Saturday, October 10, 2009

Panurus Biarmicus

Yer man Keith Telly Topping did something he hadn't done for neigh-on thirty years yesterday, dear blog reader. He went on a family outing to see Lindisfarne; the island, that is, not the band. He did wait till the tide was out, admittedly (he hasn't, yet, quite perfected the ability to do that walking-on-water thing, although he is working on it). And, now he is back in his nice warm gaff from the windswept North Sea. It was a good day out, actually, we did a lot of driving around Bamburgh and Seahouses. Me mum seemed to really enjoy herself and our Gudi - who'd never been up that far into Northumberland before - was quite spellbound by the magical nature of the place. I was just cold personally and ended up with a touch of earache because of the howling wind. So, having got in and thawed out overnight, here's yer latest batch of Top Telly News.

We start with a bit of unwelcome news: ITV has axed their Sunday night drama Kingdom, its star and executive producer Stephen Fry has confirmed. The show, in which Fry played the titular role of country lawyer Peter Kingdom, has been cancelled after a three-year run. Writing on his blog, Fry said: 'Sad news from TV-land. Well sad for me and for some others. It may well have you skipping about like a lamb on ketamine, trilling with joy. Our masters at ITV have decided that there shan't be a fourth series of the television drama Kingdom. I am sorry because it was such a pleasure making them in my beloved Norfolk.' He added: 'I am lucky to live there much of the time - for the rest of the Kingdom cast and crew it will be a sad farewell that was never properly said. All things must pass. That is why we must be so grateful to Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, and mother of the muses. Heigh ho. Onward and upward.' Bless. I always rather enjoyed Kingdom - it was quite gentle and slow-moving but it had a nice sense of its own pace and featured lots of my favourite actors. I'm sorry to see it go. Particularly as I have difficulty in imagining that ITV will have something with a similar audience in mind for its replacement.

And, on to some even sadder news. Dear old Barry Letts, one of the finest producers of Doctor Who (from 1969 until 1974), has died at the age of eighty four. Barry succeeded Derrick Sherwin as producer of the series in 1969 during a period when the show was in real danger of cancellation. Under his guidance and with the partnership of his friend and colleague, script editor Terrance Dicks, he presided over Jon Pertwee's era of the series and the succcessful transition to Tom Baker. During Barry's time as producer, the series saw the Doctor emerge for the first time in glorious colour. The format of the show changed, with the Time Lord exiled to Earth by his people. There, he worked with companions Liz Shaw (Caroline John), Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and the iconic Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) in what became known as 'The U.N.I.T. Years.' Barry first began his association with Doctor Who in 1967 as a recently-qualified BBC director on the Patrick Troughton adventure The Enemy of the World, which required Letts to organize filming around Troughton's double role as both the Doctor and his look-alike villain Salamander. As well as producing and directing many episodes Barry also contributed - with writer Robert Sloman - some of the most acclaimed scripts of Pertwee's era: The Daemons (under the pen-name Guy Leopold), The Time Monster, The Green Death and Pertwee's finale Planet of the Spiders. It was Barry who cast Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and he produced the first story for the new incarnation, Robot, before handing over production reins to Phillip Hinchcliffe. Barry returned to direct the 1975 story The Android Invasion, and also served as Executive Producer on the series for Tom Baker's final season in 1980. From a theatrical family (his older sister, Pauline, was also an actress) Barry had started off as a repertory actor, following his service in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He later played one of the leading characters, Fred Lane, in the Terence Fisher movie To the Public Danger, a heartfelt plea against dangerous driving. He also appeared in the highly regarded Ealing Studios production, Scott of the Antarctic. From 1950 onwards he appeared in various television productions including The Avengers and a live drama, Gunpowder Guy in which Patrick Troughton played Guy Fawkes and Letts a fellow conspirator. He also appeared as Colonel Herncastle in the 1959 television adaptation of Wilkie Collins's novel The Moonstone. Much of this television work was for the BBC and Letts abandoned acting after completing a director's course in 1966. His early directorial work included episodes of the long-running police drama Z-Cars and the soap The Newcomers. After leaving Doctor Who, Barry went back to a mixture of directing and producing at the BBC. He directed numerous series and serials, before settling into a role as producer of the BBC Sunday Classic serials where he was, again, partnered by Terrance Dicks. He oversaw more than twenty five serials in this capacity over an eight-year period, including Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Invisible Man. He also produced Sense and Sensibility for the BBC, and his production of Jane Eyre starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke was nominated for a BAFTA. Later he was a director on EastEnders from 1990 to 1992. Always a popular and welcome guest at Doctor Who conventions, Barry was an interesting and charming man whom Keith Telly Topping had the great opportunity to meet on several occasions. His sons Dominic and Crispin Letts are both successful actors. Barry once noted, with customary understatement 'The BBC doesn't teach you how to be a drama producer. She just picks you up by the scruff of the neck and drops you in it, if you take my meaning!'

