Sunday, January 03, 2010

The First Slow News Day Of The Year

Keith Telly Topping would just like to have one final rant in the aftermath of the Doctor Who regeneration episode and then we're done until Matt Smith steps out of the TARDIS in April. And, it's this: A few fans have, apparently, been expressing their disappointment with the ratings figures for the episode. I can understand that up to a point. After all, we all of us want our favourite shows to get watched by everyone and their dog, if possible. But, disappointment at what will be - once time shift viewers are added in next week - not much more than a kick away from twelve million viewers, I really do find curious. It's important, therefore, to bring in a bit of context at this juncture. When Doctor Who returned in 2005, the BBC's then Head of Drama, Jane Tranter, said that the show was 'probably the riskiest thing I've ever commissioned,' because of the cost of production and the commitment to a thirteen-episode series. She added that she had been shocked at just how popular the first episode had proved. 'In all honesty I had got myself into proverbial steel jacket as far as Doctor Who was concerned. I told myself I'd be completely and utterly thrilled if it got six and a half million, but there was a little voice inside whispering "four and half million."' And, you know, the thing is, at the time I agreed with her. And, I agreed with that ITV bod who, infamously, said around about the same period 'I don't know what the BBC are playing at bringing a tried old format like Doctor Who back. Families don't watch TV as families anymore.' When it was announced that Doctor Who was coming back I thought it was going to get killed by Ant & Dec's Saturday Takeaway. To me, 'success' was not getting killed by Ant & Dec's Saturday Takeaway, merely badly wounded. I thought at best - at absolute best - we might get enough of an audience to scrape a second season (as Vic and Bob's remake of Randall and Hopkirk had done a couple of years earlier). I always thought that the quality of the episodes would be pretty strong, because I trusted Russell Davies. I always thought we'd get a pretty fair hearing in the genre press because, basically, that's largely made of up fortysomething fanboys like me who grew up loving Doctor Who. I even thought there was a fair possibility that there would be enough residual race-memory love for the series in the public psyche that the popular press might give it a cautious backing, at least to begin with. But, as far as anybody actually watching the bugger was concerned ... four and half million looked an impossibly high figure to me. I just couldn't see who would tune in except fandom, such as it was. And, thence came Rose and nearly ten million people did. So, I have to be honest here, Doctor Who subsequent success is all a bonus to me. Everything since around The Christmas Invasion has been a case of 'beyond my wildest dreams.' Every Radio Times cover, every BAFTA award, every rating in the tens of millions, ever great review and accolade, every time the show is spoken of, with genuine seriousness, as 'a great British institution' and 'the BBC's flagship drama show' and 'one of the most popular programmes on British television.' Because I can remember when it wasn't any of those things or anything even remotely like them. I can also remember when it wasn't even a TV show, just a memory of a TV show that the BBC used to make, years ago. When its fandom - such as it was - amounted to about fifteen thousand people who bought a couple of spin-off novels each months. For anybody, seriously, who thinks that ten million viewers, plus, is any way shape or form 'disappointing,' come with me on a short trip on the year 2000 - just ten years ago - when the audience for Doctor Who was nil. Then consider ten million and the concept of 'being spoiled rotten.' One day, hopefully many years into the future, Doctor Who may go through a period of lessened popularity again, just like it did in the late 1980s. It may, indeed, get cancelled again, like it was in 1989 and we'll go back to it being something fondly remembered by a certain generation - or two, or several - of people. It may spend sixteen years in the wilderness (broken only by one hundred minutes of rank American oddness) again. It may, one day, be cancelled and never return. All of these things may happen. But not today. And not tomorrow, either. Let us, just for once - just for one brief moment - actually take a moment to appreciate what we've got right now in January 2010. What Russell and David and Julie and Phil (and lots of other people who worked so very hard with them) have done for us, the punters. And think 'my God, I'm really glad I'm a Doctor Who fan, today.' Is that too much to ask?

