Sunday, 29 July 2007

When my Tivo gets the heave-ho...

My Tivo is a thing of wonder. Conceived when Sky+ was nary a gleam in Mr Murdoch's eye, when a 'Mediacenter' was the place WNBC6 Boston beamed their Action News from, when Freeview was the nineteen minutes after midnight the softcore adult channels broadcast unencrypted to entice the dirty mac brigade in...

So I bought the first PVR available (early adopter, as ever) and have lovingly maintained it through three remotes and two new hard drives (thanks eBay!). It's a bit slow and can't hold many shows; it only has one input so if you're recording something that's all you can watch, it takes around 4 seconds to change channel (by feeding the adjacent Sky box through a hidden wire) and it's the size and weight of three VHS recorders glued together, but it's a lovely, lovely thing.

Until recently I had no choice in what PVR I could have. I live in a block of apartments with a communal dish. When I rang Sky to ask about Sky+, they put me through to their 'local authority housing' department. Harumph. The results weren't good. Sky+ needs two inputs and the whole 39-flat block would need to be rewired. But, hey, they'd send the new dish for free.

So Tivo it was, and it still is my recording option. It has three features I love. The first is a cartoon opening sequence when you switch it on. It's champion. The little Tivo logo surfs along on cogs and chips to a grand trumpet fanfare and stands in the top corner, swaying slightly. The second is the fact the backgrounds all animate nicely too, and there's no Sky-style muzak. And the third is that, bless it, the Tivo tries to predict what you should like to watch.

You're supposed to give shows thumbs up or down if you like them or not, up to three each way. That, along with what you record, tells Tivo what you might quite like to see coming up. It's hilarious in how wrong it can be.

I once set it to record American Queer as Folk on E4 (much better than the UK one) then the ten millionth repeat of seminal doc series The World At War on the History Channel. Tivo struggled with this information for a wee while then decided that the Five documentary Was Hitler Gay? was the motherlode, it's best recommendation ever. I'm sure the little Tivo logo man was actually jumping up and down*

For work I record a lot of cartoons, and I have an unhealthy appetite for Sunday afternoons full of light tat and rubbish, so mix repeats of QI with US TV gossipfest The Soup from E! Entertainment Television and the aforementioned World at War. Tivo therefore gets very confused. I had to switch the feature off in the end as it would sit for minutes at a time, stuck, pondering what the hell to say I should watch. And then recommending The Hoobs. There's never any need to watch The Hoobs. Ever.

Exciting news has just reached me though - our block can now get Sky+ and even Sky HD by putting up a new dish and some sort of frequency splitter to send out the two different feeds down one wire. Finally I can record one thing and watch another! At last I can have a picture feed to my HD screen that doesn't look like Teletext close up! And, wonder of wonders, I can go back to hopping channels in fractions of a second instead of pressing channel up and waiting for Tivo to slowly type '1...0...2' and move it on.

Tivo is hardly used now. Some of the newer channels have no programmes listed on Tivo, even when they do on Sky. I imagine an old lady typing them up on a manual typewriter inbetween knitting jumpers. She'll be in Sky's call centre in Scotland as that's where you call if you have a Tivo problem. I've called a few times. It's always the same woman. I think she's the only Tivo employee now.

But I'll feel a pang of affection for my Tivo, the hundreds of hours of television I've watched on it. The ickle dancing Tivo logo man with his lovely cartoon sequence. The way it thinks I live in BBC West's catchment area as the new hard drive I bought came from a man who did - and I have to retell it I live in London every few months.

But it was the first way to pause live telly, to record series with ease and to get rid of clunky, nasty VHS tapes. And for that I love it.

*By the way, the answer is no, Hitler wasn't gay. Another example of a programme with a stupid LOOK AT ME! title which sets up something that can't possibly be true. Thanks to Tivo, I ffw'd to the last three minutes with three button clicks and saw the expert saying Hitler was hetrosexual, possibly asexual, but not gay.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Watching TV eat itself. On TV

It's all getting even trickier at the coalface of tellingvision, what with all us tv types being tarred with the 'more dishonest than a Foxton's estate agent at bonus time' brush.

