Wednesday, February 17, 2010

As It Was, When It Was

This week's episode of 24 featured something of a first. Big-Hard-Mental Jack Bauer snapping the neck of a member of Crazy Jürgen Prochnow's gang - the genital torturer, to be specific - with his bare thighs. Just what we all need in these harsh and brtual times - a bit of good old fashioned family entertainment. If only the episode had ended with a sing-song and a knees-up it would've been just like The Generation Game. Well, sort of.

Meanwhile, this week's Lost - The Substitute - was again, a clever, effortlessly complex, brilliantly realised study of a series of roads-never-taken. As Parallel-Universe-John Locke's life was given shape and form by a series of seemingly random chance encounters (with Hurley, with Rose and finally, and most unexpectedly, with Ben) we had, in the sequence in which Sawyer and The Enemy/Nasty Nemesis In Black/Not-Locke-Monster-Thingy descend down Jacob's ladder (ho hum) and into Jacob's cave in search of revelation one of the most perfectly set-up moments in one hundred and seven episodes so far. Cutting off one avenue of fan chaos theory and opening up a whole globe of extreme possibilities in the same casting of the first stone. God, it was good. And I still haven't got the faintest clue as to what's going on! But, ultimately, isn't that - in and of itself - the sign of a genuinely great show? That over five years after it began - and with little more than two months left to run - it's still got an audience absolutely dangling from a hook.

An Australian TV weather man has been attacked by a pelican as he presented the forecast on the breakfast programme. Channel Nine's Steve Jacobs was broadcasting live from Taronga Zoo, when the pelican, named Marnie, went for his bits just as the weather graphics were being shown. Check it out it's funny.

The new Doctor Who trailer will premiere this Saturday on BBC1, it has been announced. The promo for the forthcoming series, which stars Matt Smith as the new Doctor, will also simulcast on the official Doctor Who website. Additionally, the BBC has unveiled a new promo shot for the series, which sees The Doctor and companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) pictured together for the first time. The pair are pictured in a swirling vortex with some of the Doctor's nastiest enemies including a Dalek and a Weeping Angel. Tasty.

Weeks before a general election it seems the Conservative party are split on a very important subject - whether or not EastEnders is a force for good. The shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has heaped considerable praise on the BBC soap for tackling 'difficult social issues' and even wished it a 'happy Twenty Fifth birthday.' Hunt, you may remember, has already come close to breaking UK employment law by suggesting that the BBC should be hiring journalists on their political affiliations alone. However, despite his rather sickly brown-tongued rimming endorsement of the BBC's leading soap, his colleague the shadow children's minister, Tim Loughton, is less sure, saying that he believes it is 'unrealistic' and uses 'stereotypes' that could potentially be 'very damaging.' Well, of course it does you moron, it's 'fiction.' You know, 'made up stuff'? Jesus, is there some requirement that when you get into politics you have to take a stupid pill, or what? Loughton, of course, is currently getting his smug boat-race all over our screens in Channel 4's Tower Block of Commons. The reality programme sees him and three other MPs living with families in deprived parts of Britain's inner cities. Hunt posted a message on his personal website responding to an article in Monday's Guardian newspaper. In it, columnist Mark Lawson suggested that a 'shift in right-wing thinking on media policy' under the Tories could make EastEnders 'a potential liability for the BBC. Ed Vaizey and others in David Cameron's cultural team have recently seemed to suggest that the best justification of the licence fee is to provide services that commercial organisations do not,' he wrote. 'In this context, EastEnders becomes a possible example of subsidised TV competing "too well" against ITV.' Lawson added that the show 'could be called in aid ... as an excuse for constraining or breaking up BBC1.' Hunt denied this, insisting that the idea 'that EastEnders is the kind of programme that the Conservative Party would like to see the BBC make less of' in fact 'couldn't be more wrong. They have consistently tackled difficult social issues, and crucially reached large audiences in doing so, ever since,' he wrote. 'So Happy Twenty Fifth Birthday for Friday from the Shadow Culture team!' Loughton, writing on the Conservative Home blog, seems to be conflicted over the show. While admitting he has been 'addicted' to EastEnders since it began, he insists 'it cannot be portrayed as real life. Ironically for a set of characters who so fail to resemble anything like the satellite married family that remains at the heart of British social mores, albeit rapidly shifting ones, Peggy et al are constantly preaching to us that "nothing matters as much as family,"' he argues. Agreeing with Hunt, he continued that 'soaps can give out some very powerful and important messages,' but he added: 'By the same token the stereotyping of many characters in EastEnders has the potential to be very damaging. Social workers are always caricatured as sandal-wearing interferers; the police as pretty dim and flat-footed and teachers as snotty busybodies.' Loughton also links EastEnders to 'the sexualisation of young children' and says 'the responsible screening of soaps' is important to prevent it. Don't you people have anything more important to do with your time than try to do my job and review TV programmes? You know, like handing in some over-ambitious expense claims, or something?

