Thursday, December 01, 2011

Chasing Northern Lights

Hugh Laurie has admitted that he knows very little about the illnesses and medical procedures featured in House. Quite why this should be a surprise to some of the numskulls who write media stories is unknown since, to the best of this blogger's knowledge, Hugh Laurie is an actor and not a doctor. And, Matt Smith isn't really an alien with two hearts either. Big shock, I know, but there you go. Life is full of surprises. Huge said that he had initially wanted to 'extensively' research medicine prior to filming House's first episode, but never quite got around to it. Which is hardly surprising because extensively researching medicine usually involves actually becoming a doctor. And that normally takes years. Unless you're Doogie Howser. So, instead, Huge relied on doing something which actors do all the time - reading the sodding script. It's sort of their raison d'être, one might say. 'Before the show started, I wanted to spend time in an American hospital because a British person's experience of health care is so different. It's almost as if we have our hearts on the right side and our lungs are in our knees,' he joked to the Vancouver Sun. No, you're thinking about Time Lords there again, I think Huge. He continued: 'I arranged to go and spend time in a hospital in Chicago. But in the end - even that, even before the pilot - that turned out not to be possible. You need to get here. You start shooting. I wish I could say I had some fascinating psychological process, but I basically just put on the sneakers and go.' Laurie also commented that he likes to maintain an 'improvisational' spirit on the set when filming House. 'For better or for worse, there is very little preparation in TV,' he disclosed. 'For all the actors and the technicians and designers and so on, I need to be speedy and possess a quickness for an improvisational - I don't mean improvising - dialogue. I mean, the ability to find your feet quickly and make decisions quickly is absolutely of the essence. There's no sitting about for days discussing motivation. The preparation is very scant.'

John Thomson has 'blasted' his former Coronation Street co-star Antony Cotton, describing him as 'a troublemaker.' And this is 'news', apparently. 'Blasted', incidentally, is tabloidspeak for 'criticised' only using less syllables. Thomson had an outburst on Twitter on Monday night about the soap actor, who he starred alongside until as recently as last year. And, of course, that's all many journalists do these days, sit and trawl through Twitter for somebody saying something about something - however trivial - which they can then quote so it appears they've actually done a bit of work and gone out and obtained a quote. Watching Cotton's behaviour in I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want), Thomson wrote: 'Antony Cotton - the truth will out. You nasty piece of work, you are doing yourself no favours.' When asked what Cotton had been like to work with on the ITV soap, he added: 'Trouble with a capital T.' He went on to retweet another user, who commented: 'Antony Cotton. What a miserable old fadge. Time he left the jungle.'

Him & Her has been handed a third series by BBC3. The comedy, which stars Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani, will return for six more episodes. BBC3 also announced that it has ordered a second series of Pramface before the first run has even been broadcast. The show features Scarlett Alice Johnson and Sean Verey as a couple coming to terms with becoming parents after a drunken night together. Him & Her and Pramface were joined by Russell Howard's Good News, which has been handed a new multi-series deal by BBC3. Controller Zai Bennett claimed that he runs 'the channel that breaks new comedy in the UK,' adding that the broadcaster will invest in comedy pilots to broadcast online in a project called The Comedy Kitchen. Among the six pilots which have been commissioned for the web are a project from The Boy With Tape On His Face - who previously won the Best Newcomer award at Edinburgh - and a spoof news show from lookalike expert Alison Jackson. Bennett said: '[Our] investment in The Comedy Kitchen and further online investment not only gives new talent and writers the time to grow and develop, but also ensures there is a clear nursery slope for them on to the channel, where we back series like Pramface with two series orders up front.' This, ladies and gentlemen, from the man who cancelled Ideal.

Daybreak presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley could exit the struggling breakfast programme earlier than thought. The Sun claims that the two sacked presenters could leave the show as early as next week. It was revealed last month that ITV were dropping the pair from Daybreak confirming months of rumours about their possible departures. ITV claimed that their exits were, at least partly, so that the two could 'concentrate on prime-time work'; Bleakley on Twatting About on Ice and Chiles on ITV's wretched football coverage and his own piss-poor That Sunday Night Show. One or two people even believed them. However, the dreadful ratings performance of Daybreak since it launched in September 2010 is probably mostly to blame for their exits. The Sun claims that 'Daybreak bosses' were hoping the two would remain until Christmas but the tabloid reports that Chiles has told producers: 'It's over, let's move on' and speculates the two could leave as early as next week. The tabloid goes on to speculate whether their final episode would feature a 'best of' package but an alleged 'source' is quoted as saying 'I think they'd both rather just go quietly.' Either that or finding anything to actually go in a 'best of' package has simply proved too difficult. Just a thought.

