Friday, December 09, 2011

The Twenty Two Days Of Christmas: A Fab-A-Laba-Ding-Dong-Chrimbo

The third MasterChef: The Professionals semi-final saw Michel and Gregg 'astounded', 'blown away', and close to tears as they ripped up the rule-book and put both Steve Barringer and Claire Hutchings - the two babies of the competition - through to join Ash Mair and Oli Farrer in next week's final. The last pair of semi-finalists went head-to-head in service at London's Michelin-starred Pied a Terre, as they fought for a place in the finals. Working under head chef Marcus Eaves, they competed in the heat of service to reach the exacting standards of Michelin star cuisine.
At that stage, Claire - just twenty two and with stunningly beautiful bright blue eyes that looked like you could drown in them - was ahead of Steve, a clearly talented and affable young chap but showing some signs of nerves. After a relentless service the chefs were then tasked with recreating one of Marcus's signature dishes: poached lobster with crushed peas, confit white peach and a mint and tarragon emulsion. Again, Brummy Claire - who was fast stealing the heart of every male MasterChef viewer! - probably came out of this one slightly the ahead of her rival. Then, the two semi-finalists returned to the studio for one last challenge; to produce a main and dessert inspired by their Michelin experience in just an hour and forty minutes. What they came up with probably surpassed even Michel Roux and Gregg Wallace's expectations. Steve's main course was pan-fried turbot and roast scallops, confit of chicken thigh, served with truffled gnocchi, wild mushrooms and cep purée with a red wine reduction. Claire's answer to that was roasted Dover sole on the bone, with pork puffs, Serrano ham, peanut sauce, butternut squash and purée, caviar, truffles, caraway seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds and borage flowers. She followed that with a chocolate moelleux - she couldn't quite pronounce it but, by hell, she could cook it! - served with fresh summer berries, yoghurt and raspberry sorbet, confit orange zest, clotted cream, honey, spearmint, raspberry dust and chocolate 'soil'. 'You are a talent. An intriguing talent,' Gregg told her as she shot him back a minxy, coquettish smile.
But Steve wasn't finished yet - my word, no - and delivered a chocolate mousse with crackle crystals, pistachio cream poached cherries with cherry sorbet a pistachio tweel and a pistachio and cherry milkshake. All were elegantly presented and, from the reaction of the judges - near orgasmic at times - tasted better than sex. Neither of them, quite, said 'there's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited,' but at times, it was sodding close! And so, in the end, probably the right result was reached and they put their pair of them through. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping still fancies Aussie Ash to win the competition (sorry Ash, that's almost certainly put the mockers on you, mate, given my tipping record), but any one of the four finalists could potentially win the thing. They've certainly got the talent.

With a battle for viewers looming, pitting Downton Abbey against EastEnders and Absolutely Fabulous on Christmas Day, BBC1 is heading into the festive ratings war with ITV. However, consolidated ratings figures for 2011 to the end of November show that both BBC1 and ITV have lost peak-time viewers year-on-year. Whilst BBC1 has fallen a shade during the 6pm to 10.30pm peak-time hours – from 22.9 per cent in 2010 to 22.5 per cent – ITV has dropped a shade more; from 22.1 per cent to 21.2 per cent. Figures compiled by the main terrestrial broadcasters for the year to 28 November show that while BBC1's audience share for all hours has remained steady at 20.7 per cent so far this year – the only main channel to do so – ITV's has dropped slightly, from 16.8 per cent to sixteen per cent. But the good news for both BBC and ITV is that with just under a year to go until digital switchover is completed, the ratings decline that the main terrestrial broadcasters have experienced since the expansion of digital channels began, appears to have levelled off. ITV's fall is less marked if you include figures for timeshift service ITV+1. With the addition of those viewers, its peak-time audience falls only slightly, from 22.2 per cent last year to twenty two per cent and its all-hours share from 16.9 per cent to 16.7 per cent. Some of the year-on-year fall may be attributed to the fact that last year ITV and BBC1 broadcast the football World Cup from South Africa. Meanwhile, BBC2 has maintained its 2010 average peak-time share of 7.8 per cent, compared with Channel Four's 6.1 per cent. However, BBC2's all-hours share is down slightly from 6.9 per cent to 6.6 per cent. Channel Four's all hours share is 5.9 per cent, and when Channel Four's +1 viewers are included this rises to 6.6 per cent all hours, and seven per cent for peak-time share. A Channel Four spokeswoman said: 'Channel Four has actually increased share to its portfolio of channels in 2011.' The effect of cancelling Big Brother has not appeared to have a huge impact on Channel Four's viewing figures, which are down six per cent overall or down four per cent if Channel 4+1 is taken into account, compared with 2010. Despite picking up Big Brother, Channel Five's all-hours audience share has fallen from 4.6 per cent to 4.4 per cent, while its peak-time figures have dropped by roughly the same amount. A BBC spokeswoman said: 'In a year that's seen our distinctiveness increase and audience appreciation figures reach a record high, it's great that both of our terrestrial channels are performing so well.' An ITV spokesman said: 'ITV has had a successful blah, blah, blah ...' And so on for several minutes.

