Saturday, February 12, 2011

He's Goin' Back To Find A Simpler Place And Time

Mark Thompson has vigorously defended the BBC's policy of moving a sizeable percentage of their productions out of London. Writing in the Gruniad Morning Star (and, hopefully, telling them to bastard-well cut out the anti-Top Gear horseshit whilst he was there) Thompson noted: 'Those who believe that the only place where you can find great talent or make outstanding programmes is inside the M25 (London's orbital motorway) really should get out more. We live in a country that is bursting with creative potential. Unlocking that potential will be great for the BBC, great for our audiences, and great for the UK.' he continued: 'Last week I stood on the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles watching an episode of Torchwood being shot. A large American crew, substantial American investment, a programme filmed on location in the United States and in Wales and seen by audiences around the world including licence payers in the UK – but a core creative team which is Welsh to its fingertips. Back in Cardiff, the BBC is building one of Europe's biggest television drama factories – a place where Doctor Who, Casualty and a string of other BBC network dramas will be shot. Programmes which are not the result of some sad, politically correct regional policy, but some of the best output the BBC makes anywhere. Or look out of the window of the BBC's new broadcast centre in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, at the lot where ITV's Coronation Street will soon be joining BBC Sport, Children's, 5Live and many other programmes to create a new critical mass of broadcasting and production in the north of England, bringing with it hundreds of new jobs and opportunities.' The BBC exists, Thompson added: 'to serve and represent the whole country, not just its capital. Its first duty is to deliver the best possible programmes, but we believe that we can do that best by opening our doors to talent and perspectives from every part of Britain. We think of the licence fee not just as a charge the public pays for outstanding BBC services, but as seedcorn for the creative industries. And outside London, that seedcorn can make a critical difference. You wouldn't realise that, of course, if you read some of the London-based print media for whom our move is not about present success or future potential but a gloriously exaggerated story of distraught presenters and cost over runs.'

Some awful news now, Simon Cowell has seemingly rubbished reports that he will be leaving the UK version of The X Factor this year. Speaking on US talkshow Extra, the music mogul suggested that - contrary to recent reports - he is not intending to focus fully on the FOX launch in America and will be still involved with the ITV show. 'We're in the process of building a rocket and it is literally going to fly us from Los Angeles to London in an hour,' he said. 'It hasn't been tested yet but that's the idea.' Cowell is yet to announce the judging panel for either version, broadcast in conjunction this autumn, but there is talk that he may sacrifice the auditions stage of the British show.

The Doctor Who Appreciation Society have opened their online Celestial Archive. It's well worth a look.

BBC staff have reacted 'angrily' to the cuts to Vision Productions, describing them as 'a daily battering' and 'a slow death,' according to Broadcast magazine. Four out of five departments have now been told of redundancies over a period of months, with comedy not expected to learn its fate until the end of March. One 'insider' - nameless, of course - allegedly summed up the mood: 'We understand it has to happen, but there is a sense that every day there will be an announcement. It's such a slow death and people are feeling so down. Also there is a sense that this is not the worst it can get - really, how much deeper can we go?' Questions, the magazine suggests, are also being raised over chief creative officer Pat Younge's ambitious plans to grow the division, given its recent performance. 'There is despair because in-house isn't winning in the WoCC and the departments in Bristol, London and Birmingham are all having a tough time,' the alleged source allegedly said. 'People are feeling desperate because if you cut staff, it feels like there is no confidence that controllers and commissioners want ideas from in-house.' Last week, Younge was embroiled in a heated exchange of words in response to his blog about the cuts on the BBC's Gateway intranet. Respondents accused senior management of failing to communicate properly, and engendering a lack of trust in staff. Staff were further angered by Younge characterising some critics as 'naysayers who allow their scepticism to drift into the poison of cynicism.' He added: 'No one makes you work here, and if it's that crap, please leave.' Well, that's certainly one way of reducing staffing levels. Another 'insider' - also nameless - allegedly told Broadcast: 'It's not right for Pat Younge to be speaking to staff in that manner at this most difficult time.'

Paul Merton is to front a new travelogue series for Channel Five. Over six hour-long episodes, the Have I Got News For You captain will discover 'some unusual retreats,' according to the broadcaster. Paul Merton Great Escapes is one of several new commissions the network revealed this week, as it prepares for a relaunch.

