Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down)

For today's lesson, dear brethren, a brief observation on the fickle finger of fate and the ephemeral nature of what can be classified as 'success'. This time last year, the BBC espionage drama [spooks] appeared to be if not, exactly on its last legs, then in serious danger of couching up blood. After a critically acclaimed seventh series in 2008, the show's eighth run seemed to many viewers to be rather tired and listless. A couple of very popular characters left and, despite the return of another old favourite - Nicola Walker's Ruth - [spooks] often felt somewhat jaded besides exciting new ITV drama formats like Whitechapel and Unforgiven. Its ratings weren't anything special either, averaging around five million with one episode dropping as low as 3.9m on overnights. Not long after the series had ended Ben Stephenson the BBC's head of drama, made a speech in which he alluded to the fact that some of the BBC's longer running dramas were now, perhaps, coming to their natural conclusion. A lot of - ill-informed - press speculation followed, focusing heavily on [spooks] and, also, another excellent but long-lived BBC crime drama, Waking the Dead. Both series were subsequently recommissioned - just a few hours after the Daily Scum Mail had confidently predicted that both would be axed - and, a year on, [spooks] appears to be in better health than ever. Ratings are up - well over five million on overnights, and above six million when timeshifts are taking into consideration. Despite this, the show's audience Appreciation Index scores have remained quite exceptional. Monday night's episode drew a score of ninety one out of one hundred. Put in layman's terms, that means the vast majority of those viewers who expressed an opinion, scored the show at nine-out-of-ten or above. Which is common place in programmes with an audience of a few hundred thousand - Channel Five's US crime dramas, for example - but far rarer when the audience is much wider and, therefore, more inclined to contain more casual and less dedicated viewers. Although the BBC haven't confirmed it yet officially, it appears as though [spooks] may well have been rewarded for its resurgence with yet another series for 2011. Some shows, it would seem, are just hard to kill. However, there is a downside in every example of swings and roundabout, we know this to be true. At more or less the same time that [spooks] was suffering from a bit of a critical mauling last year, the BBC's ONE Show was going from strength to strength. Its presenters - Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley - were the genuine poster kids for the BBC's good old 'your friend in the corner of the room' type of programming. Cheerful, friendly, warm and likeable. They could, it seemed, do no wrong. Within a few months, both had left the BBC in controversial circumstances. The former, seemingly, with a massive chip on his shoulder simply because he was being asked to do one less day on the show and allow Chris Evans to co-host with Bleakley on the Friday evening show - and, despite the fact that the BBC were offering Chiles a pay rise and a series of other formats for him to present in addition to his four days on the sofa with Christine. Bleakley herself left soon afterwards, having faffed about and dilly-dallied, publicly changing her mind half-a-dozen times over whether she was staying or going. The BBC finally lost patience with her and, told her to make her mind up. She did. Money, ultimately, talked. For both of them, however, there were also dark rumours of greed being at the heart of their decision, particularly after it emerged that ITV had been actively tracking Chiles for two years before the BBC even suggested changing things at the ONE Show. Having both signed for reported seven figure per year salaries with the commercial broadcaster, Chiles and Bleakley were unveiled as the saviour of ITV's flagging early-morning chat show, GMTV. Rebranded as Daybreak, the couple began their first shift at the start of September with an initial audience of almost exactly a million viewers. Four million less than they'd been getting at their peak on The ONE Show, incidentally, and they'd had to get up at three o'clock in the morning to achieve this figure, but still that was a couple of hundred thousand more viewers than GMTV had been getting of late and ITV were cautiously optimistic. No, in fact, they were loudly optimistic and full of media bollock-speak statements about how they were 'closing the gap in year-on-year decline' whatever the hell that meant. Seven weeks later, on Tuesday 26 October, Daybreak's average audience across its two and half hours had shrunk to a staggeringly bad five hundred and forty thousand viewers. Normally, when something gets an audience that low, you'd expect its AI scores to be quite high since, one would normally assume, those who are still watching the show after all this time really rather like it. Unfortunately for Daybreak, not only is hardly anyone watching it, but seemingly, those that are, appear to think it's Godawful. Tuesday's AI score of sixty six wasn't the lowest the show has had - it was mired down in the high fifties for most of its first month - but it's still a long way short of even average, let alone decent. Rumours are now circulating within the TV industry that the show had been given just four weeks to pull itself out of the hole it's current in or else it will be cancelled faster than you can say 'Kate Garraway.' I'm not sure that I buy this, personally, since it would be hugely embarrassing for ITV to have paid such a massive amount of money - not only for Chiles and Bleakley themselves, but also on the whole revamp and rebranding exercise in terms of resources and publicity. Today, comes the claim that the ITV Studios team responsible for I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! want to take over Daybreak. The Sun reports that the morning programme's 'bosses' held what the tabloid describes as 'crisis talks' after viewing figures fell below six hundred thousand for only the second time on Monday. ITV Studios - which makes This Morning and Loose Women - want, claim the newspaper, to 'see over the show as it believes it can do a better job than the current team.' And, let's face it, even if they brought in the Chuckle Brothers to present it, it's difficult to see how they could do much worse. 'Things are going from bad to worse on Daybreak,' an ITV 'source' is alleged to have told the paper. 'We went for revolution rather than evolution when we axed GMTV, but now it's us who are against the wall.' The falling ratings have sparked speculation that Bleakley may quit the show, despite attempts to make the set 'warmer' and secure bigger name guests. And, meanwhile, the show she and Chiles left behind, The ONE Show, with Evans - who's settled in quite nicely - and the new Monday to Thursday pairing of Jason Manford and Alex Jones - ditto - is doing steady business. Still pulling in four to five million each night. Which, kind of suggests that it was never Adrian and Christine who were the reasons for the success of the show in the first place but, rather, the show's easy-going and lightweight style which is perfectly suited to early evening viewing no matter who is doing the presenting. It is, of course, very wrong to laugh at the misfortunes of others. Unless they, you know, really ask for it! So, dear blog reader, the point of all of this malarkey is that whilst, as they say, a week may well be a long time in politics, a year is a bloody eternity in television! Here endeth the lesson.

