Monday, September 05, 2011

You're Talkin' A Lot, But You're Not Sayin' Anything

The most interesting media story of the weekend has been ITV's desperate - and at times borderline mendacious - attempts to portray Red or Black? as a massive ratings hit when, actually, its overnight audience figures must have been something of a disappointment to the advertisers upon whom ITV depends. The opening episode on Saturday averaged 6.41m between 7pm and 8.15pm (with a further one hundred and ninety six thousand viewers on ITV+1). Now, that's not a bad figure by any stretch of the imagination - for balance it's two hundred thousand more than the overnight audience for the previous week's episode of Doctor Who, for instance. Albeit, I don't imagine for a single second that Red or Black? will subsequently picked up nearly two million in timeshifts by the time the final figures are released next week. But, yer actual Keith Telly Topping is reliably informed by 'a source' who's 'in the know' (or something) that six and half million is at least a couple of million less than ITV had anticipated the format would get for its opening show - particularly after the heavy (and, by that I mean Giant Haystacks-heavy) promotion of the format which the commercial network had thrown at the public over the previous couple of weeks. It still won the slot - against the latest Doctor Who's decent, but not earth-shattering 5.5m - but given that Saturday morning predictions in most of the national press had been for at least eight million for Red or Black?, it would have been hard for most broadcasters to hide their disappointment. However, given 'em total credit, ITV tried damn hard. By lying, basically. Or, at least, let's be charitable and as using some tricky statistics which appeared to show that the programme had been more successful than it actually was. The Saturday results show had a slightly higher audience of 6.93m at 9.15pm as bricklayer (and, previously, 'convicted thug' according to the Mirra) Nathan Hageman became the show's first created millionaire. So why, you might be wondering, were most of the national press on Monday morning gushing that the show had 'pulled in eight million viewers' - as, for instance, the Metro does here. Well, it's very simple - they seem to have believed a line that ITV fed them. Ironic coming on the day that same newspaper's reviewer Rachel Tarley described Red or Black? as marking 'a new era in Syco's lazy, sinister attempts to make money from a hopelessly stupid viewing public.' One might say the same about some national newspapers hopelessly stupid gullible misunderstanding of how ratings actually work, what's a good one and what isn't. And what's a real one and what isn't. Of course, dear blog readers with longer memories may recall that the Metro has previous form over exactly this kind of nonsense - pushing the story that the last series of MasterChef was a ratings failure despite the fact that it wasn't that or anything even remotely like it. ITV were already preparing the ground for their onslaught of lies, damned lies and statistics on Sunday on Twitter. For James MacLeod, Head of Press for ITV, it would seem that it's all about 'The Peak.' The 8.1m figure which MacLeod quoted and which the press accepted as valid, was actually a five minute peak. It's true to say that for one brief period around 9:15pm eight million people were watching the start of the Red or Black? results show on ITV but, ten minutes later, nearly a million of them had disappeared and by the end of the results show, at 9:30, the audience was down to 6.7m. Worse was to follow for ITV, however. Red Or Black? hemorrhaged viewers faster than a burst artery on Sunday evening. The second episode averaged 4.47m between 6.45pm and 8pm, down nearly two million viewers on its debut. An additional one hundred and forty thousand viewers watched the show on timeshift. Red Or Black? returned for its result show from 8.30pm with 5.55m and one hundred and sixty nine thousand on ITV+1, as carer Kevin Cartwright became the second one million quid winner after correctly choosing red in the final wheel spin. Unsurprisingly, the ITV press centre were ... how shall we put this delicately? Lying about the results, once again quoting a peak audience - 6.2 million viewers, in this case quickly adding, in brackets '(peak, inc HD & +1).' Well ... watched five minutes of it, anyway.