But, hell, we deserve it.

Reading the press over the weekend depressed me. There was some anonymous daytime BBC producer saying they didn't know what to do now as they couldn't cut together two separate auctions on two separate days as if they happened simultaneously. My question would be why are they doing that to begin with. OK, it might make Bargain Boot Challenge or Car Booty Hunt slightly more dramatic in their eyes, but - still - it's somewhat odd to complain you can't slap two things together and tell some porkies in voiceover and pretend something else happened.

One wildlife producer was also quoted saying he'd glued a dead beatle to a leaf to "tell a lie to get at a greater truth". Hmmm. Really?

The one thing I personally detest are noddies. No, not the rather marvellous children's cartoon, but the practice in news, factual and docs of having just one camera, filming an interview, then refilming it from a different angle with the presenter asking the questions again, and nodding/reacting to what was said. Often an interview is filmed, in effect, three times - the first close in on the interviewee, being asked and answering questions; the second over the interviewer's shoulder, just with a few general lines, the interviewer talking and the questions they asked previously dubbed on; then finally the noddies from the other side. The interviewee has often departed at this point.

The first time I saw this being done I was aghast. You can change the questions on pass #3 and present the answers as True Fact! And I did just that on a comedy/factual show a bit later. It was funny though, Brian May With The Hair Out Of Queen talking about some music for some video game or something, and we recut the interview to be entirely about his hair. But still... apologies to Mr May.

They should either send two cameras or not make interviewers and interviewees have to pretend, to act, to lie, when we're supposed to trust everything they say. It's The News for God's sake, not some infomercial for a video game. That probably excuses my behaviour but certainly doesn't excuse theirs.

Friday, 20 July 2007


Well, just as I thought, the papers are full of stories about how dishonest tv is. Let's not look at the newpapers' own record when it comes to honesty, let's stick with the tellybox.

I, too, have some skeletons in my cupboard.

Oh blog, I confess that in 1996 I was 'a caller' on a phone-in show when I wasn't a bona fide member of the public, I was a bloke who worked for the channel sitting around the corner. I am SO sorry.

In my defence:-

  • The station was L!VE TV, the world's oddest channel ever;
  • The phone-in show, being on L!VE TV, had hardly any callers, as the channel's usual audience was 2,000 viewers an hour;
  • The calls weren't premium rate or owt;
  • It was a psychic show, with some woman reading 'the vibrations' in your voice. She was therefore talking shite;
  • I can't remember her name - we called her Nina Biscuits for some reason, and they'd record 5 half-hour shows as live and she'd blether on talking shite about people's families, bad backs, relatives called John and the like;
  • I tried to do a Northern Irish accent and failed;
  • Nina Biscuits said I "had a lot of unresolved aspects" in my life. Yeah, like trying to do a Northern Irish accent and failing.

L!VE TV, despite a reputation for rubbishness, was actually quite a moral place to work. The boss fired the man who made the comedy show (half an hour a night, live, with a budget of £250) because he took backhanders from comedians to appear on it. No-one would see them AND they could put "as seen on TV!" on their posters. And when the weather lady was found out to be a prostitute, they got rid of her sharpish.

I'm struggling to think of any other tv dishonesty I've been involved in, as I watch some man on Sky talk about tv dishonesty. He's obviously sitting in front of a green screen, known as chromakey, and they're dubbing on a background of Westminster. There's tv dishonesty for you. He's probably *NOT EVEN AT WESTMINSTER* shock.


Sunday, 15 July 2007

The BBC, the Queen and the documentary maker

Sounds like the setup for a gag or something, doesn't it? Sorry for the pause in my bloggerising, no particular reason for it. I s'pose I'm used to only bothering to typing up things if there seems like something to say. Kind of against the spirit of blogging perchance. Like using the word 'perchance'.

Anyway, my three-Euro-cents' worth on all this hoo-hah (sp?) about that trailer for the doco on HMQ. Why do I feel like some Californian bleached blonde teen (there's a first) and want to hold up a hand and go "Yeah, well, what-everrrrrrrrr?"

