Wednesday, March 03, 2010

All The Good Things

The BAFTA-nominated Coronation Street scriptwriter Daran Little has defected to rival soap EastEnders. The announcement of the forty three-year-old's move south of Watford comes just one day into Bryan Kirkwood's official reign as EastEnders executive producer. His predecessors, Diederick Santer, stepped down from the role at the end of last week after nearly three and a half years helming the show. Typing on his Twitter account yesterday evening, Little wrote: 'Ta-ra Weatherfield... 'ello Walford... happy to say I'm now writing for EastEnders.' Little has written episodes for Coronation Street on and off for the last decade, during which time he has also wrote for Hollyoaks as well as its spin-offs In The City and last year's Later - which was also produced by Kirkwood. During his stint with Corrie, Little masterminded - among others storylines - the Manchester soap's first gay plot, which saw Todd Grimshaw make a pass at his girlfriend's brother, Nick Tilsley. In July 2008, he was headhunted by ABC as a Creative Consultant for their own long-running soap, All My Children. Subsequently, he went on to become one of the show's associate head writers for nearly a year and a half, before returning to Corrie for another stint.

Actor Roy Hudd is to reprise his Coronation Street role as Archie Shuttleworth for the forthcoming storyline involving Blanche Hunt's funeral. The seventy three-year-old actor and comedian, who played Archie the undertaker for sporadic stints between 2002 and 2006, returns to filming in Manchester in a fortnight's time for two episodes to air in May. In 2002, Blanche briefly dated Archie but their romance soon came to an end. She went on to romance the wealthy Wally Bannister (the great Bernard Cribbins). The double episode will commemorate the late Maggie Jones's career with Coronation Street. At the end of last year, Jones died at the age of seventy five after a long battle with illness.

The BBC's 'Putting Quality First' review will reportedly see the corporation invest an extra six hundred million pounds into programme-making after ringfencing ninety pence of every one pound of the licence fee for content. Speaking to staff this morning ahead of the press conference on his plans for the size and scope review, the director general Mark Thompson outlined five editorial policies for the corporation. It will focus on providing the best journalism in the world, inspiring knowledge, music and culture, ambitious UK drama and comedy, outstanding children's content and events that bring communities and the nation together. But there will be cuts too: the BBC will cut spending on the web by twenty five per cent by 2013 and it now believes that Channel 4 should lead the way with content aimed at teenagers. Currently, eight eight pence of each pound of the licence fee goes towards content creation for TV, radio and online, with the remaining twelve pence going towards running and administration costs. In 2011 and 2012, monies associated with digital switchover will reduce content spend to eighty six pence per pound. Thompson said today that by 2013, programme spend will be ringfenced at ninety pence per pound. Thompson confirmed plans to close BBC Switch and BBC Blast and said that radio 6Music and Asian Network have also been earmarked for closure, by the end of 2011 at the earliest. Meanwhile, he said, Radio 2 needed to 'sharpen its distinctiveness in its range of music and speech' and that the BBC needs better quality local radio. Thompson proposed sharing more programmes across outlets during off-peak periods.

BBC1 and BBC3 have, effectively, been given a clean bill of health by the corporation's strategy review - but BBC2 is to get what's being described as 'a new emphasis on state-of-the-nation drama and riskier comedy.' Of the BBC's four main channels, BBC2 is facing the biggest changes proposed in the 'Putting Quality First' review. It will get an extra twenty five million pounds to spend from 2013 with an eye on boosting 'distinctiveness.' That essentially means it will be expected to increase the volume and range of 'strongly authored drama, reflecting the state of the nation' (which, sort-of makes sense) and 'of the world through contemporary and historical subject matter,' including single films and new series. Other important aspects of the changes will be ensuring a stronger role for BBC2 comedy, developing UK writers and performers with a 'unique but accessible take on the world' and complemented by more risky, innovative comedies. Which all sounds great although the last time the BBC had a 'risky, innovative performer with a unique but accessible take on the world' he was called Frankie Boyle and they virtually held to door open for him to leave after he said a few 'risky and unique' things. So ... jury's still out on that one. Also, there will be moves to make BBC2 the home for 'ambitious knowledge-building programmes,' with a wide range of specialist subjects and more authored, expert programmes and reducing the volume of sport broadcast on the channel. So, no more snooker on a Sunday night meaning Top Gear gets bumped for a week, then? The emphasis on signature drama will see BBC2 will offer a 'unique space for UK writers and directors to explore new forms, topics, concepts and stories.' In comedy, the BBC explicitly wants the channel to 'support the cult classics of the future.' The plan to 're-establish' the channel as 'the home of intelligent and ambitious drama, comedy and factual programming' will dovetail with a shift in focus for BBC4. It appears to be going back to its more highbrow roots, with the BBC promising it will 'reaffirm its original commitment to support arts, music, culture and knowledge as well as offering a thoughtful showcase for the best of the television archive.' There will be a reduction in entertainment and comedy on BBC4 and its relationship with BBC2 will evolve. The corporation said: 'The distinct roles of the two channels will be better defined but they will continue to operate in a complementary way - resulting in a stronger, combined contribution to arts, music, culture and knowledge.'

