Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Plus ça Change, Plus c'est la Mệme Chose

Keith Telly Topping has been in the Beeb this morning, writing the scripts for next week's Top Telly Tips and Saturday Comic Cuts even though Keith Telly Topping was feeling horribly hung-over this morning. And, that, despite the fact that he's had nothing even remotely alcoholic to drink for about two months, if not more. In fact, he feels somewhat like that guy in The Simpsons who wakes up after two decades in a coma and asks if Sonny and Cher still have their TV show: 'No. She's won an Oscar and he's a Senator.' 'Just kill me now...' Anyway. Good afternoon, my brethren (and ... em, female brethren). Rather fine Ashes to Ashes last night, was it not? The identity of the mole was a genuine surprise whilst Shaz's crimped hair-job was just about the most authentically eighties thing they've yet managed to conceptualise. There was an excellent interview with Philip Glenister on Simon Mayo's radio show the other day where Philip confirmed that the plan is to do a third series (which, potentially, will start filming in September) and then end the show.

I think it's time for another sexy photo of Karen Gillan, dear blog reader, don't you?
Now, the following isn't really Top Telly "Newsper se, but it is a classic example of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose in the industry. Monty Python's Flying Circus may not have made it past its first series if some BBC bosses at the time had their way, according to documents obtained by the Independent. It seems the groundbreaking sketch show which went on to become a national (and, indeed, international) institution and cause célèbre was the focus of much contemporary management ire, and not only because ratings for the first episode - broadcast Sunday 5 October 1969 - were the lowest of any light entertainment programme, reaching three percent of the population rather than Dad’s Army's Twenty two per cent. The documents, released in response to a Freedom of Information Request from the newspaper, include a memo from a senior management meeting in 1970 and reveal an overwhelmingly negative initial reaction to the series. Stephen Heast, Head of Arts Features, called the Pythons 'nihilistic and cruel,' while Bob Reid, the Head of Science Features, said they 'wallowed in the sadism of their humour.' 'This edition had contained two really awful sketches; the death sequence had been in appalling taste, while the treatment of the national anthem had simply not been amusing,' tut-tutted the memo. Also detailed were the series costs: each Python was paid one hundred and sixty quid per episode, plus a tenner a day during filming, while Barry Cryer got twenty five guineas to warm up the audience before recordings. Series producer John Howard Davies admitted to going seven hundred and fifty five notes over budget on the first episode thanks to booking a three-ton props van containing three men which trailed the Pythons at all times.

Back up-to-date and the BBC are looking to spark a rural revival with a major prime-time series – Village SOS - which will start filming next year for broadcast on BBC1 in Winter 2010. This will feature six villages as they each launch a brand new rural business, with the help of six 'village champions' to bring their expertise in business, building – or whatever skills each village thinks it needs – to get its project off the ground. The Village SOS project is a partnership between the BBC and the Big Lottery Fund. BIG will be searching for the villages and will fund the community-owned rural businesses for their first year. The series will be presented by Sarah Willingham (The Restaurant) who grew famed Indian catering chain The Bombay Bicycle Club into a hugely lucrative catering business. The hunt now starts for villages to submit their schemes and the potential champions to submit CVs. A shortlist of eighteen potential businesses and champions will be selected from the applicants in November, with BIG providing development money to further the proposals for three months. The successful six will then start work – with the BBC filming their progress – in May next year.

ITV has held talks with BSkyB about switching its advertiser-funded free-to-air digital channels - such as ITV2 - to subscription, meaning that they would no longer be available to Freeview viewers. The commercial broadcaster has been forced to consider the radical option in the face of the worst advertising downturn in its fifty four-year history. The move comes despite the free-to-air strategy having made ITV2, the youth-oriented entertainment channel that broadcasts shows including Britain's Got More Talent and American Idol, the most watched non-sports digital channel in the UK.

It is understood that ITV held talks with BSkyB about switching ITV2, ITV3 – which focuses on classic ITV dramas such as Inspector Morse and Poirot – and ITV4, home to more male-oriented programming such as live football, to subscription. Under one option, ITV could pay a nominal carriage fee to BSkyB for broadcasting the channels and in return receive a guaranteed cut of revenues from channel packages sold to pay-TV subscribers. BSkyB remains ITV's largest shareholder, owning 17.9% of the company, despite having been told by competition regulators to reduce its stake. Putting its digital channels behind a subscription wall would mark a sea-change in ITV's strategy and underlines the tough choices facing the company in the recession. The broadcaster turned its back on pay TV after the catastrophic collapse of its own digital terrestrial business, ITV Digital, in 2002.