Richard Curtis has announced some details about his upcoming episode of Doctor Who. It was recently confirmed that the Blackadder writer - seen right with Stephen Fry, who's getting an awful lot of name-checks in today's blog! - will script an episode for Matt Smith's first season as The Doctor. Curtis told ShortList: 'I am writing a new episode of Doctor Who, which is great. I wanted to write something my kids would like. So I'm doing a Doctor Who that will be on TV next February. I've got Van Gogh stabbing a monster.' I think that's the first time that anyone has suggested Matt Smith's first episodes will go out earlier than Who's usual start date of late-March. Curtis added: 'Someone from the BBC just sent me a picture of my monster. I had to decide if it was yellow enough.' What a brilliant job!

And, on a related-note one of the stars of The Wire is to voice a role in the new Doctor Who spin-off animation, Dreamland. Clarke Peters, who played Lester Freamon in the cult US crime drama, will play a native American called Night Eagle. The Doctor and Peters' character, who he describes as 'an old man but a hell of an archer,' are caught up in an alien invasion of Roswell, New Mexico. Tennant will provide the voice for the Doctor in the six-part series, which is due to be shown later this year. Peters admits that his son has become a big fan of the show and has already got David Tennant's autograph for him. 'Now my son is watching it avidly and he asks me to come and sit down with him just to watch Doctor Who,' he said. The Doctor gets a new assistant called Cassie Rice in Dreamland. The forty minute animation will be premiered via the Red Button on BBC1 and the Doctor Who website.

Ellen Page has been signed up to write and produce upcoming single-camera comedy Stitch N' Bitch. The Juno star will work on the project for HBO with actors Alia Shawkat and Sean Tillmann, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The show follows two 'hipster girls' as they move from Brooklyn's Williamsburg area to the Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles in the hope of making it as artists.

Real-time 9/11 documentary 102 Minutes That Changed America proved to be Channel 4's most divisive programme last month, with controversy raging over the level of advertising shown within its broadcast. The acquired documentary was the channels most complained-about show in September, with eighty eight viewers criticising the broadcaster for airing twenty two minutes and thirty seconds advertising across seven breaks – just short of the legal maximum of twenty four minutes and thirty seconds permitted in a one hundred and thirty-minute slot. In purely content terms, it was also the most praised programme of the month, with at least one viewer singling it out as the best documentary Channel 4 had aired this year. But viewers questioned whether the network was right to interrupt a real-time reflection on the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, featuring emergency services' radio calls, news reports and amateur footage with so frequent commercial messages.

BBC Radio has revealed plans to phase out the use of RealMedia technology from its live streaming and Listen Again services. Writing on the BBC Internet Blog, the corporation's future media controller Mark Kortekaas said that the organisation is always reviewing its services against four main criteria: reach, quality, impact and value. 'When streaming services are evaluated against these measures, we take into account where different formats might need to be implemented, evolved or deprecated,' he said. 'The streaming service provided in RealMedia format has been with us at the BBC since 1996. At the time it was the best option available, but more recently alternative methods of delivery have become just as important. These include Windows Media and Flash. When evaluating services with our public value tests, which include the costs of the services, we came to the decision that RealMedia was something we needed to phase out.' RealMedia technology will now be removed from all online streams and on-demand links of BBC Radio programming towards a deadline of 30 March 2010. The process will start with all National radio networks, followed by the Nations services, such as BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio Wales, and then Local Radio stations. All legacy RealMedia streams of National station programming will remain available until next March when Windows Media for Live streams will take their place. However, the 'more restrictive' nature of Nations and Local Radio services means that RealMedia will have to be switched off for these stations rather than phased out. This approach will cause temporary disruption to the Listen Live service for these networks and also mean that the Listen Again function will not return until November. All radio streams on BBC iPlayer's lower bandwidth option will also revert to a new Flash offering at 48kbps, which the corporation hopes to have completed by the end of this month.

