Saturday, May 02, 2009

Week Nineteen: Michael Portillo And John Barrowman 'Nowhere Near As Annoying As Phillip Schofield.' Official!

The Keith Telly Topping & Top TV Tips slot said a sad goodbye to its genial blokie co-host for the last eighteen months on BBC Newcastle's The Afternoon Show, the legendary Alfie Joey on Friday. The Alfster completed his final show before taking over the breakfast slot from next Tuesday along with the lovely Charlie Charlton. Alfie and Charlie, in turn, are replacing one of my great radio mentors, the housewives choice Mike Parr who is moving to BBC Cumbria. (Following a couple of months on holiday, he informed me with something approaching real glee. After nineteen years of early morning starts we can, I think, forgive the lad this short break.) Keith Telly Topping would like to fondly wish both Mike and Alfie - two of the nicest and most genuine chaps one could ever wish to meet - all the very best for their future brave adventures in cutting-edge radio. I will, of course, be continuing to work with Alfie on his Saturday Comic Cuts show. We're also talking about doing some writing together so that could be a potentially interesting road and one which I shall keep all of you, dear blog reader, updated on as and when developments occur. In the mean time, from Tuesday, Beat Surrender's very excellent Jamie Wilkinson will be taking over hosting The Afternoon Show for a few months and will, in consequence, be my new oppo on Keith Telly Topping & His Top TV Tips (usual bat-time, usual bat-channel). He will also, of course, get to be producer Scunthorpe Steve's new plaything to abuse in a populist fashion! We recorded the first batch on Thursday. Seamless transition, I tell you. Shankly-to-Paisley, no less.

Anyway, enough radio news and back to what we're actually supposed to be about on this blog, Top Telly news. We kick-off this week with a few bits and pieces starting with the following item, reported in Broadcast magazine: The BBC have apparently axed their prime-time comedy-drama Mutual Friends after just one series. The Hat Trick-produced show, written by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, was initially planned as a one-off featuring Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong but was later commissioned for a six-part series. Marc Warren took over Miller's role and Keeley Hawes and Sarah Alexander joined the cast. It was considered a returnable format with similar potential appeal to ITV's trendy 1990s series Cold Feet. But it attracted relatively disappointing ratings around the 3.5m mark at 9pm on Tuesdays last autumn. Well short of the slot's average of 5m plus. Gupta also said that the departure of Peter Fincham, who ha commissioned the series when he was controller of BBC1, was a further factor in the corporation's decision not to request further episodes.

A fifty eight-year-old woman was taken to hospital after she was hit by a car on the set of Coronation Street according to the BBC website. She suffered hip injuries in the accident and was taken to Manchester Royal Hospital on Friday. Another man suffered minor injuries in the collision. A Granada spokesman confirmed that both were not cast members. An investigation is currently under way into how the accident happened.

'Sponge-Bobification' was the subject of an interactive presentation by David Wiebe, director of content for Canadian children's channel YTV according to the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel. For those not in-the-know, Sponge Bob Square Pants is a talking sponge who lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea. He is also one of the biggest success stories in children's television over the last decade. 'If you look at shows like CSI and House, the same things happen over and over again - so why do we keep returning?' asked Wiebe. 'The answer is because of the characters. It's about making the audience care about the people they're watching, and that translates to children's television.' Wieber illustrated how to flesh out characters for children by developing their personality traits; their wants, flaws, quirks and fears. 'Fears are a good one,' said Wieber. 'Take Scooby and Shaggy in Scooby Doo: the only things they aren't afraid of are food, and possibly smoking pot.' Like, zoinks.

