Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Never Get Out Of The Boat

Those most curious of bedfellows the Gruniad Morning Star and the Daily Scum Mail are both reporting that the coalition government may be 'gearing up' for a five hundred million pound-plus raid on the licence fee, by forcing the broadcaster to meet the full cost of free television licences for the over seventy fives. The benefit – which was introduced by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor – costs five hundred and fifty six million pounds per year, and is currently paid for by general taxation. But ministers are alleged to be considering passing the bill on to the BBC as part of this week's comprehensive spending review. 'Insiders', according to the Gruniad, say there have been 'very informal discussions' between the corporation and government for what is recognised as a highly sensitive proposal. However, the BBC has also made it clear that it is violently opposed to the idea, which would force the broadcaster to make substantial cutbacks in its radio and television budgets. Currently, any household where a single person over seventy five lives is eligible for a free television licence, worth £145.50 a year. Because there are so many families with at least one pensioner, a total of four million homes receive the benefit – amounting to roughly one-in-six households across the UK. The cost of providing the benefit is so large that it almost exactly matches the entire five hundred and seventy five million pound budget of BBC2 - which the Gruniad helpfully reminds its hummus-munching readers - is 'the channel behind Top Gear and Masterchef.' And various other programmes they disapprove of, it would seem. The cost to the BBC would be so great it would amount to a twenty six per cent cut in real terms to its income, and would require budget cuts from across the entire corporation to foot the bill. According to Newsnight's political editor Michael Crick, if approved, the proposal would take effect from the time of the next licence fee settlement, which is due in 2012. A spokesman for the BBC Trust said: 'Anything at this stage is speculation, as we have yet to see the detail of the comprehensive spending review. That said, it would be unacceptable for licence fee payers to pick up the bill for what is a universal benefit.' BBC executives are said to be particularly unhappy that the broadcaster may be asked to pay for a perk which it did not introduce – or even ask to be introduced – in the first place and one that benefits all elderly licence fee payers regardless of their family or individual income. But, the broadcaster is said to be hoping that ministers will drop the proposal in the plethora of last-minute horse trading which, the newspaper claims, is currently taking place between various departments. Indeed, there is a lot of speculation within the BBC itself that this may be a rather crass example of government departments leaking a potential 'bad news' story to soften up the public for something else that will come along in Wednesday's spending review. Since the election of a Conservative-led government, the BBC has been bracing itself for cutbacks in its funding. Although the BBC's current licence fee funding settlement formally runs until 2013, the vile Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, has warned the corporation it will have to save money in the future. In July Hunt said he could 'absolutely' see the BBC licence fee being cut when the next funding settlement is struck. At the time, Hunt added: 'The BBC should not interpret the fact that we haven't said anything about the way licence fee payers' funds are used as an indication that we are happy about it. We will be having very tough discussions.' And he said that, of course, in the name of everybody who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. Whether you agree with it, or not. Just something to think about next time you're asking Nick Clegg what the hell he thinks he's doing with your party. Last week meanwhile, Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, joined a group of newspaper owners, BT and Channel Four in warning of the danger to 'media plurality' if the eight billion pound merger between Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and BSkyB were allowed to go ahead. The BBC – in common with the owners of the Daily Scum Mail, Daily Torygraph, Daily Mirror and the Gruniad – fear that British media will become dominated by Rupert Murdoch's companies, which would have a combined turnover of about seven and a half billion pounds, more than fifty per cent larger than the entire BBC today. The Chancellor, George Osborne, will reveal where the financial axe will fall on Wednesday when he sets out the results of his review to MPs. The Prime Minister David Cameron, you may remember, has repeatedly said that he still hopes to meet a general election promise to protect pensioners' benefits despite the current squeeze. 'I would never do anything to put the BBC at risk,' Cameron said in April of this year. 'Conservatives should be as proud of establishing the BBC as Labour are of establishing the NHS.' Let's see, shall we?