A wide-ranging BBC review launched in the wake of the Scum of the World phone-hacking scandal has concluded there is no evidence of phone or computer-hacking or bribery by the corporation's journalists, although it found that private investigators are occasionally used. However, despite the clean bill of health, BBC director general Mark Thompson is to recommend a beefing up of guidelines for journalists. The internal review, launched in July to look into the BBC's editorial practices and policies in investigative journalism, found that private investigators are used occasionally for tasks such as locating or identifying 'subjects of significant public interest programmes.' Thompson, addressing the monthly meeting of the BBC Trust, said that the findings of the review were 'very encouraging.' According to the minutes of the meeting, held on 24 October at the BBC Trust's Great Portland Street offices in central London, Thompson said that private investigators were used by the BBC 'most commonly for surveillance or security services' – to ensure the safety of journalists or to make an advanced check of a location where filming is to be taking place – 'and to obtain the whereabouts or identity of individuals who are the subject of significant public interest programmes.' He added that the review did not suggest any shortcomings in the practices or principles of the BBC's editorial guidelines. However, Thompson said he would be recommending some changes to the guidelines or guidance to strengthen safeguards further. The report will be discussed again later this month after it has been reviewed by the BBC's executive board and the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee. 'The BBC presented a report of its editorial practices and policies in investigative journalism to the trust following disclosures about the use of phone-hacking in the British press,' said a BBC spokesman. 'The review also reflected information requested from the BBC by Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. The review found no evidence of phone or computer hacking or bribery. It has, however, recommended some changes to the guidelines or guidance to strengthen these safeguards further.'

After months of speculation and second guessing, we now know who all four celebrity coaches will be when The Voice arrives on BBC1 next spring. It may not come as a surprise to avid tabloid readers that seventy one-year-old Tom Jones has today been confirmed for the talent show. However, the final name, The Script's Danny O'Donoghue, has remained a remarkably well-kept secret - as most of the rumours had surrounded Will Young. The Voice is based on a Dutch format from the creator of Big Brother and has become a great success across the world, most notably in the US with coaches Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Christina Aguilera. It's no secret that the BBC has taken a huge gamble buying into this expensive format at a time when budgets are being slashed elsewhere. But if the show is to justify its price tag and replicate the mammoth viewing figures of ITV's big talent shows, the panel of coaches has to be great. So are they good enough? On balance, it looks like the Beeb may just have pulled this one off. Although perhaps not the most famous singer on the planet, O'Donoghue, thirty one, has serious music credentials through his work with indie rockers The Script. The band has released two critically acclaimed studio CDs, The Script (2008) and Science and Faith (2010), and enjoyed success across the world, including top twenty hits in America's notoriously difficult to crack Billboard chart. O'Donoghue will bring an indie-pop edge to proceedings, which should appeal to budding rockers – including the key demographic of young men - in, perhaps, the same way that Adam Levine of Maroon 5 does in the US version of the show. With many tabloids having predicted former Pop Idol contestant Will Young would take the fourth coaching spot, this looks like a much more interesting and bold signing for the BBC – and one that should reap rewards. In a competition called The Voice, how could Welsh superstar Tom Jones not have been near the top of the Beeb's wishlist? With over one hundred million records sold in a career that's spanned six decades, Jones is without question an international superstar and an artist whose hits are familiar to both young and old alike. As the grand patriarch of the panel, Tom will not only loan authority and experience to an otherwise relatively young group of coaches – he will offer a touchstone to older viewers who perhaps wouldn't otherwise be interested in a mainly youth-oriented singing competition. This universal appeal of The Voice could make the difference between it being a success or failure for the BBC, so Jones will be key in this mix. Jessie J is young (just twenty three), successful and current in the musical world. Having appeared for a brief stint on The X Factor as Tulisa's 'on-screen friend' at the judges' houses stage this year, she's already effectively passed her screen test for talent show mentoring. She ticks all the boxes for ensuring chart pop fans will be tuning in, and will guarantee a youthful female audience for the show – an incredibly important demographic in any television talent contest, most of which deliver a female dominated audience to broadcasters. Thirty six-year-old will.i.am is a man not only responsible for shifting tens of millions of units with hip-hop chartbusters The Black Eyed Peas, but he is also a producer of considerable note. Having worked on records with artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, U2, Justin Timberlake and Earth Wind and Fire, there's no question that this man is qualified to give advice to contestants on whether their performance sounds good. Additionally, will.i.am's friendship with Cheryl Cole will certainly not do The Voice any harm when the tabloids are looking for stories to write on a slow day during the series. That may sound utterly frivolous - and, indeed, it does - but whether or not the tabloids get behind this show could be an essential factor in whether or not it works.

