Sunday, August 05, 2012

Let's Go Into The Other Room And Make Them Work

There were some quite stunning overnight viewing figures for the BBC for Saturday evening's athletics coverage at the Olympics. A peak of 17.1m watched Mo Farah win gold in the ten thousand metres (something which got Denise Lewis, Colin Jackson, Michael Johnson and John Inverdale very excited along with the rest of the country). A little earlier 16.3m watched Jess Ennis's triumph in the heptathlon. The figures, which combine BBC1 and BBC Olympics HD, do not account for additional crowds watching in pubs and on big screens around the country and also on iPlayer. The BBC's peaktime Olympics programme averaged 12.2m viewers across the three and a half hours between 7pm and 10:35pm with a fifty two per cent audience share. BBC News which followed itself had an audience of 10.3m. Previously, BBC1's tea-time coverage of the cycling pulled in 7.3m from 5:15pm (with a peak of 9.2m as the British women's team pursuit took gold around 6pm). BBC1 had an average all-day share of 42.4 per cent, a virtually unprecedented figure in this multi-channel age. At lunch-time, a peak of 6.4m were watching the two British golds in the rowing. BBC3 won the silver with 8.7 per cent whilst ITV had their worst ever all-day audience share, a pitiful 5.3 per cent. BBC3 peaked with 3.5m watching Britain's football team closely following England's usual trick of getting to the quarter final of a major tournament then going out on penalties. It's nice to know that in this ever changing world in which we live in, some things are reliably consistent. The games have been a huge ratings winner for the BBC since a peak audience of 26.9 million tuned into the opening ceremony just over a week ago. Figures released by the corporation over the weekend show record numbers of people watching their coverage online, with the BBC Sport website recording a peak audience of eight million – well above the previous record of 5.7 million. Last Friday's opening ceremony had a consolidated rating of 24.24m (a staggering 80.8 per cent audience share) making it the highest rated TV programme shown on British telly since Only Fools and Horses back in 1996 which had 24.35m. An amazing feat in this day and age.

Day Nine of the Olympics produced yet another golden haul for Great Britain as an overwhelming majority of sports fans in this country - yer actual Keith Telly Topping among 'em - could be spotted wandering around with a dazed expression on our collective mush muttering 'slap me, I'm going to wake up in a minute.' This truly is a one-in-a-lifetime moment. Make the most of it now, cos it's never gonna this good to be British again! There was some, very minor, initial disappointment in the morning at Weymouth in the sailing where Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson just failed to hang onto the title which they won in Beijing four years ago as they won a silver in Star class. The Swedish boat snatched gold in last moments of the final race, the British pair having led the event for most of the week. But, that was soon wiped away for the massive crowds assembled on the shore as Ben Ainslie proved himself to be Britain's greatest seaman since, you know, Nelson or somebody, winning his fourth successive gold in the Finn class. Now, nobody enjoys tossing about in boats more than yer actual Keith Telly Topping, dear blog reader, but it has to be said, yachting isn't, exactly, the world's greatest spectator sport. This one, however, had all of the tension and drama of boxing grudge match. It came after a week long tussle between Ainslie and the Dane, Jonas Hogh-Christensen, which at times really did resemble the Battle of Trafalgar. It was the thirty five-year-old's Ainslie's fourth Olympic title and fifth overall medal in a career stretching back to the Atlanta games of 1996. France's Jonathan Lobert grabbed bronze from Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma on the final run to the finish. With a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, no doubt. Only, you know, in French. Now, many people don't even think tennis should be in the Olympics - and this blgoger is one of them, as it happens. But nevertheless, since it is, we might as well take any medals that are on offer in that as well. Miserable dour Scotsman yer actual Andy Murray gained revenge for his recent defeat in the Wimbledon final by storming to a three-set victory over Roger Federer on Centre Court - 6-2 6-1 6-4. 'There's so much momentum on the British team and Andy has taken advantage of that. It's the best performance I've seen in a big match from him,' noted the last British tennis medallist, Tim Henman. And hour later, Murray was back on court with mixed doubles partner Laura Robson. Although they won the first set, they were ultimately beaten 2-6 6-3 10-8 by the Belarusian pair of Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka to claim a silver. Murray became the first British man to win the Olympic singles gold since Josiah Ritchie in 1908. He described the win over Federer as 'the biggest win of my life. This week has been incredible for me, the support has been amazing at all of the Olympic the events. I watched the athletics on Saturday and the way Mo Farah won gave me a boost coming into today.' Robson is the third-youngest female tennis medallist in Olympic history. Four years ago in Beijing, Louis Smith became the first British man to win an Olympic gymnastics medal in a century when he took a bronze in the pommel horse. This time, having earlier in the week been part of the British squad which won another bronze in team event, he went one better, picking up silver. He was, in fact, awarded exactly the same score - 16.066 - as the gold medallist, Hungary's hugely impressive Krisztian Berki, but Berki had done a marginally more difficult routine and, hence, took gold. Smith's team-mate, Max Whitlock, picked up a completed unexpected - but thoroughly deserved - bronze. In the morning session at the Velodrome, Queen Victoria Pendleton broke the Olympic individual sprint record and then cruised past Ekaterina Gnidenko to win her heat at an absolute canter and qualify for Tuesday's final rounds. Jason Kenny also eased through to the final rounds of the men's individual sprint. For a while, however, it looked as though the unthinkable could happen and we'd get through an entire night in the Velodrome without Britain's cyclists winning a single medal. Thankfully, Ed Clancy - already a gold medallist at these games in the team pursuit - picked up a hard-fought bronze in the damned strange (although far less bizarre than the Madison) Omnium. Of course, over in the Olympic Stadium, there was no way that the evening's action could possibly hope to get even close to matching the excitement of the night before, right? Well, maybe not but Christine Ohuruogu courageous run to take silver in the women's four hundred metres behind Sanya Richards-Ross was a memorable moment almost up there with Jess and Mo. And then, there was the hundred metres final. And the legend that is Usain Bolt who simply ran away from the seven other fastest men in the world like they were a bunch of pensioners with zimmer frames. 9.63 seconds it took; not quite a world record - the second fastest in history, as it happens - but six hundredths of a second faster than Bolt ran four years ago, and an awesome, staggering display of power and speed. If you'd nipped to the lav for a slash, you'd've missed it. If you'd gone into the kitchen to stick the kettle on for a brew, you'd've missed it. Indeed, if you blinked, you might've missed it. God it was a sight to see! 'Why did we ever, ever, ever doubt the brilliance of Usain Bolt?' asked Steve Cram. Good question. Some of us never did.