BAFTA-winning actress Julie Walters has been cast as one of the leads in the ITV drama series The Jury. The Jury was a series originally broadcast on ITV in 2002 and revolved around the trial of a Sikh boy charged with the murder of his classmate and the twelve people sitting on the jury. Peter Morgan, the writer of the original series who went on to write Frost/Nixon and The Queen, is penning the five-part reworking, in which Walters will play a barrister. The series was announced at Edinburgh TV Festival 2010 and casting for the rest of the series is still taking place. At the time of the announcement Morgan said: 'The format always appealed to me as a way to tell both a contemporary crime story and yet interweave it with something more - a snapshot of modern Britain, an assessment of where we are, how we live, who we've become.' Walters announced that she had been cast in one of the lead roles at a Q&A session held at the BFI on 9 February. The series, being produced by ITV Studios, will deal with a prisoner who has been serving a prison sentence for a violent triple murder when new evidence comes to light calling his conviction into question. The Jury was commissioned by ITV director of drama Laura Mackie and Kate Bartlett will be the executive producer. Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?

Ruby Wax has admitted that she found it hard to cope when her TV work dried up. The comedian confessed that her depression made it difficult to work and described starring in reality TV shows as 'humiliating. TV had always been my ambition, so leaving was a death,' she told the Daily Scum Mail. 'If I don't do anything I go berserk. I can't just sit and read a book. I also have to support my kids. Ed works but he's a BBC director. Need I say more? If we were in LA we'd be laughing. I started to feel as if I had two lives. Graham Norton, if you could wake him up at 2am, he'd still be Graham Norton. You could wake me up at 2am and I wasn't the person on TV. I was an introvert. I am funny, but if I'm not switched on, or I don't like the person, it won't come. If I interviewed somebody who was on Big Brother I'd just cry. I couldn't fake it. It just didn't happen. Then you could see my face on TV and it wasn't good. On the shark show [Celebrity Shark Bait] the way they edited it was humiliating and then I did a circus show and that was humiliating for me.'

The first Channel Four Comedy Lab for 2011 is based on kabbadi - the Indian sport that achieved cult status on C4 in the early 1990s. A pilot of Kabadasses has been ordered from Objective Productions by comedy commissioning editor Nerys Evans. Written by Nikesh Shukla, the show will follow friends Bobby and Vin as they try to put together a multi-racial kabbadi team. Kabbadi is a team contact sport, similar to wrestling, commonly played in India and Bangladesh. Evans said: 'Nikesh has created such a unique and funny world with Kabadasses, he's definitely a talent to watch. We've also managed to assemble the dream team to work alongside him.' The executive producer for Objective is Phil Clarke and former producer-director of The Office and writer of Goodness Gracious Me Anil Gupta will produce and direct the pilot. C4 Comedy Labs aim to find the best new comedy talent. Talent previously discovered includes Peter Kay, Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell and Robert Webb, and Fonejacker's Kayvan Novak. This year's Comedy Labs are expected to be broadcast in the autumn.

Wild Rover’s forthcoming BBC1 quiz show Secret Fortune may be the subject of a US remake after Nigel Lythgoe picked up the rights to it. DRG sealed the deal for the six-time Emmy nominated executive producer (American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance) to co-produce the show with Northern Ireland-based Wild Rover. Lythgoe, president and co-founder of Big Red 2, said: 'Secret Fortune is a beautifully constructed quiz show that guarantees the contestants prize money, and allows the whole family a chance to play along at home. I am delighted to be working with its creators Phil Morrow and Wild Rover Productions on this project.' Secret Fortune is the first title to launch from DRG's recently created strategy to co-fund format-pilots with broadcasters. DRG managing director, acquisitions Andrea Jackson said: 'We're actively investing in the co-production of broadcast quality pilots with the original commissioners. This enables us to take the highest quality example of the format to our international partners and immediately begin building the show into a global brand, a significant revenue stream for our producer partners.' Secret Fortune USA is Wild Rover's second major deal in the USA, following the recent announcement of game show Take the Money & Run, which is being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram Van Munster and due to premiere soon on ABC.

