Thursday, 31 May 2007

The Compulsory Big Brother Item

Yes, so BB8 has started... sigh. It's odd how it captures all 'da yoot' audience as well as normal, sane, thirtysomethings. If you watch the commercial breaks you can tell the young 'uns drive everything, as they're all ads for music, interwebs and jeans that hang off your arse.

What can I say that's original about Big Brother?

tv secret (hey we ain't had one for ages):
I was involved in the birth of reality tv - but it's not my fault, honest.

Not directly you understand, but I was working for a company who properly came up with the first ever reality show. My mad boss was literally foaming at the mouth with enthusiasm for it... although he did this a lot, usually when I pitched some ridiculous unmakeable idea (to distract attention from my side of the company not doing well) and he'd think I was a genius. For ten seconds. Everyone else, of course, hated me for pandering to his madness. Hey, I didn't care. I managed to keep a job until the very end, the last ever employee of the company. Hah.

I was asked to do some development work on the idea and I did, mainly rules and games and that. One of the senior staff who was working on the show then got poached by Endemol, and soon afterwards Big Brother came out. My boss was spitting gallons of froth at this point, like the milk bubblifier attachment on a capuccino machine...

It went to court in the end, for no real reason - my boss kept the idea when he flogged the company and ended up making gabillions of pounds from the US; Endemol made gazillions of pounds on BB worldwide. The court action resulted in the lawyers making gatrillions of pounds but nothing much else.

(A note here - I once pitched a show to a Famous American Agent in Cannes during a company-wide training week in a chateau. Now that sounds glam, and the wine was fabulous but we were basically there to learn to sell things. Anyway, American Agent - lovely teeth, nice suit, tidy hair.. all your American attributes - quite liked the idea but said it was too complex. You could've blown me down with a milk bubblifier when the same show turns up on CBS with the same cast-types and the same format... produced by a new company set up by the same American agent. Tsk. Nothing I could do about it, obviously, and part of me was flattered my little ol' idea ended up on primetime telly in the USA and is now in series 9 or something. Part of me wanted the gagrillions of pounds American Agent made but we can't have everything in life...)

OK, back to BB. Specifically the new one. It's, er, full of ladies. Well, women. Er, females and female-looking non-gender specifics. That Tracey one is surely a fella in a frock. I can offer no opinion on it except why isn't Davina pregnant? Surely that's the way it works. And Chris Moyles on the BBBM or whatever it's called... what's that for? OK, I know he appeals to dem youngstahs but who at C4 thought his lumbering shouty ugly presence is good for C4?

Another tv secret:
On the first series the male contestants* used to masterbate furiously in front of the camera behind the mirror in the bathroom singing "It's only a gameshow", knowing it couldn't be used on tv. But by series 2 the blokes did it furtively as having seen the show they thought it'd be broadcast. Proves how thick they were, dunnit?

So I offer no further opinion of BB as I intend to avoid it as much as possible.

* Yes, I know they're supposed to be called 'housemates' not contestants but I can't bring myself to call the repellant 'look at me!' types who populate these things by the name normal people use for people they share a house with. They're competing in a game show so they're contestants.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Back from Noo Yowak

Yes I've spent the weekend in New York, where it was 86 degrees (no idea what that is in metric apart from hot) and also Fleet Week, where the Navy was in. I'd have thought they were all out shelling Iraq but apparently not. Bunches of sailors everywhere, in that comedy white flarey jump suit and proper Popeye hat and cravat/tie thing.

Thing was, they were all tiny short podgy spotty twelve-year old kids and - mainly - drunkyarded. Not how you imagine them. As an American I was sat next to in a bar said "Well man, you only join the army or navy if you can't even get a job in Walmart".

I'd like to thank those who responded to my rant on adverts last week. Ta muchly. And the car that's been advertised as a cake is a Skoda, but - like you - I had to think hard to remember what it was, despite knowing a bit about cars. Hence it being a rubbish ad.

American telly ads were as shouty and basic as usual - apart from, oddly, car ads. Lots of swoopy-drivey-shots there too... well, apart from the ads for pickups (which outsell cars massively there) with preposterous names like Thruster and Blastforcer, all to heavy rawk music and a deep-voiced man screaming how big and hard they were.

