Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Suit Hits The Fans!

Doctor Who - as you may be aware dear blog reader - has one of the oldest and most loyal fandoms in television. I'm a fully paid up member of The Special People myself. You might've noticed. And Russell Davies is, of course, undoubtedly the most influential of our number. From being transfixed by the show as a starry-eyed, snot-nosed brat in the 1960s to masterminding its staggeringly popular regeneration in 2005, the executive producer and scriptwriter has also found time to create the spin-off series Torchwood, which transferred with such success to BBC1 earlier this month. In an interview with Broadcast this week Russell reflected on the role of the fan in modern television with some perception. 'I'm a fan myself and shaped the [current] show, so in that respect a fan has had a big effect. It felt like I had forty years of focus groups in my head.' But despite this, Davies staunchly refuses to let his fellow Who obsessives have any creative input. 'When it comes to fans affecting the creative direction of Doctor Who, we have a simple policy: Not at all, ever.' He, rightly, points to previous eras of the series (particularly during the 1980s) when writers and producers bowed to fan orchestrated demands for returns of popular characters and alien races only to find they were unsuccessful with a general viewing public. 'I have been in the job five years and have never opened my mail. Every letter is asking to bring back monsters from 1965 and then we'd get complaints from the same kind of people when you do bring them back.' Well, if you've never opened your mail, Rusty, how do you know that? Small flaw in an otherwise flawlessly logical point there. Davies also points to potential legal problems over fan contact. 'It's my job to encourage new writers, as I always have done, but it's impossible on Doctor Who because of its volatile fandom. I have had to find writers myself because, legally, I cannot read [fans'] scripts as they will come back with their lawyers. It's the fans' own fault for being so litigious.' Russell also claimed to avoid the legions of fan forums and message boards on the Internet, revealing: 'If a writer pipes up in a meeting about a fan suggestion from a forum, they are immediately chucked out. It is not a democracy.' While he highlighted the importance of fans and acknowledged that Doctor Who is the 'ultimate merchandise show,' he quickly reiterated that followers are 'important to the heart of the programme but not to the fiction of the programme.' Quite right too. Doctor Who has eight to ten million viewers in the UK alone, why does it need the thoughts of maybe twenty thousand guys (and a few ladies) on the Internet as anything more than a slightly interesting footnote? And, again I fully include myself, this blog, the Fortress of Solitude and all of Gally Base in that equation. When asked about writers on other shows who do read the forums and invite ideas from fans, Davies notes: 'Haven't they got any ideas of their own? Creative people sometimes feel embarrassed about their own ideas but they need to grow a backbone.' Meanwhile, at last week's Comic-Con in San Diego when Davies attended a panel one girl in the audience was reported to have claimed that Russell had 'hurt' a lot of Internet fans both when he took the decision to kill Ianto in the recent Torchwood mini-series and with his subsequent comments. She also accused him of being 'out of line.' Out of line with whom other that a few hundred online stroppy drama queens, she didn't actually say. 'I'm immensely sorry if people are sad, but I'm not changing my mind,' Russell replied to what was reported to be a thunderous round of applause from most of those in attendance. 'I've got to be blunt about this, there have been campaigns to send packets of coffee to BBC Wales in protest. There have been nine packets sent. I'm not taking the mickey, but that's a very small number.'

Also at Comic-Con, David Tennant fondly recalled Tom Baker's regeneration in 1981: 'I never forgot him and I never loved him any the less, but then Peter Davison came along within three weeks, I thought he was the best. Hopefully you'll watch the final episodes and cry along with us, but then three weeks later you'll think Matt Smith is the best thing there's ever been. Change is part of the show and I'm very pleased to be part of that history. But I'm also pleased that we're handing it over in rude health!' Would he consider coming back for charity specials or similar? 'Who knows? The dust has to settle. But it's the fiftieth anniversary in 2013, isn't it?' David, however, is still bitter and twisted about ending up behind Billie Piper on the Top Gear leader board. He believes - strongly - that the only reason for this was due to Billie's see-through top which earned her a cheat-bonus from Jeremy Clarkson. 'If Billie didn't have such good breasts I would be higher up,' said David. And, had he given any advice to Matt Smith? 'I've chatted to Matt a couple times and he's very enthused and quite clearly going to be brilliant. Which is annoying. He's such a talent, there is nobody in Britain who has worked with Matt who doesn't rave about him. They have nothing but praise to lavish on him, so I don't think he needs any advice from me really.' When asked if, like John Barrowman, she had stolen anything from the set before she left, Julie Gardner commented 'I think the only reason John Barrowman stole things is so he could be strip-searched on the way out!' And, finally, Russell was asked if he would continue with Torchwood. 'I hope so,' he replied. 'We were astonished by the success of that last series. I can't give you a promise because I haven't had the meetings with the right people yet. Also there's a recession going on. It will be back ... in some shape or form.'