Mark Sheppard is to make a guest appearance in the next series of Doctor Who. A press release from the science-fiction convention ValleyCon has announced that the actor was forced to pull out of the event due to work commitments on the show. The statement claimed: 'We had just booked Mark's airline tickets a week ago when less than twelve hours later he got the dream job of any kid who grew up in England. He [has] landed a huge role in the new Doctor Who.' London-born Sheppard is believed to be starring in the new series' opening two-part story, which began shooting last week. A character actor whom yer Keith Telly Topping has long been an admirer of, Sheppard is probably known for his role as the demon Crowley on Supernatural and has also featured in episodes of numerous US series including 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files, Firefly, Leverage, CSI and Dollhouse among many others. Mark will, apparently, be playing a character called Canton in Doctor Who.

Former Doctor, David Tennant has returned to Doctor Who - at least in a documentary about it. In his first Doctor Who-related work since leaving the show last year, David apparently filmed material in June for a feature to appear on the forthcoming Revisitations II DVD box-set which is due out next year.

Channel 4 has defended a dramatised documentary about the risk of Prince Harry being taken prisoner in Afghanistan after concerns were publicly raised by the head of the armed forces. The network said that The Taking of Prince Harry was 'a serious journalistic examination of a current issue.' The one-off programme is scheduled to be shown on Channel 4 on Thursday. In it, deeply troubled special forces veteran Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) meets with intelligence officers General Corman (GD Spradlin) and Colonel Lucas (Harrison Ford), and a mysterious CIA official (Jerry Ziesmer). They offer him an assignment: journey up the Nung River past Do Lung bridge and across the border into Cambodia to find Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a member of the Special Forces feared to have gone rogue. They tell Willard that Kurtz, once a model officer, has become insane and is commanding a legion of his own Montagnard troops deep inside the forest. Willard's mission is to find Kurtz and terminate the Colonel's command. 'With extreme prejudice.' Along the way, Willard meets up with The First of the Ninth was a old calvary division which traded in their horses for helicopters and went tear-assing round 'Nam looking for the shit ... No, hang on. Sorry, that's Apocalypse Now. I always get them two mixed up. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup - which is, let's face it a fantastic name for anybody, but especially a member of the armed forces - wrote to Channel 4 chairman Lord Burns. It has been reported that Sir Jock asked Channel 4 not to show the programme because of the distress it could cause to the families of service personnel. Neither the MoD nor the broadcaster have disclosed the precise details of the correspondence. In The Taking of Prince Harry, the prince - who spent ten weeks serving in Helmand province in 2007 and 2008 - is portrayed by the actor Sebastian Reid. It includes scenes showing the royal being held behind enemy lines whilst negotiations are carried out to secure his release. The horror. In a statement, Channel 4 said the programme was 'rooted in expert testimony' and 'treats the subject matter sensitively. It is a legitimate subject for documentary to explore the risks that Prince Harry faces as a high-value target, and to seek to understand the full nature of the dangers to a royal in the modern theatre of war, as well as the political implications of a high-profile kidnap,' it added. Prince Harry was pulled out of front-line action in Afghanistan after news of his secret deployment leaked out.

Sunday's overnight ratings were pretty much good news for everyone. On BBC1 at 6:30pm Countryfile brought in an astonishing audience figure of 7.11m. That was followed the Strictly Come Dancing results show which saw balding shortarse Snakehips Daniels amusingly booted into the street. This was watched by 9.25m viewers, up three per cent from the average for same show in 2008. Thereafter Antiques Roadshow had an audience of 5.69m and, at 9:00pm Single Father got 4.58m, a ninety one per cent retention of the audience it had for it's opening episode last week. On ITV, The Cube did pretty well opposite Strictly, achieving 5.36m. Thereafter, it was champagne corks all the way for The X Factor - 13.42m, up six per cent on the slot average for same show last year - and Downton Abbey (8.8m). Even BBC2 had a moderately good night with a repeat of Top Gear pulling in 1.74m, Martin Shaw's excellent documentary Dambusters Declassified getting 2.36m (8.2%) and, later, Match Of The Day 2 being watched by two and half million viewers. Despite Colin Murray being a bloody annoying glake. On multi-channels The Xtra Factor on ITV2 led with way with just under a million viewers whilst Sky One's impressive adaptation of thorne: sleepyhead was watched by three hundred and eighty nine thousand.

Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine TV group is reportedly preparing legal action against Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell over an alleged unpaid bill for talent show Don't Stop Believing. Murdoch, who is the daughter of media tycoon Rupert, is understood to have instructed lawyers to sue N&S over its treatment of Shine Productions. She has also pledged to support smaller producers in the same position. Presented by Emma Bunton, Don't Stop Believing was acquired by Channel Five in a multi-million pound deal in July. However, the show rated very poorly over the summer, dropping as low as five hundred and eighty seven thousand viewers in its prime time Sunday slot. It was also embarrassingly amateurish and, basically, just not very good. Desmond is understood to be refusing to pay a seven-figure invoice submitted by Shine as he seeks to gain a part-refund for the flop. In response, Shine Productions has instructed lawyers Reed Smith to recover the near one million pound debt from N&S as relations have soured between the two parties. Like milk in a warm cupboard. Shine says that is also keen to support other production firms which have been affected by Desmond's stance on suppliers. In a statement, Shine's head of communications Patrick Keegan said: 'Shine is fortunate to be one of the UK's most successful creative companies and able to stand up to Channel Five's new owners throwing their weight around. However, for smaller companies, who are the backbone of our creative economy, this behaviour threatens their very survival. The Shine Group is therefore offering support to independent Channel Five programme-makers who are threatened with insolvency by N&S's refusal to pay overdue bills.' PACT, the UK trade body representing independent producers, told the Financial Times that around ten smaller firms were in similar disputes with Desmond's N&S group, which acquired Channel Five earlier in the year. John McVay, chief executive of PACT, said that he had recently held talks with N&S in response to complaints from members about changing terms and conditions. '[N&S] are changing thirty-day payment terms to sixty days plus end of the month. The larger companies may be able to survive the effect on their cash flow, but many of the smaller ones can't,' McVay said. He added that N&S was using 'the most brutal tactics I have ever seen in the TV industry' and that 'millions and millions of pounds' were at stake in the disputes. Ooo... this one's going to be a scrap to the death. Main problem is, who do we want to win? The Murdoch Family or the Desmond Group? There's only one way to find out ...

Business secretary and one-time 'liberal' Vince Cable received a 'short, introductory phone call' from News Corp executive James Murdoch on 15 June, by complete coincidence the very day that the firm lodged a bid to take over Sky. Last Friday, the government confirmed that Cable received the call from Murdoch - the son of media tycoon Rupert and brother of small producers' champion Elisabeth - who is the non-executive chairman of the pay-TV broadcaster. Cable is expected to decide within weeks whether to intervene in News Corp's multi-billion pound move to acquire the sixty one per cent of Sky which it does not already own. The minister's call with Murdoch was revealed in a written answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Labour MP Michael Dugher, reports the Gruniad Morning Star. Replying to the question, business minister Ed Davey wrote: '[Vince Cable] had a short introductory phone call with James Murdoch of News Corporation on 15 June 2010.' It has not been disclosed what was said during the conversation, but sources close to News Corp indicate that the call was just a courtesy on the day of the bid. An alliance of various newspaper publishers - including Richard Desmond - and rival broadcasters - including ... well, most of them, actually. But, specially the BBC and Channel Four - have come together in peace, love and harmony like ebony and ivory on my piano to sign a letter calling on Cable to block the Sky deal due to fears about an erosion of media plurality. Last week, the government confirmed that Cable had received the letter, but warned that it was 'premature' to judge his response at this stage. Two points here. Firstly ... I've only just spotted the delicious potential for headline writers in the unlikely event that Vince does the honourable thing and tell Murdoch to got screw himself and his daddy. Cable Blocks Satellite Bid and all that. The second point, of course, is that the chances of the government doing that are so remote as to be almost an impossibility.

