BBC's `Video Nation' faces the axe

Paul McCann Media News Editor
Monday 21 June 1999 23:02
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THE QUIRKY and unique television series that brought us a Scottish clan chief filming a flower-filled toilet in Finland is threatened with the axe because the BBC wants to run a tighter programme schedule.

Video Nation Shorts, the BBC2 public access slot that features everything from the profound to the gloriously trivial, has been running for five years but is now faced with extinction under the new BBC2 controller Jane Root.

Ms Root has been charged with making sure the "junction points" in the schedule are used to hold viewers. Video Nation Shorts poses problems because programmes around it come in pre-ordered time lengths and modern scheduling cannot cope with a two-minute programme.

Instead schedulers have been using it as a filler. It is supposed to be shown five times a week before Newsnight, but some weeks it has only been on twice.

Altogether Video Nation Shorts has run to more than 1,000 programmes, all filmed by members of the public musing on whatever they want. One memorable edition featured a West Highland fisherman, Ian Mackinnon, putting on an embarrassed attempt at a striptease, explaining: "Somebody suggested some guys strip to raise money for the village hall ... and it's struck fear into every male under 70: fear that he will be asked ... and fear that he won't."

Instead of the idiosyncratic two-minute shorts, Video Nation may be turned into longer format programmes such as a 10-minute show once a week, or themed shows such as a programme which is coming up, Good Morning Albania, which is billed as a Video Nation soap opera from Tirana.

But it is the short format, two-minute slot before Newsnight that has built the reputation of the community programmes' unit and an insider said last week: "The producers are gutted. The shorts are the magic format, that's how they work best."

Bob Long, executive producer of the programme, said no decision had yet been made on the shorts' future: "If we replace it with something else it will be because we have come up with something better."

The community programmes unit makes 200 Video Nation Shorts a year and they have been so successful that other departments have borrowed the format.

The BBC's documentary and factual departments have used the "short" style to cover issues such as the volcano in Montserrat and the civil war in Algeria - but always through the words and images created by ordinary people.

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