And still with the Doctor Who news: The BBC has confirmed that John Simm will reprise his role as the Master in David Tennant's final episodes to be broadcast this Christmas. Which, to be fair, most of fandom knew months ago! It doesn't make us better than anyone else, of course. Just, more nosy. Simm had been spotted on the set during the recording of Tennant's finale and his return was announced at Comic-Con before being confirmed by the broadcaster in a press release. The BBC said: 'At the close of series three we saw the Master gunned down by his wife and whilst lying in his enemy's arms, he refused to regenerate. The world believed he had died and The Doctor accepted that he was the last of the Time Lords. But this is Doctor Who and you can't keep a good bad guy down.' Simm previously appeared as the character in three Russell Davies-penned episodes; 'Utopia', 'The Sound Of Drums' and 'The Last Of The Time Lords'. Tennant's previous co-stars Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman and Catherine Tate have all been rumoured to return for the actor's final episodes and John Barrowman was spotted during location filming, whilst Alex Kingston will - as announced last week - appear during Matt Smith's first recording block as the eleventh Doctor.

The Blue Peter Garden will be moved to the BBC's new base in Salford, the BBC has confirmed. Feverish speculation in the weekend's papers that the garden would be abolished in favour of a 'virtual' alternative online were scotched by the BBC, who said 'Our plan is to move the real Blue Peter garden to Mediacity UK.' The garden, originally designed by Percy Thrower and unveiled on the show in March 1974, has been a mainstay of the children's programme to educate viewers on aspects of wildlife, water features and outdoor games for the last three decades. It has also hit the headlines after being twice vandalised - once in 1979 and again in 1983. Situated behind the BBC's TV Centre, the garden also contains a time capsule, buried in 2000, to be opened in 2029. It is not yet clear whether this will be dug up and transported to the new location for reburial.

The most terminally boring pop group in the world, Coldplay, will become the latest musicians to make a guest appearance in the award-winning animated comedy The Simpsons, their spokesman has confirmed. Bet that'll be an episode worth watching. Sorry, worth avoiding was the word I was actually looking for. The band will reportedly be hired by Homer to play a private concert for him and Bart after he wins the lottery. 'When Bart goes to the bathroom, Coldplay has to stop,' executive producer Al Jean told US website Entertainment Weekly. Fantastic. Can we get Bart to stay in there permanently? Coldplay will follow in the footsteps of artists including U2 and The Rolling Stones. Sir Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash, Elton John and The Who have also made guest appearances. The difference between all of those and Coldplay, of course, being that none of the others can send you to sleep before their first song is finished. Except, maybe Ringo ... on a bad night. The voices of celebrities including comedy actor Seth Rogen and actress Neve Campbell will reportedly also feature in the forthcoming twenty first season of The Simpsons, which will begin in the US on 27 September. Entertainment Weekly said the late singer and actress Eartha Kitt had also recorded audio for an episode for the new season before her death on Christmas Day last year.

Zoë Wanamaker has called for an end to sexism within the TV industry, insisting that actors and actresses should receive equal pay. In an interview with The Stage, Wanamaker claimed that she had been forced to 'fight' to secure the same salary as Robert Lindsay when negotiating her contract for their BBC1 sitcom My Family. She continued: 'Women are always at the bottom as far as pay is concerned - the equal pay business is a big struggle.' Wanamaker also said that agents and bookers should be 'more careful' when negotiating deals for female performers in the future. 'Why should women get less? They have the same responsibilities, if not more, especially if they are married and have kids." Responding to Wanamaker's remarks, a BBC spokesman told The Daily Telegraph: 'We will not go into specifics on talent pay but we are absolutely committed to equality for men and women. There are many factors which determine artists' salaries and which results in them being paid at varying levels. The BBC hugely values Zoë Wanamaker as an artist.' Anyone else wondering if there was a muttered '... but not for much longer,' there that got lost in translation?

The Wire star Dominic West has admitted that he regrets his bone-ignorant criticism of UK television. The Sheffield-born actor, who played Detective Jimmy McNulty in the HBO show, made headlines in March after claiming that the BBC struggles to produce high quality contemporary drama. Speaking at the time, he commented: 'They're dying to do The Wire and hate doing Cranford.' However, West has now attempted to distance himself from the remarks, which he made during an appearance on Radio4's Today programme. He told The Sunday Telegraph: 'I was rather overawed by being on Today because I listen to it every day and I love it. And I was so excited about being in that studio and being taken vaguely seriously that I started pontificating on something about which I know nothing. So, no, I don't stand by anything I said.'