Matt Smith has expressed his disappointment at the cancellation of Doctor Who Confidential. The behind-the-scenes show was axed by BBC3 controller Zai The Axeman Bennett in late September. '[I was] really sorry,' Smith told What's On TV. 'It's a pity as I think it's a show which can reinvent itself year-on-year and it's one of the biggest shows on BBC3.' Yeah, mate, so was Ideal and look what happened to that. Bennett previously defended his decision, explaining that BBC3 is 'focusing investment' on 'original commissions' in the future. 'I guess people come in and have new ideas and want to have their own fresh take on it,' said Smith. 'But, hey, some you win, some you lose.'

Right, now for a veritable plethora of scheduling news: The two major channels have put out their schedules for New Year's Eve. On BBC1, things kick off at 6:30 Winter Wipeout, followed at 7:30 by the terrestrial premier of Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Later, at 10:20 there's Match of the Day, then the National Lottery at 11:40 and New Year Live from 11:55. The new year begins at quarter past midnight with Lee Mack Going Out Live. On ITV there's Westlife: For The Last Time at 7:00, The Cube an hour later, It'll Be Alright on The Night at 9:00 and a repeat of one of the channel's drama highlights of 2011, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher from 10:00. BBC2 are repeating Eric and Ernie at 9:00, followed, inevitably, by Jools Hollnad's annual Hootenanny whilst Channel Four have Alan Carr's New Year Spectacular from 9:00 to 11:35. All is quiet on New Year's Day, according to U2. But, the BBC seem determined to disprove that. Starting with EastEnders at 7:00, the first day of 2012 also sees the long-awaited return of Sherlock at 8:10. At 10:35, there's Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall. ITV, by contrast, have the premier of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince at 7:15. BBC2 have To Boldly Go at 9:00, whilst Channel Four will broadcast the return of The Hotel at 8:00, Bear's Wild Weekend With Jonathan Ross at 9:00 and Hacks at 10:00. Sky1 have the return of Got To Dance at 6:00 and their much-anticipated adaptation of Treasure Island at 7:00. Monday 2 January sees the BBC premiering Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at 6:00, the second episode of The Royal Bodyguard at 9:00 and Mrs Brown's Boys at 9:30. ITV's big thing of the night is Caroline Quentin's Cornwall at 8:00. Enormous. They have also confirmed the Inspector Morse prequel, Endeavour, at 9:00. Channel Four have The Channel Four Mash Up from 6:30 till 10:00 followed by the launch of The Bank Job at 10:00. Channel Five have the premiere of Beowulf at 9:00. They are also running The JK Rowling Story: Magic Beyond Words at 5:10 which appears to have been somewhat foolishly scheduled to start miday through ITV's latest screening of Philosopher's Stone (from 3:55). From Tuesday 3 January, Public Enemies is stripped nightly until Thursday on BBC1. Wonderland returns to BBC2 at 9:00. ITV have the returns of River Monsters, The Biggest Loser - why? Why, for the love of God, why?! - and Law & Order UK at 7:30, 8:00 and 9:00 respectively. Channel Four broadcast the TV programme with possibly the greatest ever title in the history of the medium, Half Ton Killer Mum at 9:00. On Wednesday 4 January, BBC1 have Countryfile at 8;00, whilst C4 has the return of Superscrimpers Waste Not Want Not also at 8:00 and One Born Every Minute at 9. Celebrity Big Brother returns to Five at 8:00 and is followed by Celebrity Wedding Planner at 10:00. Eternal Law begins on ITV at 9:00 on Thursday 5 January. On Friday 6 January, the BBC1 shows The One Lenny Henry at 8:30 - for which, let us be grateful for small mercies - followed by the return of Hustle at 9:00. Many of these dates and times are confirmed but a few of the later ones are still subject to confirmation so, as usual, check your weekly listings guide before setting the timer for anything.

