Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Doin' It For The Kids!

Stephen Fry (seen right, looking more and more like James May every day. Especially the hair!) has criticised British TV saying it is shocking how infantilised adult programmes have become and causing tabloid headlines in the Mirror. And the Daily Scum Mail. And the Sun. (There's probably more but this blogger felt dirty enough already wading through those three to check any further.) 'I'm not saying TV should be pompous and academic, but it should surprise and astonish,' he said. The Qi host said BBC dramas like Merlin and Doctor Who, were 'wonderfully written' but 'not for adults.' The comedian and writer was speaking at the annual BAFTA Television Lecture in London. Fry said: 'The only drama the BBC will boast about are Merlin and Doctor Who, which are fine but they're children's programmes. They're not for adults. They're very good children's programmes, don't get me wrong, they're wonderfully written. But they are like a chicken nugget. Every now and again we all like it.' He added: 'If you are an adult you want something surprising, savoury, sharp, unusual, cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong,' he said. Personally, I think Doctor Who, at least, is all of those things and many more besides. But I do - kind of - know what Stephen's trying to get at here. On the other hand, I'd also argue - from a purely licence-fee payers point of view - that I really don't think British TV viewers are as badly served as these comments (taken out of context, of course, by a sensationalist tabloid story) might suggest. I believe many British TV dramas which have been featured on this blog over the past year or so - Ashes To Ashes, Torchwood, [Spooks], Occupation, Waking The Dead, Collision, Unforgiven, Being Human, Wallender, the list is not an inexhaustive one - are anything but infantile and satisfy me, as a viewer, both on a level of entertainment and, also, intellectually. Would I like to see more of those? Sure. So, I can see what he's getting at, here. But, I think it's rather an oversimplification which, to be honest, really surprises me from a chap as clued-in as the great Fry himself. But, bless him, it shows he cares and, for that, we love him to bits! 'You want to try those things, because that's what being adult means. It's children's television, it's entirely infantilised. It's not grown up. If I wanted to be angry I would say infantilism's the problem,' he said. 'The number of times I turn on the television and I think, "Gosh, children's television's gone on, that's a really good art documentary. Oh my God, it's nine o'clock in the evening. This is for grown ups?" It's just shocking.' Fry praised US TV, which he said provided 'surprise and shock and adulthood.' Again, though, whilst I broadly agree with this, US drama - particularly US network TV drama - can be equally formulaic and predictable. The best of it is easily as good as anything in the world but for every Lost or House or Dexter, there's a welter of standard generic tosh (much of which, thankfully, never makes it to this country). Stephen's a semi-regular guest on one of the best dramas American TV produces, Bones, a surprising and really well-made, intelligent and clever little show. Many others aren't like that! He also said BBC's comedy shows such as Gavin & Stacey and Little Britain whilst 'very successful,' were also 'unbelievably Balkanised. They are set into a particular demographic. This is what I mean by television not being the nation's fireplace. It's just all parcelled and I don't know that there's a solution to it,' he added. Fry also attacked the 'absurdity' of compliance rules and the 'fear' engendered by the Sachsgate scandal involving Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. He also urged the BBC to develop more of a backbone in dealing with complaints from people who are 'desperately in need of help.' He described it as 'un-be-arseing-lievable' that more than five hundred people would complain about the vuvuzelas that marred their enjoyment of TV coverage of the World Cup. 'Did they imagine the BBC could go into the stadium and wrench them from people's lips?' he asked. 'And these are the people about whom executives have to sweat.'

