Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bloody Tennis!

As expected, poor little Robin Hood's third series ended on Saturday with the show's lowest ever overnight audience. The series finale - which saw Jonas Armstrong's titular character killed off in a suitably dramatic style - was shunted onto BBC2 to make way for Wimbledon coverage on BBC1. The episode drew just 2.19m (a twelve percent audience share). The scheduling chaos, of course, continued last night when Andy Murray's latest 'exciting five-setter' went on and on and on until nearly eleven o'clock causing most of BBC1's shows to be moved over to BBC2 (including EastEnders, something which I'll bet didn't go down well with The Walford Massive) and sending a wrecking ball through the latter's schedule. I was upset, personally. All I wanted to see was Sue Perkins dressed as Betty Page on The Supersizers, is that so very wrong? Yeah, okay, don't answer that. Anyway, live coverage of Murray's victory on Monday night pulled in an average audience of 8.6 million (38.8 percent share) with a peak at 10.30pm of 11.8m viewers, (53.9 percent). In the first match to be played in its entirety with the roof closed over Centre Court, Murray - the third seed - finally defeated Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka at 10.38pm, the latest ever Wimbledon finish. Coverage of the fourth round match started on BBC Two at 6.40pm before moving to BBC1 at shortly before seven o'clock and completely buggering up the schedules on both sides thereafter for the rest of the night.

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson is to deliver a lecture at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival in August. Jezza's session will see him and Top Gear executive producer Andy Wilman exploring the reasons why the show is consistently BBC2's highest-rated programme. Cos it's brilliant, or is that too simplistic? Jeez, that's the Gruniad for you, they'll go to the far of a fart to find an obvious answer. In other sessions, Internet entrepreneurs including Kristian Segerstråle, chief executive and co-founder of Playfish, Patrick Walker, director of video partnerships at Google, and Peter Bazalgette, the former Endemol executive who is now a non-executive director of My Video Rights, will offer their insight into building commercial businesses on the web and explain how the TV industry needs to change to create a successful online business. Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the writer/producers of the critically acclaimed BBC sitcom Outnumbered, will reflect on thirty years in British comedy, from their early careers writing sketch comedy on shows like Not The Nine O'Clock News and Who Dares Wins to their groundbreaking newsroom satire Drop The Dead Donkey. The prospect of the BBC becoming the UK's only public service TV news provider will be examined in That Was the News That Was, chaired by ITV newsreader Julie Etchingham, with panellists including Chris Birkett, executive editor at Sky News, and John Hardie, chief executive at ITN. Britain's complaining culture over issues of taste and decency will also be examined by comedians Frank Skinner and Lucy Porter in a lighthearted session entitled Whose Whine Is It Anyway? Using the Ofcom complaints list as a guide, the panellists will work as an 'alternative Ofcom committee' to uphold or reject the complaints. The festival takes places between 29 and 31 August.

It's been revealed that the upcoming final season of Lost will run to eighteen episodes. ABC confirmed the news, meaning that the show's sixth season will have one hour more than was originally planned. According to Entertainment Weekly, the final season will include a two-hour premiere and a two-hour finale. Keith Telly Topping likes this news greatly. These things are important to him.

Keo Films is to bring five Amish youths to Britain in a follow-up to Channel 4's 'reverse anthropology' series, Meet the Natives which proved to be such an unexpected hit with viewers last year. The four-part series, conceived as 'When the Amish met the English,' will take youths from different Amish communities in the US who are at the point in their lives known as 'Rumspringa,' when they are supposed to gain worldly experience. As with the Pacific islanders in Meet the Natives, the young people will spend four weeks in various British households that include people of the same age, including an Essex beauty therapist. Meet the Amish (still a working title at this stage) aims to throw up as many cultural observations about the hosts as it does about their foreign visitors. Channel 4 deputy head of documentaries Simon Dickson, who commissioned the series, said: 'The Amish are a notoriously private community and to have been granted this sort of access - where we will be able to understand more about who they are - is really exciting. The series will explore their perceptions of British life and look at how their values and lifestyle differ from our own.'

Sky has strongly hit back against fresh BT criticism about the way in which it operates in the UK's pay TV and broadband markets. The dispute between the two media companies started on Tuesday night when BT linked the failure of Setanta Sports with what its director of strategy Sean Williams told DS was 'market failure' in the UK's pay TV arena. 'Competition in pay-TV in the UK is not working effectively. This gives rise to significant harm to consumers in the form of higher prices, restricted choice and diminished innovation.' Sky's chief operating officer Mike Darcey immediately hit back, accusing BT - and Virgin Media, which made similar comments - of 'cheap opportunism.' He added that both companies were 'hooked on regulation as a substitute for competition and have done nothing to support UK sport,' and that 'they prefer to try to get our channels on the cheap while showing no interest in bidding for rights themselves.' Ooo, get her. Another Sky spokesperson told the Digital Spy website: 'BT needs to get its facts straight before it starts handing out lectures about access to its network ... If ever the day arrives that BT decides to stop whingeing and start competing, it can bid for sports or movie rights with the certainty of a guaranteed reach of nine million potential customers.' Okay, put your claws away girls and back away from the curling tongs.

ITV is to suspend carrying news supplied by ITN on its website from next month after ending its contract, resulting in the loss of five journalists from the content supplier. ITN On, the division of the TV news producer that supplies video and text to websites and mobile internet services, will stop supplying content to the ITV website on 22 July.

