Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Water Froze, In The Generations

Metro's Keith Watson, is - as previously mentioned on several occasions - a particular favourite TV reviewer of yer actual Keith Telly Topping. And, he has been on fine form this weekend. Take, for instance, his review of BBC2's superb espionage thriller Page Eight on Sunday: 'We've become so accustomed to the world of spies and special agents being glamorised in adrenalin-charged, cloak-and-dagger thrillers that the stately, almost dusty feel of Page Eight came as something of a shock. Playwright David Hare's return to the director's chair gave us a whispering-in-the-shadows throwback to the conspiratorial style of the 1970s TV version of John Le Carré's novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a benchmark of simmering paranoia. Not that Hare, doubling up as writer, was harking back to the past. Although there was a timeless feel to the cut-glass accents jousting with the cut-and-thrust dialogue in murky corridors of power, Hare's focus was the shifting sands the intelligence services find themselves wading in as the world hurtles through changes – technological and political – at breakneck pace. At the centre was Bill Nighy's Johnny Worricker, a sophisticated MI5 man from the old school who still believes in the purity of intelligence. But Johnny senses the rules of the game he's been playing all his life are changing, a feeling confirmed when he unearths proof – on page eight of a secret dossier – that the government has been complicit in torture. But though it was this plot line that gave Page Eight its framework, it was the lingering sense of melancholic regret for the passing of a world where everyone knew where they stood that gave Hare's film its emotional undertow. Nighy's exchanges with his boss, Michael Gambon, a man edging near to the end of the tether, were a joy. But there were some off-key notes in this jazz-flecked tale. Johnny's involvement with neighbour Nancy (Rachel Weisz) seemed two-dimensional, more a tongue-in-cheek play on Nighy's older-man heart-throb status than a credible relationship. And the momentum of the story ebbed and flowed, dramatic impetus playing second fiddle to riddles of words laced with eloquent cynicism. Yet, as Johnny edged his way towards making peace with his own sense of integrity, Page Eight emerged as an offbeat plea for the virtue of honesty in a world where the concept has all but lost its meaning.' And, as if that wasn't perceptive enough from yer man Watson, he got Saturday's Doctor Who spot on as well: 'You know that things can only go well for The Doctor and his pals when a feisty young girl, who seems to be turned on by the TARDIS, appears on the scene. Especially when she says things like: "What the hell: I've got a gun, you've got a time machine - let's kill Hitler." Doctor Who returned for the second part of its sixth series with all guns blazing, as new character Mels entered the Timelord's life and forced him to take her, Amy and Rory back to 1938 so that they could kill the Fuhrer. Even with a new face on board, the trio were up to their same old haphazard tricks, clumsily arriving at the Reichstag to kill Hitler, but accidentally saving him from an assassination attempt by another group of futuristic do-gooders. It was a stormer of an episode, in part because it featured Hitler - who is everyone's favourite baddy - and Nazism, which is surely the most intriguing of all the hyper-evil ideologies human kind has come up with. But mostly what made Let's Kill Hitler a great episode were the same things that make most Doctor Who episodes great - the compelling narrative; the brilliant jokes hidden in throwaway bits of dialogue and the endearing incompetence of the BBC's special effects department. As The Doctor tried to teach Mels that most cardinal of all time-travel rules - that sometimes it's best not to change the course of history - Let's Kill Hitler proved to be a cracking way to reignite this series of Doctor Who.' Top man, Keith Watson, top man.

On a marginally related subject, Doctor Who viewers have, allegedly, 'complained to the BBC' after believing they heard a German guard swear on Saturday's episode. At least, this is according to the Sun, so that probably gives you an idea of how many viewers allegedly 'reported that one of the soldiers, an extra, shouted: "Where the fuck is he?" on the Let's Kill Hitler episode' dear blog reader. Think of a number between none and, you know, none. 'Corporation bosses', the tabloid rag - one that knows all about Nazis - went to on claim, had insisted that these mysterious and nameless (and seemingly Mutton-Jeff) viewers had 'misheard' a German phrase which was dubbed in after filming had finished. A spokesman explained that the spoken phrase was actually: 'Halt, was machen sie?' meaning, 'Stop, what are you doing?'

Mind you, if you want to see an even more disgraceful example of tabloid lies, dear blog reader, I direct you to those past masters of the dark art of 'talking total bollocks,' the Daily Lies and their quoting of 'ratings figures' for Celebrity Big Brother. 'Celebrity Big Brother has proved a massive telly hit. More than eighteen million fans have tuned in so far,' they claim. Err ... yes. If you add together the entire audiences for the first seven episodes and assume that not one those viewers watched more than one episode, then that's - technically - a truthful statement. Otherwise, we'll stick to the slightly less contentious fact that - on overnight figures anyway - the average nightly audience for CBB is about 2.8m. Not bad for Channel Five, certainly well-above slot average, but not eighteen million. Or anywhere even remotely close to it.

