Cologne gets back to basics

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"Back to the Roots" could be the motto of the Cologne Conference, the international television festival that runs Wednesday through Oct. 2.

Previous events had focused on the Byzantine worlds of digital TV technology and European media policy. But for its 17th year, the Cologne Conference returns to its core strengths: presenting and discussing the best in television programming from around the world.

The shift comes in part from organizers' decision to break free from German state media confab the Medienforum NRW in June and "relaunch" the Cologne Conference in late September to coincide with the German TV awards Sept. 29.

"It's a relief to get back to focus solely on content, on the best new television that's out there," said Martina Richter, co-head of Cologne Conference organizer HMR International. "This is what the industry has been telling us they want: one event where they can see the absolute best new series and formats."

Among the programs picked for this year's Cologne Conference top 10 lineup are NBC Universal's "Heroes," grifter satire "The Riches" from FX and Granada Television's suburban drama "The Street," which will open the confab Wednesday with a gala premiere.

This year's event also includes a new top 10 sidebar called Look, for innovative productions from across the media spectrum — from feature films to Internet postings.

The Look sidebar includes such TV productions as the BBC/Discovery Channel documentary series "Fight for Life," which uses cutting-edge CGI to go further into the human body on camera than has ever been possible before.

Showtime's radio-to-TV adaptation "This American Life" and NBC Uni's "The Black Donnellys," about four brothers caught up in New York's Irish crime scene, were picked for their unique visual style as were the feature films "Control," by photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn, and "Beaufort," Joseph Cedar's claustrophobic story of the Israeli army's defense of their last outpost in southern Lebanon.

The Look lineup also features a compilation of the best in new video content produced solely for the Internet.

The Cologne Conference will honor the best of the best with two new awards. The Hollywood Reporter Award, a €10,000 ($14,000) prize presented by the Cologne Conference in cooperation with The Reporter parent the Nielsen Co., honors the best new format on international TV.

"This is a first in Germany and really ground-breaking for the international television industry," Richter said. "Formats are an increasingly important part of the world TV business, but the majority are just bad TV. The Hollywood Reporter Award is an opportunity to show and celebrate best practice in the format industry, the kind of show people should be emulating."

The conference, along with state film subsidy body Filmstifftung NRW and the city of Cologne, also will present a new Cologne media award for the film or TV production screening at the festival that "best contributes to the further development of the language of film and media."

Both prizes — along with the established TV movie award for best program in the top 10 lineup and the best screenplay award — will be presented Sept. 28 at a ceremony in Cologne.
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