Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Excuses To Use When Getting On A Plane: Number One - "It's A Sonic Screwdriver. Honest"

Something really rather curious has happened to 24. In the two weeks since it was announced that the show was to end once the current series is over, the - frankly rather dreary - eighth season has, suddenly, taken off and gotten really good really quickly. Previously uninspiring storylines are now starting to click, the introduction of a couple of new characters has been productive and the sudden, wholly unexpected, revelation this week about one of the characters seems to have taken pretty much everyone by surprise. Good on 'em, cos frankly I was getting worried. There's been no such problems on Lost, this year though. The - long awaited - Jin and Sun episode this week was packed with clever moments and brilliant dialogue. 'Obviously, you're not John Locke. Everything else I know is a combination of myth, ghost stories and jungle noises in the night.' Almost, almost the best line of the series, that. I mean, how can anybody not love a show that includes a moment like the one where Not-Locke tells Sawyer that he can't simply 'fly' to Hydra island in a column of smoke and that, if he could, he'd already have done so? 'No, because that'd be ridiculous,' says Josh Holloway with the comic timing of Eric Morecambe it his finest. And, as for the identity of the 'package'... Ah, this show just keeps on giving.

Armando Iannucci is to write a new series of The Thick Of It, but only after a chance meeting with a BBC executive. According to the Sun, Iannucci was at an awards show when he saw a BBC commissioning executive and approached him about the BBC2 comedy returning. 'The BBC never got in touch with Armando to confirm a new series after the last one ended, despite it being massively successful,' a source told the tabloid. 'It was only after he met the execs by chance and told them he was still up for it that they sorted it. They were lucky another channel didn't snap him up.' The Thick Of It follows the work of fictional political spin doctor Malcolm Tucker and spawned the Oscar-nominated film In The Loop.

Media regulator Ofcom has proposed a limit on the amount Sky can charge rival broadcasters to show its premium sports channels. The broadcaster would have to sell Sky Sports 1 and 2 for £10.63 each a month - twenty three per cent less than the current price. The proposal - part of the result of a three-year inquiry - aims to offer viewers more choice of pay-TV services. Sky said it would appeal against the 'unwarranted intervention,' arguing it would be to the detriment of consumers. 'This is a marketplace where customers are well served with high levels of choice and innovation,' Sky said. 'Consumers will not benefit if regulators blunt incentives to invest and take risks.' Bodies representing rugby, football and cricket - which rely on lucrative TV rights deals - fear the proposals will mean less money going into sport. A spokesperson for the English Premier League said it was 'very disappointed' and was studying the findings carefully. BT said it hoped to offer Sky Sports 1 and 2 cheaper than Sky in time for the start of the next football season. But it added: 'Ofcom should have gone much further than it did. They should have included all Sky Sports channels, not just two. The wholesale price for the two sports channels is higher than the regulator had previously suggested.' It also complained that Ofcom had not set a regulated price for HD channels. As part of what could be a major shake-up of the pay-TV industry, Sky has also been given permission to offer pay-TV services on Freeview, replacing Sky's current free channels. This, however, is conditional on Sky implementing the wholesale part of the deal, Ofcom said. If it decides to offer movie channels on digital terrestrial, it must also offer these to competitors, the regulator added. The move could mean ten million Freeview-only homes having access to premium sport such the Premier League for the first time. Ofcom estimates this could lead to up to two million more people subscribing to premium TV channels in the next five years. 'Consumers will in the future enjoy a greater range of innovative services following fresh investment by competing pay-TV providers,' it said. The broadcast regulator also found that Sky's dominance in the supply of premium movies was restricting viewer choice, particularly when it comes to video-on-demand services. However, it said it did not have the necessary powers to address these concerns and proposed referring the matter to the Competition Commission for them to look into.

In a related story, the Rugby Football Union has said that it intends to 'take legal advice' about a challenge to Ofcom's price reduction. Reacting to the move, RFU chief executive Francis Baron said that he is 'incredibly disappointed' that concerns expressed by the RFU and other sporting bodies have not been taken into account by Ofcom in its 'inadequate and flawed' consultation. 'Ofcom set out to review pay-TV but in doing so have ended up interfering in the sports right market where they have no competence nor experience and their intervention will remove competition from the sports rights market,' he said. Baron said that the watchdog is effectively taking sports rights away from governing bodies and giving them to companies that have previously shown no inclination to invest in rights deals of their own. 'Ofcom's proposed approach effectively confiscates our rights and donates them to organisations who have consistently declined to invest in sports rights despite having balance sheets that dwarf Sky's,' he said, presumably referring to BT and Virgin Media. 'The role of a regulator is to increase competition in the market but in sports rights they are removing competition and disincentivising multi-billion pound businesses from bidding for rights in the future. The result for all sports right holders is uniformly negative with the resulting reduction in rights values likely to force all of us to cut our grassroots' investments and compromising our ability to deliver against the government's participation targets. We will review this very seriously indeed to decide what our actions may be. Clearly we will be taking appropriate legal advice on this matter.' The England and Wales Cricket Board has also said that it is 'greatly concerned' about the implications of Ofcom's decision. ECB director of marketing Steven Elworthy said that the pricing model will negatively impact on the amount Sky is willing to pay for rights and therefore result in less money coming into sport. 'Broadcasting revenues are vital to the health of our sport, allowing us to reinvest in successful England teams and cricket's grassroots,' he said. 'Unfortunately Ofcom undertook very little discussion with ourselves before taking this decision and have failed to consider the damage it could cause to the sport.'

