Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Can You Hear Us On The Box (In Baghdad)?

The BBC has refused a - wholly frivolous - freedom of information request to reveal how many people watched its TV drama about freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke. The programme, On Expenses, which was originally broadcast on BBC4, told of Brooke's struggle to make parliament more accountable by publishing expenditure claims by MPs. And, very good it was too. A reporter working for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a new journalistic enterprise, made a formal Freedom of Information Act application asking for the specific viewing figures for the drama, instead of just ringing up the BBC press office and asking, politely, if they could tell him like most normal ratings-watchers do. The BBC's legal and business affairs manager, Lorraine Stiller, replied that the corporation was rejecting the application on the grounds that the information 'is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature."' She pointed out that the BBC does publish its iPlayer viewing figures on its website. The latest report shows that there were 67.4 million online requests for TV programmes in the month of March and it lists the top twenty most viewed shows. But the bureau's managing editor, Iain Overton – who has made documentaries for the BBC in the past – argues that, as a publicly-funded body, 'it is only through the publication of all data in the public interest can true accountability be achieved. Clearly, if public bodies only made their best figures available, and hid the rest from public gaze, then real failings would rarely come to light.' Or, maybe the viewing figures were so small that they didn't want to embarrass the producers by telling everyone what they were? Just one to drop into your toaster to see if it pops up brown, Iain bonny lad. I also think it's pretty damn frigging disgraceful that an important piece of legislation like the FOI act - designed to be used to reveal matters of genuine public concern and potential criminal activity - can be used, by a journalist, in a, thankfully failed, attempt to get something as utterly trivial as TV ratings figures and iPlayer usage. Both of which are freely available in the public domain from the BARB website and the BBC's own website respectively. Damn straight the BBC refused it and rightly so. If they'd allowed it then this blogger expects every single day they'd've had to deal with a deluge of such requests from glakes demanding to know how many people watched Tracy Beaker yesterday. Grow up fer Christ's sake, Iain. They are, indeed, a publicly funded body and they have more important things to do with the funds that he public provide them with than to employ people just to deal with trivial nonsense like your 'request.' As a side note, dear blog readers may like to know that in 2007 Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said that he feared the Freedom of Information Act was being abused by just such 'vexatious requesters' seeking 'pointless' facts from the Government and various other state bodies. There was, for instance, the celebrated and widely reported case of the person who wanted to know how much British diplomats had spent on Ferrero Rocher chocolates for official functions. There was also a woman who asked how many eligible bachelors there were in the Hampshire constabulary.

ITV is reportedly hoping to keep hold of Ben Shephard and Penny Smith. Shephard confirmed last week that he will leave GMTV later this year, while Smith announced her departure from the morning show last month. However, the Mirror claims that ITV executives are desperate to keep the duo at the channel after audience research revealed that they are the most popular GMTV presenters. While Shephard and Smith regularly received an eight out of ten rating, the other hosts were reportedly marked either six or seven. ITV is now allegedly trying to find other jobs for the pair. A source explained: 'ITV are looking at how they can fit Ben and Penny into the schedule as you can't ignore their overwhelming popularity.'

Emilie Fleming has claimed that she was not 'edgy' enough to win Andrew Lloyd Webber's Over The Rainbow. The nineteen-year-old gap-toothed singer, who departed the show over the weekend, said that she did not fit in with the 'modern version' of Dorothy that the judges are hoping to cast in the updated West End musical. 'Obviously, they don't want that traditional sort of Dorothy this time. They want an edgy, modern version. I'm happy for that and it just wasn't meant to be for me,' she told the Digital Spy website. Fleming also said that she will not let the judges' criticism that she 'isn't tough enough' for a West End career hold her back in the future. 'I've had the time of my life [on this show], but I need to grow more and there's plenty more to work on,' she said. 'I'm still young, I've got a long way to go as a performer. Whatever happens, I'm not going to stop. And hopefully you'll see me again one day!'

Endemol Sport is to launch a series of channels in the Middle East dedicated to English Premier League football. And, since yer Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though still seemingly unsellable) Magpies are now back in the Premiership, yer Keith Telly Topping is suddenly interested in this news in a way that he wouldn't have been six months ago. Endemol has partnered with Abu Dhabi Media Company to launch four new high definition channels, that will be broadcast across twenty two countries as part of the the Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya portfolio. Endemol Sport will join forces with Endemol Middle East to support ADMC in the production of programming covering the EPL. These programmes will be produced at newly built studios at ADMC, along with all three hundred and eighty EPL matches, as part of next season’s subscription package. Coverage will include big match previews and reviews, news bulletins and shows that mix football and entertainment. The first two new EPL channels will be broadcast in Arabic specifically targeting the local audiences across the region. Two English language channels are also being launched as part of the package. The main English channel will broadcast Premier League TV, the newly launched official 24/7 channel from the English Premier League, with match presentation from studios in London and additional programming including a mix of news, views and classic games from the EPL archives. Ah, the iron first of cultural sporting imperialism inside the velvet glove of top quality action from all of today's fixtures. al-Qaeda beware, even martyrs of Allah sometimes need a bit of time out to watch Fulham versus Stoke City.