EastEnders actress Pam St Clement has admitted that she found it 'difficult' to be at work following the deaths of her former co-stars Mike Reid and Wendy Richard. Reid, who played St Clement's on-screen partner, Frank Butcher, died in June 2007 after suffering a heart attack. He had made his final Walford appearance nearly two years earlier. Meanwhile, Richard died in February last year following a battle with cancer. The sixty five-year-old had left the soap in 2006. Reflecting on the loss of her colleagues, St Clement told the People: 'Over the years, you spend so much time with the people that your character has relationships with. They are like your family and you do form close bonds because when you are acting you often are showing a kind of vulnerability. So yes, losing Mike and Wendy has made being at work very difficult at times. But I have so many happy memories of them both. I remember when a few of us were filming at a villa in Spain. Mike, Tony Caunter [Roy Evans] and I went out for dinner and got quite merry. We spent all night on the balcony of my villa and I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life.' St Clement has said that she plans to stick with her role as Big Fat Cuddly Pat for the foreseeable future.

BBC Drama is to hold monthly 'open days' for new and upcoming writers. From April, independent production companies will be invited to bring emerging talent to meet the team of drama developers that feed ideas through to the department's four key commissioning executives. Anne Mensah, head of BBC Scotland, told Broadcast: 'When we have got money to spend again, we want to make sure we have a regular open day for indies to bring in the writers they think we don’t know or that we should know better.' The writers should not expect to win work on the back of the day-long sessions, but they will get a chance to air their views about drama and discuss potential ideas. Mensah said: 'It's about actual chatting time – about what they are interested in, what their passions are. They won't necessarily get a commission but the first point is getting them in there and talking.' It is hoped the move will address ongoing concerns that there are not enough opportunities for new writers to work on BBC series other than the soaps. Continuing drama series like EastEnders and Doctors regularly recruit new writers who have come up through the BBC writers' Academy but it is often hard for new talent to make the leap to other series.

Filming has begun on the second series of the critically acclaimed serial drama, Whitechapel, starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, and Steve Pemberton and produced by Carnival Films for ITV. The principal cast will be joined in the new series by Peter Serafinowicz who plays DCI Cazenove and Craig Parkinson (Lark-Rise to Candleford) who plays a duel role of twins, Jimmy and Johnny Kray. Whitechapel II once again draws on a set of iconic cult crimes born out of the area. After Jack the Ripper comes the gangster brutality of the Krays, and in Whitechapel II the paranoia of this era and the faded glamour of the former East End gangsters will characterise the drama. Directed by David Evans (Unforgiven, Survivors) and produced by Grainne Marmion (Small Island, The Damned United), Whitechapel II will be filming at various locations around London including Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and the East End over the coming weeks.

Liam Gallagher 'snubbed' his brother Noel during his Brit Awards acceptance speech. The former Oasis frontman was collecting the 'Brits Album Of Thirty Years' prize from The Godlike Genius that is Sir Noddy Holder OBE at last night's ceremony in London. Accepting the award, Liam went on to credit his former Oasis bandmates 'Guigsy, Bonehead and Alan White,' before pausing to pointedly miss out his sibling. The man, coincidentally, who wrote all of the songs on the LP. Liam also thanked Oasis' audience, describing them as 'the best fans in the world.' Thanks Liam, but I still think your kid was the real talent in that band, like. He then threw his microphone into the audience and walked away, casually, with Holder. Returning to the podium, host Peter Kay quipped: 'What a knobhead.' Which, coming from a genuine knobhead like Peter Kay might be regarded as almost the ultimate insult.

