BBC, Discovery unveil big-bucks dino series

EDINBURGH — The British Broadcasting Corp. has revealed details of the first fruits of its much-delayed but heavily hyped partnership with Discovery.

The venture, described by a senior BBC exec as “the most expensive factual TV series ever made,” is a six-part, natural history-style docu chronicling the life and times of the dinosaur.

The series, budgeted at $1.6 million per half-hour, will feature digitally animated dinosaurs.

Mike Phillips, a director of BBC Worldwide, the pubcaster’s commercial arm, which is putting together financing for the program, said: “Our dinosaurs won’t be ravaging around terrifying people and eating them. It will be an accurate picture of how scientists believe dinosaurs actually lived.

“In films like ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Lost World,’ if you count up the minutes, the dinosaurs aren’t on the screen for all that long. They only appear for a small proportion of the running time because of the high cost and complexity of digitally animating them. But we intend to have the dinosaurs onscreen for most of the program’s duration.”

The BBC-Discovery co-production is the first concrete project to stem from a complex union between the two broadcasters announced a year ago but still to be finalized.

The arrangement covers co-production, guaranteeing that Discovery will invest a minimum of $250 million in joint factual program ventures over the next five years. The two also plan to set up channels around the globe, in theory starting in Latin America this fall.

In addition, Discovery is expected to take a stake in BBC America, a full-service entertainment-based cable channel the pubcaster hopes to launch in the U.S. by next summer at the latest.

However, talks between the BBC and Discovery have been, to say the least, protracted. One stumbling block has been the BBC’s insistence on maintaining editorial control. Privately, Discovery insiders have been dismayed at what they describe as the corporation’s “arrogance” and its heavy management structure.

Speaking at the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival, Phillips, however, said that the two were “on the verge” of signing “the main factual deal,” and predicted all aspects of the agreement should be completed by the end of the year.

Despite Discovery’s involvement in the dinosaur program, Phillips said more co-production coin would be needed for the venture. Likely sources were broadcasters in Japan and Germany, he suggested.

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