Thursday, August 27, 2009

Big Brother Is No Longer Watching You Because You're Not Watching Big Brother

Later today the final TV set to be made in England is due to roll off the production line at Toshiba's factory in Plymouth. When it does, and the factory closes, it will mark the end of mass TV manufacturing in the UK - a technology which this country invented. When John Logie Baird demonstrated his first television set to the world in 1926, a reporter from The Times wrote: 'The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated the claim that through the "televisor", as Mr Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face.' From those cautious beginnings, Britain was soon to lead the world. The Baird Corporation was the world's only recognised TV manufacturer at the end of the 1920s, their Televisor Model B being the first mass-produced, commercially available TV set. 'The Model B was debuted at the Radio Olympia exhibition in 1928,' said Iain Baird , television curator at the National Media Museum in Bradford and John Logie's grandson. 'They had it displayed on a stand with some aspidistras and ferns, to show it was a non-threatening technology and quite safe to approach because people were sceptical and superstitious of television.' The early sets had a somewhat limited appeal - especially as there were no actual broadcasts until 1929, and so TVs were initially bought by those who wanted to learn the science behind the technology. But as soon as the BBC started experimental broadcasting on television, more sets were developed by British engineers. The 'tin stove' was designed for Baird by Percy Packman in 1930 but only sold about one thousand sets as it was far cheaper to buy a DIY kit and make your own receiver. After the war, British dominance in the field continued with Bush producing a landmark Bakelite set, the TV22, which was far more compact than any other model on the market, whilst the legendary Keracolor globe TVs were an iconic image of every cool and 'with-it' pad in the late 1960s and early 70s. But around the same time as the Keracolor was coming onto the market so was the Sony Trinitron, and its appearance marked the beginning of the end for TV manufacturing in Great Britain. Here was a reliable, and not particularly expensive, colour set with excellent picture quality - made overseas. Gradually household British manufacturing names such as Decca, Pye, Marconi and Dynatron gave way to Sony, Samsung, Philips, JVC and Panasonic. The drive overseas had been largely due to a combination of superior technology and lower costs - Toshiba say they are closing their Plymouth factory because it will be cheaper for them to make their sets in Poland. The closing of the Plymouth factory will, sadly, leave two hundred and seventy people without a job and the nation without one of its historical, life-changing industries, a development that Iain Baird believes would have greatly saddened his grandfather. 'He worked his entire life to make sure it was a British technology. In general he would have been very disappointed that it had got to the extent that there is no one major British manufacturer or television factory here.'

Big Brother has been cancelled by Channel 4 after this year's ratings disaster in a story which broke in the Sun on Tuesday and was confirmed by the broadcaster yesterday. The show will end next year after the completion of its - already commissioned - eleventh series. The decision comes as barely two million regular viewers have tuned into the tenth series of the reality show - compared to commonplace audiences of over eight million only a few years ago. A 'telly insider' told the paper: 'The reality is that people are bored with it. Even at Channel 4 the vibe among staff is that if you like Big Brother you're not cool.' So, like the factory workers in Plymouth, that's another bunch of people about to go on the Nat King Cole due to changing times. Davina McCall's probably not too worried, however, as she is to host a new dance-based reality competition for Sky1. Just Dance, which will air from January, aims to find the best dancer in Britain. That'd be my pal Big Dave after he's had about six pints of snakebite in Rosie's before the match and somebody puts 'The Boys Are Back In Town' on the jukebox, I reckon. Anyway, the nine-part series will follow an X Factor-style format of auditions and public voting - because, of course, there's no way on earth television can ever have too many of those - before an eventual winner is crowned. The news - possibly not coincidentally - came on the very day that McCall's long-running Channel 4 series Big Brother was confirmed to be ending in 2010. 'I love the ambition of Sky1 and Just Dance is spectacular family entertainment at its best,' said McCall. Who, you may remember, said remarkably similar things concerning her truly disastrous BBC1 chat show a few years ago. 'I can't wait to get started with the auditions, although the hardest job will be keeping me off the dance floor.' Try, Davina love. Try really really hard.

