Sunday, August 30, 2009

Definitely? ... Maybe!

The news this weekend that Noel Gallagher has reportedly quit Oasis, saying he can no longer work with his brother Liam, surprised me somewhat. In so much as that it's taken fifteen years for it to happen. What's this, the fourth or fifth time that either Noel, or Liam (or both) have walked out? This one, admittedly, does sound a little bit more final than, say, the 'Talk Tonight'/San Francisco going walkabout affair. Or, indeed, the 'I've got a new house with Patsy, I can't be bothered to tour America' fiasco of 1996. If it is the end of what was, quite simply, the best live rock and roll band of the last two decades, then I guess what I'm most looking forward to now is hearing Noel's first solo LP. Without the 'baggage' (and/or 'support') of Our Kid on board. That'll be the point at which everybody realises just how much Oasis was down to the songs and how much was down to the singer. Because, to be honest, I'm not sure if anybody knows that for certain right at this moment. Least of all Liam and Noel themselves! And, I note that Ginger Alan McGee is already talking up the chances of a 'reunion tour' in a few years time. Class act, mate!

'Because we neeeed/each other/we belieeeve in/one another...'

Right, on with the Top Telly News, a lot of it coming - inevitably - from Edinburgh this week, as you'll note: Stephen Fry has said editorial compliance staff should 'fuck off' in a passionate diatribe against a culture of inflexible rules which is damaging realism in television. Keith Telly Topping's admiration for Lord Stephen is previously a matter of public record so we don't need to go into it again, here. Suffice to say that Keith Telly Topping agrees with this. Muchly. Fry's comments came as part of the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival session, Is Compliance Fucking Up TV?, which also saw Hat Trick boss Jimmy Mulville blame the BBC's director general Mark Thompson for a 'climate of fear,' and comedian Frank Skinner claim that expletives are wasted on the likes of Gordon Ramsay. In a pre-recorded statement, Fry savaged the logic behind editorial decisions to ban drama sequences which, for example, show criminals talking on their mobiles as they drive, or not wearing their seatbelts. 'I know it happens to be illegal, but it's also illegal to shoot people in the face,' he said, borrowing a popular phrase from his mate, Jezza Clarkson. 'It's called compliance. Compliance with what? With being an arsehole? Compliance with stupidity? I cannot believe that anybody allows this to happen. You are not allowed to do it as it really would be done, because you're "setting a bad example." What kind of example are you setting by betraying your country or shooting people in the face? It makes me want to explode with fury – and the awful thing is that the producers of these programmes comply.' Fry's potent, righteous anger was echoed by Mulville, who claimed that jokes aired on Have I Got News For You in previous years would not even be discussed as a possibility in the current climate and warned that producers are self-censoring their content to avoid the hassle of compliance. Citing a humourous mention of the phrase 'motherfucker' permitted by Jane Root when she was controller of BBC1, he said: 'I'm sad to say we wouldn't have that debate now. I'd just think I'm going to lose that war, I'll save time and take it out…The atmosphere now is one of retrenchment. There are rules but the people on the ground floor [of the BBC] don't know quite where they stand with them.' Mulville also singled out the director general for blame, saying: 'I'm not saying that it's anyone's fault at the BBC except for, probably, Mark Thompson. The fish rots from the head down.' The ONE Show presenter Adrian Chiles, who was chairing the panel, addressed director of BBC Vision Jana Bennett and said: 'You've got to tackle the ripples of caution that are going out [among BBC producers] and go out there saying it's fine.' BBC executives said afterwards that they agreed with Mulville's criticism but were surprised Mulville had vented them so openly, especially when sat next to Bennett. However, other speakers laid some of the blame at the door of the television industry as a whole. Skinner argued that television had allowed shows such as Gordon Ramsay's F Word to devalue the currency of certain expletives, instead of allowing them to be used sparingly but effectively. 'TV has slightly brought this on itself. Language has been wasted on Gordon Ramsay instead of comedians who know how to use it,' he said. 'It gives them [the press] the ammunition to say "Get fuck off telly." Actually fuck is a beautiful word when used correctly.' He continued that sensible compliance depended on 'bright people' to interpret the Ofcom editorial guidelines, much like a referee interprets the rules of football. 'It cannot be broken down into a checklist,' he said. Jan Tomalin, the former Channel 4 lawyer who now works at the Media Law Consultancy, came in for praise from nearly all the speakers – but went further than they did in blaming producers for interpreting compliance rules badly rather than the rules themselves. She said the Ofcom guidelines could be viewed 'through two ends of the telescope' – as the framework for getting risky content on screen or as a barrier to block content – and that often producers opt for the latter. 'It becomes a reductive process. I truly think that if Ofcom witnessed the conversations that happen among producers sometimes, they'd be horrified,' she said.