Dollhouse actor Fran Kranz has landed a role on NBC comedy pilot Friends With Benefits, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The single-camera project is penned by (500) Days of Summer writers Michael Weber and Scott Neustadler and will be directed by Wedding Crashers David Dobkin. The plot sees five friends looking for love through various means, but settling for 'friends with benefits' in the meantime. Kranz will play one of the group, a nerdy, hopeless romantic who is worth around twelve million dollars after selling an algorithm to Google.

TV chef Raymond Blanc has reportedly broken his leg after an accident at his Oxford home. The Restaurant star, aged sixty, fell down the stairs and will require a minor operation on the broken bone. Blanc's fiancee, Natalia Traxel, who is a doctor, was with him at the time and called for paramedics to take him to the John Radcliffe hospital. 'It has been confirmed that Raymond Blanc, chef patron of Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, has broken his leg,' said his spokesperson. 'M Blanc will have a minor operation to set his broken bones and will return home to recuperate. He is resting comfortably at the moment and thanks everyone for their kind wishes.'

The BBC, ITV and Sky and the three main political parties have agreed on the rules for hosting leaders' debates in the run-up to the general election. The three ninety-minute sessions will begin by focusing on domestic policies, international affairs and the economy. The studio audiences will then be able to ask direct questions on any subject, with viewers doing the same via e-mail. The prime minister Gordon Brown, the leader of the opposition, David Cameron and ... some bloke called Nick Clegg, apparently, agreed last year that they would appear. The BBC is to hold separate party leader election debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Handshakes between the candidates will be restricted to the end of the programme and applause will only be allowed at the beginning and end, to allow more time for questions to be asked. Brown said: 'I want to debate the big issues and I want to show that we are best for jobs, for the health services, for public services as a whole, for tackling anti-social behaviour and for dealing with the economy.' Cameron also said he welcomed the agreement, adding: 'What it is really about is trying to get across to people what you stand for, what you want to do, why you are passionate about the changes you want to bring to this country.' And Clegg said: 'I think people will be put under real scrutiny. Four-and-a-half hours is plenty of time to have a good look at the leaders, so I think that is a big plus about these debates.' Before adding, 'what do you mean, "who am I?" Look me up on Google.' Allegedly. A spokesperson for the joint broadcasting panel said: 'We warmly welcome the agreement by the party leaders to take part in these innovative programmes. We were delighted by the positive atmosphere in all our dealings with the parties over the last few months, and the agreement we are jointly announcing today represents a major step forward in the way election campaigns can reach the entire population.' The first debate, themed on domestic affairs, will be held in the north west of England, with ITV newsreader Alastair Stewart moderating. The second, focusing on global issues, will take place in south west England, with Sky's political editor Adam Boulton in charge. The third, broadcast by the BBC from the Midlands, will be moderated by Question Time host - and forty year election veteran - David Dimbleby and deal with the economy. Clegg will speak first in the opening debate, with Brown and Cameron doing so in the subsequent sessions. The leaders drew lots to determine the order. The sessions will be broadcast on weekday evenings, with the exact dates to be decided once the prime minister calls the election - it is widely expected to be held on 6 May. The leaders' statements, answers and rebuttals are all subject to time restrictions - usually one minute, but with a longer closing statement of one minute thirty seconds at the end of each programme. All questions - those on the main themes, and those from audience members and via e-mails - will be selected by a panel of senior journalists. The audience will not be able to respond to the leaders' answers. The broadcasters have jointly appointed the market research company ICM to recruit an audience with a broad cross-section of views. The BBC will be talking to the relevant parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about the details of these debates. And, after all that, the Tories will win with a narrow majority and the BBC will be, effectively, cattled. Just so we all know exactly where we stand.

Meanwhile, the media secretary Ben Bradshaw has urged the BBC to 'have confidence in itself,' and warned against the broadcaster preparing for a 'viscerally hostile' Conservative Party winning the upcoming election. Well it's a bit sodding late for that, frankly Ben - particularly after the way you've been laying into the corporation for the last few months like your own personal punch-bag. Suddenly found an effing conscience, have you? Or, rather, is it that now you're shit-scared for your own political life, you're suddenly the corporation's best friend? In a short statement, Bradshaw said that he 'welcomed the BBC thinking hard about what it does and where it should focus in future.' But Bradshaw added that the BBC 'should not approach the future assuming the Conservatives, who are viscerally hostile to the BBC, will win the election. The BBC is a great British asset and should have confidence in itself and the enormous support it enjoys from the British people.' Yes it is. A world-class broadcaster the envy of most of the world even if it's sometimes unappreciated in its own back yard. What a pity, however, that you weren't saying all of this a few months ago when the corporation could've really done with a bit of public support from someone in your sort of position. 'Politicians should avoid compromising the BBC's independence by giving a running commentary on its decisions.' Oh, the irony. I mean, genuinely, where to start ... 'It is important that the public's voice is heard in the consultation.' That, presumably, includes you, Ben. Readers may like to check out a few previous From The North posts, like this one; and this one; and this one; and this one (which is especially two-faced and slimy); and, from just two days ago, this one - all of which contain examples of Bradshaw's previous statements on the subject of the BBC. Politicians, eh? Short bastard memories, the lot of them. Oh, and this one. Would it, I wonder, be possible for Ben to be mauled to death by the Blue Peter leopard? No? Shame.