Former EastEnders actress Tracy-Ann Oberman - whom my producer amusingly confused with Alex Kingston over the weekend - has claimed that the soap world is similar to what life was like on 'old-style' Hollywood movie sets. The actress admitted that she often used to draw comparisons to classic films when shooting scenes as Walford's Chrissie Watts, who is best remembered for murdering her husband Dirty Den (Leslie Grantham) in the programme's twentieth anniversary episode. Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph about drama, Oberman explained: 'The way the system works is that you're stuck in this studio a long way from anywhere, and you're living, eating and breathing the job. You're being driven around on the studio buggy and you're working with the same people. There really is something quite old-style Hollywood studio about it.' Only, less money, I'm presuming. 'It kept making me think about what it must have been like to be living on the lot at MGM, waiting to see what your next script was going to be.' She continued: 'The way soaps are written is often quite melodramatic - particularly with the storylines I had. They were very theatrical, and there's something quite film noir-ish about murdering your husband. I often used to think, "Wow - how would Bette Davis approach this?"' Ask for more money, probably.

Coronation Street will next month receive a special BAFTA award honouring the work of the soap's crew. The show's production team will pick up the prize at the British Academy Television Craft Awards on 23 May, Broadcast magazine reports. The award will mark the Weatherfield drama's fiftieth anniversary, recognising the contributions made by every person who has worked as part of the programme's behind-the-scenes team over the past five decades. Speaking of the accolade, executive producer Kieran Roberts commented: 'The wonderful actors in the early episodes of Coronation Street rightly became celebrated, but behind the cameras there were many other stars in the birth of British television's most successful drama serial - creator Tony Warren, of course, and the writers who followed him. Fifty years on, Coronation Street is still brought to life and to screen by a huge team of dedicated and highly talented people behind the camera. We're delighted that the special award at this year's British Academy Television Craft Awards recognises the extraordinary contribution to British television made by the entire Coronation Street team, not just this year but in every single year across five decades.'

Meanwhile, Coronation Street couple Ashley and Claire Peacock - played by Steven Arnold and Julia Haworth - are to be written out of the soap. The actors came to a mutual agreement with new producer Phil Collinson that it was time for the Peacocks to move on, an ITV statement said. The writing team are now working on a exit for butcher Ashley, his housewife Claire and their two children. The Peacocks will however be on-screen until at least the end of 2010. 'Both the actors and myself felt we had reached a crossroads with the characters to the point that as actors they were not being fulfilled and stories were harder to find,' said Collinson. 'We mutually decided to start working towards an exit for the Peacock family, giving the actors the opportunity to explore new opportunities and for us to devise a dramatic exit storyline.'

BBC soap EastEnders has been 'rapped' by Ofcom after a woman's phone number was accidentally displayed in an episode of the serial. 'Rapped' of course being tabloid speak for 'criticised only with less syllables.' Beautician Lisa Edwards complained to the media regulator after receiving nearly three thousand unwanted text messages because her business mobile number appeared on-screen on Ricky Butcher's phone. The episode in question aired on 7 September last year and Edwards' number was seen as Ricky received an SMS from his ex-partner Sam Mitchell. Immediately above Sam's text were two messages which clearly showed Edwards' telephone number. Ofcom confirmed that it had upheld Edwards' complaint, ruling that the footage 'was an unwarranted infringement of [her] privacy.' The watchdog added that the broadcast had led to 'a series of unwanted and abusive telephone calls and texts being received by Mrs Edwards.' Unwanted, I can understand, but 'abusive'? Who the hell rings up a telephone number they've seen on television and screams obscenities at the person who answers? EastEnders viewers, it would seem. Explains much, I suppose. Meanwhile, the BBC confirmed that it had conducted an investigation to determine how the businesswoman's number had ended up on a prop phone, but could not provide an explanation 'with any certainty.' The corporation added that the number of nuisance calls and texts could have been inflated after Edwards spoke to the Sun about her experience. Her number was clearly displayed in a screen capture that the newspaper published to accompany the story. Edwards has already received both verbal and written apologies from the BBC over the matter.

Former EastEnders actor Phil Daniels ('Oi!') has claimed that the soap's producers are 'clueless' over what viewers want to watch. The Quadrophenia icon spoke out to condemn the news that Charlie Slater, Minty Peterson and Libby Fox are among half-a-dozen characters who are to be written out of the Walford serial drama in the months ahead. Daniels made his own final appearance as Libby's stepfather, Kevin Wicks, in January 2008. His character was then killed off after Daniels chose not to renew his contract following a two-year Albert Square stint. Speaking to the Sun about EastEnders' forthcoming cast changes, the tricky, fast-talkin' Cockney geezer, innit, commented: 'It'll be sad. Minty's good, Charlie's good. I love Libby. They are good characters. I don't see why they have to go. That's that programme for you. Hasn't got a clue, has it? Viewers don't want it to be Hollyoaks. It's a chance for me to come back from the dead if they want glamour. There aren't enough laughs in EastEnders for me - and there weren't when I was doing it either!'