Johnathan Young, head of drama at Talkback Thames and the former executive producer of The Bill, is to join the BBC, replacing Holby City and Casualty boss Belinda Campbell. Campbell is stepping down after ten years at the corporation to take up the role of executive producer at Tony Jordan's Red Planet. She leaves the BBC at the end of March, at which point Young will take over. Young joined Talkback in 2005, heading up long-running police drama The Bill and later oversaw its move to a 9pm hour-long slot until it was axed in March last year. He was also responsible for recent dramas including BBC2's The Sinking of the Laconia. Young returns to BBC, where he is a former director and producer of EastEnders, series producer of Casualty, and one of the founding producers of Holby City. He then went on to join Channel Four in 1999, where he worked on Brookside and Hollyoaks and commissioned North Square and Teachers. Campbell has been in charge of Casualty for the past four years and Holby City for one year. Her previous roles also include script editor at EastEnders, where she was later a series producer. BBC drama production and new talent controller John Yorke said of Campbell: 'In recent times she has completely revamped our prime-time medical shows both on and off-screen. Belinda leaves both Casualty and Holby in fine health, with AI's higher than any point in their history and with strong editorial and production teams in place.'

WikiLeaks' ability to receive new material has been 'crippled' after a disaffected programmer unplugged a component which guaranteed anonymity to would-be leakers, activists and journalists who have worked with the site suggest. Details of the breakdown are contained in a book by estranged Assange collaborator Daniel Domscheit-Berg which was published this week, a 'source familiar with the contents of the book' told Reuters. So, that'd be somebody who'd read it, then? A WikiLeaks spokesman confirmed the website's submission system was being overhauled. Domscheit-Berg also took a backlog of leaks sent to the WikiLeaks website with him when he left, the source said. The book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website, was published on Friday. In a statement issued to the Forbes website on Wednesday, Kristinn Hrafnsson, a WikiLeaks spokesman, said the website was suing Domscheit-Berg, who along with Assange until late last year served as one of WikiLeaks' two principal spokesmen. 'In [his] book Domscheit-Berg confesses to various acts of sabotage against the organization. The former WikiLeaks staffer admits to having damaged the site's primary submission system and stolen material,' Hrafnsson's statement said. 'The sabotage and concern over motives led to an overhaul of the entire submission system, an ongoing project that is not being expedited due to its complex nature and the organizations need to focus its resources on publication and defence,' Hrafnsson added. The activists and journalists who have worked with WikiLeaks and Assange, who faces a sexual misconduct investigation in Sweden, say the website's ability to receive new leaks of data has been crippled, if not totally disabled, for months. Domscheit-Berg recently announced that he was creating a WikiLeaks spin-off or rival called with support from a former WikiLeaks programmer, believed to be a German, whose programing skills are, they claim, even more dazzling than Assange's. Precisely how much material sent in to WikiLeaks is now under the control of Domscheit-Berg and the programmer, known only as 'The Architect,' is at present unclear. Domscheit-Berg has not publicly characterised the subject matter or volume of material he has stashed away, though he has indicated that at some point, he might be willing to cede control over it back to Assange. In an e-mail to Reuters, Domscheit-Berg said he planned to offer a public clarification of what happened at a news conference scheduled for next week. To avoid what Domscheit-Berg has condemned as Assange's 'dictatorial leadership' of WikiLeaks, OpenLeaks will be a more decentralised organisation, he has said. The new website will not itself publish or analyze leaks which it receives but instead with serve as a conduit to relay the information to partners in the website, who could include media outlets, NGO groups, and labour unions.

Colin Firth's Oscar chances are looking all the more hopeful after The King's Speech hit number one at the US box office. Tom Hooper's film about King George VI's stammering struggle had been showing at cinemas in America for seventy six days when it hit the top spot in the US box office ranking this week, after raking in more than eighty five million dollars. 'We keep trying to make sense of its success - it warmed our hearts and we loved doing it,' leading man Firth said on the red carpet at the Critics Circle Awards in London. 'It's about friendship, and people thinking they've given up on themselves and realising they don't have to, and those things are universal, but I can't interpret any more than that otherwise we'd make popular films all the time,' he added. Colin, voted best actor by the Critics Circle, has already won a string of awards, including a Golden Globe for his performance. He is hotly tipped to win the Best Actor Oscar, as well as a BAFTA to add to his collection this weekend. Co-stars Geoffrey Rush, who plays speech therapist Lionel Logue, and Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth, are also nominated, and the film has been a huge critical and box office success around the world. Producer Gareth Unwin added: 'I always had faith in the material. The big surprise is how globally it has been so well received.'