Benny Cumberbatch has revealed playing the famous detective Sherlock Holmes has changed how he sees the world. The award-winning detective drama Sherlock is returning to the BBC for a second series on new Year's Day with Benedict again playing the title character. He stars alongside Martin Freeman, who plays John Watson, in three ninety-minute films adapted from the Arthur Conan Doyle classic stories. Speaking at a screening of episode one, A Scandal in Belgravia, at the BFI Southbank, Benedict said: 'Our daily lives are so mundane, we get taken over by what is immediately in front of us and we don't see beyond that. We don't observe as [Holmes] keeps on saying, we see things, and what is so thrilling about him is it all suddenly becomes a potential adventure. I think if you look at the example of Holmes, or at least what I have learnt from playing him, is that you see extraordinary depth in the smallest detail. It's joining the dots, that's the fun thing, building a narrative. So I sit on trains and I try to see, "Is that mud on the bottom of a boot?", "I wonder where he has been?" "That collar looks a little bit frayed", "I wonder whether he is has been travelling for a while or has he forgotten his washing?" You do try to piece together personal stories from bits of information.' The other two episodes to make up the series will be The Hounds of Baskerville and The Reichenbach Fall. Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the first series was huge hit with audiences and won a series of accolades including two BAFTA for best drama series and best supporting actor.

According to the BBC News website 'Storms are set to thrash Scotland.' Now, I know they're a bit rubbish at sport generally these days but surely they can't lose to bloody rain, can they?
Wednesday evening's live Champions League football match between Basel and Manchester United, which saw The scum unceremoniously dumped out of Europe, was watched by 5.38m from 7.30pm, according to overnight audience figures. The subsequent highlights show UEFA Champions League: Extra Time ended up with nine hundred and eighty four thousand viewers from 10.35pm. Presumably, most of them being fans from other clubs who just wanted to see it all over again. BBC1 won the night overall, significantly helped by Frozen Planet from 9pm with 6.83m. The wretched That's Britain! (4.07m) and The Impressions Show (3.39m) preceded the documentary. BBC2's The Big Bread Experiment, ahem, baked up an audience of 1.62m, followed by another excellent semi-final of MasterChef: The Professionals (2.85m) in which Oli beat Big Scary Kim. Then there was Storyville's astonishing Inside Job which, yer actual Keith Telly Topping is sad to report had a disappointingly low audience of eight hundred and thirty three thousand punters. I hugely recommend to all dear blog readers if you didn't see this last night - and, from the look of the ratings, chances are you didn't - then get yourselves over to iPlayer forthwith. Charles Ferguson's Academy Award-winning forensic analysis of the 2008 global financial crisis, the film traces the emergence of a rogue culture within the finance industry which corrupted politics, regulation, and academia. At a cost over twenty trillion dollars, the crisis caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly caused a complete global financial collapse. I learned more from this about the structures - and the sheer bloody greed - which allowed such a situation to happen than I have from a thousand episodes of Newsnight. As Tom Sutcliffe of the Independent noted: 'To date, not one super-yacht has been sabotaged, not one East Hampton mansion torched by an angry mob, not one executive prosecuted. Where does all the rage go? And what sort of noise will it make when it eventually emerges?'

