BBC, RDF admit blunder, move on

LONDON — In the U.S., RDF Media is best known as the producer of “Wife Swap,” the reality show that, at best, can provide illuminating insights into the complex dynamics of family life.

In Blighty, RDF Media is best known as the independent producer who “sexed up” footage of the British monarchy and triggered a state of emergency at the BBC.

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but reading the British press coverage it’s tempting to conclude that, at the very least, the battered Beeb is guilty of systemic lies across all networks and platforms on a nightly basis.

Even newspapers normally sympathetic to the Corp have suggested the net went over the line.

The furor over faking winners on quiz shows and especially charity-raising specials such as “Comic Relief” was bound to generate the kind of headlines that all BBC managers learn to deal with.

“All quiz shows have to make up winners from time to time,” said an entertainment producer. “It isn’t done to deceive audiences. It’s done because audiences demand winners.”

As for the footage featuring a frosty encounter between Queen Elizabeth and Annie Leibovitz, the film was never intended for transmission and was shown by BBC1 controller Peter Fincham to hype his fall schedule to journos. Fincham is a newcomer to the BBC, joining in 2005 following a brilliant career as an independent where he specialized in comedy.

Cynics have suggested his willingness to not only play the sexualized footage to the press but to draw attention to the sequence speaks volumes of his background where taking humorous swipes at authority figures was all part of a day’s work.

What, then, of RDF’s role in this embarrassing escapade?

Intriguingly, the “faked footage” — showing the queen walking out of a room “in a huff” when, in actuality, she was filmed walking into the room — was used to help sell the program internationally.

Moreover, RDF chief creative officer Stephen Lambert last week confessed that he had edited the film to produce the effect Fincham happily showcased to media scribes.

“In retrospect, this was a serious editorial misjudgment, but in this context, and without any commentary, these shots did not convey the interpretation that was later placed on them as being a record of the queen storming out,” he said. “All that was being attempted was to convey a brief sense of a slightly ruffled encounter.”

In this latest crisis we are yet to see a single head roll, although Lambert last week offered to resign. Wisely, company topper David Frank rejected the gesture.

Every TV producer knows that the lines between fact and fiction are, to say the least, often blurred in the great race for entertainment ratings. Reality TV is anything but and the style of non-scripted formats RDF has built a successful business on owe much to the editor‘s skill in manipulating the truth.

But will the faked queen footage lead to long-term damage for RDF? After an initial dip following the incident, their London stock price is recovering.

Eileen Gallagher, managing director of Shed Prods. (a British indie specializing in glitzy dramas such as “Footballers’ Wives”) told the Guardian: “I don’t think this is endemic of the industry at all. It’s a one-off and big mistake that shouldn’t be conflated with the premium line row. I’d be very surprised if the American market started to distrust the U.K. market. I can’t see this (incident) traveling.”

Gallagher is probably right. Provided RDF continues to create entertaining formats that succeed, the company will be able to put this behind it.

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