Monday, August 09, 2010

Everybody Out!

EastEnders crews who work for BBC Studios and Post Production have voted for four days of strike action over withdrawal of travel-to-work allowances. The dispute centres on travel costs of one hundred thousand pounds a year – five hundred thousand pounds over the BBC subsidiary company's five year contract with EastEnders – which were established, in some cases as long as ten years ago, when jobs moved from TV Centre to Elstree. BBC Studios and Post Production (BBC S&PP) say the costs, claimed by twenty one staff in its forty five-strong drama business, are unsustainable. In a ballot of its twenty seven members in BBC S&PP drama services, fourteen voted in favour of industrial action, six voted against and seven abstained. Six months of negotiations resumed earlier this week but again broke down. Payments to camera operators, sound supervisors and others affected will now cease on 11 August, the company said. The planned strike days are 12, 20 and 26 August and 1 September. In an e-mail to all company colleagues, Mark Thomas, chief executive officer of BBC S&PP, said: 'We cannot afford to reimburse these travel to work claims for the benefit of just twenty one colleagues at a time when other colleagues are losing their jobs as we work hard in all areas of our business to balance the books.' He told Ariel: 'We are disappointed that fourteen BECTU members have voted to take industrial action when we have been discussing fair and workable proposals with them for six months. We remain open to continuing conversations with the union to resolve this issue.' A company spokeswoman said BBC S&PP had been working closely with the EastEnders production team to avoid any disruption to recording on strike days. BECTU assistant general secretary Luke Crawley said his members' decision to strike had been taken reluctantly as they did not want their action to impact on the programme. 'Loss of these allowances will be keenly felt, with people losing five thousand pounds - ten thousand pounds a year in income,' he said. 'This withdrawal is the straw that broke the camel's back, coming on top of ongoing issues about scheduling and turnaround at Elstree.'

According to Vicky Frost in a very good piece in the Gruniad Morning Star, the BBC's head of drama Ben Stephenson is due to meet Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss on Wednesday to formally discuss the recommissioning of Sherlock. 'The response to Sherlock has been amazing, and we'll be speaking very positively about it,' Stephenson is quoted as saying. The decision about the length and number of future episodes would rest with Moffat and Gatiss. The longer format, as Frost notes, has been praised by fans. Stephenson believes it has contributed to the show's success. 'Ninety minutes means Sherlock feels like less of a detective show and more of an adventure show,' he said. Traditionally, August has been seen as a quiet time for television drama, with broadcasters waiting until autumn to launch their big shows. But Stephenson says that such rules no longer holds – in 2008 the corporation broadcast Criminal Justice and House of Saddam over the summer; last year the corporation ran the successful special week-long series of Torchwood: Children of Earth. 'Audiences always want to see good drama – and the majority of people don't go away for the whole summer,' he said. But it is Sherlock that has caught the public's imagination, not least because of Moffat's involvement. The 'first series of the new Doctor Who, with Moffat at the helm – and Matt Smith and Karen Gillan ensconced in the TARDIS – has been widely heralded as a triumph,' notes Frost. 'Last Sunday's instalment of Sherlock was perceived to be weaker than the first episode in terms of plot, but still attracted 6.6 million viewers and critical praise.' Stephenson said he was thrilled with the reception. 'I thought Sherlock would be big because Steven is a god, Benedict and Martin are a fantastic pairing and the direction was brilliant. But you never know until you put it out.'

The finale of Sherlock attracted an overnight audience of 7.34m for its Moriarty-cliffhanger episode last night. The Great Game, written by Mark Gatiss, pulled in 7.01m on BBC1, along with a further three hundred and twenty five thousand viewers on BBC HD. Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes has been popular with both viewers and critics, with the first three-part series averaging a very strong 7.2m. Meanwhile, The Unforgettable Bob Monkhouse was a long way off in second place in the 9pm hour, with 3.27m for ITV. Coast put in another creditable performance on BBC2 with 2.64m whilst Big Brother attracted a smidgen under two million viewers on Channel 4. Earlier in the evening, Last of the Summer Wine was watched by 3.91m on BBC1. Countryfile followed with 4.25m, narrowly beaten by ITV's Heartbeat, which achieved 4.59m. BBC2's Top Gear repeat scored 3.27m.

Friday's edition of Celebrity MasterChef, meanwhile, considerably dented ITV's Coronation Street in the ratings. The cult BBC1 cookery show saw a week-on-week rise of just under five hundred thousand viewers while a further two hundred thousand deserted Weatherfield between 8.30pm and 9pm. Later, My Family and The Old Guys both performed well from 9pm, with 4.56m and 3.25m respectively.