And so to this week's 'Jeremy Clarkson causes a controversy' story. Yawn. Or, at least, the Top Gear presenter has caused a 'controversy for those looking for a bit of controversy' anyway - with a series of throwaway comments made on Wednesday night's episode of The ONE Show. Appearing as a guest on the magazine show, Jezza suggested in relation to public sector strikers: 'I would have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed, while the rest of us have to work for a living.' Well, it's the right of every working man and woman in the country to withhold their labour if they don't agree with their employers terms and conditions, Jezza. Even you. You know, the kind of thing that people have fought in world wars to obtain. In one particular case against the very sort of people who would take those with a differing viewpoint out and shoot them in front of their families with little or no provocation. Just something to pop into everyone's toaster and see if it pops up brown. So, anyway, you kind of knew somebody was going to find that offensive, didn't you? Even if they didn't really, they just said they did. 'He prefaced the remarks, however, by asserting that he liked the strikers as the industrial action meant there was no traffic on the roads. Adding that he had to be balanced as he worked for the BBC, he then launched into an anti-strikers rant, which appeared to be at least partly in jest,' noted some po-faced tosser at the Gruniad Morning Star reporting all this. You think? Jesus, why is everybody so sodding stupid these days? Elsewhere in the programme, Clarkson claimed that trains should not stop for people who have committed suicide by throwing themselves onto the tracks. 'I do sometimes use the train to come to London but it always stops in Reading. It's always because somebody has jumped in front of it and somebody has burst,' he said. 'You just think, why have we stopped because we've hit somebody? What's the point of stopping? It won't make them better.' Presenters Matt Baker and Alex Jones apologised at the end of the programme, saying: 'While we like Jeremy and his strong views, sometimes he exaggerates them for comic effect.' A BBC spokesperson said: 'The ONE Show apologised at the end of the show to viewers who may have been offended by Jeremy Clarkson's comments.' So, there you go, that's going to be something for the Gruniad and the Daily Scum Mail to get into bed with each other and bitch about whilst getting all hot and sweaty for the next couple of days. And, then it'll be fish and chip paper, just like the last fifty seven thousand completely created 'controversies' surrounding Jezza and/or Top Gear. He must be laughing all the way to the bank. Well, he is, obviously. Of course, various organs of the press immediately went looking for 'quotes' from individuals who were 'outraged' to beef up their stories. Needless to say they found 'hundreds of angry comments on Twitter.' As though Twitter is now The Arbiter Of All Thing. Interestingly, among them was one by the author and journalist Tony Parsons, who wrote: 'Jeremy Clarkson has misjudged the moment. Criticising striking public sector workers today is like sieg-heiling at Last Night of the Proms.' And, actually, that's a very smart observation. For somebody who normally knows exactly which buttons to push to get a reaction from exactly the sort of people you know will react, even I think Jezza's misjudged the public mood on this one. Nevertheless, for an example of completely ridiculous and over-the-top statements, the one in response to Clarkson by Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, really does put Clarkson's efforts into the sea: 'Clarkson's comments on The ONE Show were totally outrageous.' Not really, they're pretty much par for the course, actually. And, as even the Gruniad noted, when taken in the context of earlier comments and not just sliced out and reported in isolation by something with a rather sick and venal agenda, they're clearly supposed to be a joke. Perhaps not a very good joke, but said for comic effect rather than actually meant. 'And they cannot be tolerated,' Dave continued. But, they will be. We are, after all, a tolerant society, Dave. Usually. Or, are you suggesting that people should be prosecuted or vilified or - dare one suggest it, shot - for holding contrary opinions from yours? Over-reacting much? 'An apology is not enough - we are calling on the BBC to sack Jeremy Clarkson immediately.' Which, they're not going to do or anything even remotely like it so you're somewhat pissing in the wind over that one. And being made to look rather small at the same time. Trying to get somebody the tin-tack over comments they've made, that's the kind of thing management's usually very good at. 'We are seeking urgent legal advice about what further action we can take against him and the BBC, and whether or not his comments should be referred to the police.' Go on, then. This should be really good. Like that Mexican woman whom the Gruniad claimed was planning to 'sue the BBC' over comments made on Top Gear last year. How's that court case going, then? Prime Minister David Cameron, a neighbour and chum of Jezza, of course, asked about the comments during an appearance on ITV's This Morning, downplayed the incident it was 'a silly thing to say. I'm sure he didn't mean it.' No, I'm sure he didn't, either. Any more than Stewart Lee 'meant it' when in a routine he claimed he'd like to see Clarkson's three daughters go blind. (Clarkson, as it happens, doesn't have three daughters, he's got two daughters and a son so that shows one the amount of research Stewart Lee put into that bit.) As ever, with just about every Clarkson and Top Gear story you read about in the national press, this one's silly-bordering-on-stupid and everyone reacting to it or commenting upon it are a part of that. This blog, very much included. Also included, is Clarkson's sort-of 'apology' which duly arrived on Thursday afternoon.  Everybody feeling better now? Good. And breathe ... Meanwhile, support your local public sector strikers, dear blog reader, they and their cause deserve media coverage far more than utter, contrived nonsense like this.