Elsewhere over the weekend, sandwiched between the two chunks of Red or Black? The X Factor pulled in an average overnight of 10.51m from 8.15pm (with a further half-a-million watching on ITV+1) for its third auditions show of the current series. Which, of course, if you want to add a further insult to injury to Red or Black? means that the Saturday results show had an eleven million viewer lead-in and lost four million of them in less than half an hour. ITV2's The Xtra Factor, meanwhile, attracted seven hundred and forty thousand for the second largest multichannel audience of the evening. The fruits of Jonathan Ross's switch to ITV were viewed by 3.92m from 9.45pm, and a further three hundred and thirty eight thousand watched the chat show host interview Adele (boring!), Lewis Hamilton (very boring!) and Sarah Jessica Parker (really boring!) on timeshift. Over on BBC, as noted Doctor Who's Night Terrors was easily the most watched BBC show of the day - by almost two million - averaging 5.54m from 7pm, with four hundred and ten thousand turning over for Doctor Who Confidential immediately afterwards on BBC3. With timeshifts, Night Terrors' final figure should top seven million and, it's perfectly possibly that when the consolidated, timeshift adjusted, numbers come out next Monday the episode may even have beaten Red or Black? Now that would be funny. On Sunday Dominic West's hypnotic, chilling portrait of the serial killer Fred West in the new two-part drama Appropriate Adult (see below) opened with 4.53m and a further three hundred and eighty one thousand on ITV+1. Nature's Miracle Babies appealed to 3.81m on BBC1 from 6.30pm, before Countryfile was watched by 5.62m from 7.30pm, winning its slot against Red or Black? Inspector George Gently returned with an excellent 6.47m for BBC1 between 8.30pm and 10pm.

And, still on the subject of ratings, here's the Top Twenty programmes week ending 28 August:-
1 The X Factor - ITV Sat - 10.63m
2 New Tricks - BBC1 Mon - 9.28m
3 EasEnders - BBC1 Fri - 8.90m
4 Coronation Street - ITV Mon - 8.16m
5 Doctor Who - BBC1 Sat - 8.10m
6 Emmerdale - ITV Thurs - 7.00m
7 Countryfile - BBC1 Sun - 5.76m
8 Ten O'Clock News - BBC1 Mon - 5.59m
9 Who Do You Think You Are? - BBC1 Wed - 5.45m
10 All Star Family Favourites - ITV Sat - 5.32m
11 Holby City - BBC1 Tues - 5.30m
12 Casualty - BBC1 Sat - 5.19m
13 Harry's Arctic Heroes - BBC1 Tues - 4.72m
14 Ocean Giants - BBC1 Sun - 4.52m
15 Torchwood: Miracle Day - BBC1 Thurs - 4.48m
16 Six O'Clock News - BBC1 Tues - 4.44m
17 Britain's Hidden Heritage - BBC1 Sun - 4.43m
18 Motorway Cops - BBC1 Thurs - 4.27m
19 Page Eight - BBC2 Sun - 4.17m
20 Match of the Day - BBC1 Sun - 4.14m
Channel Four's best performer was Seven Dwarves with 2.72m; Channel Five's highlight was Friday's episode of Celebrity Big Brother - 3.04m. The most watched multi-channel programme was Live Ford Super Sunday on Sky Sports 1 as 2.15m watched The Scum beat The Shit 8-2.