ITV's digital channels have been one of the company's few success stories in an otherwise difficult period. Despite the UKTV advertising market falling by almost five percent year-on-year in 2008, ITV grew revenues from its multichannel business by £33m to £242m. That helped to offset the declining ratings and revenues for ITV1 and ensured that the broadcaster held its share of the UKTV ad market for the first time since the early 1980s. However, a move back into pay-TV could help ITV reduce its dependence on advertising. The broadcaster expects ad revenues to be down a further sixteen percent in the first six months of 2009. Switching the digital channels to pay would mean losing distribution in the ten million or so homes which receive digital TV on their main set via Freeview and relying on Sky, which had 9.3m subscribers at the end of March. ITV would also have to do a separate distribution deal with Virgin Media, which has 3.5m cable-TV subscribers.

ITV, which posted a pre-tax loss of £2.73bn last year, is also drastically cutting costs. The company has axed sixteen hundred jobs since September and is cutting its £1bn ITV1 annual programming budget by a quarter between now and 2011. The broadcaster wants to make more savings by pulling out of regional news provision and raise cash by selling off assets such as Friends Reunited and SDN. ITV paid £175m to acquire Friends Reunited in 2005, but analysts now estimate that it is only worth about £40m. SDN could fetch between £150m and £200m, according to estimates.

Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency is to partly fund a new family culinary competition for the digital channel UKTV Food. Family Cook Off, to be co-judged in the autumn by Amanda Lamb, is being produced by the makers of the BBC's Masterchef series. It is the first time that a government agency has directly given funding for a television programme. UKTV Food will be relaunched on 22 June as Good Food and will also feature repeats of Jamie Oliver's shows - which is as good a reason as any not to watch it, frankly. The competition will see teams of two family members go head-to-head in a bid to produce nutritious meals. I'm sure Jamie Oliver, roasted to within an inch of his life, between two slices of thickly buttered bread and lightly salted would manage that quite effectively.

Britain’s Got Talent could be facing investigation by Ofcom after the watchdog revealed a number of viewers have complained about the Saturday results show. The revelations follow Scottish singer Susan Boyle being taken to The Priory by representatives from producers Syco and Talkback Thames after the final of the show. Boyle, whose audition has been viewed by more than one hundred million people around the globe, was understood to be emotionally exhausted after participating in the competition, where she was runner-up to dance group Diversity. 'We are currently dealing with a lot of speculation in the press, with reports varying wildly between we are investigating and we are not,' the spokesman for those unelected, interferring nobodies, Ofcom, said. 'What is accurate is that we have received a volume of complaints, which we are currently assessing. Until that process is complete, we will not be making a decision either way.' The Britain's Got Talent finale on ITV last Saturday drew a peak audience of 19.2m viewers. The media regulator is set to reveal the exact number of complaints in regards to the show tomorrow morning.

Sky1 laid some strong foundations for the start of the fifth series of hit US series House as the first episode on Sunday evening averaged 676,000 (3.3%). The show, starring Hugh Laurie, was the digital entertainment channel's most watched of the day and managed to break Sky1's slot average performance for the year so far of 652,000 (2.8%). In 2008 the channel averaged 434,000 (2%). The series continued with a second episode at 10pm which drew 617,000 (3.9%), comfortably beating the year-to-date slot average of 477,000 (2.8%). Sky1 snatched the rights to the show by out-bidding terrestrial channel Five earlier this year.

Finally, The League of Gentlemen's Jeremy Dyson is adapting Jonathan Coe's satirical novel What a Carve Up! for Channel 4. Published in 1994, the novel is an attack on the Thatcher era, based around a writer who is commissioned to produce a biography about a right-wing upper class family who are obsessed with making money, often in dubious ways. As he becomes embroiled in the family's secrets, they are murdered one-by-one in a series of bizarre scenarios. The project is currently in development at Big Talk - the production company behind Free Agents, Black Books and Spaced - but it has yet to be formally commissioned by C4. Dyson also co-wrote BBC3 black comedy Funland, script-edited BBC1's The Armstrong and Miller Show and penned the Billy Goats Gruff episode of Hat Trick's series of modern Fairy Tales for BBC1.

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