Following quickly behind, with impeccable timing, this website, the BBC News website has really put the boot into Daybreak over it's declining ratings. It must be said, however, that you've just got to stand up an salute an utterly outrageous piece of utter nonsense gibberish from the ITV spokesperson quoted in this article: 'After over five years of decline for GMTV, Daybreak is already closing the gap in year-on-year decline after just one month, with housewives and children, male and younger audiences,' a spokesman added. Yeah. Of course it is. And, it's doing so - it would seem - by getting less viewers than GMTV were. So, unless you're suggesting that GMTV was getting 'the wrong sort of viewer', ITV spokesperson, then there's pretty much no way on God's good earth that you can spin this as a positive. You simply can't polish a turd. And that - seemingly - is what you've spent a lot of money acquiring. Just goes to show that avarice isn't, always, a good idea.

Embittered old has-been Arlene Phillips has claimed that Pamela Connolly's Strictly Come Dancing performances are making her miss the show. The former judge said that watching Stephenson's rumba routine on Saturday was the first time that she had wished she was back on the panel. Sexologist Pamela (you know, Billy's missus), topped the leader board at the weekend with thirty five points for her rumba with James Jordan. And, very good she was too. Particularly considering the lady is sixty. Phillips told the Sun: 'It was one of the sexiest things I've seen on TV, but beautifully so. It's the first time I have actually thought, "If only I could see this live before my eyes."' Yeah. But, you can't, love. You were sacked, remember? 'It was beautifully managed. She would lead James on, then he would lead her on. There was wonderful storytelling and a wonderful relationship.'

Singer Charlotte Church has 'blasted' reality television and claimed that she wouldn't appear on shows such as Strictly Come Dancing. Well, that's not reality television for a kick off, love. It's a celebrity talent contest, just like X Factor. This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Church's ex, Gavin Henson, is currently appearing on Strictly Come Dancing as well as having recently taken part in the ITV celebrity adventure series 71 Degrees North would it?

ITV has agreed new three-year deals for The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. The channel has also secured the exclusive broadcast rights to the American version of The X Factor, which will be shown on ITV2 alongside America's Got Talent. ITV's deal renews its collaboration with Syco Entertainment and FremantleMedia following much speculation about the formats. The future for the UK reality shows was in doubt after Piers Morgan confirmed his exit from Britain's Got Talent and Simon Cowell announced plans to launch a US X Factor in autumn 2011. However, the latest announcement means that Cowell will remain with the broadcaster until 2013. It has also been confirmed that Britain's Got Talent will return in spring 2011 as usual, while the UK X Factor will also be back in its regular slot in the autumn of 2011. ITV2 spin-off shows Britain's Got More Talent and The Xtra Factor will also return. Speaking about the deal, Cowell said: 'I am thrilled this deal has been concluded with ITV to enable our relationship to continue to develop. I am committed to making sure both shows get bigger and better every year. I have a lot to thank ITV for; they have been key in making The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent the UK's biggest television shows.' ITV director of television Peter Fincham commented: 'The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent are the shows that have helped define the last decade of television in the UK and have become more than just a talking point - they are a national obsession, and I'm delighted that our viewers can continue to enjoy them on ITV over the next three years. I'm especially pleased to have agreed a deal that cements our successful relationship with Simon Cowell, Syco and FremantleMedia over a longer term. I look forward to working with them as we continue to develop both shows and keep them at the top of their game.' Talkback Thames interim CEO Sara Geater said: 'We are very proud of our productions and the incredibly talented team behind them. We are delighted with ITV's commitment to the shows and that our successful relationship with Syco continues to flourish.'

