Friday, May 29, 2009

Red Vision

Twenty one year old vision of minxy ginge loveliness, Karen Gillan, has been unveiled as the next companion in Doctor Who. Karen, from Inverness, will star alongside the new Time Lord, Matt Smith, in the next series of the popular BBC family adventure show which begins filming in July and will be broadcast next year. Gillan has already appeared in the show, having played a Soothsayer in The Fires Of Pompeii during the last series. 'I am absolutely over the moon at being chosen to play the Doctor's new companion. I just can't wait to get started,' she told the BBC. 'The show is such a massive phenomenon that I can't quite believe I am going to be a part of it. Matt Smith is an incredible actor and it is going to be so much fun to act alongside him,' she added. Executive producer (and The Lord Thy God) Steven Moffat said he and the production team had seen some 'amazing actresses' but that when Gillan 'walked through the door the game was up. When she auditioned alongside Matt we knew we had something special,' he continued. Steven described Karen as 'funny, and clever, and gorgeous, and sexy. A generation of little girls will want to be her. And a generation of little boys will want them to be her too,' he added. Saucy. BBC Wales' Head of Drama, Piers Wenger noted that Karen brings 'energy and excitement' to the role. According to the BBC, Karen developed a love for acting after attending several youth theatre groups and taking part in various school productions. At the age of sixteen she decided to pursue her career further and left school to study acting at Edinburgh's Telford College. She then went on to secure a place at the Italia Conti drama school in London and landed her first role in the detective drama Rebus. Apparences in Channel 4's Stacked, The Kevin Bishop Show and James Nesbitt's forthcoming movie Outcast followed, but Doctor Who is her most high profile role to date. A very warm welcome aboard the good ship Doctor Who, Karen. Don't be scared of us, we very rarely bite and, if you're not sure about anything, ask Moffat, he's seen it all before.
Meanwhile, Matt's predecessor (remember him? Scottish guy, quite popular) will be joining Stephen Fry on an episode of the next series of Qi which is currently filming. David appears in episode nine (albeit, the tranmission order may well be different - last year's certainly was) alongside Stephen, Alan, Bill Bailey and Lee Mack. Sounds like a good line-up. David has also signed up to reprise his role as Hamlet for an adaptation on BBC2. Having completed a stint playing the prince on stage early this year with the Royal Shakespeare Company, David will be joined by most of the members of its stage cast including Patrick Stewart as Claudius. BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow said the three-hour screen production of Hamlet was 'a wonderful opportunity to bring one of the great stage successes of last year to a wider audience.' Tickets for the stage performances, which opened in Stratford-Upon-Avon and then moved to London's West End, sold out in hours. After his debut, the Gruniad called Tennant the 'best Hamlet in years.'

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hugh, Sue, Tim, Jo & Dame Judi Too

Interviewed by Radio 4's Front Row earlier this week, Hugh Laurie indicated that those of us longing for he and Stephen Fry to work together again might not, necessarily, be waiting forever and a day. 'We love to do things together, but we're hopeless planners,' Huge said. The pair, of course, made their name in the 1980s and 90s as a - superb - double act on various projects. Including a defintivie adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster for ITV and their award-winning BBC sketch-show A Bit of Fry and Laurie but, haven't actually appeared in anything together since the first episode of Fry's Qi in 2003. Hugh, currently in the UK publicising the British launch of the new series of his hit US medical drama House, said he is seeing a lot of Fry at work. 'Oddly enough, he now plays a role in this show Bones that shoots next door to House, so we wind up eating lunch in the same cafeteria.'

One of my favourite actors, the great Tim Spall is to bulk-up for an ITV comedy drama co-written by Caroline Aherne about a man who is so obese he cannot leave his chair. Scripted by Aherne (The Royle Family, Mrs Merton) and Jeff Pope (Dirty Filthy Love, Pierrepoint), The Fattest Man in Britain will tell the story of Georgie, who is on a mission to beat his rival, Big Barry, to be named the country's biggest chap. Georgie's sole contact with the outside world, apart from his friend Janice who visits, daily, to clean him, are the hoards of curious tourists who turn up at his home, led by his exploitative agent, Morris. The one-off, ninety-minute TV movie will be produced by ITV Studios, with Pope as producer and Adrian Shergold as director. The Fattest Man in Britain is currently in pre-production and shooting will begin later in summer.

Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as Cranford's much cherished Miss Matty Jenkyns on BBC1 this Christmas and heads a cast that boasts some of Britain's top film, TV and stage talent including Jonathan Pryce, Celia Imrie, Lesley Sharp, Nicholas Le Prevost, Francesca Annis, Jodie Whittaker, Matthew McNulty, the divine Emma Fielding and Rory Kinnear. A co-production with WGBH, in association with Chestermead Productions, Cranford was created by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, directed by Simon Curtis and written by Heidi Thomas, based on the characters in Elizabeth Gaskell's novel. The Amazons of Cranford are reunited in this two-part special with Imelda Staunton as Miss Pole, Julia McKenzie as Mrs Forrester, Deborah Findlay as Miss Tomkinson and Barbara Flynn as Mrs Jamieson. According to the BBC press briefing, Cranford starts filming this June in Wiltshire and London. Kate Harwood, BBC Controller of Series and Serials, says: 'BBC1 viewers are in for a treat with the return of Cranford this Christmas. Old favourites return as well as exciting new characters in a richly moving story that will once again delight, enthral and entertain our audience.' The publicity material also notes that 'BBC Drama Production is a world leader in producing much-loved and critically-acclaimed dramas including recent productions: All The Small Things, The 39 Steps, A Short Stay In Switzerland, Little Dorrit, Waking The Dead and Silent Witness on BBC1 and House Of Saddam and Moses Jones on BBC2.' Not entirely sure I would have highlighted the bowel-shatteringly dreadful All The Small Things in the same breath as the others, personally. Other forthcoming BBC drama productions mentioned include Desperate Romantics on BBC2, Breaking The Mould on BBC4 and Emma, Survivors series two and Lark Rise To Candleford series three all for BBC1.