BBC1 comedy has become so governed by political correctness that programmes like The Two Ronnies would be unlikely to get made today, according to a leading producer. John Lloyd, creator of the panel show Qi, said that executives were so terrified of causing offence that 'saucy' banter was banished from the flagship channel before the watershed. Lloyd expressed relief that the show is leaving BBC1 and returning to its original home on BBC2 for its latest - ninth - series which begins a week on Friday. Even though that will almost certainly lead to a drop in viewing figures. 'Sauciness is no longer allowed before 9pm anywhere on the BBC - particularly not on BBC1,' said Lloyd, writing in Radio Times. 'The Commissioning, Legal, Compliance and Editorial Policy police hover over the scripts and the recordings, alert to the merest potential offence. There are blanket proscriptions, passed down from on high, which reduce everything to a bland vichyssoise that suits comedy programmes not at all. Heaven knows what they would have done to The Two Ronnies.' And, of course, the irony here is that Lloyd's comments have - inevitably - been picked up and used as a stick to beat the BBC with (in the completely non-agenda-driven away) by, for example, the Daily Torygraph and the Daily Scum Mail two of the very organs of the media that so enjoy printing critical stories about anything related to BBC content. So, no obvious and quite staggering hypocrisy there then. Qi, of course, began in 2003 and proved to be one of BBC2's biggest ratings winners with regular audiences around two and a half million. That success prompted executives to move it to BBC1 in 2008 where it proved to be even more popular - it's average audience being usually around four million with certain episodes (Christmas specials and the like) picking up nearly six million. However, Lloyd lamented: 'Our relocation to BBC1 increased ratings, but there was a cost. It had to stop being what we had become - eclectic, uncompromising, slightly saucy. It's a happy return. Qi can be itself again, instead of masquerading as something else.' Lloyd, fifty nine, began his career as a radio producer before into television. His CV boasts Not The Nine O'Clock News, Spitting Image and Blackadder. He said: 'The BBC that I joined in 1974 was very different. Focus groups were confined to the advertising industry. Producers were hired, not so much for their talent - the writers and actors did that bit - as for their judgment. If anyone complained, it was the producer - not the Complaints Department - who wrote to the enraged member of the public. Believe me, that way, you learn fast what the audience will and won't accept.'

Top Twenty programmes week ending 21 August 2011:-
1 The X Factor - ITV Sat- 11.05m
2 New Tricks - BBC1 Mon - 9.87m
3 EastEnders - BBC1 Mon - 8.60m
4 Coronation Street - ITV Mon - 8.36m
5 Who Do You Think You Are? - BBC1 Wed - 7.00m
6 Emmerdale - ITV Mon - 6.79m
7 Countryfile - BBC1 Sun - 6.23m
8 DIY SOS: The Big Build - BBC1 Tues - 5.91m
9 Ten O'Clock News - BBC1 Mon - 5.68m
10 All Star Family Fortunes - ITV Sat - 5.61m
11 Ocean Giants - BBC1 Sun - 5.56m
12 Holby City - BBC1 Tues - 5.15m
13 Casualty - BBC1 Sat - 5.13m
14 BBC News - BBC1 Sun - 4.96m
15 Torchwood: Miracle Day - BBC1 Thurs - 4.60m
16 Six O'Clock News - BBC1 Mon - 4.59m
17 Britain's Hidden Heritage - BBC1 Sun - 4.58m
18 Match Of The Day - BBC1 Sat - 4.34m
19 The ONE Show - BBC1 Mon - 4.28m
20 Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? - ITV Sun - 4.24m
According to BARB there is no data available for Channel Five for this particular week. Given that the opening episode of Celebrity Big Brother had an overnight audience of 5.1m it's likely that it would have featured in the top twenty had figures been available. (It's worth remembering that overnight ratings figures use a slightly smaller sample of the audience than the final consolidated figures. For that reason it is possible for the final ratings figure to actually be lower than the overnights. This rarely happens because any discrepancy is usually cancelled out by timeshifting. However for live events, which people are unlikely to record, the final figure can sometime be lower than the overnight figure.) The top BBC2 performers were Dragons' Den (3.72m) and The Great British Bake Off (3.10m). Channel Four's best audience came for Seven Dwarves (2.89m).

