Thursday, March 04, 2010

Where Have All The Good Times Gone?

Doctor Who spin-off Sarah Jane Interferes has been recommissioned for two further series by the BBC, it has been announced. The fourth and fifth series will each run to twelve episodes, airing in the Autumn of 2010 and 2011 respectively. Show creator and executive producer Russell Davies, who left as showrunner on Doctor Who earlier this year, will remain in the role on both new series of SJA. Nikki Wilson, producer on series three, has been promoted to executive producer, while Torchwood's Brian Minchin has joined the team as a producer. 'We are thrilled to be making many more episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures,' said CBBC controller Damian Kavanagh. 'It has been a huge ratings and critical success on CBBC and we hope our viewers are going to be hooked on Sarah Jane's action-packed adventures for some time to come.' The fourth series, which begins filming in Cardiff later this month, sees regulars Tommy Knight (Luke), Daniel Anthony (Clyde) and Anjli Mohindra (Rani) return alongside Elisabeth Sladen. Adversaries in the new run of episodes will include The Nightmare Man and The Shansheeth, whilst the gang will also travel to an alien world for the first time and take a 'dangerous journey back in history.' Series four writers include Phil Ford, Joe Lidster, Rupert Laight, Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman.

The two key creative talents behind Being Human are reportedly in talks to launch their own independent company and already have another high-concept drama in development for BBC1. Writer Toby Whithouse and producer Matthew Bouch created the BBC3 hit for RDF Media's Touchpaper Television, but are being courted by rival companies and expect to strike a deal by Easter. Their new company, Scoundrel, will house approximately six projects at any one time. The pair will work as showrunners and Whithouse will script some of the dramas, but they also want to work with other writers. Bouch told Broadcast: 'In the process of doing Being Human, we discovered our sensibilities are very similar. They are very unorthodox in a way, certainly in the combinations of genres that we use. We needed to set up on our own so we could enjoy that freedom, and the spoils of our labour.' Whithouse added that they will choose a backer carefully. 'We don't want to get into the position where, for the sake of money up front, we are surrendering our creative freedom.' They already have six dramas in development, including two paid for by BBC Scotland head of drama Anne Mensah. Orphans is being considered as a six part series for BBC1 and aims to do for superheroes what Being Human did for werewolves and vampires. It will follow a 'disparate' group of superheroes who live in a world that appears like our own, but is gradually revealed to be quite different. The pair are also working on a This Life-style drama written by Mistresses co-creator Rachel Anthony. Set in 1960s Ladbroke Grove, the six-part Revolver will open on the day of Winston Churchill's funeral and will trace the 'breakdown of Victorian morality' by following a group of young characters who live together. Keith Telly Topping very much likes the sound of both of those and is looking forward to seeing them, hopefully, made and broadcast.

John Lennon's son Sean has replied to accusations that his mother, Yoko Ono, allowed archive footage of the former Beatle to be used in a car advert for financial reasons. Images of the self-confessed alcoholic Scouse wife-beating junkie, filmed in June 1968, feature as part of a recent advert for Citroën, which has since drawn widespread criticism that the singer's 'legacy' is being sold to the highest bidder. So long as the makers of the advert aren't going home and giving their ladies a damned good thumping then, to be honest, I think Good Old Peace-Lovin' John's legacy remains pretty much in tact. But, some people obviously feel different, I concede. Sean has now taken to his Twitter page to respond to the criticism, insisting that Ono gave the project the go-ahead purely in order to keep John 'in the public consciousness.' Because, of course, we were all likely to totally forget about the man who wrote 'Strawberry Fields Forever' if she hadn't done this. 'She did not do it for money. [It] has to do [with] hoping to keep dad in public consciousness. No new LPs, so TV ad is exposure to young [sic],' he posted, before adding: 'Look, TV ad was not for money. It's just hard to find new ways to keep dad in the new world. Not many things as effective as TV. Having just seen ad I realise why people are mad,' he wrote later. 'But intention was not financial, was simply wanting to keep him out there in the world.' Methinks the chap doth protest too much. Daddy issues, I wonder?