Cosgrove Hall Films, the children's animation studio behind Danger Mouse and Count Duckula, is facing an uncertain future after its owner, ITV, confirmed that the company has been placed under a review. A spokeswoman for ITV said the business has not been closed, but that it and its three remaining staff members - creative director Franc Vose, financial and commercial director Lee Marriot and production manager Steve Levinshon – were being reviewed by management. However reports suggest that Vose, Marriot and Levinshon may have already left the company and Cosgrove Hall Films' unofficial Wikipedia entry notes that the company has ceased trading. The ITV review places the future of forthcoming children's show Ruby to the Rescue in doubt. The programme had been scheduled to be delivered to CBeebies in March 2010.

Diversity's Ashley Banjo, West End star Adam Garcia and Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt will judge Sky1's new talent show Just Dance. The series, which will be hosted by Davina McCall, will attempt to discover the UK's next dance superstars. 'No-one knows better than me how a contest like this can discover raw talent and open up fantastic opportunities,' said Britain's Got Talent winner Banjo. 'It's a thrill to be on the other side of the desk this time and I'm so excited about discovering some fresh, new, original dancers.' Garcia, who has danced on Broadway and at the opening of the Sydney Olympics, commented: 'I think this competition will reveal some genuinely great, new talent and it's going to be a real thrill to see so many people's love of dance translated into a performance.' Wyatt added: 'Britain - don't you wish your dancers were hot like me? Well maybe they are but I'll be the judge of that! I'm coming to the UK and I'm hoping you guys are going to have all the right moves!'

NBC's Southland has been cancelled even before the launch of its second season's premiere episode. Production on the John Wells-produced police drama is being shut down after six episodes. Southland, from Warner Bros. TV, was originally scheduled to debut in a Friday 9pm slot last month. But in August, NBC opted to push the start to 23 October and air Dateline NBC instead. It is not clear when, or even if, the six unaired episodes of Southland will appear. Created by Ann Biderman, the series got off to a good start when it premiered in last year's mid-season on Thursday evenings, succeeding NBC's long-running medical drama, ER. Additionally, Southland garnered largely positive media reviews, but through its initial run last spring, the series showed signs of ratings erosion. Then NBC was forced to shift all of its 10pm dramas to an hour earlier to make way for The Jay Leno Show. While Southland has enjoyed strong support among NBC executives, after screening the finished episodes from the upcoming second season, the show's content was deemed too dark and gritty for broadcast TV, especially for 9pm. The cancellation of Southland ends, for the time being at least, a long relationship between NBC and Wells, who has been behind some of NBC's biggest series, including ER and The West Wing, for the past fifteen years. It hasn't been a good start to the new season for NBC's scripted dramas, with rookies Trauma and Mercy struggling to find an audience along with most of the returning veterans, including Heroes and Law & Order: SVU, which is still settling into its new Wednesday 9pm slot.

Former West Wing star Bradley Whitford will star in FOC's straight-to-series project Jack And Dan. The thirteen-episode Matt Nix-devised show centres on an ambitious career police officer, Jack, who is partnered with Whitford's Dan, a drunken wild-card officer who has only managed to hold onto his job because of a widely-publicised heroic act several years earlier. Whitford, who played the legendary White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on The West Wing from 1999 to 2006, has also previously appeared in The X Files, Frasier and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Filming on Jack And Dan is scheduled to begin in early 2010. More news on that one as soon as Keith Telly Topping gets it.

