Saturday, June 27, 2009

Week Twenty Seven: Balls To The Schedules - It's Wimbledon

The BBC's apparent complete indifference towards what was still one of their most important shows just a few months ago, Robin Hood (and, their seeming utter contempt for what little audience the show still has), was highlighted earlier this evening. That was when the third season - and, quite probably series - finale of the show was bumped from BBC1's schedules and broadcast on BBC2 whilst the main channel showed some bloody stupid tennis match. (Yeah, I know it was Andy Murray ... but I hate tennis at the best of times and Wimbledon in particular. The whole world stops for it. This isn't, I should stress, another of those very boring 'Oh no, not more sport of TV,' rants that you often see from the more unathletic end of TV fandom - I actually love watching sport on TV. It's the specific sport I'm complaining about in this particular instance! The messing about of a TV show I like for football or cricket I can handle no problem, but tennis?! It'll be ruddy golf next, mark my words.) Quite apart from the absolute chaos that this last minute decision created for the schedules of both channels, it also sort of sums up the last year for Robin Hood. it all began so brightly but it ended unloved and unwanted. I think Jonas, Joe and Richard all got out at the right time, frankly.

STV is said to be confident that its drama Taggart will be recommissioned by ITV – despite extending its financial borrowing facility just in case it isn't. The Scottish ITV franchise holder said in a pre-close trading update on Friday that it was awaiting confirmation of a Taggart commission for 2009. 'Given the strong performance of the show, and the strong return on investment it produces for the ITV network, we are confident about the future of the series,' they stated. Nevertheless, with an eye on the show's future, STV are reported to have renegotiated some parts of its bank facility 'to increase covenant headroom.' The limit has been extended to account for a reduction in earnings in its cinema division and to accommodate 'a potential three million pounds approximate reduction in earnings in the event that Taggart is not commissioned in 2009 and beyond.' ITV said there was 'no truth' in the suggestion the show has been axed. Which, frankly, if I was part of the Taggart production team would make me very worried indeed since that was exactly what the network were saying three weeks before they cancelled Primeval, as blog readers may remember. The future of Taggart has been the subject of intense speculation within the Scottish television industry in recent weeks. Although the show is STV's best known programme, it is commissioned and paid for by the ITV network - not by STV itself. A number of episodes are in the can and ready for transmission but not currently scheduled. This has led to speculation about how many more episodes the ITV network may require and when it may want them to be made. The economic crisis has led to ITV spending less on programmes, reducing the amount of drama it screens and looking at ways of cutting the budgets for existing programmes without reducing their quality. No new episodes of Heartbeat and its sister programme The Royal have been commissioned, though there are still plenty on the shelf for the time being. Meanwhile The Bill, one of ITV's most enduring series, will be cut to just one episode a week later this year while a number of other popular dramas have been axed completely. One industry observer said the problem was that TV dramas were being squeezed in the current economic environment - caught between phenomenally popular programmes such as The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, staples like Coronation Street and relatively cheap programmes like docusoaps. He also said it was unfortunate that Taggart was STV's only major network programme at the moment which meant that the company risked being over-reliant on it. The loss of Taggart would be a big blow to STV's business plan even though the company has been working hard to win new commissions. Earlier this week, BBC Scotland commissioned the company to make an antiques series which will be shown on BBC2 but drama programmes are more lucrative. They can generate income from, for instance, DVD sales and foreign broadcasters. Taggart is now the world's longest running detective series, even though the title character himself disappeared with the death of actor Mark McManus in 1994. It is arguably the most successful TV programme to have ever been made in Scotland.

Press packs have been released by the BBC concerning five forthcoming dramas from the network. Most of them sound pretty decent, too. Firstly, Dominic Savage has created the BBC's big recession drama, in Freefall, a semi-improvised saga exploring the fallout from the credit crunch. Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Queer as Folk) heads the large ensemble cast as a banker with too much debt. It also stars Dominic Cooper and Die Another Day's Rosamund Pike and is to be broadcast in August.

One drama that I personally am very much looking forward to is a new adaptation of one of my favourite novels, John Wyndham's post-apocalyptic alien-plant-invasion classic The Day of the Triffids. This has been updated by ER writer Patrick Harbinson, with an absolutely stellar cast that includes Dougray Scott, Eddie Izzard (left), Brian Cox, Jason Priestley, Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson. It's due to be broadcast in the autumn and I'll hope to cover that one in some considerable depth a bit nearer to the time.