Kerry Katona and MTV have 'no plans' for any further TV projects, according to various tabloid reports. Katona has appeared in a number of fly-on-the-wall documentaries for the broadcaster since 2007. Her most recent series - Kerry Katona: What's The Problem? - finished in July. However, according to the Daily Star and MTV themselves, the former Atomic Kitten and I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here winner do not currently have any plans to work together again.

The 1980s battle between the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro will be played out in a forthcoming BBC4 comedy drama starring two of Keith Telly Topping's favourite actors, Martin Freeman and Alexander Armstrong. Syntax Era is a ninety-minute drama from Darlow Smithson that tells the story of the rivalry between Sir Clive Sinclair (played by Armstrong) and his former colleague Chris Curry (Freeman). Written by Tony Saint, the film uses archive footage to help illustrate the buzz around Sinclair and Curry's inventions. Classic clips from programmes including John Craven's Newsround showcase the likes of Sinclair's ZX Spectrum, the infamous Sinclair C5 and Curry's triumphant BBC Micro computer demonstrating the influence these men had on Eighties' life. BBC4 controller Richard Klein said: 'Those of us that lived through the Eighties will remember the sense of excitement when gadgets and technology started to appear in our homes, but not many of us will know the fascinating stories behind their arrival.'

Here's one definitely worth keeping an eye open for later - a one-off TV movie called Moonshot about the historic Apollo 11 flight in July 1969. It's an adventurous co-production between ITV and The History Channel and was filmed (in Lithuania) earlier in the year with a top-notch international cast that includes another particular favourite actor of mine (and, of half the women on the planet, it would seem) Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters playing Buzz Aldrin. This Life's Andrew Lincoln also appears, as Michael Collins, with the Aussie actor Daniel Lapaine as Neil Armstrong. The fabulous Anna Maxwell-Martin also features. I'm looking forward to that one already.

UKTV channel Dave will broadcast live for the first time for the climax of the second series of the Red Bull X-Fighters motorcross world tour. The two-hour finale will come from Battersea Power Station, where seventeen thousand fans are expected to watch twelve riders perform daring stunts as they battle for the world title. The preceding four sixty-minute episodes will show highlights from the tour from Mexico, Canada, Texas and Spain. The five shows will again be hosted by former Ski Sunday presenter Ed Leigh and retired professional mountain biker, Rob Warner.

And, lastly, a couple for the 'miserable old moaners' column: Sean Connery - pictured, right, with his weapon. Put it was will you Sean, eh? - has criticised the BBC for sending more than four hundred staff to the Glastonbury festival (presumably, they all wanted to see Broooooce and E Street band on saturday night and, having witnessed Miami Steve's snakeskin boots myself in close-up I can only say 'decent choice, chaps') but 'not one' to cover the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Speaking to The Scotsman newspaper Connery said: 'Hoots mon, it's a braw och aye, th'nooo... It's oor oil, y'ken, Jimmy?' No, he didn't say that at all, that was a complete lie. Keith Telly Topping wholeheartedly apologises for such crass stereotyping of a national icon. Mr Connery actually said 'Do y'exchpect me to taaaak?' ... Sorry. I'll be serious. He said 'It's supposed to be the British Broadcasting Corporation but it's not, when you look at how many people it sends to Glastonbury. The BBC forgets it is representing four different countries. All I am asking for is equality.' But hang on, Sean, I thought you were a noted and very vocal supporter of Scottish Independence? So, therefore, shouldn't you be wanting less not more English cultural interference in the bonny land of the haggis and the deep fried Mars Bar? Surely some mistake? Or, in your particular case, shurely shome mishtake?

Meanwhile, another bloody malcontent ITV executive chairman Michael Grade has rubbished the BBC's partnership proposals and criticised the corporation's efforts to avoid top-slicing the licence fee. Speaking to the Institute of Economic Affairs, Grade praised the speed with which the Digital Britain report had been put together and backed its proposal to take money from the licence fee to fund regional news coverage that will be broadcast on ITV. Grade said the Ofcom solution was a matter of public policy, but that it was 'the most sensible and practical approach.' He added: 'The BBC Trust and management have set themselves against Ofcom and the Government's proposals, even describing them as "ideologically focused." The Trust and the management seem to have temporarily abandoned their separation, joining together to fight a concerted and, dare one say, ideological campaign to protect the BBC's monopoly over the licence fee.' Which was, of course, exactly what Michael was saying when he had a managerial position at the Beeb just a few years ago, wasn't it? It wasn't? So, that would, therefore, appear to be rather hypocritical and self-serving of him to voice such views now that he's working for the other side, wouldn't it? Self-interest? From a high ranking television executive? I repeat, shurely shome mishtake... Cynical? Moi...?!

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?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Blame It On The Boogie

I suppose I really should say something about the untimely death of poor Michael Jackson, announced late yesterday. Do you know the first thing I thought when I heard the news? I know somebody who had tickets to go and see him in London next February and I thought 'I'll bet those'll be collector's items, now.' I'm genuinely sorry Michael. I've actually got 'I'll Be There' on my PC as I type this. That astonishing voice - a little boy who'd seen so much so young - it just melts yer heart to slush. And that's how I intend to try and remember him - not as the rather tragic figure of much of his last two decades but as an eleven year old pocket James Brown with all the right moves. And, with a voice that sang lyrics about emotions which he probably didn't even understand at that age but still conveyed with complete sincerity. 'Stop! The love you save may be your own.' I'm actually really cut up about it, the more it sinks in (and I never thought I'd say that).