ITV1 is set for what may be its biggest-grossing advertising revenue week of the year, with Susan Boyle fuelling massive ratings on Britain's Got Talent and the finals of the Champions League and FA Cup forecast to help bring in more than £30m according to the Gruniad. The bumper revenue haul, which media buying agency sources estimate will be worth £31.5m, will provide a welcome tonic to the broadcaster, which has seen profits take a battering in the economic downturn. Earlier this month ITV admitted ad revenues were down fifteen percent year-on-year in the first three months of 2009. ITV's week of big-rating live TV, which the broadcaster has dubbed A Week of Finals, began on Sunday night with Susan Boyle in the first of five Britain's Got Talent semi-finals with an average of 11.8 million viewers over 90 minutes almost half the total TV audience over that period. Monday night's second Britain's Got Talent semi-final did even better, attracting 13.2 million viewers and a whopping 52% share. Media buying agency sources expect the combination of the Britain's Got Talent semi-finals and final on Saturday to net ITV almost twenty million pounds in ad revenue. ITV's sales operation has been able to command a significant premium for commercial spots around Britain's Got Talent this year, thanks largely to the Susan Boyle effect. The broadcaster said retailers and entertainment companies have taken the majority of the ad spots. Last night's Champions League final, in which The Vile Scum of Humanity were very satisfyingly humbled and given a lesson in control that they won't forget in a hurry by a stunningly classy Barcelona side in Rome, proved an equally big draw for advertisers; Adidas used the big match to launch a global TV ad campaign.

ITV is also to continue its run of celebrity-led factual journeys, with actresses Joanna Lumley and Amanda Holden fronting two documentary series. Joanna Lumley: Cat Woman has been touted in Broadcast as the feline (and feminine, obviously) version of Martin Clunes: A Man and His Dogs. The divine Lumley - currently with an astonishingly high public-profile after her successful media campaign regarding Gurkhas rights - will travel to Egypt to look at mummified cats and tomb paintings, watch cheetahs in Namibia and meet witches and their familiars. The series is earmarked for transmission in September and was greenlit by ITV's entertainment controller Layla Smith. If Joanna's BBC documentary about the Northern Lights last year is anything to go by, this should be pretty decent. And, I like cats as well so, double bonus. From the sublime to the ridiculous, Britain's Got Talent judge and notorious cry-baby Amanda Holden is currently filming a two-part documentary on midwives and babies, produced by Studio Lambert for ITV. Holden will meet midwives at some of the UK's leading hospitals, before learning how to be one and will attempt to deliver a baby. And then, presumably, burst into tears and blub like a girl. The show will be broadcaster later this year. Filming has also started on the new Poirot series – first up is The Clocks, with guest stars Geoffrey Palmer, Anna Massey, Lesley Sharp, Jaime Winstone and Phil Daniels. Cor! And, Stephen Fry has stated that if a fourth series of his gentle and quirky East Anglian drama Kingdom is commissioned then it will not be filmed this year due to ITV showing the third series later than usual and him being committed to various other projects. The third series of Kingdom is scheduled to begin Sunday 7 June where it will have the final of The Apprentice as its opposition - the BBC having moved the reality show from Wendesday where it would have been up against the England v Andorra World Cup qualifier. There you go, it's official - Andorra is bigger than Sir Alan B'stard!

ITV's Winter/Spring drama schedule will include some or all of the following: The six untransmitted episodes of Law & Order: UK, An Englishman In New York, the six-part Prisoner remake (suggested broadcast dates for this suggest anytime after November), new episodes of both Marple and Poirot (see above), Albert's Memorial, U Be Dead, The Fixer and Blue Murder. Meanwhile, the BBC have scheduled Occupation and the next series of Hotel Babylon during the 13 to 19 June week. The latter is an eight-part series so it appears as though series three Torchwood - which was expected to be strip-sheduled across five-days on BBC1 in July - won't be seen until August at the earliest. Made by Kudo, Occupation - written by Peter Bowker - is what's described as 'a searingly powerful drama that spans the five years following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.' It follows the lives of three soldiers and friends, first during the battle for Basra, then as they struggle to adapt to life back home and, finally, as very different forces draw them back to Iraq. 'Occupation is the BBC's first major drama set against the backdrop of the Iraq war, is described as 'an unforgettable journey into the heart of the darkness that is conflict and its chaotic aftermath' and stars Jimmy Nesbitt, Stephen Graham and Warren Brown.

Having created the kind of northern town that nightmares are made of, The League Of Gentlemen's Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton return to BBC2 with a 'spine-tingling, jaw-dropping, thrilling' comedy serial, Psychoville. Like the best whodunnits, each episode draws viewers deeper and deeper into the kind of world that only Reece and Steve could dream up (although, I have to be honest, I was never as big a fan of The League of Gentlemen as many of my friends). Joining them will be a rich mix of talent, including Dawn French, Eileen Atkins, Nicholas Le Prevost, David Bamber, Janet McTeer, Christopher Biggins, Daisy Haggard and Adrian Scarborough.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Top Telly News Update

So, Keith Telly Topping put Mama Telly Topping on a plane to Barrrrrthelona yesterday. I mean, she is actually going there on holiday to stay with friends, I didn't just chuck her in with the luggage and ask them to 'take her off me hands for a week,' tempting though that may have been.

