Saturday, June 13, 2009

Week Twenty Five: ... And If The Boys Wanna Fight, You Better Let 'Em

During 1990, dear blog reader, a BBC Radio 5Live journalist famously noted during an on-air piece that the Iraqi Foreign Minister had just issued a statement which noted that any forthcoming war in the Gulf 'would not be like a Rambo film - it will be bloody, long and terrible.' Well, indeed. Just thought I'd mention that. You know, cos it's funny.
On a similarly amusing note, my good mate Clay Eichelberger recently sent me a quote that he came across which he thought might be somewhat up my straßße. It came from a Grant Morrison interview in which the genius behind Animal Man, The Doom Patrol and all those other ground-breaking superhero comics of the late eighties and early nineties gave his thoughts on a subject very close to home as far as I'm concerned: 'I can acknowledge the musical talent and artistry of, let's say, Sting,' Grant said. 'But I'd rather cut my own throat with a beer glass than listen to his music. I'm sure there are people who feel the same way about my work… and the sooner they all cut their throats rather than read one of my comics, the better!' Shine one, Grant, you crazy diamond.

Moving on to some very excellent Top Telly News, Chris Tarrant's latest ITV game show format has been ruthlessly axed after a mere seven episodes. Executives had hoped that The Colour Of Money would be a success like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The cash machine-themed show – which was about original as the average Lily Allen single and only marginally less annoying - saw contestants compete to win tens of thousands of pounds. The show was screened in a weekly prime-time slot, with confident expectations of an audience in the five million range. For the opening episode, Tarrant and his blonde side-kick, Sky Sports News presenter Millie Clode, attracted four million which was considered just about acceptable. But viewers soon tired of the format (such as it was) and by the final episode in April, only 2.7 million were still watching. An insider this week told the press: 'These days ITV needs much bigger ratings. And it wasn't the cheapest show to make either.' Yeah, I don't really think you needed the quantifier 'these days' there actually, pal. An ITV spokesperson later added: 'There are no current plans for it to return.' Or, long-term plans either it would seem. Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

Rupert Penry-Jones has indicated that the second series of Whitechapel, in which he plays a detective who solves Jack the Ripper-copycat crimes, could be in jeopardy because of the drop in advertising revenue on ITV. 'The scriptwriters are currently writing the second series,' Rupert told a reporter this week. 'Even so, we don't know if filming will happen in the autumn as ITV are dependent on advertising and there just isn't any. These are difficult times and it's a struggle for everyone. It's all a bit worrying.'

In a recent interview, George Lamb who presents Big Brother's Little Brother on E4 seemed to indicate that next year's run of the Endemol reality show will likely be the last. This year, whilst the launch show got Big Brother off on vaguely the right sort of footing – albeit, as noted at the time, it was the lowest opening night figure in seven years - viewing has since plummeted with two shows – on the Sunday and Monday – failing to even break the two million mark.

Stephen Fry has told his Twitter readers this week that he expects the new series of Qi to be shown on BBC1 from September to December. Given that it's a sixteen episode series and that's usually a thirteen week slot, I'm still trying to work out the maths behind that one, personally. But then, Stephen's far cleverer than I am. And, indeed, far cleverer than most other people for that matter. With that, Have I Got News For You and Armstrong & Miller, it's a potentially strong autumn BBC1 comedy line-up. Mock The Week should also be back in a couple of weeks on BBC2. Assuming that it'sl ikely to stay on Thursday nights, it will probably take over when Kröd Mandoon finishes its run. The popular crime drama series New Tricks and the excellent ancestry documentary strand Who Do You Think You Are? are also confirmed as returning to BBC1 in mid-July.

BBC Worldwide was due to appear in the High Court on Friday with the administrator of Woolworths, to settle a dispute over the value of their joint venture 2Entertain. Before the high street retailer went into administration last year, Worldwide – which holds sixty percent of the publishing business behind best-selling DVDs such as Gavin & Stacey, Doctor Who and some non-BBC shows including Benidorm - was prepared to pay £100m for Woolworths' forty percent stake. However, BBCW is now arguing that the retailer's collapse last November triggered a contractual clause reverting all of 2Entertain's rights to BBC content back to Worldwide and that the property should be valued on that basis. BBCW claims it is worth little to any other buyer because only they are able to exploit the rights. Woolworths' administrator, Deloitte, called the case arguing that the estate should still be able to sell on the rights to distribute and manufacture DVDs that include BBC content. The case continues.