The creator of highly-acclaimed hard-hitting TV drama The Wire has said television can only be worthwhile when freed from the constraints of advertising. David Simon, who was also appearing at the Edinburgh TV Festival, said: 'Television as a medium, in terms of being literate and telling stories, has short-changed itself since its inception.' Simon, whose work originates on US subscription cable channel HBO, added: 'Only when television managed to liberate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story. American television up until the point of premium cable was about the interruptions every thirteen minutes to sell you cars and jeans and whatever else.' He said that adverts were in danger of becoming more important than the show. 'You had to bring the most number of eyeballs to that show and that meant dumbing down and making plots simple, gratifying people within the hour.'

Summer Glau has landed a recurring role on Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, according to various US reports. The actress, who has previously worked with Whedon on Firefly, its movie spin-off Serenity and Angel, is said to have taken the role of Bennett, a Dollhouse employee who shares a secret past with Echo. Showrunner Whedon had previously hinted that he was interested in casting Glau in the show's second season. 'I mentioned it to her before The Sarah Connor Chronicles was cancelled. I was like, "You know, we should get you in the house." But first we have to come up with something that works.' And, in a further revelation which would appear to suggest that Joss Whedon's career now exists largely to provide some quality work for the stars of his previous shows, it had also been announced that the great Alexis Denisof (Wesley in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and one of Keith Telly Topping's most admired actors) will also be making a guest appearance in the new series of Dollhouse. He will play Senetor Daniel Perrin, who is on a witch-hunt to expose the activities of the Dollhouse organisation. Also in the coming season Michael Hogan of Battlestar Galactica will play Bradley Karrens, a man who seeks the Dollhouse's help to stop a family member's psychotic killing spree. Hogan's fellow BSG castmate, Jamie Bamber, was inadvertently revealed to be another guest star last Wednesday when FOX made photos of the season's premiere episode available to the press. Bamber will play businessman Martin Klar, who is Echo's new husband. Besides the main cast, FOX have also announced that Amy Acker's character, Dr Claire Saunders, and Miracle Laurie's character, Madeline, will return for seperate story arcs. With all this activity, let's just hope that the show actually finds an audience this year.

Channel 4's digital service More4 has bought the UK rights to the US cop drama Southland, starring Ben McKenzie, best known for playing Ryan in The OC. The series, described as 'gritty and authentic' (aren't they all?) is about a police unit based in Los Angeles and takes viewers inside the lives of the cops and criminals. It was created by ER and The West Wing's John Wells, Christopher Chulack, and NYPD Blue's Ann Biderman. It is expected to be broadcast on the channel later this year. Channel 4's Gill Hay said: 'Our audience expects thought-provoking, high quality drama, and Southland comes to More4 with a sterling pedigree. As you would expect from the creative talent involved, it is gripping, uncompromising and a truly thrilling addition to the channel.'

Ant and Dec have revealed that their latest show for ITV will be based around ordinary families. The cheeky chappy Geordie duo (pictured right with Ant, as usual, on the left), who were recently branded 'irreplaceable' by ITV's director of television Peter Fincham, told delegates at Edinburgh that they felt TV audiences wanted to see modern British families on-screen, having moved away from formats such as their 2000 BBC series Friends Like These. The new show, which will air on ITV next spring, will be 'slightly more formatted' than the pair's previous hit, Saturday Night Takeaway and is now in the rehearsal phase of its lengthy development.