In a related story, Channel 4 will free up millions of pounds of its programming budget in 2011 by bringing Big Brother to an end according to Broadcast magazine. The broadcaster confirmed yesterday that the Endemol show would not return after its existing one hundred and eighty million pound contract comes to an end next summer. The move will result in fifty million pounds becoming available to spend on two hundred peak-time programming hours across C4 and E4. The emphasis will be on home-grown commissions, though E4 is expected to air more acquisitions (particularly from the US). Channel 4 will commission across different genres rather than a like-for-like replacement. C4 head Julian Bellamy said he was unwilling to be too prescriptive but added that he expected drama, comedy and entertainment to play a large role as well as 'stunts and events' and commissions with similar 'cross-platform opportunities' to Embarrassing Bodies. Quality.

Sir Paul McCartney has reportedly dismissed John Lennon's image as a rock 'n' roll rebel, insisting that his former Beatles bandmate and songwriter partner - who was, you may remember, a self-confessed alcoholic Scouse junkie wife-beater who, admittedly, wrote a few decent tunes in his day - was actually 'soft-centred.' In an interview with Radio Times, Macca explained that Lennon's 'hard' persona was not a true reflection of the late star's personality. He said: 'This is the trouble with history, with journalism. John said so much crap that he later said he hadn't meant. It's bullshit. The image of John is seriously flawed because he was not the hard, mad man that people think he was... He was a very soft-centred guy and we had a lot in common.' He added: 'Whatever bad things John said about me, he would also slip his glasses to the end of his nose and say, "I love you."'

Bill Bailey is to present a new Sky1 series about bird-watching it has been reported. Bill Bailey's Big Bird Watch, which is being produced by Fever, will run for six episodes and broadcast early next year. The former Never Mind The Buzzcocks team captain and world renouned stand-up comedian will have celebrity twitchers join him on the show every week. The series will follow the enthusiastic Bailey as he explores 'glorious British landscapes and rare native birds. It will be great fun - highly competitive, really informative and very, very beautiful,' said Bailey. 'I'm really excited to be involved.' Keith Telly Topping likes this announcement greatly - and not only because he is a huge admirer of Mr Bailey himself and his top musical-based comedy stylings, either. Because, let's face it, absolutely anything that puts Bill Oddie and Rory McGrath out of gainful employment is jolly good news for everyone in the long run.

Some of the brothers of the late pop star Michael Jackson are to appear in a reality TV series, US network A&E has announced. The cable show will be expanded from a documentary Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon Jackson had already filmed prior to their sibling's death in June. (Note, Randy doesn't appear to be involved in this venture.) It is not known when the show will air or how many episodes it will contain. It is also unclear whether Michael Jackson himself was filmed for the original documentary, which was due to focus on his brothers as they prepared to reunite for a Jackson Five concert tour. Don't stop until you get enough seems to be the Jackson family's motto these days just as it was in 1979.

The Goddess of mature sexuality, foxy Fiona Bruce has acknowledged that there is a clear double standard concerning the appearance of male and female newsreaders within the industry. The BBC News At Ten presenter also told those slimy troublemaking Communists at the Gruniad that the gender inequality is unlikely to change in the near future. Which, presumably, will go down very well with her bosses at the Beeb. Bruce said: 'You can't look like the back end of a bus and you do have to scrub up quite well. But do you have to be a beauty? No. Do you have to pay more attention to your appearance than the blokes do? Yes. If you look like the back end of the bus, as a woman you won't get the job. If you look like the back end of a bus as a bloke, you might get the job. 'Twas ever thus, and I can't see it changing in my lifetime.' Regarding her self-definition as a feminist, Fiona added: 'To me it's always been a no-brainer. Maybe I'm just simplistic about it, but if you believe in equality of opportunity and want to champion equality of opportunity, that makes you a feminist. I talk about feminism being a spectrum. People are more than two-dimensional, and again I think the complexities in life, and in one's makeup, grow as you get older, partly through experience.' Last year, Bruce predicted that she would one day be 'quietly dropped' from a programme because of her appearance. Myabe. But, not just yet.

Former Wimbledon champion and five-time grand slam winner Martina Hingis will join boxer Joe Calzaghe and Ronnie Wood's estranged wife, Jo, as contestants on this year's Strictly Come Dancing as announced earlier in the week. Hingis, twenty nine, who was banned from the tennis circuit for two years in 2008 after testing positive for cocaine at the 2007 Wimbledon tournament, will join four other sports stars in the seventh series of the reality talent show, which returns to BBC1 next month. And, personally, Keith Telly Topping simply can't wait to see Phil The Cat Tufnell strutting his funky stuff. Murder on the dance floor.

