Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pushed, Stamped, Filed, Indexed, Briefed, Debriefed & Numbered

Remaking The Prisoner has been something that has fascinated and given nightmares to several generations of telly-makers and fanboys in equal measure ever since Patrick McGoohan's damned queer odyssey into the sordid realms of identity, allegory and individual freedoms first hit the screens in 1967. They only made seventeen episodes before Lew Grade cancelled the folly and it annoyed as many of its viewers as it delighted others. And yet, here we are over forty years later still talking about it. A new six-episode mini-series 'reimaging' went into production in June 2008, no doubt conceptually aided by the successful returns of old staples like Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica having had a very Twenty First Century makeover. American actor James Caviezel (best known for his performance as Christ in Mel Gibson's The Passion) takes on the unenviable role of Number Six with Ian McKellen as Number Two. It's being show in the US this week and will turn up on ITV in early 2010. And, the first thing to report is that it's ... pretty good, actually. I mean, I'll be honest, I didn't want to like it in the slightest. It's very different from the original, although with just enough nods, homages and iconography to keep boring old fanboys like me vaguely satisfied. The moment, for instance, at the end of episode two when The Rover puts in its first appearance will have you punching the air in delight. If the original series' main obsession was with the threat of totalitarianism over the individual - very in-keeping with the spirit of the age - then the remake takes a far more jaundiced and cynical Twenty First Century world-view to such 1984 staples. Whilst, at the same time, maintaining a righteous anger at the idea of mind control via partial remakes of two of the sixties series' most harsh and studied episodes, Hammer Into Anvil and Schizoid Man. Like Survivors, I wondered if they could pull it off. And, I'm very happy to report that, for the most part, they have. Congratulations to all concerned. When it gets to Britain in the New Year, make sure you be seeing it.

Last weekend's television bonanza resulted in the biggest Sunday night audience for almost a decade according to overnight figures. The total TV audience during the peak hours of 1800-2230 was just over twenty seven million viewers - the highest for any one three hour period since January 2000. The ratings boost was thanks to The X Factor results show and the return of Top Gear, Doctor Who and I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! In 2000, episodes of Coronation Street, Ground Force, Heartbeat and Jonathan Creek contributed to a record 27.7m viewers over a similar time period. At it's peak, almost thirty one million viewers were watching TV around 9pm. That's over fifty per cent of the country's entire population. Mind you, I'd love to know what the other forty nine per cent were doing. Contemplating the inherent ludicrousness of the nature of existence, no doubt? Overall, last weekend was the fifth-highest rated Sunday night since viewing figures began being recorded electronically in 1992, according to the Television Research Partnership. 'Super Sunday' - as it has, perhaps inevitably, been dubbed within the TV industry - kicked off with an average 9.1 million viewers tuning in to BBC1 to watch the Doctor Who special, the second of David Tennant's final four episodes in the role. A further three hundred thousand viewers watched the episode of BBC HD. The X Factor followed with 14.3m viewers, peaking at 15.2m - half-of-all television viewers at the time - for the final fifteen minutes, when Jamie Archer was voted off the show. Nearly ten million viewers then stayed tuned to ITV for the return of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! The show was watched by 9.8m people - the programme's most successful launch episode since series three in 2004. Although it had been moved back an hour from its usual time to avoid clashing with The X Factor, Top Gear still had to compete with the celebrity jungle show. It pulled in 5.5m viewers, taking second place for the 2100 time slot, down on the find of figures it usually enjoys but still, comfortably, BBC2's highest ratings of the week.

Joe Calzaghe has claimed that Strictly Come Dancing is 'a fix.' The former light heavyweight boxing champion told the Daily Mail that producers forced his exit because of an insult he directed at rival dancer Craig Kelly. Calzaghe noted: 'Don't you think it's odd we went out when we were in the bottom for four weeks and the public kept voting for us? We had the highest votes every week, the producers told us. Then all of a sudden we lost out in the judges' vote. Something was up.' He added: 'I know it's down to something I said about Craig Kelly. It was worse than a swear word. They were really angry with me. So you can say it - Strictly Come Dancing is a fix. I don't care, we shouldn't have gone out so early.' Calzaghe also suggested that Phil Tufnell should have stayed in the competition last weekend and that producers were 'scared' of offending Laila Rouass, who survived the vote despite her sprained ankle. A BBC spokesman said that any suggestions that the programme was fixed were 'ridiculous' and added: 'The judges base their opinion on the quality of the dancing.' Before whispering 'unlike the public.'