The final ever episode of Rescue Me will reportedly air in conjunction with the anniversary of 9/11. The FX firefighter drama, starring Denis Leary, was initially inspired by the 11 September terrorist attacks, whilst the show's producer has announced that filming on the final seasons is about to get under way and that the series will go off the air in 2011, TV Guide reports. 'Within the next couple of weeks, we're going to begin shooting the last nineteen episodes, which will be the final two seasons of the show,' co-creator and executive producer Peter Tolan said. He added: 'I think they're stretching the airing of it out until the tenth anniversary. So if you put ten episodes on next year and nine the following year, you'll land there.'

A survey, reported by Sky News, has found that less than one in ten people think TV presenters are worth their wages. The YouGov poll discovered that eighty per cent of respondants thought that stars' wages should be cut. Only six per cent of people thought Piers Morgan was good value for money, while only nine per cent were happy with Jonathan Ross's pay deal. Simon Cowell and Davina McCall were also backed by just nine per cent of the respondents. However, twenty seven per cent of people thought Stephen Fry was paid the right amount, while Michael Palin was supported by thirty per cent of those surveyed. Keith Telly Topping concurs and, in fact, goes further. TV previewers aren't worth their wages either. But, we're cheaper, at least. Much cheaper.

Five has signed Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston to present a new show called Britain's Best Brain, it was announced on Friday. The eight-part prime time series, which has been co-funded by Nintendo, reunites the duo on screen for the first time in nearly ten years. 'I'm very happy and excited to be working with my mate again,' said Ball. 'Jamie is very sharp and a generous co-host and still makes me roar with laughter, so it's not like work at all. We've slotted straight back in to our working relationship, like putting on a favourite pair of old socks.' Theakston added: 'As soon as I heard about the show I thought it sounded like a great concept. I can't believe it's been ten years since Zoe and I last presented a show together. After our first run through it was like we had never been apart. We both find the same things funny and she can make me laugh like no other presenter I've ever worked with.'

Rob Brydon has revealed that Gavin & Stacey fans can expect 'momentous' events to occur in the final series. The forty four-year-old actor, who plays Bryn West on the BBC sitcom, hinted that viewers may be surprised by the storylines in store in the forthcoming third run. Speaking to the Liverpool Daily Post, Brydon confirmed: 'We finished Gavin & Stacey about two weeks ago. I think it's very good, another great script, but then it's hard for me to tell because I'm so close to it now.' He added: 'They like it to be secret, but I will say lots of things, momentous things, happen. I can say Uncle Bryn is in it a lot - I think he has more to do than in previous series. All the characters move along brilliantly. I just can't wait to see it now, we all enjoyed filming it so much.'

Back to the US and TNT has ordered a third season of the highly watchable con-artist drama Leverage, the cable network announced last week. The fifteen-episode third season will air next summer. Leverage, which wraps up its summer run 9 September and returns to conclude its fifteen part second season this winter. The series - which Keith Telly Topping rather admires - stars Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton as the leader of a band of grifters who swindling nasty people out of their ill-gotten gains. It co-stars Coupling's Gina Bellman, Angel's Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf and Aldis Hodge.

The Hills star Brody Jenner has claimed that he was tased outside a Los Angeles bar after becoming involved in a fight with Girls Gone Wild mogul Joe Francis. Speaking to TMZ, the reality star alleged that he was at the Guys and Dolls nightclub with his girlfriend, Jayde Nicole, when they witnessed Francis hitting 'unrelentingly' on a woman that they knew. Jayde is reported to have thrown a drink on Francis who then became involved in a confrontation with her before security stepped in. Writing on his Twitter account, Jenner said: 'Joe Francis beat up my lady this morning for no reason! Pulled her to the ground, punched and kicked her... what does that say about him? How can you call yourself a man when you beat up a girl? Joe Francis is a piece of shit. Joe Francis needs to be in jail!'