The Emmerdale actor Adam Thomas has apologised after allegedly insulting a gay fan. The twenty three-year-old was approached by viewer Ricky Platts in a branch of McDonald's in Leeds when the incident occurred, the Sun reports. Platts was reportedly 'left stunned' when Thomas replied: 'Yeah, what about it gay boy?' Platts claims that the actor then began 'hopping up and down like a madman' and called him and a friend, who was dressed in drag, 'queers.' Platts, who is a student, continued: 'I couldn't believe that someone who is meant to be a role model would do something like that.' Hang on ... I'm not in any way defending such apparent homophobic numskullery as this, but since when did an actor in a soap opera in any way constitute a role model to anyone? In the ITV soap, Thomas's character, Adam Barton, has been supporting his gay friend Aaron Livesy, played by Danny Miller. In a statement, Thomas said: 'I deeply apologise for my actions and I am horrified to realise that I have caused offence.' Well, that seems sincere enough - don't be a glake and say anything even remotely like that again and, I'm sure most people will be prepared to overlook this as a moment of madness. I did say most people however, because gay rights activist Sarah Carmody told the newspaper: 'His apology is all very well, but the producers of Emmerdale must take decisive action.' Such as what, Sarah? Sack him? That's very enlightened and free of hatred. God, the milk of human kindness was certainly flowing out of you that morning, wasn't it? The way to end bigotry and stupidity is not through being, yourself, bigoted and stupid. Redemption comes in many forms. Most of them require understanding and a shade of compassion, not knee-jerk soundbites for the tabloids. To err is human, to forgive is divine. I believe it was Oscar Wilde who once said that one should always forgive ones enemies because 'nothing annoys them so much.'