Meanwhile Ofcom is reported to be 'reviewing' last night's broadcast of The Brit Awards. Well, I can do that for you, guys. It's my job, after all. Self-indulgent, back-slapping, gushing and glitzy bollocks which was, marginally, enlivened by Liam's speech and Robbie looking a bit mental at the end. There, that's what I call a review. This is said to follow complaints from members of the public about language used by Lady Gaga pre-watershed. The New York singer used an electronic sound pad to repeatedly say 'freak bitch' during her performance at 8.45pm as she sang 'Telephone' and 'Bad Romance.' A handful of complaints were also made about Peter Kay's quip about the late pop star Michael Jackson. Which will, hopefully, mean that the talentless professional Notlobber will be banned from all TV ever. Unlikely, admittedly, but a man can dream, can't he? The use of flashing lights throughout the programme without warning is also said to have been raised as an issued by viewers.

The rivalry between the legendary British athletics Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett is to be made into a film by the BBC. The pair dominated middle distance running in the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s, trading world records and lighting up the Moscow Olympics. Ovett beat Coe to win gold at the 1980 Olympics in the latter's favoured eight hundred metres. Coe then turned the tables in Ovett's preferred fifteen hundred metres a few days later - Coe would retain his title four years later in Los Angeles. In a ten-day period during 1981 the pair also traded the world record for the mile between them three times. Coe at one point held the eight hundred metres, fifteen hundred metres and mile world records simultaneously, whilst Ovett subsequently became both the fifteen hundred metres and mile world record holder. Coe became Lord Coe on 2000 and is currently head of the London Olympics, while Ovett now lives in Australia. The BBC is working with AL Films, whose producers were behind the BBC1 hit Small Island, to develop the movie, which is expected to be released before the 2012 Games. Los Angeles-based British writer William Davies, who worked on hits such as Johnny English, Twins and Flushed Away, will write the screenplay. Which, given the above track record, isn't necessarily good news. The movie is to be based on a classic book about the pair's rivalry, Pat Butcher's The Perfect Distance. Producer Vicky Licorish said: 'You were either an Ovett person or a Coe person and that's what makes it such a great character piece as well.' Absolutely. Yer Keith Telly Topping always preferred Ovett personally. Seb was great, of course, but he always seemed a bit too clean. Too establishment (as his subsequent political career sort-of proved). Steve, on the other hand, was a more rock and roll, famously using his moment of triumph to mouth 'I love you' to his girlfriend in front of the watching billions. The movie, of course, has obvious echoes of Hugh Hudson's 1981 Oscar-winner Chariots Of Fire, which was about British sprinters Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams at the 1924 Olympics.

Wor luscious lovely Lauren Laverne has criticised people who wear T-shirts featuring musical acts they have never heard. The Culture Show presenter and former Kenickie singer told Heat that she preferred to see individuals saying something about themselves with their clothes. Laverne - seem left gently plucking her instrument - said: 'I like lots of different people's looks for different reasons. Scarlett Johansson is so sexy; Zooey Deschanel is so cool; Vivienne Westwood is completely iconic. I like people whose dress sense tells you who they are - not just someone who's been stuck in an outfit they're too dumb to understand. I hate it when you see some idiot wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt because they like the picture and you know they've never heard the band in their lives.' So, what do you suggest, Lauren? Each customer having to fill in a questionaire and name the bassist of any band whose T-shirt they wish to buy? Actually, that's a pretty good idea, now I come to think about it. Maybe me and Lauren should go into business trying to get shops to do just that. With Emmy-Kate Montrose. (Answers on a postcard...)