Anyway, sadly (as the late John Peel once said) the beat goes on and we, however reluctantly, must go on with it. I have to say, on reflection, that when I go I don't wanna sneak out the back door of this life, flat on my back with tube up my nose thinking 'is that it?' I want to go like John Entwhistle - in bed, in Vegas, with a couple of hookers, a bottle of brandy and nose full of charlie. That's rock and roll, baby.

Here's some Top Telly News and we'll start with one for all Freema fans (or, indeed, for all Bradley fans). ITV have commissioned a second full series of the crime drama Law & Order: UK, which will return with the same cast. A new run of thirteen episodes will go into production later this year, with broadcast expected next year, after the ITV director of television, Peter Fincham, and the director of drama, Laura Mackie, gave it the green light. A first batch of seven episodes launched in February on ITV and averaged six million viewers. Six further episodes from the first production block will air soon. The series will be, again, co-produced by Kudos Films, Wolf Films and NBC Universal.

Five will kick-off its move into entertainment under Richard Woolfe with a Krypton Factor-style gameshow. Britain's Best Brain - thoroughly rotten title, notwithstanding - will be made by Tiger Aspect Productions and media investment company Group M Entertainment, which is co-financing the series and will bring a sponsorship deal for the show. The eight episode, studio-based series is scheduled for a primetime slot and will put contestants through a series of tasks designed to push them to their mental and physical limits. Contestants' performance on the tasks will generate a unique 'brain score,' with the top players from each show returning for the final where the eventual winner will be named 'Britain's Best Brain.' I have to say, guys, sounds rather a good little concept and all that but the title is really putting me off!

In an interview in the latest issue of Filmstar Magazine, Hustle/Life on Mars creator Tony Jordan talks about a new BBC1 Saturday night adventure show currently in the works and awaiting a vacant slot. The Ministry is about a Government agency investigating mysterious goings-on. Jordan describes it as a sort of cross between The X Files, Ghostbusters and Men in Black and will depict an Avengers-type stylised London. The show appears to be well into pre-production as Gareth Roberts is said to be writing episode three and another Doctor Who veteran Stephen Greenhorn is working on another. Sounds great although, it should be noted that television's record of finding 'the new Avengers' is spotty at best. Bugs, for instance.

BBC2 has commissioned a new daytime series titled Antiques Road Trip. The show will pair eight of Britain's best-loved antique experts and send them on a road trip across the UK in a selection of beautiful classic cars. They will then compete with each other to make the most money by buying and selling antiques, each with a starting budget of two hundred pounds. BBC daytime controller Liam Keelan said of the series: 'Antiques Road Trip is a very feel-good format, with some of our best-known antiques experts pitting their wits against each other from the top to the bottom of Britain.' Additionally, Restoration Roadshow, in which members of the public are invited to bring along items from damaged heirlooms to attic treasures which they hope can be restored, has been given a twenty-episode order.

It has been reported, in Broadcast, that Impossible Pictures offered to make a fourth series of ITV's Primeval for less than £600,000 an episode - but even that was not enough of a bargain to convince the broadcaster to reorder the show. Under the deal, the Sci Fi Channel in the UK would have aired the show first, ahead of ITV. But ITV turned the offer down and a spokesman confirmed that the decision was made to help the commercial broadcaster protect its 9pm drama slate. Impossible founder Tim Haines said: 'There was a lot of talk when Primeval was cancelled that it must have been because it is a big show, with lots of CGI and special effects. That's not the case. ITV wasn't paying the whole costs anyway but we offered to lower the price further and bring in fifty percent of the funding with co-production deals. It would still have been getting a show worth more than £1m for less than £600,000.' Haines said he 'completely understood' ITV's position, which was 'not unique. Drama producers are going to have to become a lot more adept at financing their productions,' he said. Impossible is now negotiating with a US broadcaster to adapt Primeval. Haines said it was likely that the series would 'start from scratch' with a slightly edgier feel. He added that he was hopeful Primeval could eventually come back to the UK, but as a US acquisition rather than a commission. Don't hold your breath.

Comedian Alexander Armstrong is to present a BBC2 daytime quiz that puts a twist on the Family Fortunes formula of polling the public. Pointless will pose a series of open questions that have been answered by a panel of one hundred people. But rather than guessing the most popular answer, contestants will be rewarded if they reply with answers that occurred to few or none of the panel. So a contestant would be likely to win more points if, say, when asked to name a Charles Dickens novel, they answer Barnaby Rudge rather than Oliver Twist. Okay, I like the idea of that. The show is the first BBC2 daytime quiz from the Endemol subsidiary Brighter Pictures. As well as being one half of a comedy duo with Ben Miller, Armstrong has been a regular guest presenter of Have I Got News for You and also presents its web spin-off. He was also in the running to host Countdown after Des O'Connor left. Pointless will air later this summer. It was commissioned by BBC daytime controller Liam Keelan, who described it as 'wonderfully irreverent.'