Anyway, here's some Top Telly News: But first, adverts. Have you noticed that just about the only adverts you ever get on during the afternoon are either June Whitfield selling death-benefits to Octogenarians or that obese berk who looks a dead-ringer for Sam Allardyce wearing a dodgy moustache bellowing 'Have you been injured at work?' Yes mate, I have. And that's why I'm watching you at two o'clock in the afternoon on Dave between repeats of Top Gear.
Bank adverts have gotten really strange of late, don't you think? The music's gone all baroque and some of them have started to resemble Nuremberg rallies rather than those nice fluffy 'give us all your money, baby, it's way-safe with us' ads that they were making a few years ago. Even the Halifax have seemingly gotten shot of Howard. Well, let's face it nobody trusts a man who can surf and sing at the same time. Not even The Beach Boys managed that.

Another things about adverts is their instance on using 'real people' – who, of course, aren't real people at all but, rather, they're actors who last had a job in 1987 and, therefore look, vaguely, like real people. That 118-118 Ghostbusters advert is full of them. Ray Parker Jnr for one. Ray, mate, has the credit crunch really hit that much? And, what about Foxy Bingo? I would simply love to have been in the planning meeting for that one: 'How're we gonna get people down to the bingo in the 21st Century, Bill?' 'Hang on, I've got it. Picture the scene - we get a disco-dancing fox in purple crushed velvet who talks like Sean Bean to tell people how totally great it is.' Give that gentleman a pay rise.

The Independent are reporting that a married couple are suing the makers of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, claiming that a writer of the hit US TV series deliberately named two shady, sex-obsessed characters after them in revenge for a home sale that fell through.
Estate agents Scott and Melinda Tamkin want six million dollars (£3.75m) for defamation and invasion of privacy, after their names were given to a fictional pair of bondage-loving property entrepreneurs in a (rather good, actually) CSI episode entitled Deep Fried and Minty Fresh. In a lawsuit filed at LA County Superior Court last week, the couple stated they fell out with Sarah Goldfinger, the writer responsible for the episode, after she tried to buy a house from one of their clients in 2005. Goldfinger later attempted to publicly humiliate them, the couple claimed, by 'creating from whole cloth' characters named after them, who 'engaged in a reckless lifestyle of sexual bondage, pornography, drunkenness, marital discord, depression, financial straits and possibly even murder.' The episode in question - which aired in the US in February - saw the Las Vegas forensics experts investigating whether the recently deceased Melinda died at the hands of her husband Scott, a mortgage broker who drinks heavily and spends most of his free time watching violent pornography. Jesus, the crap some people choose to care about. I'd say 'only in America, dear blog readers' but, actually, that's the kind of nonsense that seems to have a universal spread. I hope they lose and they're left penniless.

The Sky Arts channel will bring back live drama to television this summer with six newly commissioned plays by authors including Kate Mosse. Sky claims this is the first time live plays have been aired on TV since the BBC's Play for Today finished in 1984. Having, seemingly, forgotten about BBC4's live adaptation of Quatermass in 2005 but never mind, we'll give them points for effort. Pauline Collins will star in one of the plays in the project, which starts 8 July. Sky Arts artistic director that lovely pixey of serene wonderfulness Sandi Toksvig described it as 'genuine "reality" television - drama as it happens, whenever it happens.'

Peter Salmon, the director of BBC North, has vowed to spearhead a new era of broadcasting at MediaCity. A week before he formally takes over his new role, Salmon pledged to help lead a 'Northern Renaissance.' It will include the BBC playing a key role in spearheading the development of the next generation of northern writers and performers. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, he said: 'MediaCity at Salford represents far more than another fancy building project, another safari up the motorway from the power base in London. It is the re-birth of the BBC as a broadcaster genuinely committed to reflecting the diverse and changing face of the UK.' Salmon - born in Burnley - is leading the transfer of staff and departments out of London in the BBC's history, including BBC Sport, Radio 5Live and Children's BBC.

First there was The Apprentice, now it's the youngsters' turn, as Junior Apprentice is set to debut on BBC1. I wonder if it will be as ground-breaking as Junior Kickstart? Once more under the auspices of Sir Alan B'stard, the new five-part hour-long series will pit ten young contenders, five girls and five boys aged sixteen to seventeen years old. They will compete to become the winner of the 'coveted title.' Candidates from all social backgrounds are being encouraged to apply – whether they are straight A students, from grammar or public school or have no academic qualifications from the scummiest estates in the country. A thick skin will also help, apparently. It's nice, isn't it, to see that child abuse is now such a big part of the BBC's agenda?

Speaking of thoroughly nasty, vicious, spiteful, politically motivated, arrogant, groundless, wicked and evil Little Englander scum agendas ... we must, of course, be talking about the dear old quaint Daily Mail and the crass, cancerous, disingenuous, Old Testament quoting, Cameron-grovelling brown-tongued spittal and bile that rancidly spews, ever outwards, from its scabbed, pox-ridden, mean-spiritied metaphorical mouth. Here is, possibly, the most perfectly generic BBC-bashing headline that those wretched lice at the Mail have ever come up with. They can't even leave the bloody children's department alone: 'The new Teletubbies? BBC unveils animated, yoga-loving hippies that teach children to get in touch with their emotions.' So, no obvious - extremely sinister and pernicious - agenda going down there, then. Perish the very thought. But, listen, couldn't you manage to get a single reference to 'sponging asylum seekers who plot against the queen' in there somewhere, boys and girls? You're slipping.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror is reporting that Sharon Osbourne is 'close' to signing up for this year's Strictly Come Dancing. She is said to be the BBC's top target for the series, which from autumn will go head-to-head with its main ITV rival X Factor. And, Sharon is extremely keen on appearing because, like most people who've been sacked from a high profile TV job, she is absolutely desperate to get her boat-race back on the screen and will do anything it takes to achieve this.