Elsewhere, Great Britain's men produced a stunning fightback to draw 3-3 with world champions Australia and remain on track for an Olympic hockey semi-final. The home side looked on course for a heavy defeat at 3-0 down early in the second half, but they raised their game impressively at the Riverbank Arena. Jonty Clarke and Barry Middleton cut the deficit to one before James Tindall equalised in the closing minutes. A draw against Spain on Tuesday will take Britain into the last four. 'It is a memorable draw from a position that looked impossible at the start,' noted commentator Barry Davies. 'Great Britain suddenly came to life and played really well and thoroughly deserved to take a point from the best team in the world.' And, Luke Campbell became the first of Britain's boxing squad to guarantee himself an Olympic medal after beating Detelin Dalakliev of Bulgaria sixteen to fifteen on points in their men's bantamweight quarter-final.

So, after 'Super Saturday' is this the first time this decade that there's been no scummy, full-of-their-own-importance reality TV non-entities on the front pages of the national Sunday press? Instead, whaddya know, they appear to be dedicated to some people who've actually done something to justify their existence. (Although Imogen Thomas - remember her? - does manage to make the inside pages of the Mirra with this triumph of journalism. And then the tabloids wonder why Lord Leveson wants to throw them in the gutter with all the other turds.)
The Olympics really does seem to be the only show in town at the moment and has managed to get even some of the hardest cynics watching. And, then there's the Daily Scum Mail, of course. Despite what the a'fore mentioned odious, wretched, blackshirt supporting right-wing shite-scum rag may try to convince you, according to a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, eighty seven per cent of people who are watching at least some of the Olympics say the BBC has done a good job in covering it and eighty two per cent of those who expressed a preference said they think the commentators have been well informed. The other thirteen per cent read the Daily Scum Mail, presumably. Or, rather, they look at the pictures, and tut disapprovingly.

There's actually a very good piece by the Gruniad's fantastically-named Stuart Heritage on the BBC's emergent star of the Olympics, yer actual Clare Balding: 'Without exaggeration, Clare Balding has become the Rageh Omaar of the 2012 Olympics. Balding's star has been on the rise for some time now – she was one of the few presenters to come away from the BBC's jubilee coverage with dignity intact – but her unofficial coronation came this morning when Jan Moir of the Daily Mail wrote a gushing piece entitled Why can't everyone be Clare Balding? Let's be clear – praise from Jan Moir is not easily won. Show Moir a shoebox full of kittens and she'd find a way to claim that the kitten/shoebox trade was tearing at the very fabric of middle England. And yet, when faced with Clare Balding, Moir was reduced to a blushing mess for seven foaming paragraphs. "She has a natural empathy and curiosity," Moir wrote. "She resists any temptation to flirt with viewers." Then she called for Balding to become the BBC's main Olympic anchor. And she's not alone. Viewers in the US, who have turned to streaming the BBC's Olympic output as an alternative to NBC's controversial coverage, have found themselves being charmed senseless by Balding as well. Twitter has been alight with talk of the breadth of her sporting knowledge and the easy chemistry she shares with pundit Mark Foster, and sports blog Deadspin even went as far as calling her brilliant interview with gold medallist Chad Le Clos's father "the media moment of the games so far."'