EMI Records is reported to have put London's Abbey Road studios up for sale. The iconic recording base, located in St John's Wood and immortalised by The Beatles' 1969 LP of the same name, is being made available by the company's owners Terra Firma, which is looking to ease EMI's crippling financial problems following reports that it is facing debts of one and a half billion pounds. According to the Financial Times, selling the North London studios could, potentially, raise tens of millions of pounds for the struggling label. As well as The Beatles, Oasis, Blur, The Manic Street Preachers, Pink Floyd and Radiohead are just some of the thousands of bands to have recorded at Abbey Road. The studios were first opened in 1931 by the Gramophone Company, which later became EMI. It is currently unclear as to whether it is just the location or the studio brand that is included in the sale.

ITV has brought in external business analysts LEK Consulting to conduct its twelve-week 'strategic review.' The root and branch analysis will take in all parts of the broadcaster and ITV studios and is expected to put a new emphasis on in-house produced content. The decision to bring in external consultants has sparked fears of a new wave of job cutting and radical changes to the broadcaster's business model. However, LEK makes plain on its website that it still finds value in traditional broadcasting. It lists the notion that 'TV is "old media" that will be ravaged by Internet cannibalisation' at the top of a string of 'myths' which, it claims, it wants to debunk, adding: 'Television still rules and remains the largest media form by far in terms of time spent by consumers, who spend thirty eight reported hours per week watching TV, versus eight hours on the Internet [whilst] online TV is still very small.' ITV has quashed rumours that the ongoing review of GMTV – which is expected to bring the morning magazine show under the aegis of daytime commissioning - has been put on ice whilst LEK reaches its conclusions. 'The review of the business [GMTV] continues and has not been halted,' a spokesman said.

EastEnders' executive producer Diederick Santer has admitted that he has found it difficult to keep the secret of 'Who Killed Archie?' The truth behind the BBC soap's current murder mystery storyline has been kept from viewers and even the show's cast since the Walford rogue was murdered by an unknown assailant on Christmas Day. In Friday's long-awaited live anniversary episode, the confusion and speculation will come to an end as the killer's identity is revealed at last. Discussing the secrecy surrounding the plot, Santer told the show's official website: 'It's been really hard keeping Archie's murderer a secret all this time. It's been quite stressful actually because it's involved a very small group of us just having this pact to keep it among ourselves. Normally, amongst the creative team of the show - the writers, the storyliners, the script editors - we share all our secrets. They all knew who the father of Heather's baby was [and] all the other secrets of the show. But on this one we took the decision to keep it absolutely as tight as possible.' He added: 'I'm fearful of it blurting out at the wrong time, of me in a meeting saying it in an unguarded moment, or nodding at the wrong time or talking in my sleep!'

And, in somewhat related news, the bookmaker William Hill have reportedly slashed odds on Tracey The Barmaid (played by Jane Slaughter) being revealed as Archie Mitchell's killer in EastEnders. Tracy was previously one of the outsiders in the betting with odds of one hundred-to-one. But, she can now be backed at just seven-to-one following strong support from punters. Ooo ... I wonder if somebody somewhere knows something. About something.

Eight advertisements shown during an episode of Sherlock Holmes were so loud that they breached regulations, the industry watchdog has ruled. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the slots on digital channel ITV3 were 'excessively strident.' But it said that complaints about noisy advertisements have gone down since rules were tightened two years ago. ITV3 said the series was made in the 1980s and had many silent pauses so the commercials seemed louder. But the watchdog upheld a complaint from a viewer about eight adverts during a break. It ruled: 'We noted that the programme had a wide dynamic range, with periods of quiet suspense punctuated by short, louder bursts. We noted that the maximum subjective loudness of adverts was consistent with other ads during the break, but that it was not well matched to the overall sound levels of the programme.' But, it recognised that ITV3, along with other broadcasters, were now working harder to keep noise levels down. ITV3 said all their adverts were checked against a loudness meter and believed the loudness of the ones in question were 'appropriate and consistent in the context of the overall loudness of the channel.' But it recognised there might have been an issue with the programme material. Since television began, viewers have often complained about advertisements being louder than the programmes which they punctuate. In response to complaints down the years, the broadcasting watchdog published new rules on sound levels during 2008. The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, which is responsible for writing the TV Advertising Code, said 'advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident. The maximum subjective loudness of advertisements must be consistent and in line with the maximum loudness of programmes and junction material,' it said.