Sir Ian McKellen has criticised modern television. This wouldn't have anything to do with The Prisoner getting less than two million viewers on Saturday night would it, your sirship? The actor claimed that many TV programmes are 'rubbish. You can always find exceptions,' he said. 'If I've been to the theatre, I try to get home to see Newsnight on BBC2, which examines the news in proper detail. But so many news programmes don't. They run for half an hour at most and the content is thin like gruel, not thick and chunky in the way most of us would like it to be. You have politicians at election time trying to get across their messages and because the programmes give them so little time they end up lying, coming up with soundbites which mislead viewers.' So, to sum up, it's television's fault that all politicians are scum. Interesting theory. McKellen also blamed the alleged decline in quality on multi-channel television. 'Generally speaking there is so much rubbish on TV it is simply not worth watching,' he said. 'Standards have slipped catastrophically. I'm afraid multi-channel TV hasn't worked.' Christ, you sound like my dad. 'Fine if you want to watch football all day - not so good if you're searching for quality drama. One channel churns out the same old rubbish as a hundred others.' He continued: 'And while I would never knock reality TV because a lot of people like it, I'm not sure I like the idea of it as a replacement for drama that is written by somebody then rehearsed and performed.' So, if that's not knocking reality TV, then what, exactly, is knocking reality TV, your sirship? 'Given a choice of watching Prime Suspect and a show in which somebody tries to live with a wife who isn't his wife or eat live insects while being observed by two comedians, I know which I'd prefer.' So, definitely something to do with The Prisoner getting less than two million viewers on Saturday night, then. Be seeing you. Or, you know, not.

Nigella Lawson has admitted that she doesn't watch cookery shows. The celebrity chef told the People that she does not want to be too influenced by others. 'I have an absolute policy of not watching,' she said. Me too, Nigella love. At least, with regard to Sophie Dahl and Jamie Oliver. 'I don't want to be told there is only one way of making something and I don't want to pick up someone's ideas. I don't read cookbooks either. I don't like being stuck to one formula. I don't mind going to restaurants but I would sooner order steak and chips.'

A Kay Burley interview on Sky News which left pop star Peter Andre visibly upset has been found not in breach of broadcasting guidelines by Ofcom. Upwards of eight hundred and eighty complaints were made by viewers over the way in which Burley questioned Andre about his children with Katie Price. Andre stopped the interview after Burley asked how he would feel if his former wife's new husband, Alex Reid, wanted to adopt his children. But Ofcom ruled Burley's approach was not 'bullying' or 'intimidating.' Ofcom said the majority of complainants were concerned by the intrusive manner in which Andre was interviewed by the presenter. The interview took place on the day of Price's marriage to Reid, although Andre had already been booked to come into the studio to talk about his new CD. Sky News informed Ofcom that Burley consulted Andre prior to the interview and told him that he would be asked questions about the wedding and related issues. 'It was understandable that the presenter focused on the human interest angle of the wedding by asking Andre for his reaction, and how it would impact on his children,' Ofcom stated. The watchdog acknowledged Burley's interview style was 'probing and persistent' but said 'she remained overall measured in tone throughout and did not put inappropriate pressure on Andre for a response.' Ofcom also noted that Burley had apologised for any upset caused. It also stated that Andre was a well-known professional singer with considerable experience of the media and 'had previously talked candidly and frequently in public (including in television programmes) about his relationship with his former wife and his children.' Andre himself did not make any complaint about unfair treatment or unwarranted infringement of privacy to Ofcom.

Simon Cowell has responded in kind to criticism from Hollie Steel's mum regarding Britain's Got Talent. Nina Steel claimed earlier this month that her eleven-year-old daughter, who caused controversy after breaking down in tears during last year's semi-finals, was 'dropped like a penny' by producers. However, Cowell has now insisted to Reveal: 'Last year's finalist Hollie Steel's mum has been saying certain things about the show. But kids aren't dragged on the show - parents bring them. Kids are always going to be disappointed if they don't win. Most of the kids I've seen during auditions had a blast. If I thought they weren't enjoying themselves I'd do something about it.'

Smug-faced Jason Gardiner has insisted that he is not aware of any plans to axe him from the Dancing On Ice judging panel. Earlier this month, press reports claimed that bell-end Gardiner would lose his place on the skating show because producers had grown tired of him being 'downright rude' to contestants. It was also claimed that Pineapple Dance Studios star Louie Spence was being lined-up to replace the outspoken choreographer. However, writing on Twitter yesterday, Gardiner commented: 'There has been nothing official from ITV about replacing me on DOI next year with Louie or anyone else. Press make up what they want always!' Do please note the use of the word 'official' there. And ponder.

Meanwhile, that oily twat Piers Morgan has claimed that Adrian Chiles' dispute with the BBC gave the TV host 'sleepless nights.' Writing in his Daily Scum Mail diary, Morgan revealed that he heard about Chiles' feud with the corporation first hand when the presenter came to dinner at his home back in February. Morgan commented: 'He's a loyal, thoroughly decent man, who loved his job. And he was close to tears by the end of our dinner chat.' Oddly, Piers, you have that affect on a lot of people. Just thought I'd mention it.