Ah, but there's a sting in this story - you kind of knew there would be, didn't you? Probably the most interesting part of Stephen's speech, the full text of which can be read here (and please do read it, in full, it is beautiful), was the opening section in which he noted that: 'I am fully and furiously and timorously aware that over the course of the next forty minutes or so I might say a thousand harmless, possibly even true, things and yet make one hasty or ill-considered remark and it will dog me for weeks to come for I am to talk about television, and if there is one thing that the newspapers of this country like to pounce upon, it is any breath of criticism directed from an insider at broadcasting networks and their executives. It's one of the media's favourite indoor sports. Imagine for example that I were to heap praise on the hierarchy of the BBC for forty minutes but devote just one quarter of one minute to questioning – oh I don't know – Junior Apprentice for example, a programme I have never incidentally seen so don't expect me actually to remark on it. It's like Krygyzstan. I know it exists but the chances of me ever spending any time there are very remote. For all I know however, Junior Apprentice sets new standards in intelligent superbly conceived and brilliantly executed public service broadcasting. The point is that were I to give just one sideways swipe at it, my earlier forty minutes of praise would be ignored. 'In a withering attack on the BBC and its management, Stephen Fry unleashed a devastating criticism of reality programming,' or 'At BAFTA last night Fry launched a personal attack on director general Mark Thompson that had an amazed audience of industry insiders reeling in their designer seats,' et cetera. You get the picture. No matter how circumspect I intend to be, that will happen. I suppose I could deliver a lecture so bland, so complimentary, so suffused with love, admiration and optimism that even a cultural journalist would be unable to read licence fee scepticism or compliance doubt into it but I haven't been asked here to be bland and I would be failing in what I suppose I might pompously call my duty if I were not at least to attempt to address the issues of today in relation to television as I see them but first I have some interests to declare.' And, indeed, that's exactly what happened. The reported comments about the 'infantile' nature of British TV drama came, it would seem, not from anywhere within the actual speech itself but as part of a - mostly harmless - Q&A session which immediately followed. To predict your own future with such Mystic Meg-type accuracy and then - in best Quantum Leap fashion - trying to make sure it doesn't happen, Stephen Fry looks, as your hero Oscar Wilde once suggested, like carelessness! Storm in a tea cup. Twinings? The Press Association, of course, immediately rounded up The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat for a reaction. He gave them one: 'Asked about Fry's comments, Moffat said Fry was a big Doctor Who fan and joked he was trying to sound "grown up!" He said of Doctor Who: "It was designed specifically to be a family programme, that's what it's for."' How long do we reckon it'll be before some tabloid starts reporting a 'war of words' between the two most powerful Steves in British telly?! You couldn't make it up. Well, you could. And they, indeed, will. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. That's French for 'don't say anything controversial!'

The four episodes of Doctor Who which premièred in May, were the top four most requested programmes for the month on the BBC iPlayer. Top of the list was episode seven, Amy's Choice, with nearly 1.4 million requests. Flesh and Stone was second, followed by The Vampires of Venice and The Hungry Earth. The four episodes were the only programmes to have over one million requests each, during the month. Cold Blood, came in at number eight in the Top Ten despite only being available for the last two days of the month. Overall Doctor Who was the second most requested programme of the month with over six-and-a-half million requests for one of the nine episodes available. The top programme was EastEnders with over eight million requests, although these were spread over thirty three episodes. Doctor Who had by far the highest downloads per episode.

Chris Packham has been criticised after making a joke about dogging on Springwatch. Speaking on Monday's live show, the presenter referred to a clip which showed him with some dogs in Kensington Gardens. He said: 'I can do a bit of dogging and bird-watching at the same time.' According to the Mirror, six viewers - the the collective sense of humour of a mollusc, clearly - complained to the BBC after hearing the quip while others criticised the comment on the show's website. One person reportedly said: 'Sexual innuendo is not acceptable. You make reference to dogging in a royal park. I'm certain the Queen would not approve.' How the hell do you know? Do you presume to speak for Her Majesty you arrogant prick? However, Packham described the comment as 'banter,' adding: 'We were discussing birding - short for bird-watching - and a new word for dog-watching sprang out.' Last year, Packham was forced to apologise after suggesting that pandas should be left to die out, while in May he claimed that donating money to tiger conservation charities is pointless as their results are 'disastrous.'