Daybreak's last audience Appreciation Index score with Grumpy and Curiously Orange was sixty six. Daybreak's first AI score without Grumpy and Curiously Orange was a, still not very good, sixty nine. Keep going, guys ... Another six months of this and you might be getting close to, you know, 'average.'
ITV's chief executive Adam Crozier, meanwhile, has broken the broadcaster's silence over Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley's departure from their breakfast TV flop-and-a-half Daybreak, arguing that it was 'necessary' to 'take a risk' on the former BBC presenters. It was confirmed last month that Heckle and Jekyll would leave Daybreak - or were sacked in other words - just over a year after ITV hired them from the BBC in exclusive deals for reportedly a combined ten million smackers. 'It is important to remember GMTV was on a gradual slide down and it is important to try and take a risk,' said Crozier, speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch on Wednesday. It's also important to remember, Adam, that many people in this country, particularly during a recession, have a very low tolerance threshold towards greedy bastards. It was hoped by ITV that the pair would reproduce the chemistry which may have made The ONE Show work so well on BBC1, and revitalise ITV's staggeringly poor breakfast TV coverage. However, it was not to be, with ratings for Daybreak managing about half what rival BBC1 show Breakfast attracts. Not only that but, without Chilly and Bleak, The ONE Show has continued to attract similar sized (and sometime bigger) audiences with a variety of different presenters. Which suggests that it was always the show's format rather than, specifically, Chiles and Bleakley that made it a success in the first place. 'I think first of all Daybreak obviously has not done as well as we would have hoped,' said Crozier. No shit, Sherlock! You think? 'It doesn't always work out. The team worked hard, and I include Adrian and Christine in that. Now it is time to make a change and do it differently. I think we gave it a good shot. It is time to move on.' He added that new Daybreak editor David Kermode took over at the beginning of December and that the first task is to look at the shape of the programme. 'We need to be crystal clear on who it is aimed at,' Crozier said, adding that the key consideration was then to look at who should front it. 'I can assure you we haven't alighted on anyone yet.' BBC1 Breakfast's move to Salford next year, expected to take place around Easter, could lead to some upheaval for the show and this may provide Daybreak with an opportunity to gain ground in the ratings. Co-anchor Sian Williams and sports presenter Chris Hollins have already decided to leave Breakfast and stay in London. Williams has been tipped for a possible move to Daybreak. Some industry insiders also believe it may prove harder for Breakfast to book celebrity guests after the Salford move. Others, don't. Swings and roundabouts, innit? Horrible Kate Garraway and Dan Lobb are fronting Daybreak until a decision on the permanent hosts is made in the new year. Bleakley has been confirmed as the new co-host of Twatting About on Ice and two new ITV peak-time shows are being developed for her next year. Chiles's main priority will be to anchor of ITV's thoroughly wretched football coverage including the FA Cup and Champions League, plus his satirical programme That Sunday Night Show will return for a third series next year despite poor ratings figures.

Attacks on the science of the BBC's Frozen Planet series by climate sceptic Nigel Lawson were 'patronising', wrong and the 'usual tired obfuscation and generalisation', according to a leaked internal document written by one of the show's science advisers. The unpublished full response by Mark Brandon, a polar oceanographer at the Open University and scientific script consultant to the series presented by Sir David Attenborough, was prepared upon request by the BBC press office in reaction to an article in last week's Radio Times by Lord Lawson, in which he said that 'Sir David's alarmism [about global warming] is sheer speculation.' And, that may well be true, but at least Attenborough is speculating from a position as a World Class respected naturalist with a plethora of scientists behind him. Lawson, on the other hand, was a career politician who, as chancellor, helped to screw up the economy in the early 1990s. Why we should trust him and not David Attenborough on matters of polar bear numbers, I'll leave entirely up to you, dear blog reader. The document was received by BBC press officers, but a spokeswoman said today that the office 'had no reason to use it in the end'‚ because they were never asked to formally respond to the article by Nigella's dad, who chairs a climate sceptic thinktank called The Global Warming Policy Foundation. The BBC spokeswoman said: 'Due to the volume of press interest in Frozen Planet, the BBC press office asked one of the programme consultants at the Open University to provide general facts and figures about the science behind the programme in case there was any press follow-up to the Radio Times article. The purpose of this crib sheet was to have all the relevant information on hand to allow us to answer queries from journalists more efficiently. There was never any intention to issue this document verbatim.' The Open University has since published an edited version of Brandon's response on its website – minus any reference to Lord Lawson - under the heading: The science behind climate change explained. The landmark BBC1 series, which attracted a series average of 8.67 million viewers, drew to a close on Wednesday night with a 'personal' final episode. In On Thin Ice Attenborough highlighted the impact warming temperatures are having on polar regions. Lord Lawson began his preview in last week's Radio Times: 'Sir David Attenborough is one of our finest journalists and a great expert on animal life. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to global warming he seems to prefer sensation to objectivity.' He then went on to contradict the claims made by Attenborough in his own Radio Times article by stating that the polar bear population is, in fact, rising, Antarctic sea ice is expanding, and there was 'no global warming at all' in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century. Lord Lawson's comments draw an angry response from Brandon. In his rebuttal, he said that they were the 'usual tired obfuscation and generalisation.' He added that Lawson 'focuses on isolated pieces of factual evidence and then delivers them in a way to imply that his isolated facts apply to the whole cryosphere [the frozen regions of the Earth]. Also particularly frustratingly he focuses on changes happening at planetary scale and implies they are relevant to the cryosphere which is what the series is about. Finally he also confuses timescales. It is patronising in tone and in my opinion an attempt to dismiss and ridicule the programme. Fundamentally he is implying that the programme and Sir David's view is not what he calls objective. I profusely disagree.' Commenting specifically on the final episode, Brandon said: 'Episode seven deals in facts and weight of evidence. It never overstates the evidence or uses hyperbole and it is a brave and honest portrayal of what is going on right now. Reading those comments and re-examining the science behind the programmes confirmed this for me.' He then provides a point-by-point rebuttal to Lawson's claims about the scientific evidence. Relations between the BBC and Lawson were already tense. In July, the BBC Trust published an independent review examining the impartiality of the BBC's science coverage, in which the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is registered with the Charity Commission as an 'educational charity', was described as 'active in casting doubt on the truth of man-made climate change.' Separately, on Thursday, the foundation published a report written by climate sceptic and Sunday Torygraph columnist Christopher Booker entitled: The BBC And Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal. On Monday, the Discovery Channel, which co-produced the series, confirmed that Attenborough's final episode will be screened in the US from next March long with the rest of the series. The announcement ended press speculation that the final episode would be dropped for US audiences because of its 'global warming content.' The only confirmed change is that the series will be narrated by Alec Baldwin in the US instead of Attenborough.

