Thursday, April 29, 2010

The God Factory

Coronation Street writer Jonathan Harvey has revealed that his new play Canary was inspired by criticism of the soap's first gay storyline. Harvey developed the Weatherfield drama's memorable 2003 plot which saw Todd Grimshaw (Bruno Langley) slowly coming to the realisation that he was gay. He also went on to devise storylines for the show's other main gay character, Sean Tully (Antony Cotton). Coronation Street provoked a mixed response when Todd was seen kissing his girlfriend's brother Nick Tilsley seven years ago. Although the drama was praised by many for tackling sexuality issues for the first time, Ulrika Jonsson was among those who criticised the move, arguing that the kiss should not have been broadcast before the watershed. Reflecting on the response to the plotline, Harvey told the Gruniad Morning Star: 'It proved that we are still some way short of full acceptance, which made me think it was about time I tried to write a new play.' Canary, which is currently running at the Liverpool Playhouse theatre, encompasses fifty years of gay history in Britain as it follows the lives of characters Tom and Billy. Harvey said: 'It's my first full-length stage piece for almost nine years. I wanted to come back with a bang.'

Meanwhile, Coronation Street legend Betty Driver is receiving hospital treatment for a chest infection, a report has claimed. According to the Sun, the eight nine-year-old checked in for care at a private facility a few days ago. Driver's co-stars have reportedly sent well wishes to the actress, who has played show favourite Betty Turpin-Williams since 1969. A source told the newspaper: 'She is probably the most popular person in the cast. Everyone wants her to get well and get back on set.' Driver has apparently said that she is keen to return to Coronation Street filming as soon as she is well enough to do so.'

ITV chief executive Adam Crozier, who starts in his new role this week, has called on staff to build an 'agile' and 'adaptable' business in the age of multiplatform. In an e-mail to employees on Monday morning, the former Royal Mail chief executive recognised that 'tough challenges' lay ahead for the commercial broadcaster and it must become less dependent on advertising. Setting out his early vision for ITV, he said it must build on strengths – such as entertainment format Britain's Got Talent – and modernise to 'face the challenges of the on-demand, content-led world across all three screens: television, Internet and mobile.' Crozier said staff should not be 'defensive' about turning around the company's fortunes. They should instead recognise challenges, find a way to solve them and move on, he said. Crozier added that the strategy review, launched by chairman Archie Norman in February, was well underway and has received a 'huge response' from employees highlighting deficiencies and making suggestions for change. 'We will keep you involved and informed as the strategy progresses, because in the end the real difference will be made by all of us working together in an integrated way to create an exciting, fun and successful business,' he said.

EastEnders is to remain at its Elstree Studios base in Hertfordshire 'for the foreseeable future,' it has been confirmed. According to the Gruniad Morning Star, a new deal has been signed which will keep the Walford drama in its long-established home for another four years. Previous reports had suggested that EastEnders could move elsewhere, with Pinewood Studios regularly being tipped as a potential new location. However, a BBC spokeswoman has confirmed: 'There are no plans for EastEnders to move from Elstree.'

The BBC has two hundred million pounds to spend on drama in 2011 and 'literally nothing commissioned,' controller of drama commission Ben Stephenson has revealed - alongside his aspirations for a new 9pm police show and more younger-appealing drama. In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC Writer's Room, Stephenson defended the speed of development as essential to achieving the right mix of programming across the BBC channels, and said that next year's slate is still wide open. 'There is nothing commissioned for 2011, literally, and it’s terrifying,' he said. 'That's two hundred million pounds worth of money unspent that's got to be spent, but if the script's not right, it's never going to be right in production. When a writer starts to lose heart or feels that it's just hell, then it's time to stop.' Stephenson also admitted that BBC drama is not targeting under fifty fives effectively, or representing older women on screen in a 'grown up way. [We’re not quite managing to serve] anyone under fifty five. That age group is incredibly important. However, it's no more important than anyone else. We're not necessarily going after eighteen-year-olds but I don't think there is anything wrong in us saying that forty-year-olds should find drama that they want to watch,' he said. He added: 'The audience is essentially older women. But there isn't enough grown up representation of older women on screen. It's a bit paradoxical.' Stephenson poured cold water on suggestions the BBC could launch another pre-watershed soap, but is receptive to more longer-run, post-watershed pieces. 'It may be that some shows have longer runs in the future. In the way This Life was twenty four episodes in the second series and gave you the hit of a soap, but for a different audience,' he said. He is also looking for a new BBC1 police series to air at 9pm – but not one that would be classified as a crime drama. 'We've got a lot of brilliant crime shows [but] it would be great to find a character-led police precinct show that isn't about the story of the week,' said Stephenson. 'That has to come not from me saying that but from somebody amazing having something to say. Because the minute you set something in a police station it can seem really ordinary and dull, so your writing has to be a million, trillion, billion times better than anything else in order to lift it up and transcend it. I'd love to find our equivalent of Homicide or indeed what Casualty did when it first came to the screen – those first episodes are amazing. Inevitably over time they've become different things but the impact that had – I'd love to find our equivalent of that at 9pm.'