Bolivian TV channel PAT broadcast a series of extraordinary images of the last moments of Air France flight 447, lost over the Atlantic on 1 June. According to the report, the snaps were retrieved from a recovered Casio Z750, which was subsequently traced via the serial number to its owner - 'Paulo G Muller, an actor from a well-known children's theatre on the outskirts of Porto Alegre.' In fact, the camera can be traced to ABC Studios as sharp-eyed viewers soon noticed. The photographs featured well-known actress Evangeline Lilly, aka Kate Austen from TV series Lost. PAT had, seemingly, fallen for a hoax e-mail, and to add to its embarrassment, has failed to appreciate that while the flight 447 disaster occurred at night, the images shown represented the very daytime fictional break-up of Oceanic Flight 815 in the first episode of the cult US TV show. PAT aired one still showing panicked passengers using oxygen masks, and another showing someone being sucked out of the back of the aircraft as the tail broke away. The Bolivian newsreader claimed the exclusive images were photos 'taken by one of the passengers on the airliner' and had been recovered from the memory of a digital camera. On discovering that the photos had been e-mailed by a prankster, the TV station issued a public apology for their blunder. The news director for PAT, Eddy Luis Franco, said: 'On Thursday, two photographs were aired on our prime time news report and on Friday we apologised.'

Town House TV and Distraction Formats have joined Setanta as the latest victims of the financial crisis in TV. Town House, which used to make Five’s axed chatshow Trisha, will officially cease trading on 30 June after failing to win any new commissions. Five dropped Trisha at the start of the year - because it was crap and no one was watching it - and the indie began shedding jobs, going from around eighty five six months ago to just a handful today. Town House head of production Mike Molloy said the indie had continued to pitch ideas to broadcasters in the hope of clinching a company-saving commission, but that it had failed to do so. However, managing director Malcolm Allsop contradicted this, stating that Town House had not been looking for new commissions since Trisha was cancelled earlier this year. 'All indies are operating under very difficult conditions,' Molloy told Broadcast. 'Being a regional indie has made it even harder. We've been pushing hard to get commissions off the ground but broadcasters haven't bitten and that's down to shrinking budgets.' Distraction went into liquidation on 24 June after trading for twelve years. It was best known for selling formats such as The Next Great Leader and Dirty Rotten Cheater to the BBC. Chief executive Michel Rodrigue blamed its demise on the recession and tough competition within the industry.

And, lastly. For God's sake will somebody at the BBC please give that poor girl continuity announcer on BBC2 a throat pastel, she sounds like she's about to choke on her own tonsils.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Coming Up, Going Down Or Just Hangin' Around

Here's one worth keeping an eye open for that got missed in the latest batch of Top Telly Tips, dear blog reader; Judge Jack Dee's forthcoming appearance on Sunday's episode of Kingdom. 'He is a bit of a local roué that darts between Norfolk and London. He has got a wife but she is more interested in her watercolour painting then she is in him. As a result, [he] has got quite a complicated private life,' says Jack.

A top quality-cast that includes Douggie Henshall, Kate Ashfield, Paul McGann and Phil Davis will star in the ITV drama Collision. Filming has just begun on the five-part serial made by Greenlit, which tells the story of a major road accident and a group of people who have never met, but who all share one single defining moment that will change all of their lives. Amid the tangle of twisted metal and emotional turmoil wrought by the tragedy of a crash of this scale, are the stories of the victims and the impact of the accident on their families, friends and colleagues. Sort of Lost for Citroën drivers, then? As the terrible task of investigating the cause of the carnage begins, a series of revelations emerge: from Government cover-ups and smuggling, to disturbing secrets and murder. Primeval star Henshall and Ashfield (The Children, The Diary of Anne Frank) play the senior police officers in charge of the investigations whose complicated personal lives threaten to collide with the grim job they face. McGann (True Dare Kiss, Doctor Who, Withnail and I) stars as millionaire property dealer Richard Reeves. Dean Lennox Kelly (Shameless, The Invisibles) and his brother Craig Kelly (Hotel Babylon, Queer as Folk) team up for the first time to play brothers Danny and Jeffrey Rampton, whose business dealings are about to be exposed as a result of the crash. Zoe Telford (The Palace) is Jeffrey’s wife Sandra. Claire Rushbrook (Mutual Friends, Whitechapel) plays Karen Donnelly who survives the crash, but has a secret which puts her life in jeopardy again. The great Phil Davis (Bleak House, Whitechapel, The Curse of Steptoe, Quadrophenia) plays Brian Edwards who escapes the carnage which kills his mother-in-law. His wife Christine, played by Jan Francis (Just Good Friends) is devastated by the death of her mother and confused by her husband's reaction to the police questions. David Bamber (Rome) plays Sidney Norris, a piano teacher whose guilty secrets are uncovered during the investigations. Collision has been created by the acclaimed author and screen-writer Anthony Horowitz (Foyle's War) and co-written by Michael Walker. It is directed by Marc Evans (My Little Eye, Snow Cake), marking his first return to TV direction in five years. It is Peter Fincham's first new independent drama commission, with Director of Drama Laura Mackie, since joining ITV. Fincham notes: 'This is a high-octane event drama that combines creative and original thinking with mass appeal. It promises to be both provocative and engaging.' I must admit, all cynicism about most nominal ITV product aside, I do very much like the sound of that one.

Filming has also begun on a new BBC sitcom, Miranda, due for transmission in Autumn 2009 on BBC2. Miranda is based on the semi-autobiographical writing of comedy actress Miranda Hart (Not Going Out, Hyperdrive, Absolutely Fabulous). The show started life as a TV pilot and then moved onto becoming the critically acclaimed, Sony Award nominated radio series, Miranda Hart's Joke Shop, on Radio2. Patricia Hodge (Maxwell, The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil) plays Miranda's mother and is joined by a stellar cast, including Sarah Hadland (Moving Wallpaper, That Mitchell & Webb Look), Sally Phillips (Bridget Jones' Diary, Smack The Pony) and Tom Ellis (Miss Conception, EastEnders) in this farcical, eccentric and affectionate family sitcom.

