LUCERNE, Switzerland — “Enough wine and you don’t notice the weather,” quips U.S. TV vet Herb Granath, as the sun stubbornly refused to shine at the Swiss Alps resort of Lucerne, host to this month’s 45th Rose d’Or TV Festival.
Granath was at the shindig to receive a lifetime achievement award and to witness the remarkable rebirth of the fest, transplanted two years ago from its home in the sleepy lakeside town of Montreux.
Not so long ago the Rose d’Or, the world’s only TV confab dedicated to entertainment shows, appeared to be losing its bloom. Its main backer, Swiss TV, had pulled out and Montreux was lukewarm about keeping the party in town.
Long popular with Euros and especially Brits (whose shows have won bunches of Rose d’Or awards since the fest bowed in 1961), getting U.S. industry players interested has proved tricky.
But under the dynamic stewardship of former TV presenter Georges Luks (who persuaded telco Swisscom to sponsor the event), the Rose d’Or is broadening its appeal and attracting figures from across the Atlantic.
Among those trekking to Switzerland were thesp Lesley-Anne Down, who won the soap actress Rose d’Or for her perf in CBS’ “The Bold and the Beautiful”; Harry Belafonte, now a UNICEF goodwill ambassador; and David Lyle, chief operating officer of Fox Reality.
“I think we’ve reached the turning point,” says the fest’s executive director, Marco Casanova, referring to its newfound U.S. appeal.
This has been helped, he says, by an international roadshow hosted by Swiss embassies, including stops in Los Angeles and Gotham, that has dramatically raised the fest’s profile.
No one knows whether the Rose d’Or will remain long-term in Lucerne — the city is signed for one more fest — or if it will morph into an itinerant event along the lines of the Prix Italia. But organizers plan to target Asia as a potential source of greater participation.
The Swiss embassies in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai are being lined up for a Rose d’Or charm offensive and to extol the virtues of an entertainment extravaganza that is rapidly developing a social conscience.
“We don’t just want to sit and talk,” Luks says. “We want to help move the industry forward — and not just creatively, but also in terms of television’s social responsibility.
“I’m sure, in the years ahead, we’ll see many projects that combine great entertainment with a humanitarian component.”
Alongside the traditional awards for comedy, variety and reality programming at the six-day fest, which shuttered May 8, Luks added a new honor for social awareness this year — awarded to the U.S.’s Sesame Workshop for “Takalani Sesame Presents ‘Talk to Me.’ ”
At the fest’s flagship conference, the Intl. Entertainment Summit, Belafonte was a panelist alongside top British indie producer Peter Bennett-Jones, who runs Tiger Aspect and is chair of U.K. charity Comic Relief. Gabfest turned the spotlight on broadcasters’ social responsibilities.
Belafonte called on webs to bring public service announcements back into primetime slots. “In the U.S.,” he said, “these announcements tend to go out at 3 o’clock in the morning when no one sees them.”
In a similar mode, Brit rock star-turned-antipoverty campaigner Bob Geldof, winner of the 2005 Rose d’Or charity award, urged Western leaders to eliminate African debt and eradicate African poverty.
He claimed that while the European Union subsidized its dairy cows to the tune of $1,075 a year, each African child got just 65¢ from aid doled out by Euro governments.
“This is beyond disgusting,” fumes Geldof, “and I am fucking sick of it.”
A polemic of that kind would have been out of place at the old Rose d’Or.
But proof that this unique fest remains in touch with its showbiz roots came earlier in the week.
On May 5 ITV, the British web that celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall, was inducted into the Rose d’Or’s hall of fame, incongruously housed in an ice cave nearby Mount Titlus.
The occasion’s surreal quality was not lost on those who attended the ceremony. The freezing Brits, led by ITV program topper Nigel Pickard, braved a blizzard to receive the honor, witnessed by traditionally dressed locals clutching enormous Swiss cowbells and toasted by a local brew.
The sun made a rare appearance as the bewildered Brits returned by ski gondola down the glacier to cloudy Lucerne.
But as Granath says, who notices the weather when the wine flows?
Pippa Haywood, U.K., “Green Wing”
Matt Lucas / David Walliams, U.K., “Little Britain”
Zoe Wanamaker, U.K., “My Family”
Peter Kay, U.K., “Max & Paddy’s Road to Nowhere”
Lesley-Anne Down, U.S. “The Bold and the Beautiful”
Pat Nolan, Ireland, “Fair City”
Game Show Host:
Thomas Gottschalk, Germany, “Wetten, dass..?”
“Strictly Come Dancing”
“Test the Nation”
“Verbotene Liebe” (Forbidden Love)
“Flashmob — The Opera”
Arts & Specials:
“The Cost of Living”