Coronation Street actress Julie Hesmondhalgh has described her recent DVD spin-off opportunity as 'a real luxury.' The thirty nine-year-old actress, who plays Hayley Cropper on the Weatherfield soap, teamed up with her screen husband David Nielson (Roy) and fan favourite Katherine Kelly (Becky McDonald) for the one-off Romanian feature earlier this year. Reflecting on the project, Hesmondhalgh told the Press Association: 'It was a lovely experience in terms of being able to do something with a beginning and middle and an end - and it's a real luxury for us at Corrie because it's just a big machine that carries on rolling.' She continued: 'It was lovely to start something and finish it and have a big party at the end and then have it in a box and go "we made this movie and we did it together."' Hesmondhalgh also assured fans that she does not have any 'lofty ambitions' to crack Hollywood in the aftermath of the project.

Hawaii Five-O is set to follow Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica and The Bionic Woman as the latest classic TV franchise to get a high-profile remake. According to The Hollywood Reporter, CBS will make a pilot of an updated version of the popular show which originally ran from 1968 to 1980. It will be penned by two screenwriters with pedigree in remakes: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. The duo's movie credits include the JJ Abrams remake of Star Trek plus two Transformers movies and Mission: Impossible III. CSI: New York executive producer Peter Lenkov will also write for the pilot, with all three producing. The original show is well remembered by a generation of TV fans for its epic theme tune, memorable title sequence, catch phrases and stunning locations. It starred Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett, James MacArthur as Danno Williams and the great Kam Fong as Chin Ho.

Leonard Nimoy has revealed details about his return to FOX's Fringe. The seventy eight-year-old actor, who first appeared in the show last season, has agreed to return to the role of William Bell for at least two episodes. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, he said: 'The character was somewhat a blank slate and therefore attractive, because there is an opportunity to build an interesting and unpredictable character.' Nimoy - Spock in the original Star Trek series, just in case you've been asleep for the last forty years - went on to describe the character of William as 'brilliant, wealthy and very powerful.'

Dallas, the popular 1980s TV soap of everyday mega-rich Texas oil barons, may be another series about to make a comeback on the small - and big - screen. According to the New York Times, Warner Brothers is working on a remake of the series, which ran from 1978 to 1991. The show, detailing the machinations of JR Ewing - the greedy and conniving tychoon played by Larry Hagman - and his dysfunctional family was one of the most successful of all time in terms of publicity, shock-value and an international following. It is reported that some of the original cast - including Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy - have already been lined-up to revisit the scenes of wealth, sex, intrigue and power struggles. But, hang on, didn't JR meet the devil in the final episode? Or something? It is understood that the new TV version - if it happens - will focus on the next generation of the Ewing clan, with Twentieth Century Fox also working on a feature length film based on the original series. Sounds potentially intriguing, just avoid showers sequences guys, you lost a lot of viewers with that malarkey once upon a time.

Juliet Aubrey has confirmed her interest in returning to Primeval next year. Though her villainous character, Helen Cutter, appeared to be killed off in the series three finale, Aubrey told Wired that she would be surprised if viewers did not see the time traveller again. The actress commented: 'I don't think anyone can really "die" in a world like [Primeval's]. I'm sure she'll return to the show as it moves forward. I hope so, because she was such a joy to play.' Asked if she has been approached by producers, she replied: 'I've heard some rumours, but that's all. I'm waiting to see with all of the fans.' So, that'd be a 'no' then?

Keith Telly Topping's Fantasy Movie-Stars League 'future Mrs Telly Topping', Keira Knightley, will make her West End debut opposite fellow British actors Damian Lewis and Tara Fitzgerald in Moliere's The Misanthrope in December. The twenty four-year-old star of Atonement and Pirates of the Caribbean, will play the part of American film-star Jennifer. Lewis, best known for his role in the US series Band of Brothers, will play the title character - a disillusioned playwright who falls for the ambitious and mercurial Jennifer. The play opens at the Comedy Theatre on 17 December and will run, hopefully, until 13 March 2010. Ooo, I think keith Telly Topping might be organising a visit to the smoke at some stage to catch a performance of that.

Coronation Street's Maggie Jones has admitted that she tries to ignore the comic nature of her outspoken character Blanche Hunt. The seventy five-year-old actress's work on the show earned her the 'funniest performance' prize at the Inside Soap Awards last week. However, reflecting on the recognition, Jones commented: 'I don't find Blanche funny and I don't think I could play her properly if I did. Blanche genuinely believes that what she is saying is right and doesn't say things for comedic effect. If I started trying to play the lines for laughs, they wouldn't come out right. We'd all like to be as outspoken as her and have the nerve to say the things she does,' Female First quotes her as saying. 'But then, everyone knows someone like her, or if they don't they wish they did.'