Fat Friends writer Kay Mellor is penning a new drama for ITV featuring a group of women over the age of fifty, as the broadcaster looks to broaden its output in the genre and enhance its appeal to female audiences. Laura Mackie, the director of drama at ITV, revealed Mellor's new drama was called Women of a Certain Age and added that it featured three roles for older actresses. Mackie said she wanted ITV to move away from crime dramas and do more drama featuring roles that better reflect women's lives. Speaking at Sphinx Theatre Company's conference into the portrayal of women in theatre and television, Mackie said there were 'reasons to be cheerful' about the state of drama on television and its use of older female performers. But she admitted there was still 'a lot of work to do,' and said that a strong drama slate on ITV depended on attracting female audiences. 'The bulk of the audience for drama is female. I know from bitter experience that if we provide dramas that exclude the broad female audience, we will not get the kinds of volume of audience we need on ITV. [It] is a big commercial channel and we are under a lot of pressure at the moment. I want ... as many hours of drama as possible, but I can only achieve that if the quality of drama is really good and attracts a big percentage of the viewing public - and that means women,' she said. Mackie claimed female audiences want to see 'strong, complex and interesting' female roles and urged writers to present her with more ideas featuring these kind of parts. 'We need more and I would love to get more scripts across my desk that don't have a flashing blue light in them. I would love more scripts that have strong varied roles that reflect women's lives - every facet of their lives, and I would say nothing is off-limits,' she said. However, Mackie warned that writers have to think about the long-term sustainability of any idea they present to her, and should consider whether a story could run for multiple episodes or into a second series.

Six weeks of principal photography began on Monday on another major ITV drama, Murderland. Didn't they 'not have any money' a few weeks ago? Robbie Coltrane leads the cast as detective Douglas Hain. Written by acclaimed screenwriter David Pirie (Murder Rooms, Woman in White), directed by Catherine Morshead (Ashes to Ashes, Blackpool) produced by Touchpaper Scotland, part of the RDF Media Group, the three-part drama will be filmed on location around London. Coltrane will star alongside, Sharon Small (Mistresses, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries), Lucy Cohu (The Queen's Sister), Amanda Hale (Persuasion), David Westhead (Criminal Justice), Andrew Tiernan (Survivors) and Bel Powley (M.I. High). Murderland is described as 'an emotional and passionate thriller' that tells a traumatic murder story through the eyes of three central characters: Carrie the daughter of the murdered woman, Douglas Hain, the detective in charge of the investigation and Sally the murder victim. Murderland is produced by Kate Croft and Dave Edwards for Touchpaper, Scotland. 'Robbie Coltrane heads a marvellous cast and combining the talents of David Pirie and Catherine Morshead on this project is a delicious prospect. Murderland promises to be as much a why-dunit as a whodunit. As much a love story as a murder story,' says Kate Croft.

There's a very think good piece on Broadcast's website this week in which Russell Davies, Scottish Neil Oliver and Jimmy Nesbitt talk about their passion for programmes borne out of their native nations. The feature is based on edited extracts from Made in the UK, a series of essays on the BBC's plans to grow television production from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and English regions. Also well worth checking out is Mark Gatiss's joyous exploration of the world of Target novelisations for the BBC.

The FA have stated that they could yet bring disciplinary charges against those found guilty of alleged wrongdoing in transfer dealings highlighted by the BBC's Panorama programme of September 2006 and the subsequent Quest's reports of December 2006 and June 2007 according to the Guardian. Following the withdrawal of the libel action against the BBC by Kevin Bond, now Harry Redknapp's first-team coach at Tottenham Hotspur, which was due in the high court last week, Panorama stands legally unchallenged by any of the men accused in the Football's Dirty Secrets programme despite much bluster and threats of swift legal action. In nearly three years since the programme aired the FA has brought no charges, yet nor has it publicly cleared anyone, leading to accusations that the governing body has failed to investigate the matter quite as thoroughly as it promised at the time. 'It is wrong to suggest we have not vigorously pursued the issues raised by Panorama and Quest,' an FA spokesman said. 'Our consideration of various matters arising from those investigations remains ongoing and our files remain open.' It is believed that FA officials have, formally, interviewed Sam Allardyce, then the Bolton Wanderers manager, who was accused by the programme of 'having been involved in corrupt transfer deals' (though, to be honest, that's nothing compared to the crimes against football he committed when he signed Joey Barton to my beloved Newcastle) and the agent, Peter Harrison, who was secretly filmed by the BBC saying he did deals with Allardyce by making payments to Allardyce's son, Craig. It is understood that all of the outstanding or suspect transfer deals involving players coming from overseas clubs have been referred to FIFA but there are fears within the game over whether the world governing body is sufficiently equipped to investigate and take action if necessary. The FA is believed to have investigated several deals relating to purely domestic transfers, but to have decided it must wait before announcing its findings, until the conclusion of HM Revenue and Customs' inquiry into transfer dealings. That investigation began in a blaze of publicity with a series of dramatic dawn raids, as part of a City of London police investigation into alleged football 'corruption,' and although the agent Willie McKay has been released from bail, several people remain under investigation, including Mr Redknapp, Portsmouth's chief executive Peter Storrie, the club's former owner Milan Mandaric, and Birmingham City's major shareholder, David Sullivan, and its chief executive, Karren Brady. All of those involved in the investigation and those accused by Panorama it should be noted, deny any wrongdoing whatsoever. With Bond having dropped his claim, Panorama currently faces no outstanding legal actions from any of those against whom it alleged wrongdoing, including Bond, Allardyce and the Chelsea director of youth development, Frank Arnesen, who was filmed allegedly 'tapping up' the young Middlesbrough player Nathan Porritt. It is believed that Arnesen will not be charged with any offence by the FA - nor will Chelsea be deducted three points despite being under a suspended sentence at the time the offence allegedly took place because of their role in the Ashley Cole transfer - because although Middlesbrough's chairman, Steve Gibson, said at the time he was furious, Middlesbrough did not register an official complaint. That was a bit careless, Steve. It should, however, be noted that the Panorama programme itself has been - perhaps deservedly - criticised by many (including myself) for its lack of any hard content and its use of largely circumstantial evidence and much innuendo. Particularly after the BBC's own pre-publicity had suggested it was going to 'lift the lid' on football corruption with 'shocking evidence.' Shocking lack of evidence as it turned out.