Although, it doesn't always work that way. Notorious self-publicist and, soon-to-be, divorced mum-of-three Katie Price has, this morning, pulled out of a scheduled appearance on this week's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. The model - and alleged 'TV personality' - was to have spoken about her split with husband, Peter Andre, and 'her hopes for the future.' Perhaps either she or the BBC - or maybe both - have had what alcoholics call 'a moment of clarity' and realised that, actually, most people couldn't give a flaming monkey's chuff about anything to do with this saga. A saga of spoiled rotten people with no obvious talent for anything other than bigging themselves up who, for once, have got a thoroughly satisfying taste of some of the harsh realities of life. It's the children I feel sorry for. Imagine having to grow up knowing in advance the number of good hard fistings thaat you're going to get in the schoolyard when your mates find out that your mum is Jordan.

And, lastly David Tennant is set to appear in the Doctor Who spin-off Sarah Jane Interferes, the BBC has announced. Tennant will appear in two episodes of a new twelve-part series of the popular CBBC show which starts in September and concerns an extremely silly woman journalist who screams a lot and has no obvious abilities in any field other than being annoying. This follows the appearance last season of yet another Doctor Who icon, former-Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (played by the great Nicholas Courtney). Russell Davies, the executive producer of both Sarah Jane Interferes and Doctor Who, said it would be a 'full-on appearance and not just a cameo.' Davies continued 'Viewers thought they may have to wait until November for the next full episode of Doctor Who, but this is an extra special treat.' Smith is played by Elisabeth Sladen who also played the part opposite Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker between 1973 and 1976. Sladen said she was 'absolutely over the moon' to be co-starring alongside Tennant and 'working with a proper actor for a change instead of those bloody kids and that damned metal dog.' Mind you, she said it quietly.

The third series of Sarah Jane Interferes will feature monsters who want to infect earth and a 'living painting.' Tennant is being replaced as the Doctor by Matt Smith who will start filming shortly and makes his debut next year. But first, Tennant will appear in three further specials, starting with The Waters of Mars later in the year. Meanwhile, Doctor Who may be heading for the big screen after a spokeswoman for BBC Films confirmed that 'a script is in development.' The words 'I'll believe it', 'when' and 'I see it' may, possibly, be revelent at this juncture.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Week Twenty Two: Big Brother Is Watching You Even If You're Not Watching Big Brother

Before we start the latest bloggerisationisms dredged from the darkest corners of the shattered mind of yer actual Keith Telly Topping on this beautiful sunny Sunday morning, dear blog reader, I thought it might be a nice present to you all to highlight this photograph. Lovely, is it not? It's Little Boots, playing her organ, on her bed, in her pants. And, why not? There really is nothing quite like that for kicking the day off in a splendid fashion. I know dear blog reader, I've done it myself. Often. I usually follow it with breakfast and a prayer for world peace. Good on yersel, Victoria. You go, girl and write us another little pop classic.
On with the Top Telly News: Qi are currently filming episodes for their – very much-anticipated - sixth season which will be broadcast either later this year or early next (sources vary). Guest panelist on those shows taped so far include welcome returns for Bill Bailey, dear old Danny Baker (first time back since season one for Dan) and Jezza Clarkson, regular visitors like Sean Lock, Andy Hamilton, Phill Jupitas, Rich Hall and Clive Anderson and a selection of interesting first-timers including Sue Perkins, Jack Dee, Barry Humphreys and Sandi Toksvig. Plus, sadly, Jimmy Carr. Ah well, we can't have everything I suppose.

Tonight's the Night finished its six week run yesterday evening (and moderately entertaining it was too even if it didn't, as pre-publicity promised, 'set the world alight'). It finished with an episode that included a specially written (and, actually, rather funny) sketch by Russell Davies starring John Barrowman, David Tennant and competition winner Tim Ingham. Expect fights to go on in Doctor Who fandom for about the next twenty years as to whether or not this is canonical in the same way that In A Fix With Sontarans and Dimensions of Time may, or may not, be. And, if you don't know what I'm dribbling on about, dear blog reader, trust me that's a good thing. An in-depth knowledge of this sort of inane trivia can utterly ruin your life. It certainly has mine.

Speaking of last night's telly, I'm very sad that Robin Hood is getting virtually no audience these days (just over three million for yesterday's episode). If for no other reason than because those who aren't watching it are - genuinely - missing out on a comedy treat. The show's always been camply amusing, of course (particularly Keith Allen's great over-the-top performance), but it's become riotous since former Bond villain Toby Stephens climbed on board as Bad Prince John. His is a deliciously eye-rolling turn that goes so far over-the-top it's actually down the other side. What a pity hardly anybody's watching it. Rumours continue that At Home With The Braithwaite's Sally Wainwright has been sounded out about coming up with a new format for Robin and co. should the BBC decided they want to do a fourth series. But, with Jonas Armstrong having already announced that he's leaving at the end of the current run and with the poor ratings it's been getting, another season is looking an increasingly unlikely proposition. What a shame because, like it's opposition, Primeval (which is doing marginally better and looks to be back in ITV's good books again) this show really does have a lot to offer.

In one of the most completely unexpected Transatlantic transfers in TV history, Ideal has finally made it to the US! Who would have ever thought that would happen. The Independent Film Channel will start showing the darkly strange - but very funny - BBC3 sitcom about a small-time drug dealer in Manchester and his odd collection of acquaintences with the first episode, 'The Rat' from 7 June. God only knows what the Americans are going to make of Big Johnny, Wor Alfie, Cartoon Head and co. Particularly as the US has a perceived somewhat puritanical attitude towards any hint of showing drug-taking in an even remotely positive - or even neutral - light. (Much of the mainstream US media's accusations in the 1990s that Trainspotting 'glamourised' heroin addiction, for example.) I hope Ideal gets a following, over there. And, to be honest, it might just be weird enough to do exactly that.