Inbetweeners star James Buckley has revealed that fans often call him a 'bus wanker' in the street. Speaking to the Sun, the twenty two-year-old actor - whose catchphrases on the E4 show include 'Bus wankers!' and 'Clunge!' - also said that 'there's a lot of love' for his character, Jay. 'In real life I'm a delicate flower,' he said. 'I don't swear as much and I'm not as rude. I get asked in the street, "Where's the clunge?" It's cool, though. I just turn round and give them a thumbs up. There's a lot of love for Jay.' It was recently announced that Buckley will star as a young Derek Trotter in the upcoming BBC prequel to Only Fools And Horses.

Marlon Jackson has spoken out about the recent controversy caused when an Australian comedy act performed a Jackson Five song blacked up. The performers, who called themselves Jackson Jive, were criticised after they appeared on an Australian variety show wearing the make-up and afro wigs. When told about the parody by Access Hollywood, Marlon said: 'Man, if they turned up looking like that in the United States! They probably weren't trying to be offensive about it or anything of that nature.' Guest judge Harry Connick Jr gave the performance a zero score and admitted that he would never have agreed to appear if he had known about the group. Marlon added: 'We thank Harry for [speaking out], but we also understand that they weren't trying to be disrespectful for the family.' Anand Deva, the frontman of Jackson Jive, later apologised and insisted that the group, who have multicultural backgrounds, had intended no disrespect.

Fern Britton has signed a contract to write a novel about fame and jealousy. The presenter, who quit This Morning in July after ten years, secured a two-book deal with publisher Harper Collins. The first novel is expected to be published by Mother's Day 2011 and will reportedly focus on rivalry in the TV world. 'I am so excited to be working with Harper Collins on my novel. This story comes from my thirty years experience in television,' Now quotes her as saying. 'Are the characters based on people I have worked with? Have any of the storylines actually happened? Or have I made it all up? Readers will have to decide.' Or, not if they refuse to have anything to do with the books, of course.

Dancing With The Stars has reportedly abandoned plans to feature a live chimpanzee in this week's results show after being contacted by the pressure group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Host Tom Bergeron had promised viewers on Monday night's episode that the animal would appear on Tuesday, reportedly as a mock judge alongside panellists Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli. Speaking to Variety, PETA spokesman Dan Mathews said: 'That prompted PETA to contact executive producer Conrad Green first thing with a plea that the chimp segment be cancelled.' Green reportedly agreed to cancel the segment and sent an e-mail to PETA saying: 'I do appreciate your point that showing a chimpanzee on our show may indirectly lead to other chimpanzees being ill-treated in the future.' A representative for the programme's producer, BBC Worldwide said: 'Conrad constantly makes last-minute editorial decisions [and] changes, and we are pleased with the result of the 6 October show.'

Marge Simpson has been selected as the cover star for an upcoming issue of Playboy, according to reports. The matriarch from long-running animated comedy series The Simpsons will reportedly strip off for the November issue of the men's magazine. Rumours that the character would appear nude were fuelled by Hugh Hefner, who had promised 'a surprise' for fans of the cartoon. Speaking to the Chicago Sun Times, CEO Scott Flanders branded the photoshoot as 'obviously somewhat tongue-in-cheek.' Why? Are you suggesting that Marge isn't one hot momma? He's a lucky man, that Homer. Flanders (who may, or may not be related to Ned, although if he is, he's likely to be a black sheep in the Falnders family) went on to say that he hoped the spread would help attract readers in their twenties, adding: 'It had never been done, and we thought it would be kind of hip, cool and unusual.' Marge's appearance in the magazine will coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the show.

And finally, dear blog reader, in case you hadn't noticed, yesterday was Day 9 of Octobeard. Yer Keith Telly Topping is really not sure at all about this distinct Jesus of Nazarath-look that he seem to be developing though this competition (he needs a haircut as a matter of some urgency before he starts looking like a member of Hawkwind). But, he is, after all, a highly competative chap and, as he's already said publicly, he's in it to win it! Besides, it's for charideeee.

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