Meanwhile, NBC has - finally - conceded that some of the criticism over its Olympics coverage is 'fair' but still - against all evidence to the contrary - maintained that the 'overwhelming majority' of viewers were sticking by its daily broadcasts. The network's sports group chairman Mark Lazarus made a spirited defence of its programming, amid complaints over the crassly dumbed-down presenting of its opening ceremony show and time delays which have left many Americans unable to watch key action live. Lazarus described the torrent of Twitter and online snipes aimed at NBC as coming from a 'very loud minority,' but added that NBC was 'listening' to their complaints. The network opted to drop its online paywall on Thursday for the swimming finals including the highly anticipated second showdown between US rivals Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Its refusal to do likewise for an earlier battle between the two men had been a focal point of much criticism in the early days of competition coverage. Lazarus, along with NBC research president Alan Wurtzel, addressed criticisms about tape-delaying events to air in primetime during a conference call on Thursday. They noted that the network has so far broadcast two-thirds of the events from London live, about one hundred and fifty eight live hours out of two hundred and seventy four total hours. Lazarus said the London Games' tape-delayed primetime ratings have so far topped the live primetime ratings for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. On the business side, he said NBC, which at one point stood to lose two hundred million dollars on the event, now has a small chance of making 'a little bit of money' because of the strong ratings performance. The apparent ratings success comes despite strong criticism being aired via Twitter, Facebook and other online social media. Complaints have largely focused on the network's tape-delayed broadcasts, technical glitches with online streaming, heavy promotions and even its cast of commentators, particularly the 'television personality' Ryan Seacrest (no, me neither). Lazarus added: 'The overwhelming majority of the people are voting with their clickers, mouses and their fingertips on every device and saying we are with you.' Err ... it's mice, Mark, not mouses. The London games represent the first time that every Olympic event is being streamed online. And according to Wurtzel, NBC is seeing a record number of people streaming live events, including 1.5 million viewers on 31 July who watched the women's gymnastics team final. Based on the data, live streaming does not appear to be cannibalising the television audience. NBC said the company had anticipated 'hiccups' in its streaming technology, which critics have amply noted, and that most of the issues have been fixed. In terms of its business model, NBC is mulling new ways of offering coverage for future Olympics, including an online-only streaming package available to non-cable subscribers. For the London games, viewers have needed to have an existing cable subscription to watch events live on the Internet – another bone of contention. But that stipulation was dropped, in a concession that allowed non-subscribers to watch Phelps win his sixteen gold medal. Lazarus said that the network would look at a package for non-pay TV viewers for future Olympics. Meanwhile, he also suggested that the much-criticised tape-delay of the Olympic opening ceremony may be dropped for Rio in 2016, due to the shorter time difference between Brazil and the United States. 'Our preference is to do things live in primetime where we can,' the NBC executive said.

The New Zealand press are having a field day over the Olympics. Not only is their national team well above their neighbours from across the Tasman Sea in the medal table, this fact appears to be denting the normally cheery Aussie outlook. Australian official Olympic broadcaster - Channel Nine - apparently only showed the first nine table positions - seemingly deliberately not including New Zealand in tenth spot - and then Oz themselves stuck down in nineteenth. The New Zealand Herald reports: 'Australian media are in denial - the first stage of grief - at seeing New Zealand above their team on the Olympic medal table.' Meanwhile TVNZ reporter Garth Bray tweeted: 'Just went over to Aussie TV pool to ask if they need to borrow a gold. Didn't get a word out before they all yelled "we're busy, can't talk."' Lovely guys, the Aussies - when they're winning. But, as Douglas Jardine and Harold Larwood proved eighty years ago, when it's not going well for them, they do have something of tendency to squeal like girls. Did someone say Shadenfreude? (That, almost certainly, means yer actual Keith Telly Topping's several Aussie cousins in Brisbane won't, now, be talking to him for a bit!)