Peter Sissons, Britain's longest-serving national news presenter, is to retire in the summer - ending his forty five-year career whilst he is 'still on top of his game.' The sixty six-year-old has presented all of TV's main terrestrial bulletins, including the BBC's Ten O’Clock News and ITN's News at One. He is currently the anchor on the BBC News Channel. He first joined the BBC in 1969, succeeding Robin Day as presenter on its flagship current affairs show, Question Time. Sissons, who had some perfectly deliciously bitchy things to say about the latest generation of pretty-but-vacant newsreaders (with specific reference to Natasha Kaplinski - 'I suppose any bright woman with good looks who can make herself one million pounds per year is doing something right ... The world is stuffed with wannbe TV presenters at the moment!') is reported to have already begun work on his memoirs. This will include details of his school days at Quarrybank Grammar in Liverpool when he was the class prefect to a troublesome young teddy-boy thug named John Lennon. Who subsequently went on to make a name for himself as a self-confessed alcoholic, wife-beating smack junkie ... who wrote a few half-way decent songs.

And, on that semolina pilchard, let's be having us some Top Telly Tips:

Friday 19 June
Whilst Hotel Babylon - 9:00 BBC1 – might be a five-star hotel, it's not a terrifically original or, indeed, particularly must-see drama. It is, however, glamorous, flashy and occasionally very entertaining indeed. Like Holby City it's, essentially, the sort of show that the Americans do rather well that's somehow, cuckoo like, turned up in British TV's nest. A few things have changed since we last visited the hotel - Anna (Emma Pierson) is eight months pregnant (although she insists that she isn't), manager Jack is nowhere in sight and the hotel is closing down, with Juliet 'the undertaker' Miller (the fabulously shoulder-padded Anna Wilson-Jones) brought in to oversee its demise. Even so, it's still business as usual, with the staff organising a spectacular party at which 'India's answer to Tom Cruise' can be introduced to his bride. The foyer, meanwhile, is overflowing with people stranded after a sudden terrorist alert in London. Just a normal day in Hotel Babylon, dear blog readers. Both storylines contain more discombobulation than one of George Bush's attempts at speechification and, as if that's not enough, the bar runs out of booze, the guests perform impromptu Bollywood dances and Tony (the lovely Dexter Fletcher) thinks he has a genie on his shoulder. And then Nigel Harman (formerly of EastEnders, of course) walks in and tells everyone what to do. Daft as Daft Jack McDaft, of course and it's really good to have it back.

Saturday 20 June
In Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow - 9:30 BBC1 – McIntyre (whom, I know is very popular with a wide audience but who I find to be a bit of a one-joke comedian, to be honest) visits some of the UK's most prestigious and iconic stand-up venues, unearthing a raft of new comedy and some established turns to boot. The two episodes so far have been, as you'd kind of expect from the format - a bit patchy but, when they're good they're really good. And Michael works far better in these little short bursts between acts than he does in the longer form of a stage-show where his comedy can become shrill and rather smug. In tonight's episode, the roadshow is in the heart of the Midlands, at Birmingham's Hippodrome. Michael introduces Tom Stade, Steve Hughes and Paul Tonkinson, with the very impressive Shappi Khorsandi headlining. Other headline acts to appear later in the series include the brilliant Sean Lock at the Swansea Grand, Paddy Kielty at Waterfront Hall in Belfast and the opinion-dividing Al Murray at the Brighton Dome.

Sunday 21 June
Guess who just got back today? Them wild eyed boys that've been away. Yes, the boys are very definitely back in town on Top Gear - 8:00 BBC2. Jezza, Hamster and Cap'n Slow compete in yet another of their great challenges, this time an epic London-to-Edinburgh race which seeks to discover what Top Gear might have been like if had been made sixty years ago. Even more eccentric, bolshy, anti-German and gloriously un-PC than it already is, I'm reckoning. And thank God for that, quite frankly. James makes the trip in a gorgeous old Jaguar XK120 sports car, while Richard chooses to torture himself on a Vincent Black Shadow motorbike. Jeremy, of course, goes in style taking the Tornado, a new steam train built to the blueprints used to create some of Britain's finest locomotives in the heyday of the railways. Plus, The Stig takes his helment off to reveal his secret identity. Or, maybe not. This is followed by the rather tasty-looking James May on the Moon in which James commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landings. He meets three of the men who walked on the moon, before experiencing the thrill of weightlessness and the bone-crushing G-forces of a Saturn V rocket launch. Finally, he puts on his own space suit and flies to the edge of space in a U2 spy plane, where he looks down at the curvature of the earth and upwards into the black infinity of space. Y'see, this is what I admire about Top Gear and most of its spin-off projects (we'll cheerfully exclude Total Wipeout from this, I think) – the sense of magnificence and of the limitlessness of human achievement if we really put out minds to it. Or, we can create Britain's Got Talent. This, ladies and gentlemen, is progress.