Presenter Steve Race, best known as the host of Radio4's long-running quiz show My Music, has died aged eighty eight. The popular programme, which ran from 1967 to 1994, included comedians Frank Muir and Denis Norden on the panel. 'He had a great broadcasting voice - warm, inviting, distinctive. And he knew a lot. He was a class act,' said Radio4 controller Mark Damazer. Race also anchored the station's Home in the Afternoon in the late 1960s and its successor, PM. He also presented Britain's segment of the groundbreaking 1967 pan-continental TV show Our World, introducing The Beatles' debut performance of 'All You Need Is Love' from Studio 2 in Abbey Road. Damazer described Race as 'a terrific foil on My Music to the differing comic talents of Denis Norden and Frank Muir. He pushed and prodded them and held the programme together with good humour and grace' he added. Race's first foray into broadcasting was when he became presenter of groundbreaking children's hour programme Whirligig in 1953.

Some industry news and Alan Brown, who commissioned The Apprentice, produced The Restaurant and revamped Never Mind the Buzzcocks, has joined Diverse Production as creative director. The former BBC senior commissioning executive for entertainment takes over from Roy Ackerman, who recently left after almost twenty years to become chief executive of Jamie Oliver's production company Fresh One. Most recently, Brown was creative director at Silver River, producing BBC2's Grow Your Own Drugs and Sky1's Oops TV. That role continued a working relationship with Silver River head girl Daisy Goodwin, with whom he previously worked at Talkback Thames as a key creative, launching The Apprentice spin-off You're Fired.

Katie Price has been criticised by a leading children's charity over comments she made about her estranged husband, Peter Andre, online. The glamour model posted about Andre on her Twitter profile, writing that he had been 'a true Cnut' to her. Director of Kidscape Claude Knights said: 'Celebrities have a responsibility not to negatively influence young people. Teenagers have a huge presence on Twitter and young girls model themselves on female idols.' Another, nameless, spokesperson added that Jordan was wholly wrong to describe her estranged husband as a 'Cnut', pointing out that Cnut was, actually, an Eleventh Century Viking king of England, Denmark and Norway whose successes as a statesman, politically and militarily, proved him to be one of the great figures of medieval Europe. Something which Andre can't really have any claim to being (nor, indeed, has he done so at any stage let us be very clear about this). They further stated that if Ms Price were inclined to describe Mr Andre as anything then 'a talentless waste of blood and organs, just like me,' would have been far more accurate.

And lastly, here's yet another one from the 'rumours of my death have been great exaggerated' column relating to an ITV show. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox are set to return for a fourth series of ITV murder mystery drama Lewis. Four new episodes of the Inspector Morse spin-off will go into production next month, with writers Alan Plater, Stephen Churchett and Russell Lewis all returning to pen scripts. Billie Eltringham will direct the first instalment and Morse creator Colin Dexter is again on board as consultant. ITV's controller of drama commissioning Sally Haynes said: 'Lewis is always one of the highlights of the year on ITV and features not only a great partnership between Lewis and Hathaway but some great plot lines and twists that keep the audience gripped. I'm thrilled it's returning and I know our viewers will be too.'

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

They Predict A Riot

The Iranian foreign ministry has accused the BBC and the Voice of America of being mouthpieces of their respective governments (as if!) and seeking to engineer the ongoing riots that have followed the recent - exceptionally dodgy - Iranian presidential election. (Won, of course, by that Ahmadinejad chap who looks a dead-ringer for Roy Keane.) Another Iranian ministry also threatened to take 'more stern action' against British radio and television networks if they 'continued to interfere' in the country's domestic affairs. The tough talking from the Iranian authorities comes after Jon Leyne, the BBC's permanent correspondent in Iran, was expelled from the country earlier in the week and reports circulated that more Western and local journalists had been arrested. According to the Los Angeles Times, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders released the names of twenty four journalists and bloggers arrested since the disputed Iranian presidential election earlier this month. This, dear blog reader, is one of the reasons why I'm so insistant that - for all its many faults - this country remains a place where freedom of speech is a given. Because there are plenty of other places in the world where such a right cannot be taken for granted and where doing something as simple as telling some other people what's happening outside your house can get you banging up in pokey for your troubles. In this country, we are currently having a debate about whether an inquiry into the circumstances that led to a war we have recently been engaged in should be held in public or private. That's right Iran, a debate, not 'you vill do as you're told or ve vill shoot you.'