Matt Smith was reportedly stopped by airport customs for carrying the Doctor Who sonic screwdriver. According to the Sun, the actor was pulled to one side at Heathrow airport when the scanner showed the prop in his hand luggage. 'Matt's a huge fan of the screwdriver so didn't think anything of carrying it with him on the plane,' a source told the tabloid. 'It's basically just a fake prop and doesn't exactly do much. But going through the X-ray scanner it probably looks like a weapon, albeit something you'd see in Star Wars.' The source added: 'Matt was very polite and explained what the screwdriver was. But the guards just looked puzzled. Fortunately he had some Doctor Who promo material on him so was able to show them who he was. Once the penny dropped and they had a proper look at the screwdriver, they let him through.'

Meanwhile Matt - wearing a particularly nasty jumper it must be said - and Karen Gillan were at the University of Sunderland last night as it hosted a special sneak preview of the first episode of the new series - The Eleventh Hour - to a young invite-only audience. Children from across the North East and Cumbria were rewarded for their achievements in school. Karen's grandfather is originally from Sunderland. She said: 'I am half-Mackem, so it was lovely to come here. We went to Inverness earlier on today, so we've done Inverness and Sunderland in the same day - the two halves of me.' Matt explained: 'It has been very daunting at stages, but for now it's something that's utterly enjoyable and a challenge we're relishing.' And, you can check out Look North's interview with the pair (and, listen to a snatch of my old BBC Newcastle oppo and writing partner Alfie Joey interviewing them, including a couple of questions prepared by yer very own Keith Telly Topping) here. You've got to love the way Matt describes the role of the Doctor as 'playing in the Champions League'!

A UK remake of Fox's paranormal US series The Oaks is among a trio of dramas being lined up by ITV in the wake of The Bill being cancelled. The Oaks was created by David Schulner and tells the story of a haunted house that is lived in by three different families over three decades. The series was originally piloted as part of FOX's 2008-09 season, when it was hotly tipped as a potential competitor to Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, but FOX passed on the full run. The five part reworking will be produced by ITV Studios and adapted by Stephen Greenhorn, a former writer on The Bill and creator of BBC Scotland soap River City. The show grew out of a 2008 deal between ITV Studios and FOX to identify properties on their respective slates that could be developed for the other's home market. The Oaks was greenlit by director of ITV drama Laura Mackie and will start filming in July, subject to final contracts. Joining this on ITV's slate are DCI Banks: Aftermath and Monroe. The former is a two part crime thriller by Left Bank Pictures, starring Stephen Tompkinson. It is based on the novels of crime writer Peter Robinson. Wild At Heart star Tompkinson will play brooding and melancholic detective Alan Banks, who becomes embroiled in a murder investigation. Production begins in Yorkshire this month. The drama will be directed by James Hawes. Finally, Monroe is a dark, medical series from Mammoth Screen, written by Occupation's Peter Bowker. The six part series centres on the intense and often difficult world of a neurosurgeon and the patients with whom he comes into contact. It was commissioned by Mackie and director of television Peter Fincham and will be broadcast in 2011. Unlike other medical series such as audience favourites ER and Casualty, the drama will focus on one character rather than an ensemble cast and will be less A&E-based. It also aims to reflect the dark humour that enables people to cope in life-threatening situations. Bowker began his writing career on medical series including Casualty, Peak Practice and Medics.

David Boreanaz has teased that Bones fans can expect a 'big shift and change' in the show's fifth season finale. The actor, who plays Seeley Booth in the FOX crime drama, revealed that each of the characters would be impacted by the closing episode. 'There will be a big shift and change for everybody. It's a really great season finale. We shot the last scene last week and it was very moving and hard to get through,' he said. 'I think it will elevate these characters even more so for the next season to come.' Boreanaz - who recently directed the show's one hundredth episode - told the Digital Spy website that it was 'tough' trying to name a favourite moment from the programme's past five seasons. 'There are so many moments I really enjoyed or scenes we had,' he explained. 'We had fun doing the Halloween episode, and I loved shooting the pilot because it was new and challenging and everybody was like, "Is this show going to go?" I also loved the one hundredth because it was fun to go back in time.'