Len Goodman, meanwhile, has confessed that he is 'depressed' about Phil Tufnell's exit. The head judge claimed that he found it tough being the one who had to vote the ex-cricketer off the show at the weekend. Tufnell and professional partner Katya Virshilas lost out in the dance-off to ex-EastEnders actor Ricky Groves and Erin Boag. Goodman claimed that Laila Roass, who danced with an injured ankle and finished bottom of the leader board, should have been in the bottom two instead. 'I'm very depressed over Saturday night and being the one who decided that Phil had to leave,' he told It Takes Two. 'Had it not been for the stumble he made at the start of the dance-off [I would have saved him]. Before the dance-off I thought Phil would edge it, but then when you go wrong, you have got nowhere to go.' He added: 'What I felt sorry about was that poor old Jade [Johnson] couldn't dance obviously because of her knee, Laila couldn't dance because of her ankle. But if we go back two or three weeks, Phil was having an operation on his knee and still coming out and dancing, getting through the week. And that weighs on your mind. Because as much as I felt sorry for Laila, if you look at the marks, she should have gone.'

Producers of The X Factor have been accused of intentionally drowning out John and Edward's vocal performances. According to the Mirror, sound engineers are said to be 'truly sick' at being 'part of this manipulation' against the viewers. One source said: 'I am disgusted. A colleague was threatened with the sack. The twins have had backing vocals on all their live performances so far. The sound crew are told to turn their mics down so their vocals are mostly covered by the backing singers. We are used to tweaking levels, it is part of the job but what we were asked to do on Saturday was beyond a joke.' The source added: 'During the twins' rehearsal, we were told to lower the levels on the twins' microphones to a ridiculous level. We were then told to raise the levels on the backing track so the pre-recorded session singers completely covered the sound of the appalling vocals of the twins.' Regarding John and Edward's performance of the medley of 'Under Pressure' and 'Ice Ice Baby', the source claimed: 'The only time we were told we could raise the levels on their microphones was when they were rapping. One of the crew refused as he said it was unfair on the other acts and was pulling the wool over viewers' eyes. But he was told he would no longer have a job if he didn't follow instructions, so he bit his lip and got on with it.' A show spokeswoman said: 'All the contestants sing live on Saturday night and are given an equal amount of technical support.' Which is a nicely fudge way of neither confirming or denying the allegations made. 'This is not true,' would've been a shade more convincing. Unless, of course, it is.

Simon Cowell has been accused of 'conspiring against Jamie Archer' in the run-up to Saturday night's X Factor. According to the Mirror, Archer's 'friends' believe that Cowell stitched the rocker-up, good and proper because Cowell knew that he was likely to lose an act in Queen Week. A source close to the singer is quoted as saying: 'The whole show is being made a mockery of. Simon was the only judge with all three acts left - he knew he had to lose someone this week and so he offered up Jamie. It doesn't take a genius to see how he did it. He stuck him first on the bill which is the worst place to be. He made sure he dressed him in dark clothing so it all looked very drab with no colour. And he gave him a very average Queen song in 'Radio Ga Ga' and left him there on the stage on his own. There was no production, no backing singers, no choirs, no pyrotechnics like the other contestants had.'

Jennifer Morrison has reportedly admitted that she finds her exit from House 'sort of confusing.' It was previously confirmed that the actress's character Allison Cameron would depart the medical drama this season, although reports have suggested that the door is open for her to return. And, on Monday night's episode, she did having learned that her husband, Chase, killed a patient on moral grounds but blaming House for 'ruining' him. Morrison recently claimed that she was done with the show as far as she knew. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, when asked whether she might return, she replied: 'I don't know anything about anything. That's the thing. Everyone expects me to have an answer and there's no answer to have because there's no answer.' She added that she has not 'packed' her character away yet and praised David Shore for his 'authentic' writing.

Independently financed regional news pilot schemes on the ITV network could begin as early as April next year. In a government response to the consultation on the future of news in the nations and regions, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that using the BBC licence fee to fund the services was still its preferred source of funds, but would hold off making a final decision to top slice funding until at least 2012. 'Some of these [funding alternatives] are credible options, although their main disadvantages are that they are akin to general taxation and would therefore have an impact on public finances and could raise issues of market distortion where funding originates from the market,' the department said. 'At this point, on balance, none of these appear to be better than the existing, large-scale and transparent intervention constituted by the licence fee.'

TV does not need to dumb down by assuming that its audiences are not bright enough to enjoy programmes such as University Challenge, according to the quiz show's host, Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman. Paxo told Radio Times: 'It might be interesting to speculate on why it is that a quiz in which much of the audience doesn't expect to get most of the answers right achieves such spectacular ratings, in a difficult slot. I think it proves that television doesn't have to dumb down. If you pay the audience the courtesy of inviting them in by suggesting they're quite smart enough to go along with the programme, they will come in.' Asked whether the questions have been getting easier, he said: 'For heaven's sake, do you watch the show? We have intentionally made the questions harder. And they get harder still as the series progresses.' He said that in his role of 'in-house grammatical pedant' he only rewrites questions 'to make them easier to read aloud at speed, or removing the occasional split infinitive or dangling modifier.'