It's been quite a vintage year for crime dram on British TV. The Shadow Line proved both challenging and compelling, Waking the Dead ended with a bang, Luther was one of the hits of the year whilst, even ITV have come up with a couple of corkers in Scott & Bailey and Case Sensitive. Sunday night provided a necessarily reminder that it's a genre British telly continues to do well in because of the different approaches the writers take to, ostensibly, similar subject matter. We want our mass murderers to be real twenty four carat monsters. Unspeakable things who operate on a different moral framework to the rest of us. Many a drama has traded off the essential 'otherness' of the psychopathic mindset. But, just occasionally, we need reminding that some of the most evil acts ever committed have been the work of banal, rather sad little people. Not terrifying Hannibal Lecter-style bogeymen but, rather, the Jeffrey Dahmer's and Dennis Nilsen's of this world. The most unsettling thing about Appropriate Adult was how ordinary it made Fred West seem. Yes, Fred West, the man who, along with wife Rose, held Britain in a grip of horror in the early 1990s as details emerged of the murders that had taken place in an outwardly unremarkable terraced house in Cromwell Street, Gloucester. The fabled House of Horrors. Yet, as portrayed by Dominic West in Neil McKay's meticulously researched piece, Fred came across as an offbeat chancer, a talkative blokey-next-door chap, fond of spinning a yarn and not without a degree of charm even if you wouldn't trust him as far as you could comfortably spit. It, genuinely, sent a chill down the spine. As with McKay's previous work This is Personal (about the Yorkshire Ripper) and See No Evil (about the Moors Murders) the focus of Appropriate Adult was not the crimes themselves, but on the effect that the case had upon those it touched. In that regard it was less a The Silence of the Lambs and more a Zodiac. The story was told through the eyes of Janet Leach, who became involved in the case as the appropriate adult of the title, a role deemed necessary by police seeking to ensure there was no suggestion West didn't understand the nature of the charges against him. It was a daring device which worked extraordinarily well: as Emily Watson's Janet reeled from one revelation to the next which West shared in confidence with her, we saw the case through her eyes, saw how hard it is to resist reaching out to the flame, no matter how murderous. Watson and West (Dominic, not Fred) were both at the top of their game, their uneasy chemistry creating a totally believable situation out of such diabolical and unutterably morbid circumstances. There was even room for a touch of a black humour to some of their exchanges which could easily have seemed sick in lesser hands, and yet instead added credence to the tale. 'Shall we just say approx?' suggested Janet when West is unable to remember whether he is confessing to eight or nine additional killings to the three the police have already got him for. It was gallows humour at its truest, darkest and more hollow. Tragically, so good was the piece that it feels an annoyance we have to wait another week for this gruesome tale to reach its conclusion, with Monica Dolan's foul-mouthed and horrific Rose itching to take her turn in the spotlight. Cold, clammy and heavy with an atmosphere of dread, perversely one simply didn't want Appropriate Adult to end. But, for all that, as soon as it finished, there were matters - recorded - to attend to over on BBC1. I told you this was a good night for crime drama. It was impossible not to warm to the new series of Inspector George Gently the moment Hal Blaine's mighty drumbeat intro to 'Be My Baby' gatecrashed their way into the opening credits. Style!N It was a sound that instantly took us hurtling back to the Swinging Sixties, 'Carnaby Street where the legs and long and the skirts are short, I say.' And all that. except, it's set in Newcastle. All right then, 'Northumberland Street, where the legs are long ...' et cetera. What we got thereafter was a twisted - and really rather cleverly plotted - tale of forbidden love between teachers and pupils in a world which was on the brink of seismic social change. In this opening episode of the drama's fourth series, Neil Morrissey provided a fine guest appearance as Gently investigated the death of a schoolgirl whose best friend turned out to be a rising TV star. As he probed those close to her for information on the victim, George was dragged into the murky world of yer actual showbusiness, making his investigation all the more difficult. Martin Shaw's Gently is still a tough act to actually love but the show he lends his name to has, after shaky beginnings, has found its feet, getting the period detail spot on while refusing to wallow in nostalgia. The great Peter Flannery's scripts always come from a place of heart and soul - you'd expect nothing less from the man who wrote Our Friends In The North - and Lee Ingleby (last seen as a serial killer in Luther earlier in the year) continues to impress as Gently's young sidekick. With gorgeous North Eastern locations to play with Inspector George Gently transcends some of the more sniffy critique that it could have potentially attracted. 'It's Heartbeat with soul,' according to the critic in the Metro today. But, that's damning it with faint praise. When it's on form - as it was last night, or, for example with last year's extraordinary Gently Evil episode - it's so much more than that.