Oscar-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor has been admitted to a Los Angeles hospital to treat congestive heart failure, the latest in a long history of serious medical problems. Taylor, seventy eight, was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre for what her publicist said on Friday was 'an ongoing condition. Elizabeth Taylor was hospitalised earlier this week suffering from symptoms caused by congestive heart failure, an ongoing condition. This issue is being addressed. She is currently being kept in the hospital for monitoring,' Sally Morrison said in a statement. Taylor, a double Oscar winner famous for her eight marriages - twice to actor Richard Burton - underwent heart surgery in 2009 to replace a leaky valve. She announced in 2004 that she had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure - a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to other organs. 'Her family and close friends are appreciative of the warm support and interest of her loyal fans but have asked that people respect her privacy and allow her medical team the time and space to focus on restoring her back to health,' the statement said. London-born Taylor, who won Oscars for her roles in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966 and Butterfield 8 in 1960, has been using a wheelchair for more than five years to cope with chronic pain after breaking her back four times. In 2006, she appeared on Larry King's CNN interview show to deny reports that she was gravely ill or suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Taylor has had three hip-replacement operations, a benign brain tumour, skin cancer and pneumonia. She spent two stints in rehab in the 1980s for alcohol and prescription drug addiction. Taylor first achieved stardom at the age of twelve in National Velvet and became famous for her violet eyes, dark alluring beauty, love of diamonds and the trail of husbands she left in her wake. She still makes appearances at many charity events, especially those connected to her AIDS foundation, but has not appeared on screen since the 2001 TV movie Old Broads. Her last Hollywood movie performance was the 1994 live action comedy The Flintstones.

Actress Peggy Rea, who starred in numerous TV shows over a long career including The Dukes of Hazzard and The Waltons, has died of heart failure, aged eighty nine. Rea died on 5 February at her home in the Los Angeles-area community of Toluca Lake, according to show business newspaper The Hollywood Reporter. The veteran actress' career dates back to the 1950s when she appeared on the I Love Lucy TV series starring Lucille Ball. She worked steadily through the 1960s on shows such as Dr Kildare, Bonanza, Ironside, The Odd Couple, Mission: Impossible and The Red Skelton Hour. In the late 1970s, Rea portrayed Rose Burton on the family drama The Waltons and into the 1980s, could be seen as Lulu Hogg on action-comedy The Dukes of Hazzard. More recently, she appeared on TV series such as Step By Step and Grace Under Fire.

A woman who allegedly orgasms when she overeats has set up a fetish website where people pay to watch her climax. Gabi Jones, twenty five, from Colorado suffers from persistent genital arousal syndrome and experiences orgasms without physical sexual contact, SWNS reports. Jones - who now weighs thirty five stone - explained that she had her first food-inspired orgasm as a teenager when eating an ice cream at the Wickedy Splits parlour. 'I loved the velvety texture of ice cream on my tongue. Then, one day, as I was tucking in I felt a tingle starting down below,' she said. Aye. Yer Keith Telly Topping, it must be admitted, often gets something similar when he's in the middle of a nice arse-rattling King Prawn curry. But, perhaps I've said too much dear blog reader. 'Then the pressure kept building until suddenly it swept through my body. I felt light-headed and flushed. I was stunned, but in no doubt of what had happened.' She added: 'My friends thought I was making it up. But from then on, every time I tucked into rich, creamy deserts the trembling and tingling began. I went out and bought an ice cream maker and soon I had knee-trembling orgasms whenever I wanted.' Gives the phrase 'I only come for the ice cream' a whole new meaning, doesn't it? Jones continued: 'When I indulge, I never rush. I take my time and treat all meals as very sexual experiences. It brings men pleasure to see how much pleasure food brings me and there is nothing wrong with that. Some men send me presents of food - like cheesecakes and burgers. My favourite is ice cream. I take pictures of myself eating their gifts and posting them on the site.'

The latest chartbound sound from yer Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day is a complete and total bloody masterpiece by the Goddamn Empress of Soul, Miss Gladys Knight (and her massively co-ordinates and velvety-flared Pips). Also, subject to one of the finest cover versions you're going to hear anytime soon. If you have a TV set.