The BBC has bowed to some, frankly, rather bizarre pressure, and said that it will 'review the nominations process' for next year's Sports Personality of the Year award, after no women were named on the 2011 ten-person shortlist. This week, the all-male 2011 list attracted criticism from some of the UK's leading women sporting stars. Who, it would seem, are demanding nothing more than tokenism. Chrissie Wellington, the winner of her fourth Ironman world championship title in October, described the lack of women as 'disgraceful.' No, no, no, no, no, Chrissie. It really isn't. Homophobia is disgraceful. Bigotry is disgraceful. Political oppression is disgraceful. Not having a token woman on a list of sportspeople up for a pointless award isn't 'disgraceful' or anything even remotely like it and if you think it is then I think your priorities in life are a bit skewed, frankly. Swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who missed out on the shortlist by a single vote despite winning a world championship Gold in July, said on Twitter: 'There's been some great sportswomen like Keri-Anne Payne, it's sad they are not recognised. Hopefully next year can be all women nominations after London 2012.' Isn't that statement, in and of itself, sexist? Or doesn't sexism apply when it's directed from women towards men? Discuss. I'm not getting into that one. No siree, Bob. In response to the controversy, the BBC said: 'We stand by the current process but have committed to take on board what happened this year. We will review the shortlisting process for next year's show.' Which means, presumably, that from now on, no matter who's done what in any given sporting year, there will be a quota to be filled. Which, when you think about it, appears to be rather contrary to the whole spirit of what the award is, actually, supposed to be all about. The statement, issued to BBC News, added: 'It is too early to say what, if any, changes will be made to the process but please rest assured that we will seek the opinions of people both within and outside of the BBC before deciding on the appropriate methodology for 2012.' The ten contenders for this year's prize, chosen by a panel of twenty seven sport editors from national and regional newspapers and magazines, include Mark Cavendish (cycling), Darren Clarke, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy (golf), Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss (cricket), Amir Khan (boxing), Andy Murray (tennis), Mo Farah and Dai Greene (athletics). Personally, I'm not sure how Andy Murray gets on there since he's won nowt, but it's difficult to argue with any of the others. Indeed, given the England cricket team's dominance over the world of Test cricket one can, perhaps justifiably, ask why Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior (just to take three examples) aren't on the list along with Cook and Strauss. This marks the first time since voting for BBC Sports Personality of the Year was changed in 2006 that a woman has not been on the shortlist. Winner of the prize will be decided by a public vote during the Sports Personality of the Year show on BBC1, which will be aired live from 8pm on 22 December. The last female winner of the annual award was equestrian Zara Phillips, who took the prize in 2006 after she achieved Gold and team silver at the World Equestrian Games. Adlington and athlete Jessica Enniss have since appeared in the top three. The BBC statement continued: 'The current system was introduced in 2006 and at least two women have always previously been shortlisted for the main award. Having considered a wide range of alternative mechanisms, we remain convinced that the current system is fair, independent and robust.' So, as I say, tokenism, in other words.

Odious, wretched unfunny Jack Whitehall has landed his own sitcom, announced amid a raft of new BBC3 commissions. The - alleged - comic will play a useless teacher in the six-part series Bad Education, which he will also write. The series marks a move away from Channel Four, where Whitehall has previously done most of his work – including the forthcoming stand-up series Hit The Road, Jack. Oh, if only he would. Hard. And from a great height. Zai Bennett also announced another two comedy commissions and a 'multi-series' deal for Russell Howard's Good News. Of the new series, The Revolution Will Be Televised is described as 'Newsnight-meets-Trigger Happy TV' in that kind of lazy shorthand that many people in the TV industry often use. The 'topical show' will involve Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein – who make spoof videos for the website Don't Panic – taking on politicians, celebrities and bankers. The other is Some Girls, written by Game On creator Bernadette Davis, about a group of teenage girls in a London comprehensive school. The shows being piloted in The Comedy Kitchen season are: Impractical Jokers, A hidden camera show where four comedian friends dare themselves to take on awkward real life scenarios. It's based on a US series that debuts this autumn. The Imran Yusuf Show, a mix of stand-up and sketch from the 2010 Edinburgh Comedy Award best newcomer nominee. People Just Do Nothing, a mockumentary following a group of wasters from Brentwood trying to run a pirate radio station. The Boy With Tape On His Face, a pilot for the acclaimed Kiwi mime act, now based in the UK. Dawson Brothers Presents:, a sketch show from a team of comedy writers who have previously contributed to That Mitchell and Webb Look, The Peter Serafinowicz Show and The Friday Night Project – as well as writing the blackberry sketch from The One Ronnie last year. And, Alison Jackson's Breaking News, a spoof news show poking fun at celebrities using lookalikes.