In a similarly wholly unexpected development, Variety magazine are reporting from the Cannes film festival that legendary movie producer Robert Evans (The Godfather, Love Story, Chinatown and Marathon Man among many others) is to team with ITV Global on a feature film based on the 1970s series UFO. Ryan Gaudet and Joseph Kanarek are writing the script. The series, debuted in 1970 was, of course, created by Gerry Anderson and was set in 1980 revolving around S.H.A.D.O., a covert military organisation which thwarts an alien race that has been kidnapping humans for decades to steal body parts. S.H.A.D.O. headquarters was hidden beneath a film studio. The movie will feature the same basic premise but will be set in the year 2020. The Robert Evans Co. has a first-look deal with Paramount, which will clearly be the first stop for the project. 'We know the importance of the UFO series brand to ITV Global and we will work closely with them to build this into a franchise,' Evans said. Sounds wonderful - always a particular favourite of mine, UFO - but I'm just wondering why now, why not twenty or thirty years ago?

24 ended its seventh season earlier in the week and there was plenty of good old fashioned tool-stiffening violence on display - as per usual with 24 season finales. I think, ultimately, they pretty much made up for a few (not insignificant) holes in the plot big enough to fire missiles armed with nerve gas through them with a dramatic tension and pace that the series hasn't really had since Bad President Logan got his just desserts at the end of season five. There were no exploding helicopters this time though and that's always a disappointment. And, is it just me or did anybody else want to resurrect the 'points at which Kim Bauer needs A SLAP' drinking game from seasons one and two? Going chasing after armed terrorists through the corridors of LAX? Listen, leave it to the professionals, love (you know, like yer dad). You just find yourself a nice mountain lion to be menaced by, there's a good girl ... (Just to fit in with the apparent semi-pronographic start to this week's Top Telly Tips, here's a nice photo of Elisha Cuthbert. Also in her pants. Is this some new fashion thing? Cos, I have to say you really don't want to see me in my pants, dear blog reader. it's not a pretty sight.) For next year, the excellently-named Chris Diamantopoulos - best known as Debra Messing's gay friend in the mini-series The Starter Wife - has been signed up to play the regular role of Rob Weiss, an argumentative and tough new Chief of Staff to President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones). He replaces Ethan Kanin (the excellent Bob Gunton), who dramatically snatched his job back in last Monday's finale after the President's naughty daughter, Olivia, was taken into federal custody for a good harsh spell in pokey. As previously reported, season eight's action will switch from Washington DC to New York and centre on an assassination plot against a visiting foreign leader (Slumdog Millionaire's Anil Kapoor, the new season's first major piece of casting news). Apart from Kiefer, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Cherry Jones it has yet to be confirmed whether any other regular or semi-regular cast members will be returning (though, if they don't bring back Janeane Garofalo, I may well cry). Entertainment Weekly reports that Jack and Chloe will be working at a reconstituted CTU.

Following her quite literal 'nuclear solution' at the end of the season finale, most of us didn't expect to be seeing much (if anything) of Duplicitous-Bitch-turned-Sawyer-love-cutie Juliet in next season's Lost. Particularly after the excellent Elizabeth Mitchell landed herself a starring role in ABC's forthcoming remake of the cult 1980s alien-invasion Sci-Fi series V. The trailer for the show's pilot episode (which you can see here looks terrific. As an added bonus, V also features two members of the Firefly cast – Alan Tudyk (fresh from his mad-as-a-bunch-of-bananas two-episode guest slot on Dollhouse) and the utterly divine Morena Baccarin. The latter - with her new short haircut - is pictured to the left looking horn-givingly beautiful. Even if she is ultimately playing a big lizard. Ooo … what a giveaway. V is, apparently, being lined-up as a mid-season replacement in ABC's schedules. However, TV Guide's Michael Ausiello suggests that whilst Mitchell is unlikely to be returning as a regular on Lost next year, we haven't seen the last of her character by any means. ('Multiple sources confirm that the actress is expected to appear in an unspecified number of episodes next season, so it's entirely possible that Juliet survived Jughead and her absense will be explained in another way.') Well, hurrah for that. I'm still worried about a distinct lack of Dessie and Penny, though.

Friday 29 May
Tonight's Friday Night With Jonathan Ross – 10:35 BBC1 - includes one of this year's most unlikely musical phenomenon The Singing Priests. But not, sadly, the previously announced appearance of Hugh Laurie. He's far too busy doing something around the house, apparently. Do you see ... Oh, never mind. Plus, there's a performance by one of the biggest bands on the planet, The Killers. Err … 'I've got ham but I'm not a hamster,' is that them?

Saturday 30 May
After weeks of highs and lows (but, mostly lows), Ant and Dec present the final of this year's Britain's Got Talent – 6:45 ITV. The ten acts who have made it through the auditions (or, the nine acts who've made it through the auditions and Susan Boyle) compete for 'the ultimate prize' of one hundred thousand pounds and the chance to perform at this year's Royal Variety Performance in front of Her Majesty the Queen. Yeah, I have to say I think the money'll be of marginally more importance to those competing than getting to sing 'afore Her Royal Highness. Could be wrong, of course, but I'm willing to bet a few pennies on that. Anyway, the finalists have one more opportunity to impress the judges before the public vote. And, then - mercifully - it'll be over for another year. What a relief for everyone.

It's Motown night on BBC4. Tremendous. Legends: The Motown Invasion - 7:00 BBC2 - is a terrifc documentary (previously shown on BBC2 a couple of months ago and highlighted on this very blog) about two decisive moments in 1965 - the Motown Revue UK tour and the Ready Steady Go!: Sound of Motown TV special. Arriving in London in March, The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, The Miracles, The Temptations and (then 'Little') Stevie Wonder were bussed across Britain on a package tour. It's hard to remember now but at the time Motown was very much a niché sound in this country. It was the TV special that really kicked open the door, thrusting their slick dance routines and stomping backbeat into the nation's front rooms. The bit at the end where they all surround Smokey as he sings 'Mickey's Monkey' is just magical. If you watch nothing else I recommend this week, watch this. If you don't, YOU HAVE NO SOUL - and, I mean quite literally.