The BBC's creativity and independence is being threatened by 'too many regulators' and commentators 'sticking their oar in,' its creative director Alan Yentob has claimed. Speaking at a Voice of The Listener and Viewer conference yesterday, Yentob hit out at the 'cacophony' of critics among the media and regulators who want to have their own say about the future of the BBC, and claimed the cumulative effect was seriously detrimental. 'Make no mistake about it, the regulatory regime and the financial scrutiny under which the BBC operates, whether through a government department like DCMS, the BBC Trust, Ofcom or the National Audit Office or the Parliamentary Accounts Committee – I could go on – all of these will affect the BBC's ability, ultimately, to act effectively, creatively and independently, in the best interests of licence payers,' he said. '[The regulators] might be acting in the public interest but it's quite tough if you are on the other end. There is a point when we should be held to account, and there is a point where it just becomes a bit trying.'

This came on the very days that one of those critics, the Scottish National Party, lost a legal bid to force the BBC to allow its leader Alex Salmond to appear on tonight's final prime ministerial debate. After raising fifty thousand pounds in under forty eight hours, the SNP lodged papers at Edinburgh's Court of Session this week in a last-ditch effort to influence the debate format. In its legal petition, the SNP asked the judge to force the BBC to give Salmond a presence alongside Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron on the BBC1 debate. The party also called for an injunction to block the debate programme from being aired in Scotland if the corporation failed to meet its demands. However, the court rejected the SNP's legal bid and instead supported the BBC's case that it had not breached guidelines on guaranteeing fairness and impartiality. Speaking to reporters outside the Edinburgh court, SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon said: 'We are disappointed that the debate on Thursday night will go ahead without any substantial participation from the SNP. We believe it is wrong and unfair and all the points we have made until now still stand.' Another Scottish Nationalist, seen left, added 'Hoots, toots och-aye th'nooo. See you, Jimmy! Can y'lend us a fiver till Friday?' In a further blow, Ofcom has rejected a joint complaint from the SNP and Welsh national party Plaid Cymru about ITV's opening televised debate on 15 April. The parties had argued that the programme broke broadcasting rules, but the media regulator's specially-assembled election committee dismissed the complaint. In its ruling, Ofcom said: 'Having considered all the submissions and evidence before it under the relevant provisions of the Broadcasting Code, the election committee decided that both complaints should not be upheld. The committee found that the broadcast of the first debate on ITV complied with the requirements of the Broadcasting Code and that no remedial action was required on the part of ITV licensees.'

Michael McIntyre has urged the BBC to stop repeating his Comedy Roadshow. The comic said that the reruns make his fans think that he is constantly using the same routine. 'The re-running is unbelievable,' McIntyre told the Sun. 'The BBC repeat shows so much that people think I'm actually doing the show again. People come up to me saying, "When are you going to get some new material?" I say, "It was a repeat - it wasn't me doing it all again."' McIntyre also revealed that new episodes of the show will be aired later this year. 'This year I'm finishing my autobiography,' he said. 'Then my new Roadshow comes out in September.'

Allison Janney has reportedly signed up for a guest role in Lost. The New York Post says that the former West Wing star will appear in the fifteenth episode of the show's final season.