The discovery of five young women murdered in Ipswich in 2006 is to form the basis of a new BBC1 drama. Three-part serial Five Daughters (working title) will be written by Stephen Butchard, who penned BBC2 drama House of Saddam. Made with the full co-operation of Suffolk Police and other agencies involved in the case, this factually-based drama will tell the story of the women's lives through the eyes of family members and friends, as well as following the inside story of the police investigation. It was commissioned by BBC1 controller Jay Hunt and Ben Stephenson, controller of BBC drama commissioning. Butchard said: 'These five young women, precious to their families, had heart, ambition and potential; until an event or events, one wrong turn, one chance meeting, led them into the world of heroin and crack. Their dependency on these drugs facilitated their easy exploitation and led them to the street. Our hope is that this drama provides a glimpse of the real girls their families knew, and also leads to further debate on the impact of drugs and sex industries upon every town, every city in this country… and what action is, or isn't, being taken.' Filming begins this November for broadcast in 2010. Director is Philippa Lowthorpe (The Other Boleyn Girl). Producer is Simon Lewis (My Family And Other Animals) and executive producer is Susan Hogg (Survivors, Larkrise To Candleford).

ITV director of drama, Laura Mackie, has defended the decision to move long-running police show The Bill to 9pm, saying that the show's new format will need time to bed in. Speaking to Broadcast, Mackie said that she 'would have liked to get more' viewers watching the show but that, overall, she was satisfied with how the programme was rating. Since being moved to a 9pm slot, The Bill has been averaging less than the slot average and viewing figures over the last three weeks have been some of the lowest for the series in many years. As an 8pm show, it was regularly pulling audiences of around five million, but after debuting in the new time slot with four and a half million, that figure this week dropped to just over three million last week. Mackie said: 'The team on the programme is still making the transition from 8pm to 9pm. In an ideal world, we would have stopped production for six months and had the time to make all the changes necessary. To have made the leap without stopping production at all is a huge achievement by [producers] Talkback Thames. These changes always take time, but we are absolutely in this for the long game. The Bill had some very stiff competition from launch – none of us were expecting it would have to go against New Tricks. But it did dent [New Tricks'] ratings and we think over the autumn The Bill will move from strength to strength.'

BBC3 has lined up Mock The Week's Russell Howard to host a younger-skewing take on Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, in a bid to boost the channel's coverage of current affairs. The nine-part series, Russell Howard's Good News, was ordered by BBC3 controller Danny Cohen as one of three new shows for the channel, which also includes a drama about lesbians and a full series of pilot comedy Mouth To Mouth. According to the BBC, Howard 'will offer his unique perspective on the big stories dominating all of our news outlets, from online and print to broadcast, as well as picking up on those sometimes overlooked things that make him smile.' I like Russell's comedy a lot so I'm quite looking forward to that one. The series, which is set to air this autumn, will be will be produced by Avalon in front of a live studio audience and comprises a seven-week run, followed by a best-of and a Christmas special much in the same style as Mock The Week. It follows an edict from the BBC Trust to boost levels of news and current affairs on BBC3, despite the historically poor performance of straight forward news bulletins for the channel. The new show will sit alongside a six episode drama about 'the sex lives and love affairs' of a group of twentysomething lesbians living in Glasgow. Get your standard complaint forms from the Daily Mail as soon as they've got the photocopier working again. Lip Service, which has yet to be cast, was penned by Harriet Braun, who also worked on the first series of Mistresses and co-created Attachments. It will be produced by Kudos Film and Television in Glasgow later this year. Braun said: 'Based on my own experiences and those of my friends, I wanted to write a sexy, funny and irreverent drama that reflects what it is to be a young gay woman living in Britain today. I loved The L Word but it's high time we saw some contemporary British lesbians, with all the bad weather, trips to the pub and repressed emotions that go with that. It will be as funny as it is pathos filled, because in my experience that's how life is.' Polly Williams (Hotel Babylon, Holby City) will produce the series and Derek Wax (Occupation) is the executive producer for Kudos. Matthew Read (Fiona's Story, Wallander) is the executive producer for BBC Scotland.