More on Appropriate Adult now. The critics seemed to like it. The Torygraph's Serena Davies said Dominic West's performance in part one of the two-part drama had been 'a BAFTA shoo-in.' According to the Daily Mirra's Jim Shelley, Emily Watson was a 'standout' as Janet Leach, the social worker who sat in on West's police interviews. 'It served as an important reminder for the audience: that we must never forget that people like Fred and Rose West are out there and what they are capable of.' ITV said that it had received just two complaints about the drama after transmission. Appropriate Adult - described as 'calm, measured, real, haunting and terrible' in the Gruniad - tells the story of Gloucester serial killer West through the eyes of Janet Leach. She was brought in by police as West's appropriate adult - a volunteer brought in to support young people and vulnerable adults in police custody. In her five-star review, the Torygraph's Davies said the programme 'suggested how manipulative and persuasive West could be.' Writing in the Gruniad, Sam Wollaston also had praise for Monica Dolan's 'convincing and terrifying' portrayal of Fred West's wife Rosemary. In his four-star review for The Times, meanwhile, Andrew Billen praised writer Neil McKay's use of banality in his script. 'When it comes to putting evil back in its box, banality is the best put-down ever devised,' he said. The Independent's Tom Sutcliffe praised the drama's grip. However, he said he felt it had missed a trick. In his opinion, Appropriate Adult - which concludes next Sunday - 'missed an opportunity to question our appetite for atrocity, rather than just feed it.' Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Monday, Neil McKay defended the programme, saying he hoped it was 'restrained and sober and thoughtful.' One organ of the press curiously missing in the rush of praise is, of course, the Daily Scum Mail, who have done more than anyone else to whip up criticism about the drama before it had even been shown. Like the pondscum lice they are, they were staying very quiet this morning.

Sofie Gråbøl has reportedly signed up to star in the revival of Absolutely Fabulous. Last week, the BBC confirmed that the classic comedy will be returning to celebrate the show's twentieth anniversary. Gråbøl has now agreed to appear in the three specials, the Sun claims. So, this is probably all lies in that case. The Danish actress is best known in the UK for her role as Sarah Lund in the original version of The Killing. Details of her part in Absolutely Fabulous have not yet been revealed. Original Absolutely Fabulous cast members Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders, Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield and Jane Horrocks have all signed up to return for the new specials. Speaking about the revival earlier this year, Lumley admitted that the cast 'are all ecstatic about' the show's return.

Hugh Laurie has admitted that he was shocked when he discovered that Lisa Edelstein had decided to leave House. Edelstein played Cuddy in the drama but announced in May that she will not be returning for the upcoming eighth season. Laurie has now told the Zap2It website that Edelstein's decision 'came out of left-field' for him. 'I don't know who was privy to what at what time, but it was a great shock to me, and everyone obviously misses her very greatly,' he said. 'Not only was she a great asset to the show as a performer, but we also just miss her company, because she is an absolute hoot to have around.' Edelstein recently signed up for a role in The Good Wife, and Laurie admitted that he is not surprised that she has found another job so quickly. 'She has been snapped up by another show and damn right,' he said. 'They'd be nuts not to. I hope she is having a great time, and I am sure she is.' Laurie also admitted that he doesn't know whether House will continue after its eighth season, saying: 'We're all enjoying what we're doing and proud of it. I think that's the main thing. I have a feeling that we'll all know come February or so whether this is something that we should be going on with or not.'