Sunday 31 May
As you may have noticed from just about every billboard currently on display in the UK, Sky have managed to half-inch House from Five. Thus, the first episode of the fifth series of this impressive US medical drama about a maverick, anti-social New Jersey doctor starts tonight at 9:00 on Sky1. Still in mourning after the death of his beloved-if-bitchy Amber, Wilson (the excellent Robert Sean Leonard) resigns from his job at Princeton-Plainsboro while House (Hugh Laurie on tip-top form, as usual) is trying to determine whether he, himself, was responsible for the death of his best friend's girl. Discerning viewers are also advised to keep an eye on Lisa Edelstein, the actress who plays House's boss Cuddy (you'll know her by sight, she used to be Sam's Prostitute Girlfriend in The West Wing). She's just about the best thing in a show that has lots of very good elements in its dramatic arsenal. And she gets a lot more to do this year than in previous seasons.

There's a one-off special of the popular sitcom Benidorm - 9:00 ITV - set in the titular Spanish resort. In the aftermath of her ruined wedding, unlucky bride Madge and pal Janice cadge a lift with a mysterious man who turns out to be eccentric Spanish criminal Enrique. He holds them hostage at the Solana, but Mick and Mel are determined to effect a rescue.

Meanwhile, Empire of Cricket - 10:30 BBC2 – is, as the title suggests, the first of new series telling the story of spread of the game. The English invented cricket, created its rules and a whole moral code and exported this elegant sport to the wider British Empire. Where, inevitably, they all became better at it than we are. However, the English game was always divided by class and often held back by its own traditions and backward looking establishment. The programme explores the careers of great cricketers from WG Grace to Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton to Ray Illingworth, Ian Botham to Kevin Pietersen and shows how cricket in England has always been influenced by historical and cultural factors. Sounds excellent - looking forward to that one.

Monday 1 June
The Secrets of Stonehenge: A Time Team Special - 9:00 Channel 4 – is a feature-length episode of the popular archeology show in which Tony Robinson reports on a historic venture to present the definitive account of a legendary monument. Over the last six years, a huge team of archaeologists have been digging at Stonehenge and the surrounding prehistoric landscape to uncover the site's many ancient secrets. During their excavations the team found the biggest Neolithic settlement in Northern Europe. Top stuff, as always from this delightfully eccentric and educational series. More please.

Dating the Enemy – 10:35 ITV – the 'dating show with a difference' begins its second series, the first having gone out last year to no great accliam whatsoever. Feminist Laurie and self-confessed male chauvinist oinker Leon have absolutely nothing in common apart from both being single. Leon 'likes to be controversial' (for which, read, he thinks he's, like, 'the funniest guy in the whole world, bar none') with his extremely sexist opinions and general gittery of the first order whilst Laurie is a Labour party researcher and is studying for an MA in gender relations. Sounds like my type of girl, actually. I wonder if she's available. Anyway, this unlikely couple have agreed to spend four days dating to see if they can find any common ground. Is it an impossible match or can opposites attract? Okay, as a social experiment I can see a vague value in TV shows like this. But, as entertainment…? I wonder how it was sold to the participants (and, whether it was sold in the same way to both - I'm thinking probably not). Car crash telly by the looks of it. Which, of course, can work under certain circumstances. I guess this is a case of watch it and see if it's as bad as you might expect.

Now, despite my producer's considered opinion that it's been rubbish this year, Ashes to Ashes - 9:00 BBC1 – continues to impress the hell out of me. Particularly the soundtrack. And since I am Keith Telly Topping and these are my Top Telly Tips, you are all instructed to carry on watching this show until I give you leave to do otherwise. It's for your own good, dear blog reader, trust me on this. In tonight's episode, what looks to be a simple drugs-drop at a building site turns into a murder case when CID find a body buried in concrete. Is the site's owner, Michael Lafferty, crooked? Gene certainly thinks so. Meanwhile, Alex is convinced that, in 2008, she's recovering in the hospital and will wake up soon. However, the case begins to clash with her desire to get home and she becomes haunted by thoughts of her parents' death and whether she could have prevented it. What, again? That was the plotline of last season, wasn't it? Come on lads and lasses, move the plot forward, we need to get to 1983 as soon as possible so you can include some Smiths songs. You know you want to.

Tuesday 2 June
In Nature's Fury: Tornado - 8:00 ITV - Chris Terrill goes in search of some of the world's biggest storms. His mission is to get as close as possible and find out why people continue to live in their deadly path. In this episode, he travels thirty thousand miles back and forth across the American Midwest during one of the most active tornado seasons for fifty years. After eight weeks of chasing savage twisters and meeting some of their victims, he gets within touching distance of a vicious tornado in Nebraska. Then a second one heads straight for him. Tornados, eh? Like London buses you wait for ages and then two turn up at once.