More from Edinburgh, and this one's a cracker: Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson has scorned health and safety checks, saying presenters who do dangerous stunts will inevitably sometimes get hurt or die. After a clip which showed him driving a lorry into a brick wall, he said: 'Doing a show like Top Gear, you have to realise that from time to time presenters are going to get hurt or killed.' Clarkson's comments come after his co-presenter Richard Hammond suffered a near fatal accident in 2006 – but Clarkson said the episode was a 'shock' but would not change his attitude to health and safety. 'It was not a wake up call. It was deeply shocking but a tyre blew out. All the health and safety in the world couldn't have prevented that accident,' he said. Clarkson and the programme's executive producer, Andy Wilman, also used the Top Gear masterclass to attack decisions by the BBC Trust to uphold various complaints against the show. Last summer the Trust censured the show for glamourising drink driving, after it showed Clarkson and co-host James May drinking gin and tonic as they drove across an ice pack on their way to the North Pole. Clarkson asked delegates 'Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?' noting that there is no traffic or law against drink driving in the region, which is classed as international waters. 'You can't listen endlessly to Ed Pol on the sixth floor of the BBC, whose opinions are often very far removed from those of the people watching the show,' he added. The controversial BBC host also ruled out having a woman on the Top Gear team because the abuse the current trio of presenters give each other could be construed as bullying. 'When we did the original screen tests and some BBC people came down and insisted we had to have a girl, honestly I didn't give a damn and said we must get [the best] presenter,' Clarkson said. 'Now though, having seen how we work, I think a girl would be a disaster… If a girl came in and we started taking the piss out of her it may look like bullying.' He added that in the average nuclear family, girls only watch Top Gear because they fancy Richard Hammond and their mothers watch it because it is family viewing. Plus, they want to mother James May. Clarkson also noted women were often pushed to the front of the audience so they were seen behind the presenters. 'We get five hundred people coming to the show each week and most of them are oafs,' he said. 'Who would you rather have in our shots?' It's a great word, 'oaf,' isn't it? You don't get it used anywhere near enough in relation to television these days. Anyway, Jezza - entertaining as always, especially in his fabulous ability to wind up (and slap down) the Gruniad and the Daily Mail simultaneously. I remain in awe of your dazzling fabulousness, sir! Encore.

BBC2 boss Janice Hadlow's comedy plans include uncovering a 'broad comic' success in the vein of Goodness Gracious Me and Absolutely Fabulous, and solving the problem of men dominating panel shows. Speaking at Edinburgh, Hadlow said that one of her key priorities with panel shows was 'to shift things, to find different ways of being funny.' She said: 'We don't want to take an existing format and "female it up," but we're looking hard to find a different kind of panel show that is welcoming to women.' Hadlow admitted it would take time, but pointed to the forthcoming Miranda Hart sitcom - Miranda Hart's Joke Shop - as the first step towards more female-friendly comedy. She added that as well as strong returning niche series such as Beautiful People, she was after something that could be come a genuine mainstream hit. 'It would be great to add a broad comic success to BBC2, like Absolutely Fabulous or The Catherine Tate Show. Something to point to as part of a wide mixed economy.'

BBC1 controller Jay Hunt has spoken of her distress at negative press coverage about her – and fears that it will discourage other women from taking senior TV roles in the future. 'I've always been very reluctant to say it's because I'm a girl, but it was extremely tough to read. It was extremely hard for my family and friends to read and I think me being a woman certainly played a part in it,' she said at Edinburgh. 'I have been struck by how many women have been put off by what's happened to me and that I think that is quite dispiriting. I don't think you want to be in an industry – which I've always prided myself didn't have a discernable glass ceiling – and find people saying I'm not sure I'd want to put myself through that. I wouldn't do your job for a million quid. I think that's alarming. The most important thing for me is that other women aren't put off trying to get this sort of job or operate at this level.'

