over Mesh's role and showcases user-submitted content.

    Approaches to broadcasting and commissioning

    ====Television series====
    Although focused mainly on short films, Channel 4 has made several excursions into the more mainstream formats of animated series and feature films.
    The channel's forays into animated series go back to one of its first commissions, Conversation Pieces. However, this production departed heavily from the model generally associated with television series: the series consisted of four episodes, each with a running time of five minutes (well below the traditional twenty-five). The only narrative link between each installment was that unscripted dialogue was used as the soundtrack: there were no recurring characters or settings, and the tone of each episode varied from the comical to the downbeat.
    In other words, Conversation Pieces was less a television series in the widely-used sense of the term and more a collection of loosely-connected shorts released under the same banner. This approach was taken by a number of other series: Conversation Pieces' follow-up Lip Synch was intended to also use unscripted dialogue, but two of the four directors opted against this idea, resulting in an even more loose-knit series. Some series saw a group of directors each producing an individual take on a broad theme: Sweet Disaster dealt with nuclear war while Blind Justice discussed the relationship between women and the law.
    This format led to scheduling issues. Although Blind Justice was completed in 1987 and distributed on the festival circuit, the channel did not air it until 1990 - when the "Women Call the Shots" season provided an appropriate slot. The series had to be retitled In Justice to avoid confusion with a 1988 BBC drama also titled Blind Justice. Another unusual approach to making a television series was demonstrated when Jan ?vankmajer's feature Alice was delivered as both a full-length feature and a six-episode serial - see feature films below.
    Channel 4 made one of its first attempts at an animated series in a more conventional format with Sarah Ann Kennedy's Crapston Villas, which premiered in 1995. A stop-motion parody of soap operas, the series divided opinions amongst focus groups but went down well with 18-24 year old males. It was aired on Friday nights, attracting young men coming home from pubs, and was popular enough to warrent a second season.
    Less fortunate was Candy Guard's Pond Life, which premiered a year after Crapston Villas. Intended for a 9:45 PM slot, eleven of the series' thirteen episodes were instead aired at 5:45 PM on weekdays following the talk show Ricki Lake. This posed a number of problems: for one it restricted Pond Life's viewership largely to the unemployed, and it also meant that the series lost viewers to Neighbours on BBC1 which aired at the same time. The series also became the victim of censorship, with its raunchier humour edited out; two episodes in particular were deemed inappropriate altogether for the daytime slot and instead aired in a double bill starting at 11:25 PM. But despite these efforts, the series still provoked complaints from parents who felt it to be too adult for its slot. Candy Guard and Clare Kitson were both very upset over this treatment of the series, with Kitson handing in her resignation but being persuaded to stay. Nevertheless, Pond Life was met with critical acclaim and eventually recieved a second series in 2000.
    In 1998 came David Fine and Alison Snowden's Bob and Margaret. Adapted from the Oscar-winning 1993 Channel 4/National Film Board of Canada co-production Bob's Birthday, the series was, like its source material, a collaboration between Channel 4 and a Canadian outfit, this time Nelvana. The series was well-received, although it did better in America than in the UK. Channel 4 eventually pulled out of production, and the remainder of the series was financed by Nelvana and Comedy Central.
    The 2005 series Bromwell High was a bawdy comedy about a trio of girls at a South London comprehensive school. A collaboration with Canada's DHX Media, the series was intended as a British answer to South Park but was nowhere near as popular as its American counterpart and achieved ratings of around half a million viewers. Only six of its thirteen episodes were aired on Channel 4.
    Bromwell High's failure caused high-budget, prime time sitcoms to fall out of favour at Channel 4. Recently series such as Fonejacker, which uses basic cutout animation to illustrate prank phonecalls, have been deemed more commercially viable.

    Feature films

    In its early days, Channel 4 had plans to fund one full-length animated feature a year. Although this idea was not followed through, the channel has, to date, funded two animated features: Jimmy T. Murakami's 1986 Raymond Briggs adaptation When the Wind Blows (conceived as a follow-up to The Snowman, also based on a Briggs book) and Czech surrealist Jan ?vankmajer's 1987 featire debut Alice. One of the other organisations that funded Alice, the German channel Hessischer Rundfunk, had used funds from its children's TV budget; as a result the film was sold as a six-episode serial as well as a feature film. Both versions have been aired on Channel 4.

    Coverage of animation

    Four-mations, which ended in 1998, was not the only series of its type made by Channel 4, although it was the longest-lasting. It had a predessecor of sorts in World of Animation, a series from the 80s which also aired animated shorts from around the world; the chief distinction between the two being that World of Animation lacked documentary footage but had commentary from its host, Richard Evans. Towards the end of Four-mations' life came Dope Sheet, which ran from 1997 to 1999 and used a similar combination of animated shorts and documentaries on animation. This time, however, the series itself was a documentary while the shorts were showcased in the "Beyond Dope Sheet" strand which followed. Dope Sheet also took a more tongue-in-cheek approach than Four-mations, with its CGI host making jokes about the drug reference in the title.
    Another comparable series was Hot Reels: Animation Grand Prix 2001, a six-week event which, again, combined animation with documentaries. This time the approach was even jokier - ribald Wacky Races spoofs (provided by Slinky Pictures) were screened between shorts, while amongst the documentaries were Adam and Joe's American Animation Adventure starring comedy double act Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, and Our Toon, in which various celebrities discuss their favourite animation. Hot Reels came in five installments, each focusing on a different theme: "Best of British", "Sci-Fi", "Japan", "Blaxploitation", "Outrageous" and "Music".
    In 2005 Channel 4 aired The 100 Greatest Cartoons. Part of an occasional series of 100 Greatest... specials, it showed clips from what were deemed to be the hundred best pieces of animation ever made (as decided by an online poll conducted the preceeding year), with commentary from various guests, mainly comedians.

    Animation made in association with Channel 4 (partial list)

    Short films

    Series

    Feature films

    Funding schemes

    References

    Category:Animation outlets
    Category:British animation
    resume writers
     

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