Natalie Imbruglia reportedly sparked another backlash at the X Factor auditions by voting in favour of a hopeful who once sang at her birthday party. According to the Sun, Imbruglia recognised opera singer Keedy Green after she came on stage and performed a well-received rendition of 'Time To Say Goodbye.,' Imbruglia is quoted by the newspaper as saying: 'You sang at my birthday a few years back. I remember because it made me cry it was so amazing. I'm definitely putting you through.' However, it is thought that Imbruglia's remarks annoyed auditionees who had been rejected by the panel. One allegedly said: 'What a coincidence that someone who Natalie knew got to sing in front of the judges and got put through.' An X Factor source insisted that Green was 'brilliant' and won a place in the next round on her own merit. She had been backed by the entire panel and also received cheers from the crowd. The incident is understood to have occurred in Birmingham on Monday - one day after Imbruglia faced taunts from a contestant and heckling from audience members when she made her debut as a guest judge.

Harry Enfield is planning for his forthcoming sketch show to air without a laugh track - a first for the sketch shows that have made his name. The third series of Harry & Paul, in which Enfield plays a range of characters with his regular cohort Paul Whitehouse, is being filmed largely on location and will not be played in to a studio audience. The first series was almost entirely studio-based but Enfield told Broadcast's Comedy Forum last September that he was self-conscious of acting too broadly when he had to perform to an audience and subsequently shifted more sketches to single camera location shoots. Although Enfield has appeared in some shows without laughter tracks, his earlier sketch series such as The Harry Enfield Show and Harry Enfield & Chums all played out to a studio audience. The latest series also sees the show move from BBC1 to BBC2. The corporation has denied that the move was a demotion, describing it as a 'better fit,' but Enfield joked at the event: 'We've been sacked by BBC1 because we only delivered five million viewers or something. I don't know how it works there anymore.'

A former Hell's Angel has reportedly filed a lawsuit against FX claiming that he created the concept for Sons Of Anarchy. According to TMZ, Chuck Zito has alleged that he pitched a show about an 'outlaw motorcycle club' to the network in 2004. Zito, who was previously head of the Hell's Angels New York chapter, has reportedly said that he had an 'implied-in-fact contract' with FX that if his ideas were used he would be 'reasonably compensated and afforded appropriate screen credits.' He alleged that the network decided not to develop the series but claimed that Sons Of Anarchy, which premiered in 2008, is 'substantially similar.' Zito is thought to be suing for more than five million dollars for breach of the 'implied-in-fact' contract. FX has declined to comment on the reports.

Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop has won a series order for a Saturday prime time show for BBC1 later this summer and is also fronting a World Cup application for the iPhone and iPad. Following a successful pilot, BBC1 has commissioned a six part series of John Bishop's Britain. It will be filmed in front of a live audience and see the comedian perform stand-up and discuss a different theme each week with a celebrity guest and members of the public. Bishop, who is currently on screens as a panellist on Sky 1's A League of their Own will apply his brand of observational humour, while guests – from many different walks of life, ages and backgrounds – will tell their stories on the week’s theme.

Endemol has instructed media law firm Wiggin to consider a bid for Five. JP Morgan is handling the sale for Five parent company RTL and has issued a memorandum on the company to potential bidders thought to include ITV, BSKYB, Time Warner and Warner Bros. The deadline for bids is Monday 21 June. Pan-European broadcaster RTL, part of the Bertelsmann media group, wrote down the value of Five to one hundred and nineteen million Euros. But analysts suggest it could be worth between two hundred and two hundred and fifty million. The sale is also rumoured to include Talkback and Fremantle, which would enable Endemol to build on its recent purchase of Tiger Aspect, Tigress and Darlow Smithson to create a production and distribution powerhouse with its own UK broadcasting arm. Bertelsmann would be likely to retain a stake. However, one senior source said RTL would get more value out of selling the businesses separately. Media law firm Wiggin confirmed it acts for Endemol, but could not discuss specific projects. A source close to Five said that the race was 'wide open' and offers were coming from 'an extraordinary variety of people.' RTL and Endemol both refused to comment.

X Factor champion Joe McElderry says that he does not worry about the future of his career. No, I'dve said it's pretty much all mapped out. A couple of hit records then, Butlin's, cruise ships, stacking shelves at Morrisons etc.

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