Torchwood creator Russell Davies has revealed more details of the upcoming fourth series, including the full title. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the next series of the Doctor Who spin-off has been given the subtitle The New World. The episodes will follow CIA agent Rex and analyst Ester as they investigate an alien conspiracy and encounter Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles). '[Torchwood is] like a legend now. It's like something that's ceased to exist and is now spoken of only in whispers,' said Davies. 'The two teams coming together is a big part of the story. Are they friends or enemies? There's a lot of sparks and excitement.' The showrunner also explained that airing on the Starz network could allow Torchwood to be more relaxed with regards to violence and sexual content. 'I've always had loose standards and practices,' he explained. 'If the story demands intimacy or savagery, we will go there absolutely.' Executive producer Julie Gardner added that The New World would reboot the show to make it accessible to new viewers. 'We definitely have a really big story to tell,' she said. 'It's absolutely rebooted to welcome in a new audience.'

Philip Glenister has insisted that the licence fee should not be cut. According to the Mirror, the former Ashes To Ashes star was unhappy when culture minister oily Jeremy Hunt suggested that the fee could be reduced in the future. 'We've got a culture minister that wants to cut the licence fee, which is a fucking joke,' Glenister said. 'There's nothing on Jeremy Hunt's CV that says he knows a thing about culture. He's got nothing.' He added: 'It's vital that the BBC is maintained as a public broadcaster - the alternative would be a fucking nightmare. Can you imagine if people actually had to watch Channel Five?'

Phill Jupitus has revealed that he almost quit Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Speaking to the Gruniad Morning Star, the comedian explained that he was unhappy with the way former host Simon Amstell treated some of the guests. 'It struck me with Simon that people were being booked especially to have the piss taken out of them in a very overt fashion,' he said. 'Mark [Lamarr] didn't book people to rag on them, it was just in the flow of the show that people suddenly went a bit weird and Mark could turn on them. It became something else with Simon and started to get a bit wearing.' However, Jupitus explained that he decided to stay following Amstell's departure. The show now has guest hosts each week.

The launch date of The X Factor series seven has been confirmed. Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue will begin their hunt for Britain's next great singing star on Saturday, 21 August at 8.30pm on ITV. The Xtra Factor will follow immediately afterwards on ITV2 with new host Konnie Huq. The first audition shows will feature guest judges including Geri Halliwell, Katy Perry and Natalie Imbruglia, who stood in for Minogue while she was on maternity leave. This weekend, Huq will host recap show The Xtra Factor: Rewind on ITV2, which will look back at the highs and lows of last year's competition. The presenter will catch up with the former contestants, including winner Little Joe McElderry, to find out how the show changed their lives, and meet the judges for a preview of this year's series.

Anne Robinson has revealed that she has heard rumours about what some of the contestants on The Weakest Link can get up to. The quiz show celebrates its tenth anniversary this week, beginning today with a repeat of the very first episode. 'When we filmed it at Pinewood studios we did it very early in the morning, which meant that the contestants spent the night before in a hotel near Slough,' Robinson told the Sun. 'There was sometimes a rumour that a couple of contestants had got it on with each other in the night, having been in the bar all evening. There could be a few Weakest Link babies out there.' The sixty five-year-old also confessed that despite her harsh put-downs, she does feel sorry for some of the show's contestants. 'You do meet people afterwards or you meet their mothers who never forgive you,' she admitted. 'Forty-five minutes of The Weakest Link in front of me is worse than a Brazilian bikini wax. People say, "God, they are stupid on that programme." But contestants have got to be above average to get on. It's the lights and nerves, your brain leaves your body.'

The executive producers of Lost have admitted that they found some of the reactions to the series finale 'hurtful.' In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse explained that they knew not everyone would be happy with the ending. 'It was never going to be possible for us to fulfil everyone's expectations or desires for the show,' Cuse said. 'But the fact that there seems to be a significant amount of people for whom the finale was very meaningful was very gratifying.' Meanwhile, Lindelof explained that he wanted to please the fans of the show. 'To be clear, we are not indifferent to fan reaction,' he said. 'We care about what they think. A lot. And the hardest part for me about the end of Lost has been the people who are so angry at the show. To read that I personally wasted the last six years of your life, or to read that people think we lied to them - it's very hurtful. It sucks to hear that.'

Imelda Staunton is to join the cast of the forthcoming Hallow'een Special and the second series of the award-winning, dark comedy Psychoville. For Imelda this marks a return to TV comedy, after her recent roles in the Harry Potter series, the Oscar-nominated Vera Drake and the roving gossip Miss Pole in BBC1's Cranford. Imelda will star as a sharp suited, shadowy figure with mysterious motives. Imelda says, 'There's nothing I enjoy more than hanging out with weirdoes, freaks and undesirables, so of course I jumped at the chance to work on Psychoville with Steve and Reece.'

