TV, publishing jumping on story of Chilean miners

2010-10-15 07:35

New York – The Chilean mine rescue was an “uplifting and exciting” story in contrast to accounts of tragedy and woe that dominate the news, a top television executive said, explaining a rush to tell the tale in many formats.

Already, there’s a book deal about the rescue, a reality show about mining and a Discovery Channel special on the saga.

Wednesday’s quickie ABC News special on the rescue of the 33 miners, who were trapped underground for 69 days, drew the biggest audience the network has received in the time slot in 10 months.

“I can imagine agents and other folks are already swirling around this, looking to get those stories locked up,” said Clark Bunting, president and general manager of Discovery.

That network’s Latin American affiliate is making Rescued: The Chilean Mine Story and an October 28 air date is already scheduled.

He called it uplifting how the miners created their own society underground and ran it smoothly.

The Spike TV network said it has ordered a 10-episode series, Coal, set to premiere next spring.

Coal is based in a West Virginia town and explores mining through the eyes of the mine owners and miners.

Transworld Publishers announced that it would publish The 33, by British journalist Jonathan Franklin, who has lived in Chile for 16 years and covered the rescue story. A US publisher is still being sought.

Writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, an Oscar-nominee for the screenplay The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz said he expects projects are already being pitched around Hollywood.

“Television is a quick-response medium,” Chetwynd said. “In fact, I think I’ll call my agent when we get off the phone.”

Back to reality
With the movie-of-the-week business essentially evaporating, reality show producers might be better suited to the story, Chetwynd said.

It would keep the story fresh; the Hallmark Channel said its representatives found the story interesting, but the cable network is already locked in to movies that it is producing through the end of next year.

Veteran television writer Jeffrey Stepakoff said if someone approached him to do the story, “I would think about it for a few seconds and say ‘yeah’.”

The miners alone weren’t enough for the story, he said.

Stepakoff, a drama instructor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said he’d also focus on their families aboveground and the technological race to extract them.

“I would want to re-create the tension that I felt when I first heard about the story,” he said.

Measurements of TV and online traffic showed the pull of the story. At the time the first miner was pulled to the surface on Tuesday night, the viewing audience for CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC was 10.6 million people – more than quadruple the audience these networks usually get collectively at that hour, media statistics firm Nielsen said.

Facebook, the world’s largest online social hub, saw a peak in the number of people discussing the story at the time of the first miner’s emergence.

The site’s internal statistics show that US users posted about the rescue at a maximum of 1 265 times per minute in the US and 478 times per minute in Chile.

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