Meanwhile, at the same event, as one timelord prepares to regenerate into another, the executive producer of Doctor Who the divine and goddess-like Julie Gardner (before whom all humanity must prostrate itself save the glow from her benevolent radiance blind the unworthy wretches that we are) is preparing to hand over the reins to Piers Wenger, newly appointed Head of Drama for BBC Wales. Unlike Gardner at the time of her appointment five years ago, Wenger declared himself a life-long Doctor Who fan. 'I was a big fan as a child,' he admitted in conversation with Gardner and entertainment correspondent Lizo Mzimba also reported by Ariel. 'Watching the Easter special reminded me of my fandom - I once painted my bedroom white and wanted to put giant cardboard circles on the wall to make it look like the TARDIS.' Julie recalled the challenge of updating Doctor Who for the 21st century when the show was re-launched in 2004. 'It was startling how much the tabloids were speculating about who the new Doctor was going to be, I remember Paul Daniels being mentioned at one stage. It was a real marker for us of how much the show had been high-jacked as nostalgia and was no longer a piece of populist drama.' Over five years, stone-cold fox Gardner oversaw a remarkable transformation in the franchise as it developed into what Ariel describes as 'a huge multiplatform brand', producing two spin-off shows, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Interferes. Not that this was in the slightest bit appreciated by a small-but-vocal portion of the show's fanbase. Nevertheless, anybody that actually matters knows just how grateful we fans should be to Julie and her talented team. 'The show simply can't be made any better than it is at the moment,' noted Wenger. 'The big challenge for us is to maintain those standards and make everyone love Matt Smith as much as they love David Tennant.' Word.

Departing ITV head-honcho Michael Grade has stated that ITV is currently overstocked with too many shows, despite reducing its programme budget by £135 million. According to the Digital Spy website, the soon-to-be-extremely-ex Executive Chairman blamed the gap in time between ideas being greenlit and the completion of production, the Daily Mirror reports. Grade said: 'Because of the lead times of programmes, someone walking in with an idea then actually delivering the film can sometimes be three years, then we may not transmit it for another year. We're overstocked given the economic climate and need to reduce the amount we carry.' Good point admittedly but, ultimately, whose fault is that, exactly? Last week, Grade announced that he would be stepping down from his position at the head of ITV by the end of the year.

Lastly, in the 'rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated' category, ITV are apparently briefing any media outlets who will listen (and several that won't) that Primeval has not been axed, despite everything you may have heard to the contrary - on this blog as much as anywhere else. They state that they are 'extremely proud of the show and its performance' and 'hope to have more news later this year.' So, that's cautiously good news - particularly after last week's fine episode (although, I must say I'll still believe it when I see it). Also, on a similar theme, Stephen Tompkinson was interviewed on Simon Mayo's radio show last week and said that there will be a fifth series of Wild At Heart - they're scheduled to be filming in South Africa from July to December for a proposed January 2010 transmission. So, perhaps ITV's financial troubles have been over-stated somewhat. Certainly it seems that a few decision which, to the best of my understanding, were pretty much set in stone a few weeks ago are now being reconsidered by the network.

Anyway, enough of all that - here's the next batch of Top Telly Tips:

Friday 8 May
At 9:00 there's a terrific choice of viewing on three sides. We've got Have I Got News For You on BBC1 and the quietly decent (if hardly original) Boy Meets Girl on ITV but I've mentioned both of those recently so I'm going for a bit of culture and English Heritage on BBC2. Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage, whom you may know from his appearances on Time Team presents this gentle, visually sumptuous fly-on-the-wall documentary series with a nice sense of boyish charm. Tonight, Simon visits Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, where one of his pet projects is under way - the re-creation of an Elizabethan garden at a cost of three-and-a-half-million pounds. But Simon is not happy. First, he's put out by having to attend a mandatory health and safety course; then he takes offence at an 'Elizabethan' wall that is 'too Fred Flintstone' for his tastes. The project is dogged with the kind of 21st-century problems that probably wouldn't have bothered the original designer Lord Robert Dudley - structural-engineering requirements, a legal dispute and numerous, annoying health and safety rules. As the months roll on, everyone wonders whether the Elizabethan dream will ever be realised. Rather nice, this. It's a wee bit 'switch-off-your-brain-and-look-at-the-pretty-pictures' Tv, but the pictures are, indeed, very pretty so that's a bonus.