And now some rather sad Top telly News. Comedy director John Stroud, best known for BBC1 sitcom My Hero, has died of a brain tumour at the age of fifty four. Stroud's TV career spanned over thirty years, from joining Thames Television as a trainee to teaming up with Marcus Mortimer to set up the independent production company Big Bear Films. The firm produced five series of My Hero, as well as the upcoming BBC circus-based comedy Big Top and The Hairy Bikers' Cookbook, a rare foray into factual programming for Stroud. A Cambridge Footlights contemporary of Griff Rhys Jones, Jimmy Mulville and Peter Fincham, Stroud's first TV credits included Rainbow and The Sooty Show, where he infamously secured a guest appearance by the punk band UK Subs. He then went on to work with the cream of British comedy in the 1980s and 1990s. After making his name with the influential Channel 4 sketch show Who Dares Wins, he directed shows such as Spitting Image, Harry Enfield and Chums, Game On, KYTV and the final episode of Minder. He is survived by his wife and two children.

UKTV's director of entertainment commissioning, Lisa Perrin, is leaving the broadcaster to join Shine TV. She will take up the role of creative director of entertainment at the Liz Mudoch-owned independent later this year, reporting to joint managing director Karen Smith. The appointment follows the departure of Robin Ashbrook, former creative director of Shine North, who has moved to Shine's Los Angeles-based sister company, Reveille, as vice president of creative affairs. However, whereas Ashbrook was based in Manchester, Perrin will work out of Shine TV's London headquarters – although she will have executive producer responsibility for Shine North productions. Smith said: 'Lisa has a proven flair for both commissioning and programme making and I’m confident she can build on our successes to date in entertainment.'

The executive producer of The Simpsons has revealed that he wants Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp to do voice work for the show. In an interview with Digital Spy, David Mirkin - who joined the animated series in 1993 - also said that Kate Winslet is on his wish-list. 'There are so many great actors that would be great to work with - Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp... I actually did a tiny bit of work on an animated project with him. He has a great voice.' He added: 'I don't believe we've ever had Kate Winslet, and I would love to do Kate!' Ah, wouldn't we all?

Award-winning film director Shane Meadows is to make his first drama series for television. The four-part serial is a sequel to his BAFTA-winning movie This Is England and will be screened on Channel 4. We Were Faces picks up the lives of the gang of skinheads four years after the 1983-set original. The drama is being made as part of Channel 4's revamp which includes the decision to axe Big Brother. Thomas Turgoose, the young actor who starred in This Is England, will reprise his role as the teenage Shaun, who has now left school and is still involved with the gang. Meadows said he had 'a wealth of material and unused ideas' after he had finished the film, which he also wrote. 'I was very keen to take it further - audiences seemed to really respond to the characters we created, and out of my long-standing relationship with Film 4 and Channel 4 the idea for a television serial developed.'

Formula One commentator and genuine broadcasting legend Murray Walker has loaned his voice to children's cartoon Roary the Racing Car. The eighty five-year-old said he had 'enormous fun' recording the two special shows, in which he plays himself. Roary the Racing Car follows the adventures of a bright red single-seater and his racing car friends. The show is narrated by former racing driver Sir Stirling Moss and also features the voice of Peter Kay as Big Chris the mechanic. 'So many of my friends with children, literally from all over the world, have told me how much they enjoy watching Roary the Racing Car with their youngsters,' Walker said. 'So I was delighted when I was invited to join the cast and absolutely enthralled to take part in the studio recordings with Peter Kay and the rest of the jolly talent. They have been the most enormous fun and I now feel that I have achieved fame at last by becoming part of such an outstanding entertainment.' Walker spent fifty two years commentating on Formula One, first for the BBC and then for ITV.

Peter Andre is to join ITV's flagship daytime programme This Morning as 'a showbusiness reporter,' the broadcaster has confirmed. The singer will form part of the show's revamped line-up from September. Other newcomers will include Changing Rooms host Linda Barker, chef Jean Christophe Novelli and gardener Diarmuid Gavin. The long-running magazine show returns on 1 September. Stand-in presenters Eamonn Holmes and his fiance and Ruth Langsford will take the reins for the first two weeks, before Philip Schofield returns with his new sidekick, Holly Willoughby.