Alternatively, you may prefer Among the Apes - 8:00 Five. Renowned primatologist Charlotte Uhlenbroek, whom we haven't seen on our screens for a good three or four years now, travels the world on a quest that brings her face-to-face with some of the world's greatest primates. The first episode sees Charlotte visit Uganda for a close encounter with a group of wild chimpanzees. I'll be watching Top Gear personally, but this sounds like rather a fun little show too so it might be worth keeping an eye open for a repeat or, if you have one, using a recording device of your choice wisely.

Alternatively, there's the always reliable Casualty 1909 - BBC1 9:00 - which started its current (six-part) series last week. Full of good actors - Cherie Lunghi, David Troughton, Ken Colley, Eleanor Bron, Nicholas Farrell - and beautiful to look at. If you don't fancy flying to the moon with James May, you could do far worse than spend an hour in a time when flight had only just been invented.

Monday 22 June
Now, don't get too excited, dear blog reader as tonight's Waking the Dead - 9:00 BBC1 – isn't the start of a new series, it's merely a repeat of one of the stand-out episodes of last series (Skins). That, however, presumably means that some new episodes are on the reasonably near-horizon. Comfortably the best, most intense, most densely plotted and, just occasionally, most completely bloody bonkers crime drama show on British TV and with easily the best cast led by the great Trev and the great Sue (OBE). Give us some new episodes, please BBC!

After the excellent opening episode last week, tonight The Supersizers Eat... Medieval at 9:00 on BBC2. Giles and Sue continue to experience the food culture of years gone by this time going back to Middle Ages England to live the lives of a Lord and Lady of the Manor. Taking on the role of one hundred servants is Michelin-starred chef and Anglo-Saxon lookalike Martin Blunos. During an exhausting week, Giles becomes a chivalrous knight and goes off to experience the food of a Crusader, while Sue learns to play the harp (and, presumably, gets locked up in a chastity belt whilst Giles is away). However, a word of warning. Wimbledon starts today so, I'd expect all BBC programming for the next fortnight to run either late, or not at all.

The World's Greatest Musical Prodigies - 9:00 C4 – is a showcase of the world's most remarkable musical prodigies, who will be hand-picked to perform a concerto led by sixteen-year-old composer Alexander Prior at The Sage in Gateshead. Alex finishes his concerto, but receives mixed feedback from his fellow child geniuses. You little sods, the lad's just written a concerto fr Christ's sake. What's your great contribution to society then, young people? Anyway, after an intensive week of rehearsals, the young musicians perform the piece in front of a live audience for the first time.

Tuesday 23 June
Monster Moves - 8:00 Five – is a new series of the documentary series following professionals who transport huge buildings and machines to different locations. And which will, I imagine, be looking to get the same sort of audience as something like Ice Road Truckers gets. It, similarly, features a parade of big, hunky, manly type men with big, hunky, manly-type names like Chuck and Carl. And Jeff. In this installment, a team of marine engineers attempts to move a 1,400-ton British-built submarine seven hundred miles across water and land in Canada. The epic journey sees HMCS Onondaga hauled across the stormy North Atlantic, through narrow inlets and up a perilously steep railway tracks to reach its final destination. Will the team complete the mission before the blizzards arrive?

So, what exactly is it that makes women grumpy? Come on, any of you? You're supposed to be men of the world ... Is it body image? Domestic goddesses like Nigella and Delia putting them and their cookery skills to shame? The youth of today and their naughty ways? The trails of shopping? Trying to juggle a home life and a career? Multi-tasking and their blokes' complete inability to do it? Or, just all of the above? In Grumpy Old Women - 10:00 BBC2 - a group of media women are given the opportunity to grumble, professionally, about various aspects of modern life and get paid for their trouble. The female grumpies include Sheila Hancock, Jenny Eclair, Stephanie Beacham, Muriel Gray, Arabella Weir, Pam St Clement and the extra-specially grumpy Ann Widdecombe.

At an age when most people are content to take it easy, one group of pensioners have taken up the wonders of contemporary dance for the first time. In Imagine... Save the Last Dance for Me - 10:35 BBC1 - Alan Yentob follows them on their journey into the unknown as they prepare to perform at the Sadler's Wells, one of the top dance venues in the world. The idea of this show is, rather wonderfully, to challenges people's preconceptions about the physical and creative abilities of the over sixties. Yeah. Right on, BBC. More of this kind of thing, please. As we were saying last week with regard to Mary, Queen of Charity Shops, we need far more representation of this important TV demographic group on TV itself.