Actor Colin Bean, who played the portly Private Sponge in Dad's Army for many years, has died aged eighty two in Wigan Infirmary. Colin spent his last years at Wickham Hall Care Home in Springfield and died, peacefully, on Saturday. After many years in repertory, he was spotted in 1968 by his friend Jimmy Perry, co-creator of Dad's Army, and was given a small part in the series which subsequently became a regular recurring role. He last appeared in public at a reunion of the surviving cast of Dad's Army last year. His death now means that only three of the original Warmington-on-Sea ensemble cast - Ian Lavender, Clive Dunn and Bill Pertwee - are left.

In a country ravaged by strife, swine 'flu and financial meltdown, Dara Ó Briain and his four fellow Gagmen of the Aporkalypse are preparing to ride to the rescue this summer with the seventh series of hit topical panel show Mock The Week. Returning on 9 July, the BBC2 comedy maintains its unique mixture of quiz show, stand-up comedy improv and semi-serious topical discussion that saw the last series regularly pulling in viewing figures of more than three million as well as becoming a huge - and controversial - hit on YouTube and the BBC's iPlayer. Fresh from their sell-out nationwide tours, the Ó Briain and the other regulars - Mad Frankie Boyle, Russell Howard, Andy Parsons and Outnumbered's Hugh Dennis - will be joined by the very best talent from the stand-up circuit to supply the required satire. Now a household name, Mock the Week has, over the years, proved an extremely effective career springboard for the likes of Michael McIntyre, Davey Mitchell, John Oliver, Mark Watson, Lucy Porter and Rhod Gilbert as well as a platform for established names such as Ed Byrne, Greg Proops and Fred MacAulay to flex their topical muscles. There may be no Olympics this year for Mad Frankie to get angry (and very surreal) about but the team will be able to decide on their approach to Barack Obama, for example, and the current state of British politics as well as commenting on the usual tabloid scare stories, reality TV controversies and multiple British sporting embarrassments that occupy our summer months. And, presumably, to get that bloody daft Emily Maitlis woman all hot under the collar again and whinging on about 'her pussy' to anybody that'll listen. In a frankly Mrs Slocombe stylee. No, darling, nobody's forgotten that piece of TV comedy gold and nor will they for the forseeable future. Remember that the next time you're interrogating some hapless politician on Newsnight and you see the trace of a smile forming on their lips.

Some rather sad news now. West Wing actor Bradley Whitford and his wife, Malcolm in the Middle's Jane Kaczmarek are to divorce. Whitford's publicist, Melissa Kates, confirmed the news about the couple, who were married in 1992 and have three children, on Sunday. Whitford played Deputy White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman in the hit political drama The West Wing and went on to star in creator Aaron Sorkin's next big TV project, the hugely under-rated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Kaczmarek is currently starring as a judge in the US legal-drama Raising the Bar. Whitford has just finished filming a horror movie, The Cabin in the Woods, which is set for release next year. The movie is written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. He also starred in a Broadway revival of Boeing-Boeing last year.

Filmed entirely on location in the majestic region of Connemara in the West of Ireland, ITV's new three-part drama reflects one policeman's quest to serve a rural community - Single-Handed. Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), a Sergeant with the Irish police, is completely at home in his new patch; he ought to be as he was born and brought up there. He knows the people, he knows the West of Ireland and, more importantly, he knows how the two fit together. But this is no cushy posting; Jack’s 'patch' stretches from the Atlantic coast in the West to the glacial lakes in the East, from Galway City in the South to Killary harbour in the North - he's on call twenty four hours a day and, more often than not, he's, as the title suggests, single-handed. From the team that produced ITV's award winning drama The Vice, Single-Handed explores how policing a rural community differs from city policing. Your precinct is vast, the terrain extreme and the community lives on the edge. You are always on duty. And there is, as Martha and the Vandellas once noted nowhere to hide. Single-Handed - which sounds not unlike an Irish version of Hamish MacBeth to be honest - also stars Ian McElhinney and will see guest appearances from Charlene McKenna and Doc Martin's sexy-voiced Caroline Catz. Who, I notice, has also being doing voice-overs on The Conspiracy Files for the BBC. Careful, Caroline, you'll get yourself targeted by nutters as 'a government apologist and a stooge of the establishment'!

ESPN has bought the rights to show forty six games in next season's English Premier League that were to have been shown by struggling broadcaster Setanta. Disney-owned ESPN has won the two packages of games shown on Saturday teatimes and Monday evenings. Both will be sold to customers through BSkyB. It has also won the twenty three games per season Setanta was due to show from 2010-13. The league took the broadcasting rights back from Setanta on Friday after it missed a payment deadline. It is not clear how much ESPN has paid for the rights. But, it's probably a hell of a lot less than Setanta did.