Saturday 9 May
John Barrowman grants more of the nation's performance wishes in Tonight's the Night (7:00 BBC1). Alesha Dixon sings a dream duet with eleven-year-old superfan Paige Phillips. I wonder if Paige will be the person to mention, quietly, to Alesha that the word 'composure' has only three syllables in it and not seven as her most recent single suggested. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough student Catherine Rhatigan trips the light fantastic with the cast of Lord of the Dance. Twelve-year-old Chantelle Owens gets the surprise of her life when she meets Hollywood heart-throb Zac Efron and the teachers take on the plumbers in Work Place Wonders. Plus the final thirty aliens audition for a place in a special Doctor Who scene. As ever, there is plenty of sparkle and showbiz as the Tonight's The Night dancers join John in a Big Gay Production Number and any member of the audience could find themselves centre stage. I have to say that, whilst this - really - isn't my scene, as entertainment shows go, it's actually not a bad one at all. It's a bit like a cross between Jim'll Fix It and Rolf's On Saturday, Ok! Only, without a theme tune to hold a candle to either of those. Johnny B is his usual manically hyper-active self but he presents the show with a genuine sense of fun that helps to off-set some of the more queasy aspects. Light entertainment is back, ladies and gentlemen.

That objectionably oily little twonk Phillip Schofield (tragically, minus Gordon the Gopher) looks back at fifty years of classic adverts with a countdown of the twenty greatest commercials ever made in ITV's Best Ever Ads at 9:15. From the For Mash Get S.M.A.S.H Martians kicking their legs in the air in mirth at the thought of peeling potatoes to the Milky Bar Kid, the Guinness Surfers, whatsherface doin' the Shake 'N Vac and that Middle Class love affair in the Gold Blend campaign. Actors and celebrities including Gary Lineker, Gregor Fisher, Tony Head and Sharon Maughan talk about their own favourite commercials. But, where's Hai-Karate? Recount!

Sunday 10 May
Lovely punky-haired Dr Alice Roberts - she of Time Team and Coast fame - embarks on a five-part Incredible Human Journey at 9:10 on BBC1. In the ultimate travel story, Alice crosses the globe to find out how our ancestors colonised the planet. On her journey, Alice tests the latest scientific theories to discover how one small group of people - Homosapien - left Africa, their descendents crossing deserts, oceans and mountains, surviving an Ice Age and overcoming the Neanderthals to populate every part of the world. On the way, she examines how our skin colour and other distinctive features evolved across each of the continents to produce the global diversity of peoples today. In the first episode, Alice treks into the remote wilderness of the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia to find the spot where the earliest-known remains of our species were discovered. Travelling across the continent, Alice learns how the Click language, the design of our bodies and ancient hunter-gatherer skills, may have contributed to our successful survival and migration. In Cape Town, she meets geneticist Raj Ramesar who tells her of the astonishing discovery that every single person who isn't African is descended from one single group of people who left Africa around 70,000 years ago. But how did they do it? With only stone-age tools, it seems impossible that our ancestors could have made the crossing – either over hundreds of miles of desert or across the Red Sea – to leave the continent. So Alice must turn to experts and the latest scientific research to discover the route they may have taken.

Monday 11 May
In EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1 - drunken slob Phil falls down the stairs and cuts his head, in our first visit of the week to Albert Square. He's taken to hospital, where the doctors pronounce him alive-but-still-a-terrible-actor and he tells Peggy that she is the cause of all his troubles. Oi, Phil, leave your mum alone, she's a national treasure. Unlike you. Tanya, meanwhile, has a dinner date with Dr Jenkins but Max shows up at the restaurant to spy on them. Elsewhere, Charlie gives Stacey some money to pay the electricity bill but she pockets the cash herself.

South Pacific: Ocean of Island - 7:00 BBC2 - is, as the title suggests, a documentary looking at the remote South Pacific islands. Their extraordinary isolation has created some of the most curious, surprising and precarious examples of life found anywhere on Earth; from giant crabs that tear open coconuts, to flesh-eating caterpillars that impale their prey with dagger-like claws. Human culture is different here, too. The men of Pentecost Island celebrate their annual harvest by leaping from tall wooden scaffolds, with only forest vines to break their fall. And on the tiny island of Anuta, possibly the most remote community of people on the planet, the locals survive entirely on what they can grow and catch. Looks jolly worthwhile, this, if only for confirming to all that The Federated States of Micronesia IS, indeed, a real country and not something for a Marx Brothers movie.