Former Coronation Street and Waterloo Road actress Angela Griffin has been unveiled as the new face of Sky1's daytime lineup. The star will front a new live daytime chat show called Angela and Friends from November alongside a revolving roster of co-hosts. The series will cover 'the latest showbiz stories, lifestyle trends, viewer comments, features and special guests' as well as a daily 'lifestyle club looking at books, films, health, beauty and fashion.' The commission is for ninety episodes - eighteen weeks - each of ninety minutes duration. 'This show is a real departure for both her and us,' said Sky1 head Stuart Murphy. 'This is the start of our strategy to focus significant money on one or two key daytime slots and promote them heavily.' Griffin added: 'I'm thrilled to have been given the opportunity to develop another side of my career and work with such a dynamic team. It's going to be a lot of fun and I can't wait to get started - I'm dead, dead excited.'

Former GMTV host Fiona Phillips has admitted that she is not a fan of morning television. The forty eight-year-old broadcaster, who stood down from the breakfast show in December last year, claimed that radio provides much more suitable entertainment for her children before school. She told Reveal: 'I won't let my children watch television in the mornings as I find it really annoying. They turn into zombies, which makes me end up shouting at them to get ready. It's banned in my house - I have the radio on instead.' Phillips, who is married to GMTV's editor Martin Frizzel, added that her decision to quit the programme to spend more time with sons Nathaniel and Mackenzie was the right one. She commented: 'I miss my colleagues but I don't miss GMTV at all. Leaving was the best decision I have ever made.'

RTL Group's bottom line was dented by a nineteen million pounds write down at UK terrestrial Five and said it expected no improvement in advertising markets in the second half of the year. Posting its results this week, Europe's largest broadcaster said Five Group registered an operating loss of £16.7m and restructuring charges of seven million pounds. In March this year, RTL slashed the value of Five by more than half, blaming conditions in the advertising market. RTL chief executive Gerhard Zeiler said at the time that the worsening economic environment in the UK was forcing companies to consider consolidation. Luxembourg-based RTL Group was also impacted by thirty million pounds in startup losses, mainly related to its Greek TV channel Alpha, which it acquired last year.

As part of BBC4's attempts to enhance its drama offering, the channel is eyeing works of fiction that could be adapted for television. In an interview with The Stage, the channel's controller Richard Klein revealed that he planned to 'broaden the palette' of BBC4's drama output, which at present places an emphasis on biopics of well-known British media and political figures. Klein - who took up his post in 2008 - promised 'there will be a mix' of dramas in the schedule, including more adaptations that sit well within BBC4's schedules as well as factual-based dramatisations, similar to the recent highly acclaimed Breaking the Mould: The Story of Penicillin. Adding that he was particularly interested in 'modern classics,' he concluded: 'I think the idea of looking at adaptations - and other things we can do on the channel, which feel right for the channel - is part of the mix.'

STV plans to acquire more dramas from the likes of Irish broadcaster RTE and gradually develop more drama in-house after opting out of airing almost all of ITV's autumn drama line-up. Broadcast services and regulatory affairs director Bobby Hain defended the decision, saying it 'no longer wants one hundred per cent of its programmes from just one supplier.' He insisted it was not purely a financial decision, despite STV receiving a refund of around six per cent of the budget of ITV programmes it does not show. Dramas generally have the largest budgets of any ITV genre, with blockbusters like Wuthering Heights costing one million pounds per hour to make – equating to a one hundred and eighty thousand pound refund for STV for the three-hour production. Hain said: 'We are very committed to being part of the Channel 3 network, but we need to be in a position where we are running STV on our terms, with a mix of original, network and acquired programmes. Yes, through opting out we are saving money, but we are also spending more money locally. Viewers have built up a long term relationship with ITV programmes. and it will take a bit of time to get used to some of the decisions we have made.' Hain said all genres of network programming would be examined and STV would opt out where it thought it could offer a greater PSB value or something more popular.

Meanwhile, STV has reported an eighty four per cent fall in pre-tax profit year on year in the first six months as the ad slump takes its toll, but said it expects to outperform the market for TV ad sales in the third quarter. As a group, STV reported a thirty five per cent fall in revenue, from £75.6m to £48.8m, and an eighty four per cent fall in pre-tax profits from £4.5m to seven hundred thousand pounds in the first six months. Operating profit fell sixty one per cent to £2.2m while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation fell to £3.6m. The company said that the decline was partly due to the sale, in June last year, of Virgin Radio, which had revenue of £11.3m and operating profit of £1.1m in the first half of 2008.

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