A bit like Fox News really, the world's most surreal news channel, especially Fox Reports with Shepard Smith, which makes The Day Today look like the BBC News from 1956. To the same rawk music, a husky voice bloke shouts 'the noos' at you, from a dark, appropriately satanic studio. "News at the speed of LIVE!" he shouts as the camera zooms around him like an X Factor contestant gone to hell. You can't imagine Moira Stewart doing that. Either shouting a slogan or going to hell.

Of course Britain could've blown up for all I knew, the only international news in the whole two hour show was "Around the World in 80 Seconds". This mainly featured "news lite" stories, like some Aussie gay bar that had banned straight people. I can't imagine Shepard Smith having much truck with the gays. He rolled his eyes then cut to a piece about "our battling heroes defeating terror in Iraq".

It made my head hurt but at least it isn't as cutesy as most US local news, a Barbie and Ken duo with fab teeth, sitting slightly too close together on slightly too high stools, all "and Barbie has this story" / "yes Ken I do..." handovers and entire three minute breaks full of ads for pills. US news shows have the oldest average audience on network tv, so the ads are jammed with pills for everything, from "restless leg syndrome" (the legal voiceover said "common side effects include nausea and vomiting") to erectile disfucntion (side effects: "flushing, redness, blurred and coloured vision") to trapped gas (side effects: "gas")

I love American tv. In small doses.

Monday, 21 May 2007


Three phrases that make me want to vomit:-

1 From anyone who works in tv:
"This is a very important piece"

Piece. PIECE?! No, it's not a piece. It's a programme. A show. A series. A one-off. It's not a piece. That's something out of a jigsaw. The word is usually bandied about for dull documentaries about worthy things, or those po-faced docudramas that "shed new light" on something Current or Bad, like Iraq. I know it's nasty and horrible and Our Boys are doing and have done some nasty and horrible things. It's a war for Christ's sake, and we don't need someone off of Hollyoaks and that old one out of Heartbeat pretending to kick some poor innocent prisoner to tell us that.

2 From anyone who commissions comedy programmes
"The core problem is that the main character isn't sympathetic enough"

My reply would be "You know I think the core problem is you haven't a bloody clue". I say 'would' as if I actually said that I'd never get any comedy commissions and I need the work. I actually nod and say "hmmmm" as my mind flashes images of me stabbing the commissioning exec with a knitting needle. In their eye. Or maybe their ring "piece".

Name a sympathetic yet funny sitcom lead. Borderline psycho Basil Fawlty? Lazy, useless, child-strangling Homer Simpson? Worst boss ever David Brent? OK, I know, Homer loves his kids really, and Brent means well and is desperate to be liked, and Fawlty... er, um, well, has few redeeming features apart from his height. But sympathetic? No. They're not. They're monsters. And that's what makes them funny.

3 From any viewer
"British tv ads are the best in the world"

Just stop it right there. Our ads are the most stupidly complex, artsy-fartsy, "look how clever we are"-type "pieces" in the world. American ads are the best in the world - they have to be, they have the most highly evolved commercial tv market anywhere. By "best" I mean they do what it says on the tin - they ADVERTISE things. A fat shouting man in a cowboy hat called Chad will stand in front of his carpet warehouse covered in CHAD'S CARPETS signs and bellow "I'M CHAD AND I RUN CHAD'S CARPETS. IF YOU WANT A CARPET, CHAD'S YOUR MAN, AND CHAD'S CARPETS IS WHERE YOU FIND THE BEST CARPETS AT THE BEST PRICES, PERSONALLY GUARANTEED BY ME, CHAD, FROM CHAD'S CARPETS".

OK, so you won't go "oooh" at the arty waves turning into pretty horseys as some monovoiced thespian intones crap about tick following tock, but I guarantee you'll remember Chad and Chad's Carpets. And that's what adverts should be for, not to bolster the ego of some coked-addled stupidly-bequiffed ad exec.

And don't get me started on car ads, with endless swooping shots of the Ford Boobjob or Fiat Bumhole driving through mountains. All people care about is how much it costs and whether it's got a fancy start button or iPod connection. You're never going to drive your VW Arsecheek over the Alps. Ever. You're going to drive to Tesco and back. That's what it's for.

OK, rant over. Next time I'll talk about something nice. Promise

Monday, 14 May 2007

Religion and drama

I know it's been a wee while since I last graced the interweb but, hey, breaking into the most lucrative tv market there is has taken all my time up.

Religious tv.