Now, this is where it all gets a bit incestuous as our dearly departed Alfie crops up in his mate Johnny Vegas's Ideal 10:30 BBC3. Johnny returns as ultimate slacker Moz, in the multi-award-winning sitcom. A new series means some new beginnings and Moz attempts to give up dealing the weed and promises his new girlfriend, Jenny, that he will get himself a proper job. Yeah, right. However, he soon finds himself dragged into a criminal underworld of shootings, human trafficking and the mysterious Red Bag. Laugh? Laugh? Not a lot. In the first episode, Jenny is still in a coma and seems to the see the world as one big song-and-dance routine in a series of glitzy dream sequences. Much like what goes on in John Barrowman's head, I guess. Moz receives a string of visitors – all of whom believe they can snap Jenny out of it. Will Cartoon Head finally reveal his true identity? No, of course he won't! As ever, it's worth pointing out to those who've never seen it that Ideal does deal with some quite dark subject matter. But, if you watch something like, say, Shameless or Skins, then you'll probably enjoy this a great deal.

Tuesday 12 May
In Horizon: How Violent Are You? - 9:00 BBC2 - Michael Portillo investigates what makes ordinary people commit extreme acts of violence, in the final Horizon of the current series and explores the fine line between control and aggression. Michael looks at the environmental and psychological factors which can cause an individual to lose their self-control. He explores a much darker side of people's nature and asks if anyone can be driven to deliberately kill. In a thought-provoking and sometimes uncomfortable journey, Michael discovers that each of us could be inherently more violent than we believe. He learns what it's like to inflict pain as he takes part in the Tinku, an annual violence ritual in the Bolivian Andes. To find out if violence is addictive he meets an ex-football hooligan, who lived for his Saturday fights and a former child soldier from war-torn Sudan, who tells a harrowing story of brainwashing, torture and regret. In a personal challenge, Michael is pushed to his limits in an extreme sleep-deprivation test which pits him against two crying babies. After thirty six hours without sleep, he spends a pressurised day working in a professional kitchen as Professor Jane Ireland tries to find out if Michael's passive personality can be broken down to unearth a violent core. Now, I realise this is probably heretical for a - vaguely - leftie figure like myself to admit, but I have say since he's got out of politics I really rather like Michael Portaloo. Certainly, a hell of a lot more than I did when he was a vile example of Thatcherism-made-flesh. He's turning into a very good maker of thoughtful, perceptive TV documentaries (the one he presented last year about a teenage school friend who had committed suicide was a thing of rare and painfully honest beauty). Good on yerself, Portaloo, there would seem to be hope for all of us - no matter how wretched we once were.

On a marginally related subject, Ten Things You Need to Know About Sleep - 9:00 BBC1 - reveals the science behind why so many people find it difficult to nod off and offers practical tips on the best ways to get a good night's sleep. In a series of experiments presenter Kate Silverton sets out to help those insomniacs desperate to get some shut-eye, help travellers beat jet-lag and see if there is anything that can be done to stop loud and persistent snorers. Chef Aldo Zilli looks at how the food we eat affects our sleep patterns and Joe Swift tries some herbal remedies. Yeah, I've had one or two herbal remedies in my time. Occasionally they did, indeed, send me to sleep.
The hapless musical-comedy duo Bret and Jemaine are back on BBC4 at 10:05 for the second series of the Emmy-nominated sitcom Flight Of The Conchords. Under the management of the optimistic but inept Murray, the musicians from the self-styled 'fourth best folk-band in New Zealand' continue their quest for success in New York, with support from their sole überfan, the scary Mel. After sacking Murray for spending too much time with another band, Bret and Jemaine land themselves a deal to record an advertising jingle. Dave shares his 'double-down' deal strategy with the boys to help them negotiate with Martin Clark, the agency's CEO, played by Greg Proops. Sharp little show, this. Gently funny comedy and the song-parodies are excellent. If you haven't caught this one before, now's as good a stepping-on point as any.

Wednesday 13 May
The Chopping Block - 8:00 ITV2 - is an honest-to-God US reality competition even though it sounds for all the world like something a bored reviewer would make up for an April Fools gag. Marco Pierre White challenges eight ambitious couples to win the chance to open their own New York restaurant. Marco lets the teams loose in Central Park with forager Steve Brill. They must search for edible plants that they can turn into a meal. Marco will then create his own dish using herbs found in the park. Careful with them mushrooms, Marco. I know somebody who ate a couple of those and ended up on a one-way trip to Venus. You seldom have those sort of problems with the tinned variety you get from Morrison's I've noticed.