X Factor judges Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh have come in for criticism from the latest acts to be booted off the show. Storm Lee accused his mentor, Walsh, of pressurising him into dyeing his hair, while the double act Diva Fever said that they did not like Simon's choice of song. Edinburgh-born musician Storm, thirty seven, got the lowest number of viewer votes after his performance of Bruce Springsteen's 'Born To Run' and was automatically eliminated from the contest. Diva Fever made their exit when three of the judges opted to send them home after the sing-off. The duo admitted they were worried about their song, Duck Sauce's 'Barbra Streisand,' because they did not think people would be familiar with it. 'Sometimes you are afraid to speak up because you think they might start thinking you're a diva,' Joe Al-Smadi told Daybreak. 'We did express that we didn't like the song really to start off with. We thought because it's really new in the charts at the minute, and we thought a lot of people might not know it. And the target audience that we're going for probably wouldn't know it - it's more like the clubbers and students that know that song. But Simon said he had a "vision" for it and he said he thought we'd do really well with it.' Asked why he dyed his hair pink, Storm Lee said: 'The truth of it is I feel a little bit set up by my mentor. He was really adamant that I change my look and be a little bit more flamboyant. I wasn't going to start off the show by fighting him.' But the musician said he did his best during his performances and added of his elimination: 'I actually strangely feel quite relieved in a way.' Just, not a financially satisfied way.

Meanwhile, Cowell has admitted to making 'wrong decisions' on this year's X Factor. Which will obviously come as something of a surprise to his many devoted worshipers who believed him to be infallible. The judge, who is mentoring the Groups this year, conceded that the early departures of Diva Fever and FYD were, partly, his fault. Speaking during a question and answer section on The Xtra Factor, the record producer said that he is still confident about his chances in the competition, commenting: 'I’m still in this to win it. It doesn't matter if I've got all my groups in it or one group in it. One of mine [will win].' When asked about the failures of two of his acts, he said: 'You've got to have a rethink. There's no point sulking. I made wrong decisions. 'One Direction and Belle Amie are both incredibly talented and I'm going to work harder on them. I don't give up easily.'

X Factor contestant Wagner Carrilho has allegedly moved out of the Hertfordshire house where the remaining finalists are living. The Daily Scum Mail reports that Carrilho is now staying at a hotel in North London and cites the other contestants' personal habits and 'a funny smell' as the reason for his move.

BBC Archives has released a rare collection of radio broadcasts by HG Wells, the renowned author often referred to as the grandfather of science-fiction. The collection, titled HG Wells On The Future, provides a 'unique insight' into the man behind SF classics such as The Time Machine and War Of The Worlds. Dating back to the 1930s and 1940s, the radio broadcasts reveal Wells's eerily accurate predictions on future technological advances, such as the spread of the motor car and the growth of printed media. The author also predicted the coming need to aggregate news content and create constantly-updated bibliographies to 'modernise the distribution of knowledge.' The Internet, in other words. Also in the collection is a batch of never-before seen letters sent to Wells by the BBC as part of efforts to encourage him to speak on-air. The correspondence reveals how the first BBC director of talks, Hilda Matheson, worked to persuade the reluctant Wells to share his views via the medium of radio. However, a set of internal memos also reflect the anxiety around how Wells's potentially controversial opinions would be received in Russia. The fears were escalated to Lord Reith, the BBC's then director-general, but later allayed over a lunch conversation between the author and Matheson, in which he pledged to only criticise Russia 'from the standpoint of a scientific historian.' The collection has been released to coincide with BBC Four's adaptation of the author's science-fiction romance The First Men In The Moon, which will air on the channel on Tuesday. BBC executive producer Jamie Laurenson said: 'It is great to be able to accompany a fantastic new adaption of HG Wells' The First Men In The Moon with such a rich archive resource that further reveals how prescient he was in so many of his thoughts and writings.' The radio broadcasts and letters are available now on a special HG Wells section of the BBC Archives website.

Blading shortarse Snakehips Daniels has described Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood as 'bitter and twisted.' This from a man who once threatened to leave the country if Labour won a general election and then when they subsequently did, despite offers of a lift to airport, stayed here. Insert your own punchline here, dear blog reader.

Glastonbury Festival supremo Michael Eavis has denied press reports that the festival is taking a break in 2012 because the London Olympics will cause a shortage of portable lavatories. But Eavis, who celebrated his seventy fifth birthday this week, admitted that the Olympics did play a part in his decision to make 2012 one of the festival's regular rest years. 'The problem is that the police force will be on duty for the Olympics,' he said. 'We have a year off anyway every fifth year and have just pushed that forward a year. It is nothing to do with portable toilets.'