Gregg Wallace and John Torode have claimed that this year's Masterchef contestants are making exactly the same mistakes which have been made by those taking part in previous series in this amusing interview with Digital Spy website which you can see here. Wallace said that he was 'amazed' by the number of cooking hopefuls who continue to serve up 'bad chocolate fondants,' while Torode's chief complaint concerned the mixing of fruit and meat. 'A grapefruit doesn't go with a sausage It just doesn't! This series, it's been fruit and meat, fruit and fish. What for!'

Lucy Davis has revealed that she was once asked to lose weight for a television role. The thirty seven-year-old actress, whose small screen credits include The Office, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Ugly Betty, told Radio Times that despite the weight loss, she was eventually rejected for the part. 'I have been asked to lose weight for a part, but that was in England,' she said. 'I had no problem doing it. I didn't feel offended. That was just what was needed for that role. I didn't get it in the end.' Davis will next be seen in ITV's romantic comedy drama Married, Single, Other, which begins next Monday.

Kate Garraway has said that she was 'shocked' when she read about Vernon Kay's sex text scandal. Personally, yer Keith Telly Topping is shocked that Kate Garraway gets paid for writing crap like this in New magazine. Swings and roundabouts, innit?

Tory chairman Eric Pickles is 'demanding answers' from a Labour whip who appeared to call the Conservatives 'scum-sucking pigs' on his Twitter page. Meanwhile a group of perfectly harmless scum-sucking pigs are reported to be 'disgusted' that someone has dared to compared them to politicians. And, on the back of that the Labour MP - and former TV presenter - Austin Mitchell has said that he regrets taking part in a TV show which, he claims, set out to 'humiliate MPs.' It's not that difficult, surely? Just mention the words 'expenses' and 'claims' in the same sentence. It's what yer Keith Telly Topping does on an almost daily basis. You might have noticed. Mitchell said he agreed to appear on Tower Block of Commons, in which four MPs live on some of Britain's most deprived estates, 'to put the case for council housing.' But Mitchell said he was portrayed in the programme as 'greedy and out of touch,' adding: 'I should never have fallen for it.' Well, yer Keith Telly Topping could have probably told him that sort of presentation was likely to happen. Oh, wait, I did. Love Productions, who made the show, said it was 'surprised' by his views and that it 'certainly did not set out to humiliate the MPs.' Whyever the Hell not? They're a collective who are about as much use to man or beast as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition. Humiliating them - as often as humanly possible - and using them as the basis for much effective stand-up comedy is just about all they're actually good for. The other MPs who took part were Lib Dem Mark Oaten and Conservatives Nadine Dorries and Tim Loughton. Dorries replaced former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who pulled out of the project when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Mitchell, the MP for Grimsby, said the production company pitched the show to him on the basis that it would 'show what a dirty deal councils tenants get. I should have turned them down. All the smarter Labour MPs did,' he wrote. Well, that probably says more about you, Austin, than it does about anyone else. 'Naively I accepted. Here was a chance to put the case for council housing. Big mistake. Love didn't want to plead for improved conditions for council tenants but to humiliate MPs. It's easy to show us as greedy (although they didn't pay us), out of touch (though we knew more about the people than them) and incompetent (almost as much as their production techniques). They duly did so. So five MPs - and particularly me - were allowed to make fools of ourselves.' Keith Telly Topping would like to suggest to Mr Mitchell at this point that, yes, it is easy to show MPs as being greedy and out of touch. Particularly when four of his parliamentary colleagues are about to face fraud charges (unproven, as yet, of course - it's important to stress that) and a further three hundred odd - including him, I note - are currently paying back some of the excessive expense claims that they made to the British people. You know, the bloody idiots who voted for them in the first place? Mitchell claimed MPs were 'briefed against' in press releases for the programme resulting in 'a deluge of abuse about MPs but nothing said about the neglect of council estates. A disgrace. To Channel 4 for putting it out. To Love for its cynical distraction of the real story. To me for taking part in the first place.' Well, it certainly hard to disagree with that last part.

And, finally some good news at last. Lily Allen has confirmed that she will walk away from the music industry. And, lo, there was rejoicing in the streets.

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