The woman who has accused the actor Matthew Fox of attacking her has revealed that she is 'definitely' pressing charges. Cleveland party bus driver Heather Bormann, who has previously claimed that Lost actor Fox assaulted her outside an Ohio bar at the weekend, said that he smelled 'like a bar' at the time of the alleged attack. Bormann told TMZ in a video interview: 'I told him several times that he was trespassing, that it was a private party. He never said a word to me, he just stood there staring at me. He was inebriated and the smell of him was like a bar. After the third time I told him to get off my bus, he just stepped in for a right hook to my pelvis area and started wailing on me like I was a man. I had no idea who he was at the time. I did not know until after he was in custody. I'm pressing charges. Assault is wrong, I really do feel violated. He was hitting me in places I didn't think anybody would hit me. My breast area, my pelvis area.' Bormann continued: 'I just started punching him back. The first hit landed on his jaw. It happened so quickly - at least I got that one good hit [but] I ended up messing up my hand. I have bruises on my arms, my legs, my hands.' Bormann has said that she will meet with lawyers this week to officially press charges.

Jason Dohring has signed up for a recurring role in Ringer. The new CW drama stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Bridget, a woman on the run who assumes the identity of her twin sister Siobhan. Dohring has now joined the cast as a character called Carpenter, Entertainment Weekly reports. Carpenter teaches at the school attended by Siobhan's stepdaughter Juliet (played by Zoey Deutch). Dohring is probably best known for his role as Logan in Veronica Mars. He also appeared in Moonlight and has guest starred in shows including Lie To Me, CSI, Party Down and Boston Legal. Billy Miller, Michelle Stafford, Justin Bruening, Ioan Gruffudd, Jaime Murray, Kristoffer Polaha and Nestor Carbonell are among the other stars who will appear in Ringer. Gellar recently revealed that three seasons of the show have already been planned out.

The British Film Institute is to preview the final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures with an special family exclusive screening of the first story followed by a question and answer session. The final six episodes of the series, made before the tragic death of series star Elisabeth Sladen, are due to be shown on CBBC this Autumn. In the first adventure, Sky, Sarah Jane discovers a mystery baby on her doorstep. But with explosions, power surges and reports of a metal man falling from the sky, Sarah Jane is convinced that there's more to the baby than there first seemed. The screening on 16 September at 6:30pm is a family event, so all adults must be accompanied by children. If you haven't got one of your own, try to borrow someone elses.

Jeff Stelling will leave Countdown at the end of the year, a 'show insider' has allegedly claimed. The Sky Sports broadcaster, who has hosted the long-running Channel Four game show since January 2009, was said to have had a change of heart last month. However, channel controller Jay Hunt is keen to bring in a new face following a flurry of e-mails and letters from other presenters who are interested in the job, according to the Mirra. A 'source' allegedly told the paper: 'Jeff really hoped to stay on Countdown. He loves doing the show and felt he could have made a mistake by quitting. But we felt he messed us around a bit. Jay was considering keeping him but saw the wave of e-mails from talent and agents asking to do the job. So she stood her ground and has decided it is time for a change.' The 'insider' allegedly added that Stelling was believed to be unhappy about the decision, but said: 'perhaps he should have thought about that when he originally quit, out of the blue.' It is thought, the newspaper claims, that 'channel bosses' may consider an all-female line-up for the programme. Co-host Rachel Riley, who replaced Carol Vorderman in 2009, will reportedly stay with the programme for at least another year.