Anyway. After that heated debate on the future of the planet, let's have us a nice picture of Lord Lawson's daughter to calm us all down. She has her knockers, it's true ...
Next ...

TV critic, writer and long-term fan Charlie Brooker discussed if he would write for Doctor Who in an interview with the Digital Spy website: 'If Doctor Who approached you, that's something you'd have to consider, isn't it? That's like getting an invitation to a particular party. That's an interesting one, in that part of the appeal of Doctor Who is that it's so different each week - even though you know you're going to get the Doctor and, broadly speaking, you know he's going to face a foe. But there's a lot of ideas that go on in it and the scenario changes, so there's a lot of room for creating things within it.'

Roger Bart has landed a guest role on the current season of CSI. The former Desperate Housewives star will play an eccentric wig-maker on the CBS crime drama, according to Entertainment Weekly. The character makes wigs for his cancer-stricken clients and has a high opinion of his work, considering himself an artist. Bart played George Williams on Desperate Housewives from 2005 to 2006 and recently starred in NBC's The Event. He has also appeared in episodes of CSI: Miami and 30 Rock, while his film credits include 2007's American Gangster and 2009's Law Abiding Citizen. Marg Helgenberger recently filmed her final scenes on the long-running drama. The actress, who has been with the show since it began in 2000, will be replaced by Elisabeth Shue. The show's mid-season finale will be broadcast on Wednesday 14 December. Bart's guest appearance will be broadcast in February 2012 around the time of Helgengerger's final episode.

And, speaking of CSI, the latest episode - Zippered - was one of the finest in at least a couple of series. The murder of a retired Army Ranger brings the FBI into the case, to Russell and Catherine's initial chagrin. When the shell casing of the murder weapon turns out to match that of a military crime in Pakistan the FBI comes to assist. Catherine is teamed up with Agent McQuad and DB teams up with the younger Agent Pratt. That was the basis for a terrific, complex and, ultimately, unresolved storyline featuring corporate shenanigans and an insightful critique on the chaos caused by military contractors having too much power. Fine guest turns by the great Annabeth Gish (The X-Files, The West Wing), Grant Snow from Melrose Place and Lost's Titus Welliver and some great performances from the regulars (especially Marg Hegenberger, Ted Danson and Wallace Langham) combined to produce something really very good indeed.

Sky Atlantic has announced that it has ordered a new crime drama. Falcón, a four-part series, is based on the Javier Falcón novels by Robert Wilson. The show follows Falcón, a chief inspector in Seville who is described as 'a complex and layered character, with a psychological darkness which mirrors the brutal darkness which surrounds him.' Sky Atlantic also ordered two new factual series, including a show from famous documentary maker Morgan Spurlock. Morgan Spurlock's New Britannia will see the American exploring British culture in an 'unapologetically candid and shamelessly irreverent' manner. Elsewhere, Great Britain: Our Story will explore the history of the country from the Roman invasion to the Queen's coronation in 1953. The seven-hour series is expected to use both 'compelling drama and spectacular CGI' to examine how Britain has changed over the years. The news of the three commissions comes shortly after Sky Atlantic announced that it has picked up the rights to the new US series Smash. Sky Atlantic is already developing an original drama called Hit And Miss, which stars Chloe Sevigny as a contract killer who is undergoing gender reassignment.