And, speaking of gay men, good old John Barrowman has been confirmed for the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special. Oh, that's gonna be the single campest night in the history of television I can just tell! The Torchwood and Desperate Housewives actor is one of the first names to be confirmed for the festive special of the BBC1 dance show. For the first time ever, the Christmas Strictly will feature a new cast of celebrity performers, who will be filmed over a two-week period training and them perform on the night. Producers are aiming to capture stars who have missed out on previous full series' because they could not commit for the whole autumn. Speaking about hitting the dance floor, Barrowman said: 'I've watched Strictly since the first series and I'm ecstatic to have been asked to be part of the Christmas special. I am looking forward to the challenge as it's so different to any of the dancing that I've done before in musicals. But more than anything, I am so looking forward to wearing the costumes. I can guarantee this: there will be sequins.' Heh! Book your tickets for the front row now, ladies and gentlemen of the blog!

Meanwhile, Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer Erin Boag has, apparently, stripped naked for a magazine shoot. The thirty five-year-old dancer, who has been on the BBC show since series one, claimed that she wanted to have the photographs taken so that she could look back at them in her old age. Speaking to Closer magazine, she said: 'On the whole I'm happy with my body so I enjoyed posing naked and I'm really pleased with the shots. I hope the public like them too - I'm sure the men who write to me asking me to wear stockings and suspenders on the show will be pleased!' Damn. Busted. 'When I'm old and wrinkly, I'll look back at my nude photos with pride.' Boag also revealed that she had grown comfortable with appearing naked in front of people, because it happens all the time on Strictly. 'It's all part of being a dancer, and when you're getting changed backstage in a hurry, you just ditch your clothes without much thought,' she said. 'But no-one stands there staring - we definitely avert our eyes!' Boag and her celebrity partner, Peter Shilton, were voted off Strictly last weekend after failing to impress the judges with their Charleston routine. Or, indeed, with pretty much anything.

The shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis (no, me neither), has demanded an urgent parliamentary inquiry into the BBC licence fee settlement following the hastily negotiated deal agreed with the government last week. Oh, you've finally noticed, have you, Ivan? Took you long enough. Round here, we've been talking about little else. Lewis has written to John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, asking him to 'hold an investigation' into the six-year deal. His request follows the agreement last week between the government and the corporation which will see the BBC licence fee frozen at £145.50 for six years until 2017. The settlement was announced by George Osborne in last week's comprehensive spending review. Lewis wants ministers and BBC executives to give evidence to MPs about how the deal was reached and answer questions about its implications for the corporation's services. He described the settlement as 'a dodgy deal' in parliament this week. He also said the agreement 'rode roughshod over the independence of the BBC, crushed any serious prospect of reform and involved no consultation with licence fee payers or parliamentarians.' Which is very true. What a pity he didn't say all of this on the day it was first announced - it might have sounded a bit more convincing if he had. 'The BBC is one of this country's great institutions and its future a matter of public interest,' Lewis added, forgetting to add that his own party - mainly in the shape of Ben Bradshaw - spent the best part of a decade happily kicking the BBC whilst it was down in the expectation that it would win them votes. To hear Labour MPs suddenly acting like they're Auntie's bestest friend in all the land is almost - though not quite - as sickening as watching Jeremy Hunt pick the corporation apart a piece at a time. I mean, if only somebody had told us that this was going to happen. Oh, wait. Licence fee negotiations between the BBC and the government normally take up to a year and the final agreement is subject to parliamentary approval. The latest deal was, it is alleged, hammered out behind closed doors in just over a week in a series of dramatic meetings between Hunt, the BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, and the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson. A last-minute proposal to saddle the BBC with the five hundred and fifty six million pounds-a-year cost of providing free TV licences to the over-seventy fives was withdrawn less than forty eight hours before Osborne's statement during a hectic final period of negotiation. But, the BBC agreed to take on several new responsibilities, including funding the World Service - previously the financial responsibility of the Foreign Office - and most of the funding of the Welsh-language broadcaster S4C. The settlement is a sixteen per cent cut to the annual £3.6bn-a-year licence fee in real terms and meeting the extra commitments will cost the BBC an additional three hundred and forty million pounds, annually, by 2015. In order to meet these extra costs, the corporation has said it will seek savings of one hundred and forty million pounds a year for four years. The culture committee, if it agrees to an inquiry, could seek explanations from Hunt, Thompson and Lyons on the exact details of the deal. Or, at least, the Labour members could. I imagine most of the Tories and Lib Dems will be sitting there whistling silently to themselves and thinking about what expenses they can claim for today's business.