Cheryl Cole is on the verge of signing a deal to front a number of ITV shows, reports claim. Which would be curious since she can barely talk English at the best of times. The singer - formerly a judge on ITV's The X Factor before her proposed move to the US show ended in spectacular failure - will 'turn to being a presenter in a primetime chat show,' according to the People. The Girls Aloud singer and Heaton Horror was, allegedly, offered deals with other major broadcasters including the BBC and Sky, but chose to stick with ITV despite her X Factor dumping experience. A 'source' - presumably a different one to the geezer telling all the tales about Jeff Stelling to the Mirra - allegedly said: 'Cheryl's been inundated with offers but knows ITV and its staff from her X Factor days so has gone with them. The exact contract details are to be thrashed out, but Cheryl is determined to take a well-deserved break until next year.' Yeah, she must be knackered what with all the work she's been doing for the last few ... oh. Cole, who is rumoured to be returning to The X Factor in 'a mentor capacity' later this year, has apparently already agreed to appear in an Evening With ... special.
Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch the small are reportedly to be quizzed under oath by a judge at the High Court about the phone hacking scandal at the Scum of the World, and the session could potentially be broadcast live to the public. Hopefully, the subsequent execution will be too. Lord Justice Leveson, the judge who prosecuted serial killer Rose West, has been asked by Prime Minister David Cameron to run his investigation into phone hacking at the Royal Courts of Justice. The Murdochs are expected to be called to give evidence, as well as former Scum of the World editors Andy Coulson and well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks. The wide-ranging probe is also likely to result in Cameron and other senior political figures being questioned about their connections to News International, publisher of the now-defunct Scum of the World. Cameron will, hopefully, face some uncomfortable questions about the decision to hire Coulson as his director of communications, particularly after details recently emerged of alleged payments made to Coulson by News International after he started working for the Conservative Party. Lord Justice Leveson is thought to want the proceedings, which will be held in the same court as the inquiry into the death of Princess Diana, to be televised live to 'ensure transparency.' Under the inquiry remit, he has the power to call witnesses to give evidence and then compel them under the Inquiries Act 2005. According to the Daily Torygraph, 'dozens of letters' have already been sent out to potential witnesses asking to them co-operate in the inquiry, with the deadline for submissions being Tuesday. 'Sources close to the inquiry' allegedly told the newspaper that Leveson would not be restricted in who he asked to testify, and 'will go where the evidence takes him.' That was a single by Tina Charles, wasn't it? Alongside his day in the High Court, James Murdoch is also 'likely' to be recalled by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee to clarify potentially misleading evidence he gave to the MPs in July.

The BBC has confirmed plans to offer coverage of the London 2012 Olympics in Super Hi-Vision, a broadcast technology sixteen-times sharper than normal high definition, while an announcement on live 3D is expected by the end of the year. The BBC's Olympics boss Roger Mosey this week announced that Super Hi-Vision coverage of the Olympics will be shown on three specialist screens during the seventeen-day Games, with the locations expected to be London, Bradford and Glasgow. The initiative is part of a partnership with Japanese public service broadcaster NHK and the available content is expected to be highlights of the opening ceremony and some live coverage of events. The six hundred-inch screens (around fifty feet) capable of showing Super Hi-Vision are being specially produced in Japan. The broadcast will not be beamed to homes as there are no TV sets in the UK that can support the 4320x7680 pixel signal, as current 'full HD' sets only display 1080x1920 pixels. The transmission will run at sixty frames per second, but Super Hi-Vision could operate at up to double that. Last September, the BBC teamed up with NHK to broadcast a gig by The Charlatans in Super Hi-Vision between London and Tokyo, the corporation's first ever live transmission using the technology. NHK has worked with the BBC to compress the massive video signals for Super Hi-Vision to three hundred and fifty Mbps using the JANET network, down from the usual transmission rate of twenty four Gbs leading to one gerjillion snots of memory. Or something. The BBC believes that Super Hi-Vision could be 'a better long-term prospect' than 3D, but that would depend on bringing down the currently massive cost of producing sets that can handle the signal, along with the heavy bandwidth requirements of the broadcasts. NHK expects to offer Super Hi-Vision to homes in Japan by 2022. Over the years, the Olympics has proved a breeding ground for new broadcast technologies, from the first televised events - by the Nazis, admittedly - at the 1936 games to the first live broadcasts by the BBC for the 1948 Games to HD captures in Los Angeles in 1984 and 3D in Barcelona in 1992. Alongside Super Hi-Vision, Mosey confirmed that the BBC has a 'long-term aspiration' to broadcast live 3D coverage of London 2012, following the 3D transmission of this year's Wimbledon Finals. He said that the BBC is aware that there is 'a trade off' between serving the mainstream need for high definition coverage of the Games and the 'minority' interest in 3D. Only one hundred and forty thousand people watched the 3D coverage of the men's Wimbledon final last month on the BBC HD channel, suggesting that the appetite for sport in 3D remains relatively small. However, Mosey expects that the BBC will offer 'some' 3D coverage of the Games next year, and further announcements are likely to come 'by the end of the year.' The Olympics in London coincide with various momentous moments for Britain in 2012, including the Diamond Jubilee and the shift from analogue to digital TV signals in the capital. For the London 2012 Games, the BBC has committed to broadcasting all the events 'from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.' This means bringing masses of content to four screens - TVs, connected TVs/Red Button, mobiles and tablet computers - to allow viewers to 'watch what they want, when they want.' There will be twenty four live streams during the Games showing a range of events online, to smartphones and tablet computers using a new carousel-style, video-rich website.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day here's a topical state of the national address from Mssrs Strummer, Jones, Simonen and Headon (or, Crimes on this performance. Or, indeed, Pete Howard on this one!)