And, just when you think, after the previous effort, that it can't get any worse for TV tonight, that objectionably oily little twonk Phillip Schofield (tragically minus Gordon the Gopher) continues to infest my TV when hosting The Eleventh British Soap Awards - 8:00 ITV. All of the stars from the UK's top soaps - that's Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks just in case you'd forgotten - will be getting together to celebrate the year's most significant achievements and unexpected developments in Soapland. That'll take all of five minutes, I'm guessing. Not sure what they're going to be doing for the rest of the night. Featuring a fantastic line-up of presenters (it says here), plus all of the drama you expect from your favourite soaps. Which lucky stars will be picking up a gong? So, two hours of back-slapping and spittle-tongued arse-licking from a bunch of people who can't get a proper TV job, by the sounds of it? Just kill me now.

Thank God, for Property Watch - 8:00 BBC2. This asks the vital question 'are we falling out of love with property?' Why were the British so obsessed with property and will the recession change such attitudes for good? Andrew Verity catches up with those who bought their homes at the peak of the market to see if they have any regrets and Justin Rowlatt looks at the pros and cons of renting. The programme also hears from those who have exported the British property dream to the hills of Provence and asks whether they have also transported a very British boom and bust mentality. How much longer do we reckon it's going to be before we get a new property series entitled You Know What? I Think We'll Stay Here, It's Really Not That Bad...

Thursday 14 May
There is an armed robbery at a toyshop and the manager is shot and badly wounded but he claims not to have seen the faces of the thieves in The Bill - 8:00 ITV. CCTV footage however shows a customer, Jade Hopkins, arguing with one of the shop's employees just before the incident. Was she a decoy? The evidence points that way when Ronnie Lane, the main suspect (and, probably not the former Faces bassist, I'm guessing) turns out to be her brother. Ronnie eventually confesses to the crime - but why is he refusing to implicate infamous local gangster Curtis Jenson in his web of deceit and nerfarious skulduggery?

Katie & Peter: Stateside - 9:00 ITV2 - follow Katie Price and Peter Andre as they settle into their new lives in Malibu, California. Oscar fever hits LA and the couple enjoy their first experience of the big event, including a pre-bash soireé and shopping for Elton John's Oscars party. I'm not, entirely, sure what this pair of jokers have to do with the Oscars, myself; he's a not-particularly-good singer of a couple of hit singles and she's ... well, I haven't actually got the faintest, foggiest clue as to what Jordan did or does to justify her continued existence. (This is also known as 'Jade Goody Syndrome'.) But, anyway they make the most of the freebies they find and also bump into Fearne Cotton, who is reporting on the event for the BBC. That'll be a case of the blonde leading the bland, no doubt. Peter's parents arrive from Australia and everyone is touched to hear the song Peter has written about his relationship with stepson Harvey. Or, like the song he supposedly 'wrote' whilst he was in the jungle (you know, the one written with two other guys who, seemingly, weren't actually there with him at the time) did he really? Or is this another example of Peter's 'magic' that Katie talks about so much? Oh, fantastic. An hour in the company of a couple so utterly vacuous in every way, shape and form imaginable that every single thing they say evaporates on contact with the ear. Can't wait.

PS: Just a few days after writing that, of course, the couple announced that they were to seperate. How sad. And I do mean that. The pair 'have both requested that the media respect their families' privacy at this difficult time.' Certainly, kids. I think I speak for the vast majority of the media when I suggest that if you ask ITV2 to take off your hideous, flesh-creepingly appalling fly-on-the-wall series about your utterly pointless ostentateous bling-bling lifestyle then we'll gladly agree not to talk about you. If that's what you really want. It'd be a first, I admit but let us know ...

Lastly, director Guy Gilbert takes a look at the male escort business, talking to three gigolos and meeting several women who pay for the services of men in Men Hunters - 11:05 Channel 4. The documentary reveals how it can be a lucrative business - with one gigolo earning one hundred thousand pounds a year - and asks what paying customers are really looking for.

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