Dannii Minogue has reportedly been struggling to come to terms with the behind the scenes fighting on The X Factor. According to the Mirror, the Australian judge and least famous of the Minogue sisters, has even been reduced to tears on occasions when the spats between herself, Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole and Louis Walsh have gotten out of hand. Speaking about the incidents at her perfume launch this week, she told the newspaper: 'There's a lot of bickering behind the scenes. Sometimes it spills over and you get upset. We are all theatrical darling, and when we get worked-up on stage things come out. This series is the most intense thing I have ever done.' Meanwhile, a 'source' allegedly added: 'Simon is treating Dannii really badly and only has eyes for Cheryl. They go off for cigarettes together and don't speak to the others.' Louis Walsh is quoted by the newspaper as backing up the insider's information, commenting: 'Cheryl is very ambitious and feisty and she's Simon's pet. She gets away with murder.'

There's a very good piece in Wednesday's Daily Torygraph by David Quantick - a writer whom yer Keith Telly Topping has always had a lot of time for, right back to his NME days - about Jeremy Clarkson and why the BBC need to let him be himself. 'In his fight against what he sees as the PC BBC, Clarkson will carry on making jokes about black lesbians and disabled people, in the hope of angering someone who cares. But nobody does any more. Except – rightly – those who seek to speak for the disadvantaged, and – wrongly – the dead hand of compliance, a BBC process apparently instituted not out of compassion for society's less fortunate, but out of fear of the corporation's critics.' Yep, I'd go along with all of that. Very well written and thoughtful piece, that.

BBC2 has commissioned another two series of Frank Skinner's Opinionated. Another six-part series will be broadcast in spring with a further series in autumn 2011. Skinner said: 'I'm massively pleased that the BBC have commissioned another two series of Opinionated. I knew my buy-one-get-one-free suggestion would win them over.' Each show features Skinner, two fellow comedians and a studio audience discussing the week's news stories, with each episode recorded in a different city. The first series, which was Skinner's first regular presenting job for over a decade, attracted around two million viewers an episode when it was broadcast in April and May.

Ruth Langsford has apologised after she was heard swearing on ITV's This Morning earlier today. The incident happened when Langsford and husband, Eamonn Holmes, were moving to another part of the studio while a VT was playing. 'Oh hang on, we're not there yet - fuck,' the presenter could be heard saying whilst Eamonn happily munched on a pie, so he did. In a message on Twitter, Langsford said she had used the expletive after hurting her toe and begged ITV bosses not to spank her, claiming that she'd been led astray. 'I'm really sorry for that slip this morning,' she wrote. You mean that expletive I think, Ruth. Get yer terminology right and don't make excuses. 'I stubbed my toe and unfortunately my mic was still on. Thanks for understanding.'