Reports have suggested that Desperate Housewives will end in two years' time. According to Deadline, ABC is considering a two-year pickup on the show, which would include deals with the main writers. Creator Marc Cherry currently has a contract with the network for three more years, but could spend the final year in development if Desperate Housewives comes to an end after its eighth season. Meanwhile, actresses Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria Parker and Marcia Cross reportedly have deals through the next season. ABC has allegedly contacted them about extending their deals for two more years, but there is not thought to have been significant communication between the actresses and the studio.

Complaints over the second Prime Ministerial debate have swelled to more than seven hundred in the past week. Though, that's still three thousand short of the number of viewers who were more concerned by an animated Graham Norton appearing during Doctor Who. Just, you know, for a bit of perspective, here. Ofcom confirmed yesterday that Sky News' live broadcast of the debate between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg had prompted six hundred and fifty two complaints since last Thursday. A further nineteen viewers complained about the surrounding programme, Decision Time: The Sky News Debate, and BBC2's broadcast of the full debate later in the evening prompted a further thirty nine - bringing the total to seven hundred and ten. Details of viewer disgruntlement with Sky News' handling of the debate first emerged last week, with an initial flurry of more than one hundred complaints. Users argued that moderator Adam Boulton broke a number of the rules limiting the extent to which he was allowed to intervene in the debate. It was suggested that Boulton had 'heckled' Clegg in relation to an article in the Daily Telegraph alleging that donations were paid into the Lib Dem leader's private bank account. You stick it to da man, Adam. I'm sure Big Rupert's very proud of you. Within the seventy six rules agreed between the broadcasters and the political parties, number sixty three states: 'It is not the moderator's role to criticise or comment on the leaders' answers.' Ofcom would only have grounds to investigate if complaints refer directly to impartiality because the media regulator played no part in setting the rules governing the debates.

A senior BBC strategist has left the corporation after an internal investigation found them to have leaked the BBC's controversial strategy review to the media. BBC director general Mark Thompson told staff last month that he was 'incredibly angry' at the leak of the review, and pledged to launch 'a full investigation' to find the source. On 26 February, The Times carried virtually all details of Thompson's Putting Quality First report, including the decision to axe of digital station 6 Music, ahead of its initially planned 9 March publishing date. The leak forced the BBC to move its announcement forward and led to anger from broadcast and journalism unions about the potential job cuts involved. Drafted by the corporation's director of policy and strategy John Tate, the confidential review was seen by only a limited number of people at the BBC before it was leaked. Speaking to the Independent, the BBC confirmed that Thompson's investigation has resulted in a senior strategist leaving the corporation. 'We can confirm than an investigation has been satisfactorily concluded and that an individual has now left the BBC,' said the corporation. Despite declining to name the employee, the BBC said that they were guilty of a 'gross breach of trust' by leaking the report to the media. Thompson's strategy review, which also included the axe for digital station the Asian Network and a halving of the BBC's web pages, is currently under public consultation at the BBC Trust until 25 May.

BBC Worldwide has bolstered its scripted team in the US, appointing two new executives with experience on Mad Men and 30 Rock. Vlad Wolynetz, commissioner at US cable channel AMC, will join the team as senior vice president of scripted production next month. Hugh Fitzpatrick comes from William Morris Endeavor to become vice president of scripted programming. They will join the scripted team led by Julie Gardner, senior vice president of scripted and executive producer. Both men will be responsible for further developing the studio’s scripted slate, working with US writers and UK creative talent. Wolynetz served as vice president of production, series and movies at AMC. In his fifteen years at the network, he supervised series including the production of acclaimed drama Mad Men as well as Breaking Bad, Rubicon and Walking Dead. Fitzpatrick joins from William Morris Endeavor where as a television literary agent, he represented a variety of writers and directors, involved in shows as 30 Rock, The Office, The Mentalist, Fringe and Big Love.

Janice Hadlow said that Sophie Dahl's critically reviled cookery show, The Ludicrous Miss Dahl, may return, but the BBC are also talking to the former model about other ideas. Oh, of course they are. 'There are lots of different options there. We're not ruling out the same show. It could be a cookery show.' So, to sum up, them, 'the cookery didn't work out Sophie darling. Do you have any other talents, beside simpering? Juggling, perhaps?'

And, finally... ... Not a lot of people know that.