Julian Bellamy, the head of Channel 4, has admitted that his biggest mistake this year was the programme schedule he pitted against the "firestorm" of ITV's mega-rating Britain's Got Talent. Bellamy, speaking at Edinburgh yesterday, said that Channel 4 would look to overhaul its scheduling strategy against the hit ITV show next time around. 'My biggest mistake this year was our schedule against Britain's Got Talent. We underestimated how big that show was [going to be],' he added. Bellamy said that he selected a 'mish-mash' of good films and a series of repeats as a 'holding pattern' to air against the mega-rating ITV show. 'We missed a trick. Next time we will be more interesting and daring and worry less about holding up audience in the firestorm of Britain's Got Talent,' he added. He also said that for the next series he was working on a 'big idea that will play across a few days while it is on.'

Fearne Cotton has reportedly told friends that she believes her house is haunted. The popular presenter's Georgian cottage is built over a tunnel thought to have been used either by smugglers or women looking for a safe route to travel by, reports the Daily Star. A 'source' told the tabloid: 'It's little known, but if Fearne is being spooked I would put my money on it being something to do with that tunnel. About ten years ago builders renovating the cottage discovered the tunnel. There were many theories going around about what it was built for but whatever the truth it seems there are some dead souls down there who still enjoy troubling the living.' So spooky are these spooks, it would seem, they've terrified poor Fearne out of her top (see right). It's awful when that happens, isn't it?

Robert Peston has admitted that the BBC's offering – particularly its online news – may look like 'unfair competition' in a news market where commercial players are moving to charge for online access. Delivering the Richard Dunn Memorial Lecture at Edinburgh, the BBC's business editor said: 'I understand why James Murdoch has argued that the BBC's online news service looks like state-subsidised unfair competition.' But he questioned whether 'a wholly liberalised commercial news market would ensure that everyone has access to the kind of news and financial information they need and deserve.' He said: 'There is a debate about two kinds of fairness. There is the fairness of ensuring a level playing field for players in a commercial market. And there is the fairness of the distribution of information and knowledge to all who need it. Having just lived through the greatest failure in history to distribute financial resources in an efficient and equitable way, we certainly shouldn't assume that a commercial digital market in news will distribute information in a way that would support a healthy democracy. The big question is whether the incipient structure of our new digital news industry will promote or undermine the healthy discussion that is necessary for democracy to thrive.' Meanwhile James Murdoch has continued his recent attack on the BBC at another Edinburgh event, but said that he was against top-slicing the corporation as it would be 'catastrophic' for commercial media companies to become dependent on public money. Speaking at Edinburgh's post-MacTaggart session, the chief executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia, said: 'I think contestable funding would be catastrophic for the sector. It atomises the state dependence of media companies.' At the Q&A session, chaired by Peter Bazalgette, Murdoch said the licence fee may be 'regressive' but it 'enables you to put a spotlight on the totality of the intervention.' Asked by Bazalgette where he would begin cutting the BBC, Murdoch, responded: 'You seem to be starting from the assumption that there's going to be something left.' He refused to be drawn on the specifics of where he would see the BBC cut but said the BBC online news is 'creating enormous problems for independent news.'

ITV's director of television Peter Fincham has defended the treatment of contestants on Britain’s Got Talent, and said the network would have faced a barrage of criticism if it had not allowed participants like Susan Boyle to take part. Fincham said that the rise in the popularity of reality competitions like The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent had led to an unprecedented level of scrutiny on contestants, fast-tracking the route to international fame. But he added that while the 'unpredictable' did happen on the shows, contestants like Boyle, who has learning difficulties, should never be excluded from competing. 'My question back to those who ask that is would we have done the right thing to say "no, you shouldn't, no you can't?." Imagine the criticism we'd be exposing ourselves to,' Fincham said. 'I'm quite confident that we were doing the right thing.'