Just to repeat that earlier story, in case you missed it. The BBC has reportedly fought off Government attempts to force it to give up part of the licence fee to fund regional news on other channels. It follows suggestions that some of the £3.6 billion digital switchover fund will be used to subsidise news-gathering by commercial broadcasters badly hit by the recession. Under pressure from the BBC, the Government has now kicked the idea into touch by postponing any decision until 2012 - when a likely Conservative government can quietly bin it. Although the Digital Economy Bill - to be announced in the Queen's Speech - contains measures to redistribute funding, it will probably be up to the incoming Tories to implement the proposals or otherwise. Although they oppose redistributing the license fee, that hasn't stopped them criticising ministers for avoiding tackling the issue now. Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said: 'The Government says local news requires public funding, but it won't categorically say where this money should come from.' So, if I have this correctly, Jezza, you don't want the government to do something but you're using the fact that they're not doing it as a stick with which to beat them, yes? What a curiously shallow and sick horrorshow of a world we live in, dear blog reader.

STV's legal challenge against ITV has entered the digital arena, with a claim for up to twelve million pounds in damages relating to the exploitation of new media rights. STV Group subsidiaries STV Central and STV North filed the claim against ITV Network and ITV Broadcasting on Tuesday. The STV companies allege that despite ITV acquiring new media rights for the benefit of all Channel Three licensees, the ITV companies have entered into commercial agreements without seeking STV's consent. The companies are seeking damages, declatory relief to determine the precise basis on which such rights are held, and an injunction that would stop either ITV company from entering into any further new media rights agreement without STV's consent. Chief executive Rob Woodward said: 'ITV's actions are detrimental to STV’s brand and business and they are inhibiting our ability to grow as a digital broadcaster. We are ultimately seeking clarity on how new media rights can be exploited, and damages for ITV's actions. We have tried to resolve this through dialogue with ITV but unfortunately we now have no alternative but to resort to legal action. It is essential that we protect and secure STV's rights within the Channel Three network and I am confident of our position.'

Good old Mad Charlie Brooker has been venting his spleen on Christmas adverts in the Gruniad this week. 'Watching Marks and Spencer's Christmas ad is like sitting through Children in Need. Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry, Myleene Klass, Jennifer Saunders, Twiggy, James Nesbitt, Wallace and Gromit . . . it's so chummy and cosy and thoroughly delighted by its own existence, I keep hoping it'll suddenly cut to a shot of a deranged crystal meth user squatting on the cold stone floor of a disused garage, screaming about serpents while feverishly sawing their own hand off at the wrist.' Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, meanwhile, will return to TV this Christmas for a one-off special, producers Endemol have confirmed. Don't expect much Christmas cheer from King Charlie in that one! The BBC4 show has run for five series since its premiere in March 2006 and led to the Newswipe and Gameswipe spin-offs. Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe Review of the Year will examine Live at Studio Five and the appearance of the BNP's Nick Griffin on Question Time amongst other notable TV calamities. Marvellous.

The full cast and crew have been revealed for a new ITV adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Philip Martin will direct the new take on Christie's novel which sees David Suchet return as Hercule Poirot. Suchet said: 'It's an honour to have such a wonderful international cast on board for this world famous murder mystery. Writer Stewart Harcourt has created an exquisite script. His attention to detail is impeccable.' Other actors hired for the episode include Dame Eileen Atkins, Hugh Bonneville, Marie-Josée Croze (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds), David Morrissey, Toby Jones (Frost/Nixon) and Susanne Lothar (The Reader). And, if you don't want to know the result, look away now.

They all did it. Next ...

Inside MI5: The Real Spooks is a brand new programme for ITV on the real story of MI5. MI5 was an organisation so secret that for decades, it didn't officially exist. Television and movie fiction has highlighted and glamorised the work of the organisation for years, but this documentary reveals the story of the real life drama of Britain's Security Service. For the first time in its one hundred-year history, MI5 has opened its top-secret files to uncover the truth about key episodes in Britain's history. This programme delves into those archives to explain how the traitor Anthony Blunt could have changed the course of the war and ruined the success of D-Day. It also reveals facts, which may surprise viewers, surrounding the allegations that former MI5 director Roger Hollis and Trade Union Leader Jack Jones were Soviet Agents, that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was under surveillance and events surrounding the death of three IRA members in Gibraltar. The programme also includes an exclusive, television interview with a former MI5 Director General and a KGB Colonel turned British Agent. That sounds tremendous.

EastEnders actress Rita Simons has praised her new co-star Glynis Barber. The thirty two-year-old, who plays barmaid Roxy Mitchell on the soap, confirmed that she has enjoyed getting to know the drama's latest recruit in recent weeks. Former Dempsey & Makepeace cast member Barber landed the part of Glenda Mitchell last month. Glenda is the ex-wife of sinister Archie (Larry Lamb) and mother of Roxy and Ronnie (Samantha Womack). In an interview with Inside Soap, Simons explained: 'It's amazing how much Glynis looks like Sam. It's made me decide that I look like Larry! Ronnie got Glenda's genes and Roxy got Archie's. I'm getting on really well with Glynis. Glenda's a typical Mitchell woman. She's a fiery one and very similar to Ronnie in personality as well as looks.' Barber was cast as Glenda after The Gentle Touch actress Jill Gascoine stood down from the role following one day on set. The character will be seen on screen for the first time in the New Year.

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