ITV is on the verge of ordering a second season of detective drama DCI Banks. Broadcast reports that the ITV drama has been 'given the green-light' for a second full season but the broadcaster is 'still in talks' over 'the finer details' of the deal with producers Left Bank Pictures. The second series would, once again, three two-part stories. Broadcast also reports the proposed episode would adapt three further Peter Robinson novels; Wednesday Child, Dry Bones That Dream and Stranger Affair. DCI Banks originally premiered on ITV in 2010 as a two-part pilot which attracted six and a half million viewers. The first full series was broadcast earlier this year - opposite Torchwood: Miracle Day for part of its broadcast - and had consolidated ratings of more than five million viewers. The series stars Stephen Tompkinson who also stars in fellow ITV drama Wild at Heart.

Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg is to bring back long-running arts programme The South Bank Show for Sky Arts next year, it has been announced. The former ITV programme came to an end last year when Lord Bragg stepped down as the network's arts editor. 'I'm chuffed to bits that The South Bank Show is back in town,' Lord Bragg said, who will front six programmes. The show's relationship with Sky started when the channel agreed to broadcast the annual South Bank Awards. It has also screened archive editions of the show, featuring Ken Dodd, Sir Alec Guinness and The Smiths. Lord Bragg has hosted The South Bank Show since its launch in January 1978. 'I very much wanted to continue to make The South Bank Show and I'm delighted that Sky Arts has given me the chance to do that,' he said. The programmes will 'once again focus on the works of the greatest living practitioners across the spectrum of the arts and culture,' Sky said. The flagship show has featured a wide variety of subjects, among them Germaine Greer, Gerald Scarfe, Sir Harold Pinter and Sir Paul McCartney. Lord Bragg added that he was thinking about sticking with the show's original signature tune, performed by Julian Lloyd Webber, saying that 'it would be hard to beat.'

Ofcom has reversed its decision to revoke the broadcasting licence of Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster's English-language outlet, as tensions rise between Britain and the Islamic republic. The regulator told Press TV last month that it was 'minded' to ban it from broadcasting in the UK after the channel broadcast an interview with Maziar Bahari, an imprisoned Newsweek journalist, that had been conducted under duress. However, after hearing final submissions from the broadcaster, and amidst a crisis in bilateral relations that has seen Britain withdraw members of its diplomatic mission from its Tehran embassy after the building was stormed by protesters, Ofcom is understood to have 'downgraded' the sanction to a fine of one hundred thousand smackers. Ofcom declined to comment ahead of official announcement from the regulator later this week, and a spokesman would only say: 'We have already announced that the breach of the broadcasting code merits a sanction and we will announce our finding in due course.' The regulator refused to disclose whether it had 'liaised' with the Foreign Office over the decision. After a year-long enquiry, Ofcom ruled in May that the channel, the overseas voice of the Tehran government, was guilty of a serious breach of broadcasting standards when it broadcast comments from Bahari, who was imprisoned for four months. The journalist said the interview was made under duress and that he was forced to read from a prepared script. When Press TV was informed of the proposed ban last month, the channel blamed 'members of the royal family and government' and Ofcom officials who were 'influenced by powerful pro-Israeli politicians and US sympathisers.' In a statement published on its website this week, the channel said Ofcom's decision to impose a fine was 'paradoxical.' It added: 'Independent analysts say Ofcom is under mounting pressure from the British royal family to silence Press TV's critical voice. The British royal family exercises an overarching power over all branches in the political system of the country, including the government and the parliament, as well as on Ofcom.' Do they? Blimey. Thanks for telling us, we thought all they did was spent lots of taxpayers money on holidays and weddings. According to the WikiLeaks cables, the Foreign Office told a US diplomat in 2010 that the UK government was 'exploring ways to limit the operations of Press TV.' At the time, the department warned the US that 'UK law sets a very high standard for denying licences to broadcasters. Licences can only be denied in cases where national security is threatened, or if granting a licence would be contrary to Britain's obligations under international law. Currently neither of these standards can be met with respect to Press TV, but if further sanctions are imposed on Iran in the coming months a case may be able to be made on the second criterion.' A Foreign Office spokesman said that there had been no government intervention in the process. The spokesman said: 'We have been concerned for some time by serious allegations that Press TV has been involved in broadcasting confessions obtained under duress from individuals without access to a fair trial. It is right and proper that these allegations should have been investigated by Ofcom, as the independent regulator of the UK communications industry. Press TV's actions that appear complicit in such human rights violations are unacceptable and reprehensible. It is a matter for Ofcom to decide what penalties should be imposed. The government is not part of that decision.' And, again, one or two people even believed them.