Ladette to Lady - 9:00 ITV – is, of course, a (thoroughly wretched and, in many ways quite disgracefully spiteful) reality series that attempts to transforms a range of uncouth, boorish young women into refined, cultured ladies of class and breeding. It was crap, frankly and was very publicly cancelled last year because of a combination of dreadful ratings and even worse critique. You may have read about it. But then, a few months later, it was surprisingly revived - with one crucial difference. You see, this series features the novelty of taking on a group of raucous Australian sheilas and giving them a jolly good makeover. Or, at least, trying to - Australian sheilas being, of course, notoriously difficult to train to act like civilised human beings. Apparently. That's what ITV reckon, anyway. As the over-refreshed recruits arrive at Eggleston Hall, the teachers immediately fear the worst when they receive news that the police have been called to the local airport following complaints of disruptive behaviour. The stage is set for an epic battle of wills, as the staff get to work. And, with lessons beginning in earnest, it soon becomes clear that the girls are up against formidable opposition. But before long, rebellion gives way to something approaching co-operation. What a huge disappointment. And, what an appallingly exploitative, crass and culturally patronising concept that, frankly, borders of racism. Listen, if you have the slightest bit of decency and respect about yourself and the world you live in, avoid this abomination like The Black Death and, if you should ever see any of the people involved in its production (or commissioning) crossing the road whilst you're driving along it, don't step on the breaks too hard.

I'm Running Sainsburys - 9:00 Channel 4 – sees Sainsburys chief executive Justin King exploring new business ideas which have been suggested by employees of the retail giant. In this installment, pushy twenty one year-old Becky Craze (what a fantastic name) wants to design a revolutionary new product that could change the way people shop forever. Is it anything to do with the ritual and very bloody disembowelment of Jamie Oliver by any chance? Because, if it isn't, then I'm not really interested to be honest. I shop at Morrison's myself. It's far cheaper, the quality's just as good and they can afford Alan Hansen and Richard Hammond to do their adverts. That's entertainment.

Wednesday 3 June
We're heading - not swifitly enough for my liking, it should be noted - towards the climax in The Apprentice - 9:00 BBC1. The five remaining candidates must face a gruelling interview process and, there's no hiding place for them as each are grilled in turn by four of Sir Alan B'stard's most trusted 'business colleagues' (for which, read 'the guys who break people's knuckles for him when B'stard needs a good spankin' handing out for gross disrespect on his Manor), with every aspect of their personal and professional lives placed under the intense glare of the microscope. And, broadcast to millions of gawking voyeurs on TV just as a matter of pure disinterest. Sir Alan's advisors will report their findings to him in the boardroom - like the bunch of disgraceful brown-tongued sycophants they clearly are - and the candidates will then jockey for a place in the final as they meet the most rigorous interviewer of all: Sir Alan B'stard himself. Who, in the name of Christ Almighty would willing put themselves through all this malarkey simply to get a job that entails this sort of ritual humiliation on a daily basis? Have they the slightest ounce of self-respect between them? Will just one of them, ever, stand up and tell the puffed-up ludicrous little Mussolini to go screw himself and the horse he rode in on? It's a sick, sad world we live in, dear blog reader and we are all responsible for it. Think about that when you watch The Apprentice tonight.

It's something of a red letter day on Coronation Street - 7:30 ITV - by the sounds of it. Will Audrey become Psycho David Platt's next victim? Oh, let's certainly hope so - I mean, I think we could all do with a right good laugh on Corrie at the moment. Meanwhile, in other news, a weakened Peter turns to his dad, Ken, for help and Joe reaches breaking point. Don't worry mate, it'll all be over in half-an-hour and you can go and watch something else.

The Conservative party's favourite dartboard target Kate Adie returns to the scene of one of her most memorable, and horrific, assignments, but no, it's not hosting The Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Sunderland all those many years ago. Rather, it was reporting on the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Beijing during two shattering days in June, 1989. In Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square - 9:00 BBC2 - we recall that Wor Katey was one of the very few Western reporters out on the streets during the events and witnessed the killings at close quarters. To make this follow-up documentary she had to travel undercover to meet other eyewitnesses and victims' families and hear their moving and shocking testimonies of just what a bunch of bloodthirsty oppressive twats the Chinese government were. But not now, of course. I mean, we've let them hold the Olympics since then and, as a consequence, readmitted them into the human race with open arms and, now, we consider them fluffy and lovely and our friends... It's a sick, sad world we live in dear blog reader and we are all responsible for it. Think about that when you watch Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square tonight. Or, The Apprentice for that matter.

Thursday 4 June
Calendar Girls: Ten Years On - 9:00 BBC1 - is a documentary which focuses on one of the genuine news phenomena of the last decade. Ten years after they first removed their clothes and 'took the world by storm', it says here, six of the original Women's Institute Calendar Girls are preparing to strip off for the final time. This film tells is the inside story of the real Calendar Girls, from their first shoot to their last.

I mentioned Lie to Me – 10:00 Sky1 – the new Tim Roth vehicle from the US last week. Since then I've had the chance to catch up with the whole of the first series (thirteen episodes, in all). And, I have to say it's really very good indeed. As mentioned last time, it's a little bit like The Mentalist - with a wee smidgen of Medium thrown in - a drama series about a scientist who uses his Derren Brown-like ability to read facial expressions and body language to solve crimes. In tonight's episode, The Lightman Group try to protect the South Korean ambassador to the US from an possible assassination attempt at his son's wedding. It's not the best episode of the show - which really does get better and better as it goes along - but it's a decent enough starting point if you've missed out on it thus far.

I'm afraid it's that time of the year again when TV gets all nosy and intrusive into people's lives. Oh no hang on, that's ALL THE YEAR ROUND these days, isn't it? On The Big Brother Launch Show - 9:00 Channel 4 - Davina McCall introduces this year's lucky victims, sorry volunteers, the housemates direct from the Big Brother complex. 'The Big Brother Complex' - that sounds like either a mental disorder that one suffers after watching too much of it or some kind of sinister place of interrogation just outside Dresden to which the Stasi would take people during the 1970s and, from where, they would never be heard from again. Anyway, viewers are also promised 'an exclusive tour of the house itself' haven't they seen enough of it over the last nine seasons?) and a preview of things to come over the next few months. Which will, in all likelihood, include much rank nastiness, bullying, squabbling, tears and possibly a wee bit of racism too. Or, is this year going to be different? We shall see. It's a sick, sad world we live in dear blog reader and we are all responsible for it. Which is another way of saying, I'll see you next week for more Top Telly Tips.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