Let's Dance for Sport Relief will return next year, BBC1 has confirmed. Oh, thank you Jesus! That's just what we frigging well need. The show sees celebrities performing famous dance routines in an attempt to raise money for charity. Alex Jones, who is currently competing in Strictly Come Dancing, will return to host the series alongside X Factor USA presenter Steve Jones. No relation. 'I am so excited to be back on such a great show with the fabulous Steve Jones,' Alex said. Well, something like that, anyway. It's difficult to tell at times. 'After my time on Strictly I am only sorry that it won't be me dancing the night away!' Steve Jones added: 'The BBC, Let's Dance and Alex Jones. Three of my favourite things. I couldn't ask for a better show to come home to. I can't wait!' Previous winners of Let's Dance include Robert Webb, comedian Rufus Hound and double act Charlie Baker and James Thornton.

Phil Edgar Jones, a production industry heavyweight and former creative director of Big Brother, has joined Sky as head of entertainment. Edgar Jones, who takes up the role with immediate effect, will oversee all entertainment production across Sky's channels, including Sky1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and Sky Movies. He replaces the outgoing Duncan Gray. He is possibly best known as creative director of Remarkable Pictures, part of Endemol UK, where he oversaw Big Brother for Channel Four and a number of entertainment projects including reality shows The Salon, Space Cadets, Shattered and Seven Days on the Breadline. The latter, you may recall, featuring Mel B swanning around a Leeds council estate in a tracksuit and her bling like she owned the place looking for all the world like Jimmy Savile. It was crap. I mean effing wretched. Edgar Jones even entered the Big Brother house in summer 2010, albeit briefly, during the penultimate series of the show on Channel Four. Big Brother has since moved to Richard Desmond's Channel Five. With not particularly spectacular results. His production credits also include The Priory, The Jack Docherty Show, The Big Breakfast, The Word and The Sunday Show. Most recently, Edgar Jones was creative director of Running Bare, where he executive produced Very Important People with Morgana Robinson and Terry Mynott, due to be broadcast next year, and 'various other projects.' Sky's director commissioning Stuart Murphy said that he 'can't wait' for Edgar Jones to join his team at Sky. 'He is one of the nicest and most respected people in TV, adept at running the biggest genre-busting shows in Britain, and doing it with a great sense of humour and style,' said Murphy. 'Phil has the contacts and relationships with the most exciting talent in the country, so I cannot wait to support him in taking Sky Entertainment across the Sky portfolio to the next level. I'd like to once again thank Duncan Gray, the outgoing head, and Antonia Hurford Jones, commissioning editor, for all their hard work in this transitional period.' Edgar Jones added: 'Sky is at an incredibly exciting time in its history and, under the inspirational leadership of Stuart Murphy and his brilliant team of commissioners, is the most dynamic broadcaster in the UK. I am thrilled to be joining Antonia and the team there, to have the opportunity to build on the fantastic work of my predecessor Duncan Gray and to work with all the talented folks I know in the production community. Best. Christmas. Ever!' This is the latest appointment by Murphy to his commissioning team, joining Celia Taylor as head of factual, Anne Mensah as head of drama and Lucy Lumsden as head of comedy. Murphy will soon appoint a head of factual entertainment to replace the outgoing Mark Sammon. Sky has pledged to increase its investment in original British content by fifty per cent over the next three years, meaning the broadcaster will invest six hundred million smackers a year in homegrown programming by 2014.

To California, now, where a TV stunt mishap has left a residential block in ruins, according to the i newspaper - you know, the one whose hideously smug advert full of hideously smug people promises that it doesn't do 'any celeb gossip nonsense. Just intelligent "stuff" I wanna read.' Allegedly. A stunt for the Discovery Channel show MythBusters this week sent an errant cannonball flying through a family's house and into a nearby minivan. Sound like something off Harry Hill's TV Burp? Except that it wasn't meant to happen. ABC7 News at Eleven were soon on the case. The cannonball was supposed to go through some water-filled barrels and a concrete wall. Instead, it soared over the barrels, through the concrete wall and tore through the front door of the house before exiting through a rear wall and smashing into a minivan. Beat that, Harry.