Wednesday 24 June
I'm really not sure what the point of Famous, Rich and Homeless - 9:00 BBC1 – actually is. In this documentary, five celebrities undertake ten days of sleeping rough, soup runs and hostels in a bid to put homelessness in the spotlight. Yeah okay, that's a very worthy thing to be talking about - particularly in prime time, I understand that. But, I'm sorry, I'm far less likely to have my consciousness raised about such an important social issue by watching that posh bird Annabel Croft, one of those taking part, having to rough-it on the streets at night than I am simply being vastly amused by her sorry plight. And, I'm sure I'm not alone in that. I hope that's not the intention of the production. (If it is, you're all very bad people … but, nice one.) The ONE Show's resident 'likeable chap' Hardeep Singh Kohli, Rosie Boycott, Bruce Jones and The Marquis of Blandford are the other four volunteers who spend their first three nights sleeping rough in Central London. Each is then paired with a homeless 'buddy' with a history of abuse, drink or drug problems. See, this is just getting more and more tacky, ridiculous and, frankly, funny with each passing bit of the description, which (again) I'm trusting isn't the general idea they were going for. Anyway, emotions run high as all five struggle to cope in this harsh environment. I have but one further observation to make about this programme - that's the second reality series to feature Rosie Boycott that the BBC have broadcast in less than a fortnight? Is this some desperate cry for help, perhaps?

We've got a new series of the once-unmissable but now rather ordinary Ugly Betty - 10:00 C4. With Wilhelmina firmly reestablished at MODE, Daniel must make some changes. Betty makes an important decision. Ignacio gets a job at a fast food restaurant. This used to be such a sweet, warm, feel-good little show. What the hell happened?

As part of the BBC's season of show celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the first moon landing (see Sunday), NASA: Triumph and Tragedy - 9:00 BBC2 – is a documentary series offering audiences a unique chance to glimpse an astronaut's viewpoint of space flight. The breathless pace and daring of the Apollo program saw NASA master previously unimagined tasks in an attempt to achieve the most incredible accomplishment in the history of human endeavour. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon in 1969 and returned safely to earth, the whole planet threw them a party. Yet within just a few weeks, it was all rather "yesterday's news." I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this before, dear blog reader, but when I was a kid that was my ambition - to be an astronaut. This was at exactly the time of the Apollo missions and my imagination was captured by the whole idea of being a voyager of discovery beyond the skies. Magical. Plus, I was really into Doctor Who and Star Trek and that job looked so much cooler than working in a factory like my dad. Never happened, of course. I think I was about seven when I realised that there were certain conditions attached to the vacancy which required stuff (right stuff, at that) which I didn’t have. Bravery, for one. Athleticism, for another. And, in space, no one can cook you chips. That was the deal-breaker as far as I was concerned. Anyway, like the James May NASA-based documentary (see Sunday), this one looks to be an absolute winner.

Thursday 25 June
ITV's conceptual answer to The ONE Show, Countrywise - 7:30 ITV – has been something of a surprise cult hit over recent weeks. Paul Heiney and the team continue their summer journey across Britain, visiting the most visually spectacular and unusual parts of the country. Today they explore the spectacular dams and reservoirs of the Élan Valley in Wales which was the test site for the Dambusters' bouncing bomb. Kate McIntyre meets the sheep farmer who helped rescue Britain's red kite population. Plus the 'model village' created to replace homes in the flooded valley.

I don't like the concept behind Undercover Boss - 9:00 C4 one little bit, dear blog reader. In fact I think it stinks to hgih heaven. In this show, we are informed, 'high-flying company executives 'go undercover to ensure their businesses are in good shape - as they haven't got anything better to do with their high-flying time, it would seem. Presumably, they'll be spying on their workers and then snitching them up, right good and proper, like a dirty filthy copper's nark when they've done their stint living a lie. The bastards. This is why I'm self-employed, y'see dear blog reader – if I want to do that to myself, I'd find out that I'm doing a totally bang-up job and then I can skive off with myself in the afternoon and watch some of the cricket on Sky. Double sorted. So, anyway, this toerag Stephen Martin, who's the chief executive of construction business The Clugston Group apparently, adopts a false guise. (I'm really hoping it involves a fake nose of some description which may drop off at any moment thus increasing the chances of his discovery.) He takes on a variety of lower level jobs to ensure that his company is fighting fit, before revealing his true identity - dare one suggest Superman-like - to his unsuspecting employees. I hope they're all disgusted that they've been taken for lemons and all instantly walk out on strike in protest at this rather sinister little example of time and motion bastardry. Solidarity, brothers and sisters. Fight the power. Consider my moral outrage a contribution to the strike fund in lieu of any actual cash.

I think Lie to Me - 10:00 Sky1 - might just be my favourite drama show on TV from anywhere in the world at the moment. Certainly since Lost ended its current season, anyway. As previously mentioned, this is a drama series about a scientist who uses his ability to read facial expressions and body language to solve crimes starring the excellent Tim Roth. Tonight is one of the best episodes of the first season as Cal investigates industrial espionage and the theft of a drug formula which could have deadly consequences.

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