Desperate Romantics, meanwhile, involves the tangled and complicated lives and loves of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as Peter Bowker (Occupation) dramatises Franny Moyle's engrossing biography of the groundbreaking Victorian artists. The terrific Rafe Spall (right in Hot Fuzz) and Tom Hollander, among others, don their mutton-chop sideburns with pride. That one's coming in the next few weeks and, again, I'll review it in full when I have an exact transmission date.

Aptly enough, the BBC is just one of several partners in the SF series Defying Gravity, a thirteen-part co-production about an international space mission. Set in the near-future, Ron Livingston from Sex and the City stars and the show is executive produced by Michael Edelstein from Desperate Housewives. Like Freefall, this is due to begin in August. Lastly, costume drama is what the BBC has always done best, but they will be hoping that Jane Austen-fatigue hasn't set in for the viewers just yet as Romola Garai of Atonement, takes the title role in Emma, Austen's comic masterpiece, which is being serialised for the first time since the 1970s. Emma is tentatively scheduled for later this year.

And, now some appallingly bad news for anybody that likes British comedy. Last Of The Summer Wine, the world's longest-running sitcom (if a show that hasn't been even remotely funny since about 1978 can be thus described), has been recommissioned for a further six episodes by Jay Hunt and Lucy Lumsden, former Controller of Comedy. Bad women! Filming will take place this summer in and around the Yorkshire town of Holmfirth, for transmission in 2010. The 'whimsical comedy' (it says here) about a village full of people in the autumn of their years, is written by one of the two Roy Clarke's currently working in television: Not the one who writes all the cutting-edge, clever, media-savvy stuff like Pulaski, Spyder's Web, Flickers and The World of Eddie Weary but, rather, the writer who pens arrant twee nonsense like this, Keeping Up Appearances and Rosie. The fact that these two Roy Clarkes co-incidentally seem to share the same body is one of television's most enduring mysteries - one that even the two Roy's namesake, Arthur C, would struggle to solve. The show stars Peter Sallis, Russ Abbot, Frank Thornton, Brian Murphy, June Whitfield and Burt Kwouk. Mark Freeland, Head of Comedy at the BBC, said: 'I am pleased that Roy Clarke's much loved and unique comedy is once more returning to BBC1.' Clarke himself, noted: 'It's like going home again.'

Reality television mogul Simon Cowell and retail billionaire Sir Philip Green are finalising details of a new company they plan to run together. Cowell has a production company called Syco, which makes shows such as Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor. Sir Philip would add his business acumen as the owner of BHS and Topshop. 'They've been good friends for a long time and there's a good chance they'll be working together,' Cowell's publicist Max Clifford told the BBC. It is understood that the details are likely to be completed in the next month if all goes according to plan.

On Friday night, as every TV network on the planet desperately shuffled their various Michael Jackson tribute shows so that they wouldn't clash with each other something quite remarkable happened in the ratings. A repeat of last week's Top Gear episode (the train-race one) got one hundred thousand more viewers on BBC2 than an eviction episode of Big Brother on Channel 4. I'd start looking for a new job now, if I were you Davina. Sky News, it would seem, was the preferred news channel of choice for coverage of Jackson's sudden death on Thursday evening. According to early ratings figures, the Sky News audience peaked with 761,000 viewers - a 7.8% share - at 11.30pm, around ten minutes after Jackson's death was confirmed. After the peak, Sky News kept an audience of more than half-a-million for the following hour. BBC News experienced a similar spike in the ratings but peaked lower, with 600,000 at 11.55pm.

The Premier League has waded into the simmering row between BSkyB and Ofcom, claiming the regulator's plan to review its rights auction process is an attempt to fix something that isn't broken. As part of Ofcom's measures designed to improve competitiveness in pay-TV, it said it would review how the Premier League auctions rights to 'ensure [it] complies with competition law.' The existing European Commission FA Premier League commitments, which prevent all six packages of games being bought by the same broadcaster, expire before the next auction of live broadcast rights in 2012. Ofcom said it would 'explore with the Premier League whether it is willing to provide further commitments,' but did not set out specific requests. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore reacted by suggesting Ofcom had 'ignored the representations of content owners. The Premier League's audio visual rights have always attracted interest and, as a result, significant competition to acquire them. This benefits various stakeholders including the entire sport of football and consumers. We are surprised that Ofcom is seeking to revisit an issue that was addressed to the satisfaction of the European Commission. As such we currently sell our rights in a highly regulated and transparent process that is entirely compatible with competition law and of course will continue to do so in the future. However, we will resist any measures that disincentivise media organisations from bidding for our rights directly and at the appropriate market value.' Earlier, BSkyB Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch had launched a blistering attack on Ofcom, accusing the regulator of 'punishing success' with its proposals to limit what the satellite operator can charge for their premium sports and movie channels and that Ofcom's approach to the reform of wholesale pricing 'defies belief.' Sky also indicated that it would launch a massive legal challenge against the regulator if it pushed ahead with plans to force the satellite broadcasters to cut the amount it charges rivals for its top channels. I must say, I always enjoy watching bullies standing up to ... other bullies, it's very entertaining.

Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt are reportedly ending their Mighty Boosh partnership. It's a massively over-rated show, in my opinion, but I know it's very popular with many blog readers so I merely report the facts. According to the Sun, the pair have conflicting interests, making it difficult for them to find time to write together. 'The boys simply have different priorities now,' a source close to the pair is quoted as saying. 'Julian is in love with family life and sees a wild night out as a pint in his local pub. Noel still loves the party scene. He also wants to get out to the US where the Boosh is a big hit on the Adult Swim network.' The source added: 'Julian isn't as excited. Fans are running a sweepstake on the Mighty Boosh forum about him not showing up for their slot at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego in July.' The source stressed that the pair remain firm friends, saying: 'They still love each other but have taken different paths and I can't see where the Boosh can go now.'

Nigel Havers has been confirmed for a guest role on the new series of Sarah Jane Interferes. The veteran actor is expected to appear in two episodes of series three, playing a character who 'looks set to change things for Sarah Jane Smith forever.' Brian Miller, the actor husband of Elisabeth Sladen, will also guest in the new run (along with the previously announced appearance of David Tennnant). Producer Nikki Wilson told Doctor Who Magazine: 'He was simply ideal casting for this pivotal role, which sees him in conflict with Sarah Jane and the gang. Although there's a lot more going on with Brian's character than might first appear.'

Let's have some Top Telly Tips:

Friday 3 July
In UR S0 V4IN - 7:35 Channel 4 - director Ellena Wood dips a documentary-sized toe into the murky pond of personalised car number plates. Last year, the DVLA raised eighty four million pounds from the sales of such plates and the most popular combinations of letters and numbers can fetch around eighty thousand pounds each. Anything deemed too rude is, of course, disallowed. Pity, really, that's the only real reason for getting one. The bidders in these acts of consumer folly seem to be overwhelmingly male attention-seekers who simply love the idea of people pointing at their cars. Compensation for their ownership of a very small penis, no doubt. Just in case you were wondering. Anyway, Wood meets a handful of such chaps, all called Nigel (yeah, I know... they would be, wouldn't they?) who crave the status of a personalised plate reading, you guessed it, "N1GEL." Iincluding one who is so keen that he'd rather have "N2GEL" than nothing at all! Very small penis, please note. It's no surprise to learn that the current owner of the top Nigel plates keeps his personalised Lamborghini in a Thunderbirds-style pop-up garage. Sounds like my kind of Nigel, actually. A neat and quirky little film, this.

Saturday 4 July
Richard Hammond returns to pithily comment on more crashes, smashes and hilarious mud-splashes on the world's most ridiculous and extreme obstacle course in Total Wipeout - 7:25 BB1. The show returns bigger and wetter than ever, with twenty foolhardy Brits - mostly either ludicrously stereotypical Scum from the estates of Essex or equally ludicrously stereotypical middle-class young professionals from the home counties - in every show. All putting their bravery, balance and dignity to the test on the purpose-built course in Argentina. Joining Richard from the sidelines, to offer support and - completely useless - advice as the contestants are splatted, swiped and pummeled to buggery, is the lovely Amanda Byram. Mad as badgers, of course, but curiously addictive - and a huge unexpected rating hit earlier in the year. After the huge flop of successive John Barrowman and Graham Norton Saturday early evening vehicles, the BBC will be absolutely delighted to have it back.

The investiture of Prince Charles as The Prince of Wales took place, of course, in 1969 in a televised ceremony held at Caernarfon Castle. I remember it well. It was a day of pomp and pageantry but also, unknown to the public at the time, a day of bomb threats and dire warnings of potential assassination attempts on various members of the the royal family. The BBC's best known Welshman, Huw Edwards goes back in time to investigate the events of an extraordinary day when police, politicians and royalty held their breath as a few nationalist extremists violently plotted against the English overlordship of Welsh Wales in Timewatch: The Prince and The Plotter - 8:30 BBC2. Always reliably watchable is Timewatch.