Penny Smith has announced that she is leaving GMTV after seventeen years with the programme. According to the Mirror today, the host made the decision after being informed that she would have a reduced role when the show is revamped later this year. In a statement, Smith confirmed: 'It's an ideal time for me to say goodbye to early mornings. Now that the format has changed I have taken the plunge and am moving on.' Smith's co-host John Stapleton has also been axed as a main presenter, but is to remain with GMTV under the title of 'special correspondent.' He will be seen presenting on-location reports from June. Stapleton said: 'After twelve years of getting up at 3.45am, I'm looking forward to having a few lie-ins a week.' It is thought that the shake-up has come due to budget cuts at GMTV. Smith and Stapleton currently present the programme's 'news hour' slot from 6am, but under the new arrangement, the show's main 7am hosts are expected to start work an hour earlier.

ITV has acquired the UK television rights to broadcast live games from this year's Indian Premier League season. Announced today, the deal enables the commercial public service broadcaster to air fifty nine live IPL cricket matches on ITV4, starting on 12 March. Matt Smith and Bollywood actress Mandira Bedi will present the IPL coverage after they fronted the Cricket World Cup in India. Sony will supply the live world feed for ITV. Writing on Twitter, IPL commissioner Lalit Modi said: 'Fans in the UK - this is what you have been waiting for. Today we have signed IPL to be shown on ITV, the biggest and best TV platform in UK. All matches will be shown live on ITV. They will be free and there will be wrap-around shows with it too.' The IPL, an eight-strong league of teams playing Twenty20 cricket, features global stars such as Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne. But not Freddie Flintoff, cos he's always injured. It is understood that ITV paid the IPL a nominal fee for the rights, which have been available since the collapse of pay-TV broadcaster Setanta last year. Speaking to the Gruniad, ITV director of digital channels and acquisitions Zai Bennett said: 'In only two years, the Indian Premier League has already established itself as one of the world's most high-profile and exciting sports events which attracts some of the very best cricketers from around the globe. It is an exciting acquisition for one of the UK's fastest growing digital channels and we're delighted to be able to offer the whole tournament free-to-air to our viewers.' In January, the IPL announced a deal with YouTube to stream all sixty games from the league live in the UK.

Flight Of The Conchords stars Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie will be hitting the road with a tour around the UK and Europe. The Emmy-nominated New Zealand musical comedy duo will be joined by their co-stars Kristen Schall (fan-turned-stalker Mel) and Arj Barker (shop owner Dave) as they perform fifteen dates in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Ireland and the UK from 10 May. 'We're coming back to say we're sorry, Flight Of The Conchords has had a great relationship with the UK in the past - in some ways you could say we got our start there, and we were always over at the UK's house - but then one night, some heated words were said and Flight Of The Conchords left in a huff,' quipped Jemaine.

The Director-General of the BBC has told senior staff that the public outcry against plans to close 6 Music will 'boost the corporation' by showing politicians 'the strength of public affection' for its services. According to The Times in meetings with staff yesterday, Mark Thompson is understood to have said that he is not concerned by the reaction against plans to scrap the radio station. Boring bastards Coldplay became the latest band to back 6 Music which, the paper claims, the music industry regards as a vital outlet for breaking new acts. The band - exactly the sort of corporate soft rock rubbish which evaporates on contact with the ear that 6 Music was, supposedly, set up to provide a viable alternative to - said that 'the incredible 6 Music plays a crucial and unique role in the British music scene.' Thompson's strategy review includes proposals to close the Asian Network, the teen cross-media brands BBC Switch and Blast!, as well as halving the size of the BBC website. (Notice, incidentally, that there's been no great 'save The Asian Network' campaign, something Malik Meer picked up on in a very good piece in the Media Gruniad. Particularly like the Cornershop joke, by the way.) The suggestion to scrap 6 Music has so far attracted about three thousand complaints to the BBC (that's about four per cent of its total listenership, incidentally), leading Thompson to apparently consult senior staff. One executive said: 'He told us he is not concerned about the outcry, because it sends a message to politicians that even if you want to close a small, niche station there's such a large outcry; imagine what would happen if you tried to close BBC1 or BBC2.' Or, indeed, Radio 4 for that matter. Jeez, imagine the kerfuffle if that happened. Wax would be exploding in the ears of retired Brigadier-Generals the length and breadth of ... Basingstoke. Probably. Meanwhile, Greg Dyke, the former Director-General and an outspoken critic of Thompson, has said he felt 6 Music would be saved. He said: 'I suspect 6 Music will become enormously popular with all sorts of people writing in and I would take a bet today that it's still here in a year’s time.' Given that the station isn't even scheduled for closure until the end of 2011, I'd've said that's a fairly safe bet personally. Nice to see you've really still got your finger on the pulse of the nation, Greg.