BBC laptops and mobiles worth over two hundred and forty thousand pounds were lost or stolen over the past two years, a Freedom of Information request has revealed. The corporation's staff reported the loss of one hundred and forty six laptops, sixty five mobile phones and seventeen Blackberry devices between April 2008 and March this year. Well, don't look at me, I didn't nick 'em. Computer security firm Absolute Software, who put in the request, said that staff needed to be more careful. A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation took any thefts very seriously. The FOI response, which included figures for commercial subsidiaries including BBC Worldwide, said the missing laptops had been valued at around two hundred and twenty thousand pounds, the mobile phones at just under thirteen thousand and the Blackberrys at around nine thousand quid. However nineteen items worth over twenty three thousand pounds were later recovered. One BBC worker was investigated over the theft of a laptop but the company was unable to confirm if any staff had been disciplined over the losses. Dave Everitt from Absolute Software said: 'It is shocking that any organisation could lose so much equipment, but the BBC is just one of many we've seen recently, proving it's all too common. In this case, however, this technology is paid for by the licence payer and employees should be far more careful about how they handle it.' Last month a survey by Lewis Communications revealed that eleven government departments had reported the loss of five hundred and eighteen laptops, one hundred and thirty one Blackberrys or iPhones, one hundred and four mobiles and nine hundred and thirty two electronic storage devices worth worth an estimated seven hundred and eight thousand pounds during the same period. The worst offender was the Ministry of Defence which had more items go missing than the BBC in that time. The BBC said mobile devices were 'appropriately protected' and, if necessary, 'data security breach procedures' were put in place as soon as a report about missing equipment was made. A BBC spokeswoman said: 'The BBC takes theft very seriously and has implemented a number of measures to reduce the level of crime. The portability of laptops and phones means that in any large organisation there is an inevitable risk of theft.' She added: 'The BBC investigation service is involved whenever an allegation of theft is made, and where appropriate the police are informed and prosecutions brought where we can.' She said the corporation promoted crime prevention but the company was 'a large public organisation with thousands of visitors every week.' Everitt told the Press Association he questioned whether the laptops were 'appropriately protected' because of the number of devices that were not recovered. He said: 'The BBC would do well to ensure they are using the technology that's already installed in most laptops to track such stolen devices as well as smart phones and recover them, or at least render them impossible, for others to use.'

Channel 4 will unveil some of its plans today as the UK's official broadcaster for the London 2012 Paraylmpics. The deal was announced in January with the terrestrial broadcaster promising to bring enthusiasm and innovation along with unprecedented coverage. This is to include at least one hundred and fifty hours of key disability sport and sporting events in the run-up to London 2012. Having seen a preview showreel, Jody Cundy, a double Paralympic cycle champion at the Beijing Games, said he was impressed. He told the Press Association: 'It looks like TV should be. It looks like the sort of thing that you would want to watch which is what Paralympic sport should be. It was fabulous and you could feel the passion they had for it.' Channel 4 scooped the BBC, which has covered Paralympic sport since the 1980 Games, to the broadcast rights in a tendering process. More details of what free-to-air audiences can expect are being released as the broadcaster prepares for the two-year countdown to the start of the London 2012 Paralympics on 29 August. So far Channel 4 have said that Deborah Poulton is to project manage the Paralympics for the channel with a core commissioning team whose job will be to ensure the key pledges made about programming, online, marketing, and games coverage. Paralympics programmes will be managed by the relevant commissioning departments - covering programmes such as documentaries, off-peak, T4. Alison Walsh will have a senior editorial contribution across all the coverage, according to C4's website. London 2012 chair Lord Coe said key factors had been Games organisers' confidence in the 'quality and depth' not just for the twelve days of sport in the build-up to 2012. The aim is to educate, to inspire disabled people of all ages to take up sport and hopefully trigger changes in public attitudes towards disability, he said. 'The commercial value of this deal has raised the bar financially for the Paralympic movement.'

Jason Manford has joked that he is a cut-price version of Adrian Chiles. Manford landed his new job on The ONE Show when Chiles decided to leave the BBC for ITV. 'Well, I suppose I am a cut-price Chiles,' Jason told the Mirror. 'I am sat in his chair and I am earning a lot less than him, so factually it is correct.' However, Manford added that there are also differences between him and Chiles, saying: 'He doesn't do stand-up. We have got different attributes and he is a bit older. 'All my career I've taken over from people. I took over from Dave Spikey on 8 Out Of 10 Cats and from Paul Tonkinson on a radio show. There is always a predecessor and someone has to take over.' He continued: 'If I can be seventy per cent as good as Chiles I'll be all right. And I think me and Alex [Jones] will be great once we settle in. We are going to approach the show differently.' Manford also admitted that some viewers may be unhappy with the new line-up. 'There is always a set of people that hates everything new,' he said. 'There are people that loved Adrian and Christine so much it doesn't matter who you put on there - you could put Mother Teresa and Jesus Christ on there and they wouldn't be happy. But there is another set who watch because they like the show itself. They won't be bothered who is doing it.'

Kate Moss is to release her own home-made jams, it has been revealed. Mmm... sticky.

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