200 Not Out

To celebrate their own thirtieth anniversary - and the two hundredth Doctor Who story being broadcast on TV at Easter[*] - The Doctor Who Magazine have produced a handsome, lovingly put-together one hundred and forty eight page monster celebrating the two hundred greatest moments in the series from its humble beginnings in 1963 right up to Planet of the Dead. Ignoring, for just a second the five pieces which yer man Keith Telly Topping wrote for the issue, I suggest you start by reading Andrew Pixleys' quite gorgeous final entry in the magazine - a celebration not just of the show but also of its fandom. Then, once you've dried your eyes, go back to the start and spend the next few hours wallowing in two hundred or so reasons why you're a fan of this daft little series. I particularly draw your attention, dear blog reader, to the lovely Joe Lidster's piece on Journey's End which is one of those bits of journalism that remind one of the power of the written word. Cornell on Kinda is (as you'd expect) pleasingly bonkers as well. Six of your finest English pounds and ninety nine of your jolly old English pee from all good newsagents (and WH Smiths as well). Even The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat writes a bit about the final scene of Dragonfire. And, that's worth the entry fee alone. Buy one today. Tell 'em I sent you.

[*] That's, of course, if you count The Trail of a Time Lord as one (fourteen-part) story. And the Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords trilogy as a three-part story. And you ignore the existence of Shada. And Time Crash. Etc. Look, just shut up. It's two hundred, all right?!]

In other news after a sometimes heated debate, MPs voted down a Conservative motion which would have frozen the television licence fee for a year on Thursday of this week. In April the annual fee for a colour TV licence went up by three pounds to £142.50 - a two per cent rise, linked to inflation - under the terms of a six-year settlement. The Tories had said that a freeze was needed next year if the BBC was to maintain public support in tough economic times. When such money was clearly needed for 'duck islands' and 'cleaning out the moat', no doubt. But hey, just ingore me, I'm merely 'jealous' according to one of them because they live in nice houses.

Opening the debate the shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that 'the economic situation has changed beyond all recognition' since the licence fee settlement was reached in 2007, when inflation was 4.3%, as opposed to -1.2% today. The effect of a one-year freeze in the licence fee would, Hunt said, amount to a cut of sixty eight million pounds to the BBC's £3.6bn budget. In response, the culture secretary Andy Burnham said that the corporation should be 'adequately, but not over-funded' and pointed out that, in recent years, the annual settlement had been below the rate of inflation. He added that the Conservative party was challenging the premise which had underpinned the BBC over the years. To instigate annual funding reviews, he said, would be 'disastrous for the corporation,' leading to continuous uncertainty about its budgets.

Intervening, Hunt strongly denied that the Conservatives were calling for annual reviews of the licence fee. But, nobody believed him. Burnham continued that it was crucial that the BBC should 'put a helping hand' under other parts of the media industry during a time of economic uncertainty. And he accused the Conservatives of 'posturing and easy headline seeking.'

For the nasty, fence-squatting Liberal Democrats, culture spokesman Don Foster said that, despite his concerns over problems including the Ross/Brand affair and the perceived heavy-handedness of TV Licencing, he 'valued the BBC and the standards it stands for.' Describing the motion as 'a gimmick', Foster referred to the 'phenomenally good value' of the licence fee, at just thirty nine pence a day, and denied the corporation was 'awash with cash,' especially after it was already making substantial efficiency savings.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture committee, spoke of the 'fundamental structural change' taking place in the media, with falling advertising revenue leading to deep cuts in the commercial sector. With the BBC's income now outstripping the whole of the UK's media advertising revenue, he said, 'we need to support commercial providers' through sharing the licence fee. Labour's Austin Mitchell, a former TV presenter himself of course, said that the debate 'tells us more about the state of the Conservative party' than of the BBC. He said that the argument put forward by the Conservatives - that ITV has made cuts, so similar cuts should be imposed on the BBC - was, Mitchell noted, 'illogical' and 'opportunistic vandalism.' After a short debate, MPs rejected the motion by 334 votes to 156.

Sell all yer tickets. You couldn't sell all yer tickets...

On a related note Mark Thompson has said that the BBC 'does not want to be the last public service broadcaster standing' and has outlined more practical ways in which the corporation could work in partnership with commercial PSBs. The Director General said that the BBC was in advanced talks with a number of newspaper groups about ways to allow them to feature the corporation's audio-visual assets (AV) on their websites. And he added that talks were also taking place with the Press Association and others about whether the BBC could participate in a consortium to make AV content available across the whole UK journalism sector, 'while helping rather than hindering the business models of other agencies and providers'.

Delivering the inaugural Charles Wheeler Memorial Lecture at the University of Westminster, Thompson also praised the diversity of the BBC's journalism, 'from Newsbeat to The World Tonight to Panorama and 5Live'. And he added that 'the challenge for the BBC remains that of creating and sustaining the space in this large machine for those individual human voices and talents to think and listen and above all to communicate with the public.'

Paying tribute to Wheeler, who died last July, Thompson said: 'Charles knew that strong editors and a strong newsgathering infrastructure were essential if he and other correspondents were to do their best work.' And he argued that the values which Wheeler embodied: fierce individuality, tenacity and authority, were probably more important than ever. 'News is a high tech business today, we all know that,' he said. 'The public can get their headlines from scores of different sources on myriad devices. All the more reason to value and nurture the moment when another human being – someone with the talent and the training and the courage to do it – punches through all that technology to tell you what’s happened and what it might mean.'

The event also saw Thompson present Jeremy Paxman with the inaugural Charles Wheeler award. Paxman said that Wheeler 'stayed true to the moral duties of our trade. He found things out. He told it straight. And he caused trouble.'