Jennifer Morrison will return to House in the episode to be broadcast on Monday 12 April, it has been confirmed. According to Entertainment Weekly, the actress will reprise her role as Chase estranged wife Cameron, and bring 'some interesting paperwork' with her. The instalment - the next to air in the US after a month-long hiatus - is titled Lockdown.

Matt Damon has signed up for a guest stint on 30 Rock. According to Entertainment Weekly, the actor will feature in an episode close to the season finale. Last year, 30 Rock creator Tina Fey confessed that Damon would be her ideal guest star for the show. He later responded: 'I would do [it] in a heartbeat if they asked me to come on. She should call my people - or even better me. Or I could call her. Let's make this happen.'

Channel 4 is to turn its Cutting Edge ratings hit My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding into a six-part series on the back of calls by viewers for more on the subject. A series of the same name from producer Firecraker Films will broadcast in early 2011. It will pick up where the last film left off - featuring some of the same faces - and will include other gypsy celebrations and events such as communions, christenings and funerals. The original Cutting Edge was watched by a consolidated audience of over six million viewers and was the strand's most watched film for almost fifteen years. Commissioning editor Alistair Pegg said viewers had demanded to see more on the gypsies' lives following the success of the documentary. Audience feedback was monitored on social networking site Twitter. 'I hope My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding will go deeper into the community and culture we saw to such jaw-dropping effect in the Cutting Edge [show],' Pegg said. 'We want to use rites of passage, from weddings to communions, as a way to tell the story of Twenty First-century gypsy and traveller life in Britain.' He added that commissioning a full series would 'allow Firecracker Films to explore the remarkable rituals, traditions and beliefs held by this minority group, and answer some of the more probing questions raised by the first film.' Jes Wilkins, executive producer and head of programmes at Firecracker, added that the first documentary just 'scratched the surface.' He said the series aimed to be 'warm, intelligent, engrossing and funny' and would 'lay bare an exotic, unseen Britain that exists right on our doorstep.' Firecracker has also made Cutting Edge hits The Human Spider and Baby Bible Bashers.

Chelsea football club have banned celery from Stamford Bridge after two referees mentioned in their match reports that the vegetable had been thrown onto the pitch. Blues fans traditionally take the offending item to their matches in honour of one of their chants which celebrates the, ahem, 'bum-tickling' qualities of celery. But fans have now been warned that they may be refused entry to matches if they attempt to take a stick of celery into the ground and will face arrest if they are caught throwing it. A helpful news item on the Chelsea website points out: 'The throwing of anything at a football match, including celery, is a criminal offence for which you can be arrested and end up with a criminal record.' Remember, kids, celery can really hurt. Rumours that Darlington were planning to ban onions from their ground until it was pointed out that this might possibly effect the status of several of their players cannot, at this time, be confirmed or denied.

Simon Cowell is said to be worried that Dannii Minogue may not be able to cope with this year's X Factor. Recent reports suggested that the music mogul was keen to give Minogue a mentor role on the new series but is 'in a quandary' over whether to re-hire her full-time. Cowell is said to have since given the singer a two-week deadline to assure him she is able to participate in the seventh series. 'Simon is genuinely concerned about whether Dannii will be able to cope with the show,' a source told the Sun. 'It's hard enough for someone who doesn't have young kids. As well as the actual show, there is the mentoring and all the backbiting and bitchiness that goes with that.' The source added: 'It's not easy keeping sane when you're surrounded by youngsters desperate for fame who are relying on you to tell them what to do.' According to the tabloid report, before Cowell makes a final decision, he wants Minogue to assure him that she will be in good health and will be able to give the show her full attention.

Kim Woodburn - with her head shaped like a pineapple - has revealed that Loose Women producers have deemed her 'too loud and domineering' for a regular role on the show. The How Clean Is Your House? presenter appeared as a guest on the ITV daytime programme earlier this week and had hoped to land a permanent position on the panel. However, she told the Mirror: 'They are afraid I would take over Loose Women, that I would dominate proceedings too much if I became a regular panellist. And that's a shame because it's a job I'd love to do.' Woodburn is currently busy promoting a 'Laundry Heaven' campaign which encourages people to take better care of their clothes. She commented: 'Under-25s are label illiterate. The amount of clothes they ruin because they don't understand washing instructions is scandalous.'

Lady GaGa will be approached to sing the new James Bond movie theme, according to tabloid reports. The Sun says that producers believe the 'Telephone' singer would be perfect for the job and plan to ask her to submit a song. 'Bond bosses are all huge GaGa fans,' a source told the newspaper. 'Her sound and sense of drama make her the top choice.' The source added: 'GaGa has the look as well as the voice to tackle a thundering ballad. She's a great songwriter too. This is perfect on every level.' Amy Winehouse was reportedly meant to take on the theme for Quantum of Solace, but her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil later claimed that she was 'too high' to record the song. Alicia Keys and Jack White's duet 'Another Way To Die' was later chosen for the film.