David Walliams has vowed to put Little Britain on the backburner once he completes work on the forthcoming movie version. The comedian, who created the BBC comedy show with Matt Lucas, confirmed that fans should expect only one-off specials rather than full series in the future. Little Britain launched on BBC radio before making the transition to television in 2003, running for three seasons. A US spin-off was later created. 'The BBC and HBO both asked us to do more shows but we feel it's time to do something else before people get sick of you,' Walliams is quoted by The Mail On Sunday as saying. Have to admit, I reached that stage a couple of years ago with you guys to be honest, Dave. Sorry, but I'm sure you'd want honesty. No, you work in television, of course. Ridiculous of me to even suggest such a thing. Don't know what came over me.

Anth McPartlin and Declan Donnelly's production company, Gallowgate, is developing a new Saturday night variety show aimed at ITV. The primetime show, which has yet to be named, is being pitched as a family-quiz-meets-talent-show. What, another one? In it, families of five – including two children - work as a team to win a prize by performing their hidden talents, completing physical and mental challenges. So, that's Family Fortunes with a few bits of The Kryton Factor mixed in. Or, alternatively, The Generation Game meets Ask the Family. Only, without Robert Robinson's patronising 'ah's between every question. Hey, lads, come up with a new idea, eh? This sort of old-hat, derivative nonsense won't get you much respect from aal the hard lads doon The Bigg Market. If commissioned as a series, the show would bolster Gallowgate's production slate. Reports claim that the company is working on a pilot entitled The Show Wot We Wrote – based on a catchphrase from their heroes Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise - and were championing the return of Saturday Night Takeaway. The latter has no yet been formally recomissioned and a spokesman for Gallowgate said any other comments were 'purely speculative at this time.' He added that The Show Wot We Wrote was an 'old' idea that is not in production or being pitched. McPartlin and Donnelly have several projects lined up for the rest of the year, including hosting I'm A Former Z-List Non-Entity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race On TV, Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible on ITV and launching their biography Ooh! What a Lovely Pair in September. They are currently in negotiations with ITV, as their three year, twenty million pounds 'golden handcuffs' deal will expire this December.

Living TV has secured the exclusive broadcast rights to new episodes of Medium, the US paranormal drama starring Patricia Arquette which is currently shown on the BBC. The Virgin Media TV-owned channel will begin airing seasons five and six -a package of forty one episodes - from September. The deal, with CBS Studios International, will also see the drama repeated on Virgin1. Viewers will be given chance to catch-up with the story as the agreement also includes the first four seasons. Living will begin airing these earlier instalments from 8 August, showing four episodes from the first season each Saturday. It completes a hat-trick of current paranormal drama acquisitions by Living, which recently picked up Supernatural and also airs Ghost Whisperer.

Broadcaster Miranda Sawyer has complained about the number of 'clever-clever' comedians working at the BBC. The journalist and TV host claimed that the corporation prefers to hire presenters with similar styles rather than providing a wide variety of approaches on its programmes. Speaking to the Radio Times, she commented: 'Paul Merton, Billy Connolly, Michael Palin, it's always the same people. Waltzing around exotic places to give you their witty take on funny foreigners, or uniting the nation behind a great cause. And when they're replaced, it's by the same kind of celeb - clever-clever male comedians who do well on panel shows.' As opposed to mouthy, pushy Northern birds who've never said or written anything even remotely funny in their entire lives, perhaps? She didn't say.

Cheeky Brommie japester Frank Skinner (so good in Mock the Week a fortnight ago - especially after Keith Telly Topping had cast significant aspertions on his ability to still make people laugh in his preview) has revealed he may pitch a Fantasy Cricket TV show. The comedian, reportedly met up with his former Fantasy Football League co-star Angus Statto Loughran and the pair are considering working together again. 'I could be back with a cricket version of Fantasy Football. I think [it] would work,' Frankie is quoted as saying. Skinner, of course, co-presented the cult hit Fantasy Football League with David Baddiel between 1994 and 1996 on BBC2. A cunning mixture of good natured laddish flat-share sitcom, in-jokey sports critique and irreverent chat show, the format was successfully revived for World Cup and European Championship specials on ITV in 1998 and 2004. According to the Sun, ITV is also planning to revive Baddiel & Skinner Unplanned, but with different hosts. 'They approached me and said, "What two comedians would you recommend?"' noted Skinner. 'I said, "What do you mean, we're not dead?" But I don't mind them bringing it back with younger comedians - because I own the format.'

Battlestar Galactica's Jamie Bamber has signed on to guest star in the season two premiere of Dollhouse, according to E! Online. The actor, who played Apollo in the Sci-Fi series, will reportedly take on the role of a character who is 'heavily involved in an engagement' between Echo (Eliza Dusku) and her new handler Paul (Bamber's former Battlestar co-star Tahmoh Penikett). Bamber recently wrapped production on the final series of Battlestar Galactica and is expected to begin production on a second season of Law & Order: UK later this year.

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