Christine Bleakley has claimed that her relationship with her ONE Show co-host Adrian Chiles has never been romantic. The duo were rumoured to be dating when Chiles split from his radio presenter wife Jane Garvey. However, the pair, who have worked together since 2007, have always denied the accusations that they were an item. Speaking about Chiles, the thirty-year-old told Glamour: 'I was horrified when people first started saying we were having an affair and for some reason it got legs and started galloping. But he is like a brother to me: I can bicker with him and then everything is fine again ten minutes later. People like to think that either you detest one another or that you're having an affair - any middle ground is just boring.' Bleakley is currently dating Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard. She described the footballer as 'down to earth' and 'someone I can just sit and talk to over dinner.' By hell, I'll be that's a meeting of minds.

Bill Bailey has signed on as a songwriter for the musical adaptation of A Fish Called Wanda. The comedian and musician will join the father-daughter team of John and Camilla Cleese for songwriting duties on the production. John announced the partnership in a newsletter on Monday. 'We've just completed the book for the musical of A Fish Called Wanda,' Empire Online quotes him as saying. 'Soon, we'll start to work on the songs for the show with Bill Bailey.' The Monty Python star said that he hopes to debut A Fish Called Wanda in San Diego, with an eventual run on Broadway and London's West End. He recently produced one-man show A Ludicrous Evening with John Cleese… or How to Finance Your Divorce after his acrimonious split from his psychotherapist wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger, in 2008.

She doesn't do the numbers on Countdown any more - but Carol Vorderman 'can still figure out an audience' according to the Mirror. The forty nine-year-old looked rather prim and proper in a buttoned-up schoolma'am-type outfit on BBC Breakfast yesterday. But just hours later the mathematician ditched the dowdy look for something a lot more grown-up on ITV's Loose Women. Wearing a plunging low-cut number, Carol was promoting a new online maths school for children and parents. She said: 'I want children to be the very best they can be with numbers and mathematics.' So, that's two from the top and any other four then, is it Carol?

ITV and Sky are reported to be 'interested in poaching Alan Carr' according to the Mirror. Blimey, I know he's a big lad and all that but cooking him's surely a step to far. Even for ITV and Sky.

Strictly Come Dancing star Laila Rouass has claimed that TV talent show judges need to be 'reined in' because their critiques are becoming too personal. The Primeval actress spoke out following the recent row over ITV's Dancing On Ice when panellist Jason Gardiner compared Sharron Davies to 'faecal matter' because she was wearing a brown outfit. Speaking to What's On TV, Rouass commented: 'I think sometimes they get too personal. It happened to me a couple of times [on Strictly] - when you're live on air and you really want to say some really horrible things back, but you control yourself! You realise that a lot of it is pantomime and it's making good TV, but at the same time I think occasionally they overstep the mark and that perhaps needs to be reined in. They're there to judge professionally - not your outfit!'

Sky has unveiled plans to add three more live channels to its Sky Player online TV service, including Sky1 and Sky Movies Premiere. Sky1 arrived on the web TV platform yesterday, meaning that users can watch various hit shows such as Lost, Modern Family and Pineapple Dance Studios. Later in March, Sky Movies Premiere and the recently rebranded Sky Movies Showcase will join the service, giving access to a range of films and the forthcoming World War II mini-series The Pacific. In the 'coming months,' Sky Player will also get live channels from Living and Bravo, following the addition of on-demand content from both brands in February. 'Sky Player offers an unrivalled choice of live and on-demand pay-TV content, making it the natural destination for online viewing,' said Sky's director of on-demand Griff Parry. 'It's about providing people with the most convenient way to access the channels and programmes they enjoy.' Sky1 director of programming Stuart Murphy added: 'We're passionate about great TV and passionate about ensuring our viewers can access Sky1 where and when they choose. We're delighted that we're now able to offer the best of Sky1 on Sky Player TV.'

Howard Stern has launched an attack on Jay Leno for returning to The Tonight Show. Leno, who resumed his role on the show on Monday night, has been heavily criticised in some sections of the industry for taking over Conan O'Brien's timeslot. O'Brien has since decided to leave NBC. Speaking on The Early Show, Stern said: 'Just the mere mention of Jay Leno's name makes me want to vomit. I don't like this guy. I don't disguise it.' He added that Leno should have left the network when NBC originally decided to replace him with O'Brien. 'Jay Leno seems to be the kind of showbiz animal that won't let go,' he continued. 'Jay is a lapdog.'

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