Conor Dignam On Broadcasting

A TV equivalent of global warming is creating turmoil at the top
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The Independent Online

Kirsty Wark started last week's Newsnight interview with Madonna by asking her if it was difficult for someone used to controlling every aspect of her life to be suddenly faced with the unpredictability of an African adoption and the resulting media frenzy.

Madonna denied she was the control freak depicted in the press and was simply "detail oriented". But how much control did the superstar have over the detail of the Newsnight interview itself?

After all, the set was draped with white fabric, a strategically placed candelabra and discreet lighting. It was more the setting for an MTV interview than Newsnight.

She was asked about her new children's book as well as her new child.

Newsnight editor Peter Barron admits that Madonna did have control of the set - as the interview took place on her turf, at the offices of the star's Warner Bros record label.

But he told me last week that the editorial content and questioning was 100 per cent controlled by the programme. "We never do deals for interviews - we won't tell people what specific questions they are going to be asked and we won't let people dictate what questions they won't be asked.

"And I have to say that with Madonna that was never an issue. She did not ask for any form of editorial control or about the questions she would be asked.

"Yes, it was a bit odd for Kirsty to be interviewing her in that room - and it wouldn't have been my choice for the set-up - but we wanted to hear her response to many of the questions around the adoption of David Banda and we got them."

There's no question that Madonna had succeeded in getting what she wanted, too. She got her side of the story into the British media for the first time.

Some British commentators felt Wark was star-struck and failed to ask the superstar all the pertinent questions that viewers demanded. The half-hour interview had to be edited down to a 12-minute package, a process which may not have done Wark too many favours. Perhaps she was asking all the questions but being rebuffed by a clearly well-rehearsed Madonna?

One way or another, it was a major scoop for Newsnight and worth paying the price of a tacky faux religious set as a backdrop. You can judge for yourself whether the interview was unduly soft when a full 30-minute version is shown on BBC4 on 12 November at 9pm.

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