The BBC is preparing a four hundred million pound clear out of programming that no longer fits with its strategic aims. The content overhaul, part of its long-awaited 'Putting Quality First' strategic review, will see it 'reprioritise' six hundred million pounds of funding specifically for 'higher-quality' UK originations by 2013. After being pressed on where the six hundred million pounds will come from, the BBC revealed that one hundred million pounds would come from a 'reduction in overheads' and that a further one hundred million pounds would be freed up by axing services such as 6 Music and cutting the budgets for BBC Online and foreign acquisitions. The remaining four hundred million of 'reprioritised' cash will come from the corporation's existing content spend, including the BBC1 and BBC2 channel budgets – heralding a major sturctural changes. The 'clear out' could be among the most radical in the corporation's history and dwarfs Channel 4's reported fifty million pounds 'creative renewal.' Under the strategy, BBC controllers will be tasked with decommissioning shows that are no longer deemed good enough or distinctive enough for the BBC, in favour of 'higher-quality content.' They will be asked to spend the freed-up cash 'through the prism of the five new editorial priorities,' outlined in the review. The BBC refused to identify which shows might be cut, with Mark Thompson claiming on Tuesday that it was 'not the time for that sort of detail.' But it is expected - at least, according to speculation in Broadcast - that property, food and makeover series will suffer, while there is also likely to be a question mark over some of the cheaper entertainment formats on BBC3, which are 'hard to justify in public-service terms,' according to the magazine. However, Thompson said there was no genre or subject area that could be ruled out under the shake-up – they would just have to be dealt with in a 'BBC way. Everything should feel distinctive. That doesn't mean the BBC can't achieve programmes in cookery and property that hit within the strategy, but it means the BBC will have to work harder to demonstrate where output differs,' he said. As part of the renewed emphasis on quality there will be a twenty five million pound boost for BBC2 - including a fresh emphasis on drama - and an additional ten million for the children's department.

BBC2 and BBC4 are both set for major shake-ups, with the former placing a fresh emphasis on scripted output and the latter going back to its highbrow roots. The review will see BBC4 'reaffirm its commitment' to arts, music and culture through factual and drama programmes, but cut back on comedy and entertainment. Thompson said: 'The direction of travel for BBC4 in some ways will take it closer to our original conception of what it should do. I think it is one of the real successes of the past decade.' The channel has grown its profile and ratings with the likes of political comedy The Thick Of It, but Thompson rejected claims that the changes would now 'emasculate' the channel. He also denied that there were ever serious discussions about merging BBC4 and BBC2, as has been reported. 'At no point have I believed we should do that. I believe BBC2 and BBC4 have [each] got a critical role. I would no more say we could glue them together than you could glue Radio 4 and Radio 3 together.' However, 'Putting Quality First' calls for a shift in the relationship between the two channels - so that they 'continue to operate in a complementary way' but have 'better defined' and more distinct roles. BBC2 will receive an extra twenty five million pounds a year from 2013, but will be subject to a root-and-branch overhaul, putting a fresh impetus on 'highly original' programmes within the five new editorial priorities. It has been tasked with increasing the volume and range of 'strongly authored' state-of-the nation and state-of-the-world drama, following in the footsteps of House Of Saddam, but also including single films. BBC2 must also order 'more risky' comedy, supporting the 'cult classics of the future,' and play a central role in developing new UK writers and performers. It will cut back on sport. In contrast, BBC1 and BBC3 were, effectively, given a clean bill of health - although they will face the same programme clear out as the rest of the television and radio services.