ITV may be planning to levy 'small charges' to view on-demand content beyond the standard seven-day catch-up window in a bid to boost revenues. The broadcaster is looking to introduce 'micropayments' to watch shows on all platforms, including Project Canvas, its proposed joint IPTV venture with the BBC and BT. It is the first time that a mainstream broadcaster has attempted to charge for viewing since Channel 4 dropped its 99p fee for thirty-day catch-up on 4oD two years ago. ITV's service would include flagship shows such as Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, but is unlikely to feature any archive content. Group Strategy and Development director Carolyn Fairbairn said the success of premium content fees and video downloads on Apple's iTunes had proved viewers would pay for on-demand content. ITV has yet to determine a pricing model, but Fairbairn said it would be less than iTunes' standard 99p. The service is expected to be unveiled this autumn.

The Alan Titchmarsh Show, The Paul O'Grady Show and Five News at 7 have all been found to be in breach of Ofcom's codes on product placement. The broadcast watchdog ruled that Five News at 7 had promoted a GPS running watch and was found in breach of a rule which states products and services must not be promoted in programmes and another which rules that no undue prominence may be given to any programme to any product or service. The Five News programme on 5 February included in a pre-recorded report and a live studio discussion included comments about the GPS device such as: 'small but genius invention', 'as easy to charge as a mobile phone' and 'you get what you pay for with these.' The Titchmarsh and O'Grady vehicles were both found to have promoted and given undue prominence to two different skincare products. Unlike the US, product placement is strictly prohibited in the UK. Quite why the producers of all three shows didn't simply tell Ofcom - a notoriously hyporcitical bunch of unelected nobodies - to go and take a running jump into the nearest cesspit and drown themselves is, at the time of writing, unknown. Probably, because like most people in television, they have a backbone like jelly.

BBC2 ratings juggernaut Top Gear was back with a huge bang on Sunday night as over seven million viewers tuned-in to see Ferrari-legend Michael Schumacher 'unveiled' as The Stig - you might, possibly, have head about it, it was in one or two newspapers, apparently. I missed it myself. This was an audience share of thirty percent, an almost unprecedented number for BBC2, which helped to give the channel a daily share that was actually higher than ITV's (that usually happens about once a decade). Whilst Jezza, Hamster and Cap'n Slow state they will keep their driver's real identity a secret, the cleverly-managed stunt did nothing to damage their ratings - as anybody with half-a-brain in their head would have known well in advance. Of the 7.1m who tuned in from 8-9pm, 3.6m viewers were in the lucrative ABC1 demographic and 2.3m were aged 16-34 - the only age group the most TV executives give a monkeys about. Proving its appeal to both sexes, only fifty three percent of the total audience were male - another one in the eye for all of those boring Communist hippies who claim that the only people who watch Top Gear are fortysomething chaps. Like me. What's the betting now that, like Qi, Have I Got News For You and Masterchef before it, BBC1 are planning to try a bit of bully-boy poaching from their little brother? Stay just exactly where you are, lads - as I suspect you know, you'd never get away with anywhere near as much on the Big Boys network as you do on BBC2.

Bryan Fuller has quit his role as lead writer on Heroes, it has been confirmed. The thirty nine year old was a key part of the show's production team during its first season but left in 2007 to create his own series, Pushing Daisies. When that show was - tragically - axed at the end of last year, Fuller returned to the fold at Heroes to help turn around the superhero series' flagging fortunes. Fans lauded Fuller for his part in the show's creative reinvigoration and, in recent months, the writer has been masterminding storylines for the upcoming fourth season. According to reports, Fuller decided to depart Heroes last week in order to concentrate on developing new projects for NBC. He has previously expressed an interest in creating a new Star Trek TV series.

Kylie Minogue is reportedly helping her younger sister, the divine Dannii, prepare for the upcoming series of The X Factor. The superstar singer, notorious gold hot-pants wearer and (much more importantly) former Doctor Who companion is reported to have given Dannii access to her personal team of choreographers in order to make her future performers stand out from the crowd. '[She wants] Dannii's contestants to perform to their peak during the finals. The crew will be able to give her fresh ideas and hopefully keep her ahead of the competition,' an insider told This Is London. 'Kylie is a perfectionist and is giving Dannii her best pointers on how to smile, how best to bat off criticism and how to make her personality shine through.' The insider also claimed that Dannii is 'feeling a little diminished' because of the alleged difference in her pay from that of fellow judge Cheryl Cole. It is thought that Cole is being paid £750,000 more than the Australian star for the series, which will air later this year. Can I suggest a big wrestling match to sort all this malarkey out, ITV? Possibly involving oils of some description ... I mean, that, I'd watch.

And, finally, some breaking non-news: The BBC have flatly denied speculation of an 'all-Doctor reunion' for this year's Children In Need night. The Daily Mirror - whom, older blog readers may just remember used to be 'a newspaper' once upon a time - claimed that all ten incarnations of the Doctor would appear together in a fifteen-minute episode to be shown as part of the annual telethon in November. The special, they claimed, would see David Tennant's Doctor calling on his nine predecessors to help him find a missing piece of Time Lord apparatus. The actors who portrayed the first three Doctors - William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee - are all deceased but would be represented by archive footage, they stated. The report also claimed that the special would mark the first appearance of Matt Smith as the Doctor, although Smith is not due to take over from Tennant in the titular role until early 2010. A BBC spokesman told the newspaper: 'Nothing has been finalised yet, although there is discussion of a Children in Need Doctor Who special. It is too early to say what it will contain.' If this story sounds suspiciously familiar to you, dear blog reader, then that's probably because this is the second year running that a variant of it have done the rounds. For goodness sake, Mirror boys and girls, can't you think up some original lies, I'm getting sick of rehashed ones.