Vile odious shitscum Kelvin Mackenzie, the former editor of the Sun, has admitted that he should have handled differently a controversial story about the Hillsborough disaster. Like, not run a story that was a load of lies, for a kick-off. On the BBC's Daily Politics show, Mackenzie was accused by the  Labour MP Chris Bryant of 'lying' in a heated debate over the paper's coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, in which ninety six Liverpool fans lost their lives. Presenter Andrew Neil, who had to calm the pair down at one point, asked Mackenzie if he felt regret or remorse over a notorious article published on April 19, 1989, and headlined The Truth. To this, the former editor replied: 'Probably, yes I do.' Probably yes, you'll notice. Not 'yes, I fully accept that a story which ran when I was editor was a load of crassly insensitive, hurtful, mendacious bollocks, spread by people with a sick, venal agenda to shift the blame from those really responsible, the South Yorkshire police force.' That might, just, have gone some way towards making up for running the story in the first place. But, he didn't say it. Or, anything even remotely like it. The Sun's article alleged that the disaster followed 'mass drunkenness' among Liverpool supporters, and that some fans had urinated on police and picked victims' pockets as their bodies lay on the pitch. The News International paper claimed that the allegations came from unnamed South Yorkshire police officers. After the report was published, the Sun was subject to a boycott on Merseyside, one which is still in force in parts of the area to this day, despite various attempts by the paper to apologise. Asked if he had any regrets over the story, Mackenzie said: 'If I could revisit Hillsborough, certainly, I would do it in a different way. I would do it in the way the other newspapers did it. They basically ran the story and said "big fury over..." and I wish I had done that, yes.' In October, more than sixteen thousand people signed an e-petition calling on the Sun to reveal its sources behind the notorious Hillsborough story. During his appearance at the Commons culture media and sport select committee investigation into newspaper phone hacking in November, News International chairman James Murdoch was also pushed on the ongoing controversy surrounding the story. Steve Rotherham, a committee member who is the MP for Liverpool Walton, asked Murdoch whether the fact that the Sun had 'got away with it' in 1989 could have led to a belief within News International that it 'could get away with things' again. Murdoch strongly denied the suggestion, but again apologised unreservedly for the coverage. He also refused to rule out closing the paper if it was also found culpable of criminal behaviour.

Manchester United's early Champions League exit could cost the club in the region of twenty million quid, according to a leading football finance expert. Still, on the bright side, Manchester United's early Champions League exit was really funny.

Playwright Bill Morrison, one of Liverpool's famed Gang of Four group of writers alongside Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell in the 1980s, has died. Morrison is best known for writing the farce Flying Blind, which transferred from Liverpool to London and New York. Bleasdale told the Liverpool Daily Post that Northern Ireland-born Morrison, seventy one, was 'a remarkable writer and a great teacher.' Flying Blind was 'one of the great plays of the Twentieth Century,' he added. Morrison, Russell, Bleasdale and Chris Bond shared the role of artistic director at the Liverpool Playhouse from 1981 to 1985, regarded as a golden era in the city's theatre scene. Morrison also directed the premiere of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's first play Take My Husband in 1982. Gemma Bodinetz, current artistic director of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, said Morrison was 'a brilliant playwright and a generous spirit. Our last meeting was at the Playhouse centenary less than a month ago,' she said. 'He was wise and tender and so excited about the power of theatre for future generations.'

And speaking of Liddypool, dear blog reader, so to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's Twenty Two Days of Christmas - remaining a defiantly Greg Lake-free zone despite pressure from hippies everywhere. Today, of course, we must remind ourselves where would yer average Gear Chrimbo (and a Very New Year) be without Be-Atles? It's The Law, innit? So, paging 1964, come in 1964 ...
Of course, sadly, when it came to writing songs about yer actual Gear Chrimbo, the Fabs proved to be somewhat less than Fab. Macca's 1979 seasonal effort was a bit toss, to be fair, although it was still a million times better than what the alcoholic Scouse wife-beating junkie had come up with seven years earlier. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping loathes 'Merry Christmas (War is Over)' dear blog reader. He loathes it almost as much as he loathes anything from the 'Mistletoe and Wine' oeuvre. And that really is saying something. It's trite, mawkish, banal, sentimental rubbish full of glossy over-priced Christmas card clichés and, just when you think it can't, possibly, get any worse, Yoko Bloody Ono starts singing. At least Cliff stayed reasonably in tune on 'Mistletoe and Wine.' Indeed, it comes as something of a shock to discover that the best Be-Atle-relate Chrimbo tune is actually, this one.
Which is still a bit rubbish but, compared to the other two, it's 'Fairytale of New York'! Ringo, bless 'is little cotton socks, never even bothered. That's the spirit of Christmas, dear blog reader - rank laziness.

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