In the Olympic football, Leandro Damião helped Brazil to a 3-2 win over nine-man Honduras which has set up a semi-final with Team GB's conquerors, South Korea. Honduras led twice through Mario Martinez and Roger Espinoza but Damião produced one equaliser and after Neymar scored another, Internacional striker Damião grabbed the winner. Japan recorded a 3-0 victory against Egypt at Old Trafford to progress. They will face a Mexico team which reached the last four after a 4-2 extra-time win over Senegal. Honduras took a surprise lead at St James' Park, when Martinez volleyed in following a fine move but, after Wilmer Crisanto was sent off for two bookable offences, Damião touched in after Honduras failed to clear the brilliantly-named Hulk's cross. Espinoza cut in from the right to put Honduras back into the lead but Neymar scored with a penalty after Damião had been fouled by Jose Velasquez. Damião then scored a third with a powerful finish before Espinoza was also sent off.

Speaking, as we were earlier of people who do little or nothing to justify their existence, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is reportedly 'looking to star' in the next series of Twatting About On Ice. The socialite - that's her 'job', apparently - is said to be taking skating lessons in order to take part in the upcoming eighth series of the ITV reality show. 'Tara is really keen to get on board and has been applying herself to learning the skating basics,' an allegedly - anonymous, and almost certainly fictitious - 'source' allegedly told the Sun. Yeah. Great. Do let us know how you get on with that, Tara.

Bernard Cribbins is to return to television next year in his own series, Old Jack's Boat, playing a retired fisherman - the eponymous Old Jack - who tells stories to children. Just like Jackanory. Only without Bernard ... oh, hang on. The actor said: 'I am delighted to be back on CBeebies telling stories as I am storyteller. There are some marvellous writers, such as Russell Davies, who I have been in touch with for a long time and who, of course, I worked with on Doctor Who. I am looking forward to sitting back and being able to tell some wonderful stories.' As well as Doctor Who's former showrunner Davies, another familiar name in the show will be Freema Agyeman, who will play the part of Shelley. Not the Nineteenth Century poet, romantic and social activist one imagines. Although, you never know.

Yer actual Christopher Eccleston recently undertook a question and answer session at the National Theatre, where he is appearing as Creon in Antigone, during which he was, apparently, asked about playing The Doctor. Oooo, touchy subject, they reckon. Still, in response to a question about whether he felt he'd taken the character as far as he could, Big Ecc said that he felt one series isn't enough to get under the skin of the character and that if he'd had two or three series he felt he would have developed the role considerably. He added that if you looked at the other Doctors (with, he noted, the exception of Tom Baker) you can see them 'working out how to play the character' throughout their first series because it's such a complex and challenging role. Interesting. Apparently, he said on several occasions that there was more for him to do with the character. Menwhile, yer actual Matt Smith his very self had commented on the (admittedly, very distant) chances of Eccleston making a guest appearance in the forthcoming Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special: 'Chris will be alright. Well, I mean, who knows? I'd love it. I'd love him to come back. I love his Doctor, I really do. He was from Manchester. Proper hard. Leather jacket. He'd give my Doctor a bit of a whopping, wouldn't he?' Err ... yes. Almost certainly! Not as good as football, though. Remember, Matthew, lots of planets have a South as well as a North.

Alex Kingston is to feature in the next series of Who Do You Think You Are?, the BBC's popular genealogy series which looks into the ancestry of celebrities. Now into its ninth series, it will also include singer Annie Lennox and actor Patrick Stewart.

Craig Revel Horwood has said that new Strictly Come Dancing panellist Darcey Bussell is likely to be a tough judge. Speaking at the press night of Spamalot, Revel Horwood told the Daily Torygraph that his reputation as the meanest judge on the show may be under threat. 'I think she's going to be a bit of a bitch, really,' he said. 'I hope she doesn't out-bitch me - that's my biggest worry. If that happens, I'll have to bring it on. We haven't met up yet, but I know her. She's going to be a lot tougher, a lot harder.' The former ballerina Bussell - who first appeared on Strictly as a guest judge in 2009 - has replaced Alesha Dixon on the panel for the tenth series of the BBC show, after Dixon good her greed on right good and proper and moved to ITV for mucho-lov-er-lee-wonga.

Former Footballers Wives actor Gary Lucy is reportedly to be joining EastEnders. He will play 'a charismatic city banker' starting in September. The Essex-born actor will take on the role of 'troublemaker' Danny Pennant in the soap. Lucy made his breakthrough in Channel Four's Hollyoaks where he played the role of Luke Morgan. He later joined The Bill, taking on the part of Will Fletcher, for five years.

Today's Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day is directed, squarely, to all the boys and girls in the Velodrome. Sydney, sing for the people.

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