Meanwhile, again according to Broadcast magazine - who've been mighty busy these last few days - some people who describe themselves as 'digital creatives' (whatever the hell that entails) have 'blasted' plans to cut the BBC's one hundred and seventy seven million pounds web-spend by twenty five per cent as 'bullshit rhetoric' which 'betrays the corporation's charter.' Producers and rival commissioners have questioned what they claim is a 'TV-centric' approach that views the web as another TV platform rather than a place to create new content. The BBC plans to halve the number of sections in its websites. While it will continue to produce web content aligned to key editorial planks such as news, sport and children's, non-programming content such as Recipe Finder and older sites such as Celebdaq and Sportdaq will be closed. Adrian Hon, co-founder of digital agency Six to Start, described the cuts as 'bullshit,' arguing the BBC could 'effectively kill much of its services and content.' He added: 'How can the BBC say, with a straight face, that the Internet is "the future for the BBC" while cutting its budget by twenty five per cent? Exactly how do you improve the site's quality and consistency by closing half the sections? If it were that simple, why not cut everything the BBC does by twenty five per cent?' Paul Bennun, digital director at Somethin' Else, criticised the review's 'nonsensical' language, which he said conflated 'content' with TV - at odds with the BBC charter's commitment to 'content and services.' 'It's like the BBC in 1932 saying it should stick to radio. For many people, TV is an increasingly small part of their cultural consumption. By not reflecting that, the BBC risks becoming less relevant and increases the pressure regarding how it is paid for.' Channel 4 cross-platform commissioner Adam Gee said the cut was 'misleading' and failed to address the growing convergence of different platforms. 'The future of TV lies in a proper integration with the web, not just on-demand,' he said. 'Simply cutting twenty five per cent of web spend doesn't help people realise these things are connected.' One ex-BBC digital executive said it would be 'effortless' to cut fifty per cent of sites and said the sixteen hundred-strong department was overstaffed. But while he believed the cuts could ultimately improve the service, he accused the corporation of 'cowardice and cultural repression' regarding its overall web strategy, which remained 'fragmented and incoherent.'

Rob Lowe has reportedly signed a deal to appear on the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation. According to Entertainment Weekly, the actor will leave Brothers & Sisters at the end of the season and then guest star on the 'mockumentary'-style sitcom. The arc is said to begin later this season and will extend into the next. Details about Lowe's character are yet to be revealed. He previously starred on White House drama The West Wing and the short-lived Lyon's Den.

NBC Universal-owned Carnival Films is deficit-funding ITV's upcoming Julian Fellowes drama Downton Abbey to push its budget to about one million pounds an hour. Reports suggest that the producer will top-up funding for the lavish period drama based on estimated international sales. ITV is thought to be contributing about seven hundred thousand pounds an hour to the series, which will be filmed in England this summer with an all-star cast including Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville. ITV director of drama Laura Mackie said: 'We are still in very challenging times. It's clearly better than it was, but we are still having to work closely with producers, be very imaginative and work hard to fund shows. Downton Abbey is at the top end of our tariff and NBC's Carnival is bringing a chunky finance to the table. ITV is still going to pay the lion's share of the tariff, but I'm not going to say we're always going to fully fund. We expect producers to get additional revenue, co-production, pre-sales and all the rest.' It is understood that the budget for the second series of Carnival's Whitechapel, also slated to air in the autumn, has been reduced from last year. Again, the producer is making up the shortfall through international sales. Whitechapel was the highest-rating new drama from any broadcaster in 2009, with the three-part thriller's first episode drawing over nine million viewers. The second series is currently filming in East London. A source close to the production told Broadcast: 'It may be a sign of the times, but while ITV has been very supportive of the production, it does leave a slightly sour taste that even producing the most-watched drama of the year in Whitechapel is not enough to protect your budget going forward.' Err... it wasn't the 'most watched drama of the year,' pal, it was the most watched new drama. Doctor Who was the most watched non-soap drama of 2009. By a considerable distance, an'all. EastEnders was the most watched drama, full stop. Get your facts right, source close to the production.