Sunday 5 July
In March 2009, hundreds of Britney Spears fans from all over the UK made their way to BBC TV Centre in London for a mass dance tribute to their idol. None of them were trained dancers, but they were put through their paces by a choreographer and by the end of the day were ready to recreate Spears's legendary video for 'Hit Me, Baby, One More Time.' (Always preferred 'Oops, I Did It Again', personally but, still...) In Britney Spears Saved My Life (9:00 BBC3) we see how eleven of the superfans got on during the day, as we first get to know them in their home towns and find out what makes them tick. Alternatively, there's Michael McIntyre as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on Top Gear (8:00 BBC2).

Monday 6 July
Getting its third promotion of channel in three years, Torchwood: Children of Earth sees the popular Doctor Who spin-off starring John Barrowman come to BBC1 at 9:00. The five episode story is strip-scheduled across five nights this week. When every single child on Earth stops, Torchwood is thrown into a world of terror. I'm a fan, I've never made any bones about that. And what I really like about Torchwood is that, unlike a lot of British SF, it really doesn't takes itself too seriously (witness Gwen's wedding episode last year). As a consequence, the characters come over a likeably flawed. It's popular too although, whether this mini-series will be the show's finale or whether we'll get more tales from The Hub next year is, as yet, unknown.

In What To Eat Now - 8:30 BBC2 - Valentine Warner returns for a second series of his guide to seasonal cooking and eating, this time concentrating on the culinary delights of summer. Chips, same as any other time of the year, what more do you need? In this programme, Valentine tracks down the best ingredients to make the summer barbecue sizzle and reveals his top five barbecue tips. (Err ... turn it on, keep it hot, don't burn stuff, don't burn yourself ... I'm struggling to think of the last one.) Also, he describes the perfect way to cook beef on the grill and how to make a lobster meal that will, the press blurb suggests, 'take you to a higher state of consciousness.' Add some hallucinogens, I'm guessing thought I'm probably wildly off-base with that. Let them all eat culture.

Teenagers Fighting Cancer - 8:00 Channel 4 - is a rather sad-looking (and yet, in many ways, really life-affirming) documentary set inside the cancer ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham one of ten specialist units set up in the UK by the Teenage Cancer Trust. This is where teenage patients undergo treatment in the hope of overcoming their illness. The film covers the stories of eighteen-year-old Rebecca, who has just been diagnosed, twenty four-year-old Adam whose cancer has returned three times in nine years, and sixteen-year-old Alex, who is facing a life-changing operation. Hard stuff to watch, of course, but a very worthy subejct and well-worth an hour of everyone's time.

Tuesday 7 July
In EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1 - a relieved Dawn escapes being discovered by Garry in the arms of Phil, but is thrown off-balance when Minty confronts her. Big fight, little people. Meanwhile, Heather's relief turns to fear when Shirley offers advice on her pregnancy.

Sarah Beeny (or, 'her off the telly' as one of my colleague calls her) looks at how first-time developers might succeed as house prices plummet amidst the biggest property slump in living memory in Property Snakes and Ladders - 8:00 Channel 4. Sarah provides property advice to the developers of two very unusual properties. Neil Hornsey and Alison Gurr think their fortune lies in converting a lock-up located in a dodgy alleyway, whilst Sue Ward is renovating a former jail-house that also comes with its own dungeon. Well, I can think of several friends of mine who'd like to hire that last one out on a semi-regular basis. But, perhaps I've said too much.

You Have Been Watching - 10:00 Channel 4 - is a new comedy panel show looking back at the week's TV and hosted by the vicious-but-cuddly TV critic Charlie Brooker, the grumpiest man in the world. And, one of the funniest. It's described as 'a brilliant hybrid of comedy quiz show and TV review programme,' by its producer Zeppotron's managing director, Annabel Jones. 'Charlie has shouted his views on television from the loneliness of his sofa on BBC4 for many years and now it's time for others to try to get a word in edgeways.' On the show Charlie is joined by a funny and thoughtful line-up to give TV the trousers-down spanking it sometimes deserves as each episode looks at some of the worst programmes that claim to be entertainment. As a huge fan of Charlie's Screenwipe, let's hope this new format brings this brilliant, angry, cynical, angry, caustic and angry man to a far wider audience. Whether they want, or even deserve, him or not!

Wednesday 8 July
It's a repeat episode of Trial and Retribution - 9:00 ITV - but, like Waking the Dead last week, I feel somewhat justified in recommending it since this is a very decent drama show. While on leave in Glasgow to take care of his increasingly senile mother, DCS Walker becomes involved in the case of a missing woman. He begins to delve into the lives of the woman's former husband Kevin Reid and brother-in-law Ronnie. When a body is discovered and is proved to be the missing woman's, Walker becomes convinced that one or both of the Reid brothers must be involved - especially after Kevin's second wife is reported missing.