I'm not going to tempt fate and/or any gods by talking about that much here. Just to say that, as ever, tellydom is so random that a rabid non-believer like me can be in charge of a show about Jeebers (as Homer Simpson once referred to Him). I've done three things:-

  • Made sure one of the characters is aetheist (yes, I know - "is there an agnostic?" - no there's not and that's fine, OK);
  • Got a proper religious expert to check things (actually the channel did... very wise of them, even if one of my staff nearly finished one term of a course on, as he put it, "Islamism and them others"). He's now a Pastafarian. Don't google it. It'll just encourage him;
  • Spent rather too long debating with said Pastafarian about religious-themed hats. Veils, skullcaps, turbans...

Mmy reason for blogging today is drama on BBC Four. I watched one last night and it... well, it was just as I expected. Marie Lloyd, the musical hall lady out of the early nineteen hundreds, featuring Kat Slater off of EastEnders and lots of top hats.

Entertaining though it was, this was exactly like that Kenneth Williams thing from last year (who's next I wonder, Bob Monkhouse?). They simply don't have enough money. Now I'm an expert in making stuff on the cheap - hell I did a sitcom-gameshow-factual-yoof thing for Sky for £10K an episode - but with period drama you kinda expect something more than covering the set in tinfoil to pretend it's the future. (That didn't happen on the Marie Lloyd thing. I did that on the Xmas special of the Sky thing. Christmas past, future etc. etc.)

Back to the drama. Tight shots of a music hall audience consisting of five people. One horse and cart. Bits skipped over and not shown as they'd cost too much. Patchy acting from the (probably) cheap cast. Lots of backstage scenes. Oh, and a guy wandering around singing old songs to camera at certain points. Odd.

Anyway, Kat Slater was fine - apart from when she was pretending to be a teenage girl. I mean, come on... was it an ego thing or a we-can't-afford-another-actress thing?

Now back to religion. I need to find out at what age lady-woman-Muslims start to wear a full burka/hijab/whatever. Joy...

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Getting Ahead In Television

What's the talent you need to have the most to succeed in tv? That's the question no-one asks - let's face it, watch most tv shows and you'd imagine no talent at all is the best way to be. But I'll plough on anyway.

Say you didn't work in the meeeeeeja but for FLPHC Ltd, Fred’s Little Paper Hat Company. It’s one of around two thousand other similar paper hat companies – not in the UK but in London alone. Some are bigger, some are smaller but they’re all competing to the death in a desperate cut-throat market, forever coming up with newer, better, more inventive head coverings of a paper-type nature.

The paper hat market is so competitive because there are only ten people who buy them. Ever. And most of those ten make their own hats in-house, employing – for example – the Fred who set up your company and left years ago, taking all his considerable paper-hat-making-expertise with him.

This didn’t impact your profits much because there aren’t any really as the ten people who buy hats get to see all your costs and pay you a small percentage ‘profit’ on the top. Which normally goes to improve the quality of the hats anyway...

You hear stories, of the guy who invented a paper hat that sold all over the world and made a killing, or the woman who did the first hat aimed at 0-2 year olds and is now worth two hundred mil, but FLPHC is only just managing to scrape by.

All it ever seems to do is scrape by, even when it invented the Paper Pooper Wrapper Upper, the revolutionary combination of paper hat and receptacle to dispose of dog poo. Two products, I think you’ll agree, that had been apart too long.

Unfortunately within weeks every other paper hat company was making the same kind of headgear/turd wrapper combo and bang went your market advantage. Sigh. Never mind, there’s always tomorrow. And-

OK, forget paper hats. It’s tv as if you haven’t already guessed it. The tv industry is fundamentally fucked up because the normal rules of capitalism are reversed. There are thousands of producers to every consumer. Not the viewer – God forbid we mention them at all – but the channels who buy programmes. In this environment you primarily need one skill:

tv secret:
selling is everything

Selling, in a business with too many suppliers and not enough customers, is key. It might not seem that way at 2.34am when you’re alone in a dark office watching a battered old TV/video combo trying to find the one good take of your useless presenter introduce the crappy daytime shit you’re stumbling to finish but, no, he’s forgotten his line yet-a-fucking-again and back to the start and-

Nasty flashback there. Deep breaths. That's better.

Anyway, being a good salesperson is all in tv. Even if the creatives won't countenance such an idea.