James Corden has claimed that his BBC3 sketch show with Mat Horne was a 'mistake.' No shit, Sherlock. I think those of us unfortunate enough to have watched it had already sussed that fact out for ourselves.

French pop singer Mylene Farmer was arriving at a bash for the great and the good when she came a cropper on the red carpet this week. Wearing a towering pair of heels, the singer appeared to lose her footing, falling spectacularly in front of solemn-looking guards outside the Elysee Palace in Paris. The forty eight-year-old, who has sold twenty five million records worldwide probably wished that she wore flat shoes after pictures of her fall were splashed across front pages of newspapers around the world. But Farmer wasn't the only guest to take a tumble at the state dinner attended by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday. As Jean-Francois Cirelli, vice chairman and president of energy company GDF Suez, arrived with his wife, she too tripped at the top of the steps, losing her shoe in the process. And when US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Mr Sarkozy two weeks ago she also stumbled on the same steps. French workmanship, eh?

Millions of pounds raised through Live Aid was siphoned off by Ethiopian rebels to buy weapons, an investigation has claimed. Whilst Saint Bob Geldof and his less-than-saintly pal Midge Ure were urging people to 'feed the world,' the rebels were arming themselves using money given through Band Aid to fight the government. A BBC investigation said fighters posed as grain traders in meetings with aid groups to get their hands on the cash. Aregawi Berhe, the former military commander of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, claimed about sixty three million pounds from Western governments and charities was used by the rebels in Ethiopia. Where there is no snow. Apparently. The CIA wrote in a secret 1985 report: 'Some funds that insurgent organisations are raising for relief operations, as a result of increased world publicity, are almost certainly being diverted for military purposes.' Saint Bob and Penny Jenden, former executive director the Band Aid Trust, said that they 'strongly challenge' the allegations. In a letter, they said: 'It is quite incorrect, however, to say (as the BBC report does) that the bulk of the money was spent on arms or building the party.' The 1984 famine saw up to one million people die and sparked the 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' single and Live Aid concerts the following year which raised forty million pounds.

BBC1 is to send five families who work in retail back in time for a history series about the changing face of the high street. Produced by Wall to Wall, High Street Dreams (working title) will recreate the high street of different eras of British history from the 1870s to the 1970s in an empty parade of shops. The show has echoes of the immersive social history of BBC2's Victorian Farm and will challenge the families to take on the traditional roles of butcher, baker, grocer, ironmonger and dressmaker. Each week, they will have to adopt the conditions of the time, including how they dress and the way they spend their free time. 'They'll have to deal with whatever history throws at them, from gaslight to eighteen-hour working days, and from rationing to evenings of entertainment sitting around the wireless,' the BBC said. 'Their historic shops will be kitted out exactly as they would have been in the past and they'll trade as authentically as possible. So alongside all the usual pressures of running a business, they'll have to learn old-time skills and make their own produce by hand.' BBC1 controller Jay Hunt, who ordered the show with history and business commissioning editor Martin Davidson, said: 'The rise and fall of the high street is the story of all our daily lives – touching on the history of technology, family relationships, work, food, fashion and community. This series is a fantastic opportunity for BBC1 to witness one hundred years of British history through the shop window.'

Manchester United chief executive David Gill has claimed that the clubs American owners, the Glazer brothers, 'are very passionate about the club' adding 'they don't come to many games but they watch every match on television.' Much like the vast majority of the club's support, one could suggest.

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