Viewers will be able to watch another high definition channel on digital terrestrial television next year after Ofcom called for applications from broadcasters, potentially enabling the launch of Channel Five HD on Freeview. The media regulator has asked the public service broadcasters to submit bids for the fifth HD slot on DTT, essentially Freeview, to join those already available - BBC HD, BBC1 HD, ITV HD and Channel Four HD. Since the Freeview HD platform was commercially launched in May 2010, sales of Freeview HD devices have topped 1.8m in the UK. Coverage of the subscription-free service is currently around fifty per cent of UK households, including Manchester, London, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool and the majority of Wales, and that will rise to 98.5 per cent by the end of the digital switchover in 2012. DTT spectrum is a finite natural resource that is in very high demand. HD spectrum also requires roughly four times as much as standard definition, and getting HD on Freeview was only made possible by the reorganising of existing TV services and the introduction of two new technologies - MPEG-4 and DVB-T2. The initial plan for Freeview HD was for the BBC to have just one HD slot for BBC HD, with ITV HD and Channel Four HD taking the others. A fourth slot was earmarked for the launch of Five HD, but the now Richard Desmond-owned broadcaster ruled out a launch in March 2010 due to its then financial problems, meaning Ofcom handed the capacity back to the BBC for the launch of BBC1 HD. It is widely expected that Channel Five will now look to use the extra spectrum for the launch of Channel Five HD on Freeview, as the channel is already available on Sky and Virgin Media. Alternatively, the BBC could pitch for the spare spectrum to launch BBC2 HD, or another PSB may seek to gain the valuable capacity, such as ITV for the launch of ITV2 HD on Freeview. The closing date for applications is 17 October and all bids will be judged against a series of criteria, including 'an assessment of how the new capacity will contribute to enhancing the range and diversity of high-quality television services available on DTT.' It is expected that the new channel will be ready to launch by 1 April 2012.

Sharon Small and Madhur Mittal are among the stars joining the new series of ITV's drama Kidnap & Ransom. ITV announced that it had renewed the - fantastically expensive - Trevor Eve drama for a second series in May. Eve and his co-stars Helen Baxendale, Natasha Little and Amara Karan will all be returning for the new episodes, and ITV has now announced the guest stars who are also joining the show. Small previously played Trudi in Mistresses and her other credits include Downton Abbey, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and Sunburn. Meanwhile, Mittal is best known for his role in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Other stars appearing in the new series of Kidnap & Ransom include The Shadow Line and Shameless actor Sean Gilder, Five Daughters' Chris Fairbank, Cranford actress Kimberley Nixon and Owen Teale, who recently starred as Alliser Thorne in Game of Thrones. The new series of Kidnap & Ransom will see Eve's character Dominic King attempting to rescue a British Asian family who have been kidnapped in Kashmir. Filming for the three episodes is expected to begin in South Africa later this month.

An Australian stuntman who was left with brain damage when a car chase went wrong while filming The Hangover Part II is suing Warner Bros film studios. Scott McLean was in a medically induced coma for two months after a high-speed, head-on crash on the set in Thailand. Now living in a rehabilitation clinic, McLean is seeking unspecified financial damages for his injuries. Warner Bros said it had been 'working closely with Scott and his family throughout his treatment.' The stuntman, who worked as actor Ed Helms' double in the film, was a passenger in a car that was hit by another vehicle that skidded out of control. According to legal papers filed in Los Angeles, McLean alleges stunt coordinator Russell Solberg ordered the driver of the car to increase his speed while the stunt was in progress. The car, he claims, accelerated 'significantly to a speed unsafe for the stunt, thus resulting in a major collision.' McLean said he suffered permanent brain and physical injuries and has 'ongoing seizures, speech impediments, physical impediments and brain trauma' due to the crash. The stuntman is suing Solberg, second unit director Brian Smerz and Warner Bros for negligence. He is also seeking compensation for his caretaker Raelene Chapman, whom he said had suffered 'emotional distress' due to the experience. In a statement, Warner Bros said the company had been 'shocked and saddened' by the accident. 'We have offered continual support since the accident occurred and we are working together to try and resolve any outstanding issues.' The Hangover Part II has made nearly six hundred million dollars worldwide since its release in May. Starring Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper, it follows a group of friends as they piece together what happened during a drunken night out in Bangkok.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, here's something horribly appropriate from The Talking Heads. And a legendary performance on Whistle Test.