Celebrity MasterChef - 8:00 BBC1 - is, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, one my TV guilty pleasures at the moment. I really do enjoy watching Gregg Wallace and John Torode - they're such a worthwhile antidote to most judges on reality shows who are so far up their own backsides they're almost out through the mouth. Both are straight honest blokes who, whilst obviously very knowledgeable about (and proud of) their subject can still manage to get through Colin Murray's mushroom and cheese toasties without screaming. Albeit, I do find the fact that they ask every single contestant 'how far do you think you can go in this competition?' very annoying. I'd like one of the constestants to reply 'that rather depends on you guys, doesn't it?' Tonight, the three finalists are faced with their toughest challenges yet - from feeding ninety crew members of the hit drama Ashes to Ashes to producing fine dining at a charity fundraising dinner at the top of the BT Tower. And, if they fail, Gene Hunt comes round their house and smashes their teeth in. That's the sort of cookery challenge I enjoy watching.

Taking the Flak - 9:00 BBC2 - is a new sitcom starring Martin Jarvis and Doon Mackichan. This is described as 'an acerbic, authentic and caustic comedy drama that covers the entire progress of a small African war, as seen through the eyes of journalists sending back the nightly reports for the News at Ten.' When a minor local conflict suddenly becomes global news and a team of BBC journalists arrive in the previously unremarkable country of Karibu, ready to cover the events for 'The Ten' back home. But football-mad boy soldiers, corrupt car dealers, intestinal discomforts, landmines, old flames and colossal egos all get in the way. There's definitely a story to tell, but who will get to tell it? So, this is Drop The Dead Donkey: The Next Generation, basically? Sounds rather good, actually. It also includes cameo appearances from real news anchors including George Alagiah, Sophie Raworth and Dermot Murnaghan.

Thursday 9 July
TV's rudest, most insensitive and - by a country mile - funniest topical news comedy Mock the Week returns tonight - 9:00 BBC2. In this, if you've never seen it, two teams of comedians take a satirical swipe at the week's news and world events in a sort of mixture of Have I Got News For You, Whose Line Is It Anyway? with a bit of Qi and a smidgen of Question Time thrown in for good measure. Host Dara O'Briain is joined by regulars, the terrifyingly in-yer-face Mad Frankie Boyle, Hugh Dennis, Russell Howard and Andy Parsons with tonight's special guests being Frank Skinner (who used to be funny) and Gina Yashere. Of course, lots of people will watch the show just to hate it, as happened last year: Those wretched lice at the Daily Mail will complain about everything Frankie says (particularly if it involves Rebecca Adlington or the Queen ... or both). The Mirror - with their brown-tongues rammed so far up Ofcom's collective arse there's no room for anyone else to get in there - will moan about the amount of bad-language on display. And, of course, dear old Emily Maitlis will make a complete laughing stock of herself on Newsnight with some comments about 'her pussy.' Can't ever see enough of that one, personally. I adore Mock the Week for exactly the same reason that I love Top Gear - because they just do not seem to give a bleeding stuff about what anybody thinks of them. Admirable that, in these days where most TV shows are too afraid of offending anyone through humour to actually say anything remotely funny.

Five's often fascinating historical documentary series, Revealed - which I was such a fan of last year - returns tonight with The Real Goldfinger - 8:00. New research indicates that the audacious plot to rob Fort Knox in the James Bond novel Goldfinger may have been based on real-life events. In 1914, the fledgling British secret service worked to foil an attack on the Bank of England, masterminded by an influential German spymaster.

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's dark comedy thriller, Psychoville - 10:00 BBC2 - has very quickly built up a small but dedicated cult-audience. I know a couple of people who think it's a work of genius on the strength of just the first couple of episodes. I still can't quite make my mind up about the show, to be honest - but then, it was a good long while before I 'got' The League of Gentlemen either, so maybe it's just me. In tonight's episode David and his mum are mid-murder when an unexpected visitor throws them into panic. Who is their mystery caller? What will happen to the body in the trunk? And will Maureen finally get to try one of those pyramid teabags?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear to the words about Robin Hood! I feel exactly the same. I have invested three years of my life in that production and the characters.The BBC and their scheduling have no regard for the faithful followers and yes, I too am glad that Joe, Jonas and Richard have got out of this mess the writers created for series three. It ended for me tonight!

I do enjoy reading your blog and I'm a regular visitor and thankyou for those words about Robin Hood.

I feel sorry for the regular cast being so underused this series, but they will move on to better and bigger things I'm sure.