The BBC has announced plans to air the Autumn International fixtures featuring Ireland, Scotland and Wales after agreeing a series of new rugby union deals. BBC Sport has secured broadcast rights to all Ireland and Wales international matches until 2013, along with Scotland's remaining games this year. The agreements include TV and radio coverage, as well as online, Red Button, iPlayer and high definition on either BBC HD or the new BBC1 HD channel. The BBC also recently signed a deal with rugby union governing body the RFU to provide highlights coverage of all England international fixtures up to 2013 inclusive. 'We're delighted to have renewed our partnership with the WRU, IRFU and SRU to cover their annual international fixtures live and with the RFU to show highlights of their matches,' said Philip Bernie, the BBC's head of TV sport. 'The Autumn Internationals continue to grow in intensity and importance as the Home Nations test themselves against the best of the Southern Hemisphere and take stock ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. We value the ongoing relationships we have with the Home Unions and look forward to continuing to bring top-class rugby to our audiences.' In July, ITV retained broadcast rights to the Rugby World Cup after securing coverage of the tournament next year in New Zealand and the lucrative 2015 event in England.

Channel Five owner Richard Desmond has reportedly paid Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine Group almost one million pounds to settle a dispute over an unpaid bill for talent show Don't Stop Believing. The payment has averted the prospect of a court battle over the debt, after Murdoch last week instructed lawyers to sue Desmond's Northern & Shell over its aggressive treatment of her firm. Murdoch accused Northern & Shell of 'throwing its weight around' and also pledged to assist any other independent producers who had not been paid by Channel Five. In response, N&S claimed that it had already made contractual payments of more than five million pounds for the wretched talent show, which was fronted by former Spice Girl Emma Bunton. The company further said that the payment delay was merely because it was querying the details of a final invoice, believed to be for just less than one million pounds. Shine, which produces a number of shows for Channel Five including The Wright Stuff, has confirmed that the payment has now been received, bringing to an end the threat of legal action. Though, the chances of a second series of Don't Stop Believing have, presumably, just taken a turn for the worse. In a statement, a Shine spokesperson said that they could 'confirm that payment of all remaining instalments for Don't Stop Believing have now been received. This follows Shine readily facilitating further reviews of the programme's accounts for Channel Five after which it was confirmed that no outstanding questions remain. As such, planned legal action to recoup these payments does not need to be pursued.'

Someone described as 'a pop superstar' was left feeling 'vulnerable and isolated' when a blackmailer used 'highly sensitive' stolen photos to try to extort thousands of pounds from him or her. The musician, who is said to be 'instantly recognisable,' cannot be named for legal reasons after he or she obtained a court order banning the media from disclosing his or her name, age, nationality and relationship status. According to the Telegraph, he or she received threatening letters demanding cash in exchange for twenty seven images which were stored on two Apple Mac laptops, stolen from his or her London home last November. The thief struck at night when the celebrity and a relative were sleeping in separate rooms. However, it was six weeks before the blackmailer made contact threatening to sell the 'sensitive' images to the press. He claimed that each of the twenty seven images was worth two thousnad pounds, but said that he would sell them back for the 'knock-down' price of twenty grand. Sounds like a bargain, frankly. The blackmailer was caught when an undercover police officer posed as a lawyer. Surveillance officers then followed Sebastian Bennett on foot for more than a mile to his flat in North Kensington, where he was nabbed by the bobbies. Hopefulyl, that was just as painful as it sounds. Evidence found included a copy of a letter sent to the celebrity the previous day, car keys stolen in the burglary and a computer containing copies of the stolen images. Bennett claimed that the items belonged to 'one of his friends' who regularly visited the flat. However, he could not provide their full names, addresses or telephone numbers. On Monday, Bennett, an unemployed fitness fanatic, was convicted of blackmail and handling stolen goods at Isleworth Crown Court. He will be sentenced in court on Friday.

And finally for today, the first in what I hope will be a recurring series; Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day: A tiny remind, dear blog reader, of a time when seven inches of black plastic could, quite literally, rock your world. Number one (in an irregular series of 'as many as I feel like until I get bored with it'): 'We've been asked to speak politics to you today-ah!' Those was the days. All rock and roll, dear blog reader, should be as loud, dumb, manic and funny as this. 'Eddie's tammy/Stanley's chamois!' And here they are, live at the Marquee.