Prime Suspect writer Lynda La Plante has claimed that the BBC would rather see a script from 'a little Muslim boy' than her. La Plante said she found the BBC's drama department 'very depressing,' as she had meet a 'retinue of people' to get to drama controller Ben Stephenson. 'If my name were Usafi Iqbadal and I was nineteen, then they'd probably bring me in and talk,' she told the Telegraph. Stephenson said he found La Plante's comments odd, as she currently has two scripts in development at the BBC. 'I don't quite understand these points,' he said. 'She has one piece at the moment, and one piece that we paid fully for the script development. She wrote the script, but ultimately we decided that we didn't share the vision for that project so we parted.' He added: 'She absolutely got in the door, I know her pretty well, I've had a couple of lunches with her over the last year or so.' La Plante has principally worked with ITV during her career, writing series including Widows, Trial And Retribution and The Governor. She told the Daily Telegraph: 'If you were to go to the BBC and say to them, "Listen, Lynda La Plante's written a new drama, or I have this little Muslim boy who's just written one," they'd say: "Oh, we'd like to see his script." Whether they're just frightened of me being an independent [production company], and quite a powerful independent, I don't know.' The writer previously aired her grievances at Britain's TV commissioners in the Radio Times, saying they only wanted her to recreate the success of Prime Suspect. 'Personally, I'd love to do historical drama, but I'm not allowed,' she told the magazine last month. 'I'd love to hear someone say, "What else have you got?" and I'd say, "Well, I've been researching Mata Hari for five years now." But nobody wants to know. A completely unknown eighteen-year-old stands a better chance of having that kind of project done than I would right now.' I must say I find this statement very curious given that Lynda La Plante's current ITV drama, Above Suspicion is, essentially, a complete rewrite, not only of Prime Suspect but also of pretty much every else she's ever done. One trick pony, it would appear. What's even odder is that she's chosen to play the race card in a wholly inappropriate way designed, purely it would seem, to appeal to the petty little prejudices of a few thousand right-wing newspaper readers. Classy. I'd also like to meet one or two of these mythical Muslim writers who are so cluttering up Britain's TV schedules because, to be honest, I don't think they exist. I think the majority of TV drama in this country is written by middle-aged, middle-class white men and women like Lynda La Plante. Just as it always has been. Still, if one good thing's come out of this whole fiasco it's that La Plante's nasty, chip-on-her-shoulder rant has virtually guaranteed that she will never get anything she writes made by the BBC so long as she lives. Perhaps, in a couple of years time, she'll be doing another interview with a newspaper bemoaning the fact that they won't even take her phone calls and wondering why that is. People who live in glass - borderline racist - bubbles often seem to have a complete inability to recognise when they've pissed somebody off. The TV industry, ladies and gentlemen. Full of people who just love the sound of their own voice, so it is. In a statement, the BBC said: 'The BBC does not base its commissioning decisions on the ethnicity or the age of a writer. In the drama department there are executives in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose job it is to find and develop projects from new and established writers. Their only motivation is to find scripts that are innovative and challenging for audiences to enjoy.' Why the hell they believed that they even needed to justify this crass and near-criminally outrageous comment with a rebuttal is, frankly, another question entirely.

Broadcaster and writer Stephen Fry has said he is 'switching off his connections with the outside world' to concentrate on writing his autobiography. The Qi host, who is one of the most popular celebrities on Twitter, said he had to deliver the second volume of his life story to publishers by April. 'Some people can write with ease in whatever circumstances they find themselves,' he wrote on his website. 'I need peace, absolute peace, an empty diary and zero distraction.' He continued: 'I have a single appointment in London towards the end of January and another in Barcelona a month or so later. Otherwise I shall be as one wiped from the map of human existence. This is how it must be. All this is a way of saying, of course, that my Twitter stream will dry up for that period.' The first instalment of Fry's autobiography, Moab Is My Washpot, was published in 1997. It was a humorous - and nakedly frank - account of his childhood and his troubled adolescence, as schoolboy thievery eventually led to imprisonment for fraud at the age of seventeen. Fry has previously hinted that he is finding writing the second volume far more difficult, as it will deals with people in the public eye - including his friends Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie, both of whom he met at Cambridge University's Footlights comedy society. 'It's something I haven't yet grappled with,' he told the Associated Press last April. 'There is pressure. The trouble with it now, is the moment it starts, it would have to be at university and it would be Hugh and Emma and all that sort of thing. It becomes a showbiz biography and I'm keen for it not to be. Why would I want to involve people without their permission?'

Martine McCutcheon has revealed that she doesn't watch EastEnders. McCutcheon, who played Tiffany Mitchell, revealed that the last time she watched the soap was in 2008 to see her friend Patsy Palmer return as Bianca Jackson. 'Other than that I've not really seen it,' she told the News of the World. 'I'd say the minute you do a certain amount of episodes a week, and the minute you've got loads of characters, it's hard to care about every single one for every single episode. When I was in it there were two episodes a week, with a Sunday omnibus. There were a lot fewer characters so people cared about you more and went on your journey more. Now you feel there are some people in some soaps just because it fills up the time.'

In a recent horrifically green-eyed and spiteful hatchet piece on David Tennant for the Daily Vile, 'the most hated woman in Britain,' Jan Moir, described Qi as 'one of the most smug quiz shows on TV.' I can see why she might think that. It is, after all, a programme which celebrates wit and intelligence. And Ms Moir possesses not a smidgen of either so you can see why it may not be to her tastes.