The BBC's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, has warned that the corporation will have to be 'ruthless' in prioritising which sports it broadcasts in the future, warning that if the cost of media rights escalates it could have 'a long-term problem.' Thomson was speaking after a six-month period in which the BBC gave up its exclusive live rights to Formula One, signing a joint deal with BSkyB to the chagrin of some motor racing fans, lost the French Open tennis to ITV, and agreed to share coverage of the World Professional Darts Championships with ESPN. However, the BBC has signed new contracts to keep Wimbledon and Six Nations rugby union until 2017, and won back the World Athletics Championships from Channel Four from 2015. Thomson said the joint F1 deal generated the same savings as the corporation would have made if it had closed BBC4, and almost the same as it would have saved had it decided to shut BBC3. 'If the cost of sports rights go through the roof we will have a problem in the long term,' Thomson told The Voice of the Listener and Viewer annual conference in central London. 'We think sport does have a part in the mix but it will be about the major events and not the others,' she added. 'We will be ruthlessly prioritising. We have made deeper cuts in sport and less in drama, for instance.' Thomson later said the BBC would focus on sports which appealed to the whole of the UK, and highlighted events such as the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and Six Nations rugby, as well as the Olympics. She predicted the joint F1 rights deal with Sky – which will see the BBC broadcast half of next seasons races live, including the British Grand Prix – 'will work well.' Thomson said the six hundred and seventy million smackers cuts required by the Delivering Quality First initiative would be felt across the corporation. She added that the savings required at BBC News, which will see the loss of about eight hundred jobs, would be aided by the integration of the BBC News and BBC World Service newsgathering operations. 'I think there are three bureaus in Cairo. That is not a sensible way to spend money. We should have just one,' she said. 'There is a real opportunity for greater efficiencies.' Thomson also said the BBC was listening to widespread concerns about the impact of cuts at local radio stations, which will be debated in the Commons this week. 'We always thought that the proposal to make cuts in local radio would be particularly sensitive,' said Thomson. 'We have been surprised and impressed by the response. The point of a consultation is to hear from people and understand what is going on on the ground and what people are worried about. We are listening and we will carry on listening. Clearly local radio and local broadcasting as a whole does matter, and is an area of worse and worse market failure. If we go back on some of these cuts we will have to find the money from elsewhere.'

Piers Morgan has been ridiculed after paying tribute to the late Patrice O'Neal – but believing the comedian was female. The sincerity of the former Britain's Got Talent host took something of a bash after he twice described O'Neal as a 'she' on his CNN show on Wednesday. Morgan realised his mistake only after a clip of O'Neal was screened. Speaking about O'Neal's death at the age of forty one, a month after he suffered a stroke, Morgan said: 'It's been a sad day for comedy, with the death of Patrice O’Neal. She died of a stroke today. I want to take a quick look at Patrice on Jimmy Fallon, just to remind everybody how funny she was.' After watching the clip, Morgan seemingly realised his mistake, but did not acknowledge it, simply calling O'Neal 'a very funny guy.'

Some information has emerged which may shed some light on Steve Bruce's departure from Sunderland. Apparently, on Monday he was shopping on Sunderland High Street when he collapsed. Some concerned passers-by helped him into a nearby building society to wait for the ambulance. At that point, Bruce awoke. 'Where am I?' he asked. One of the helpers told him that he was in the Northern Alliance. 'Blimey,' replied Bruce. 'What happened to the Championship, Leagues One and Two, the Blue Square Bet Conference and the Evo-Stick Northern Premier League?' I've got dozens of these if anyone's interested ... I hear two young lads were caught trying to climb over the wall at the Stadium of Light last Saturday. The copper told them 'Oi! Get back in there and watch the game like everybody else...' Nah, lissun ...

The latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day is a particular favourite of this blogger. The B52s and a twenty four carat overlooked gem. Mad-as-toast video an'all.