Every factual programme ever is 'economical with the truth', reality shows even more so. We've all read the tales of people leaving the Big Brother house and being shocked when they watch how they've been portrayed. Of course, they would say that, 'specially the racist or thick ones, but still - editing can make everyone who says anything look like anyone. Charlie Brooker did a great piece on it in his last season of Screenburn so I won't go into it here - he's much funnier, more successful and cleverer than me.

I sat and watched a great thing off of my PVR with Nicky Campbell in it (another first). It was Who Do You Think You Are?, the always-entertaining family tree yarn series. I say always entertaining - it was odd seeing David Tennant is actually Scottish. No he's not. He should talk like the Doctor ALL THE TIME. It should be in his contract. Someone make him do it.

Anyway, this fascinating doc was full of... well, I was going to say 'lies' but the legal birdie on my shoulder says I shouldn't. Erm, 'economical truth-telling scenarios".

Nicky found some stuff out, went to Australia and was amazed at what he found out there, then came back and told his equally astounded mum the news.

Except he didn't really. I'm sure the researchers who did all the finding out kept Nicky slightly in the dark, but I'm equally sure Nicky didn't trawl through thousands of documents in libraries as the voiceover implied. "Nicky went through the parish records" - er, no he didn't - "Nicky sat and looked at the parish records we'd found a few weeks before we spent £10K flying him over to Australia to sit here and pretend to look through them". Not quite as dramatic eh?

The punchline was that Nicky was related to the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane. Again, this was presented as if it was all discovered when Nicky was there. But was it? Really?

Hey I'm not complaining. This is a brilliantly well-made show, top marks all round. But as a viewer I know - and accept - some liberties have been taken to make programmes more interesting for me to watch. As people get more media-savvy, this is surely not something to be shocked at. Although the Queen, bless, might not be as media-savvy as a teen used to YouTube. I liked the Queen more when it looked like she's gone in the huff. "You go girl", I thought, like a sassy big-haired big-boned lady off of Ricki Lake. Not a first there, I should add...

And as I can see from the Sunday papers lots of other 'shocking' revelations are coming to light. Star TV Chef Didn't Catch Own Fish As He Said! Newsnight Report Was Shown In Slightly Different Order! Yawn.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

More advice for newbies...

Back from my hols where I made the mistake of telling a Random Young Person I worked in tv. The RYP then asked me how to get into telly.

Now I've been here before - - but before I went into my shouty monologue verbally stamping on his face until he shut up, RYP then surprised me.

"F'r example, yeah?, why did ya hire other, like?, people to work for yer, yeah?"

Hmm. So I gave him five examples:-

They had exactly the same favourite episode of The Simpsons as me ( ) - 'nuff said;

Their CV said their hobbies included “drawing the strange images that flash across my mind”. This was the only thing I remembered about the twenty people I interviewed that entire day so, in a fit of desperation, he got it the job;

She was a girl. Now before the sexism police put me away, it was job that way back then only men seemed to do. My entire team was male. My new hiring stopped their continual stream of shitty blokeish banter in its tracks, and made the place better for everyone;

The guy came in wearing a hat. A Fedora hat;

I was on holiday inbetween series and I returned to find six people hired in my absence, including a fat spotty sweaty mute man, a bitter shouting Welshman, a far-too-tall posh bloke who was already asking for more money before I sat down and a flailing gibbon of a man who appeared to possess six arms and four legs.


And you know what? Simpsons Guy is now a really good mate of mine. Strange Images Guy ran a channel. The Girl One was excellent and has worked with me forever. The Holiday Hirings were the weirdest bunch of people I’ve ever worked with but ended up making a terrible show into something rather good.

Only the Hat Man was a mistake. He was on the run from the CSA, wanted to be paid in cash and slept under his desk. He went to Alaska in the end, I believe. With a warmer hat I hope.


As you can imagine, the Randon Young Person didn't really say much to all this. Mind you, that was because he was distracted. We were in St Tropez next to some yachts and some James-Bond-villian-type one turned up so RYP ran off to see who was on it. And, yes, it was a celeb. That Australian pap photographer Darren Thing with amusing hair. Sigh.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Errr.... in Spain and have managed to book a place to stay without a telly. After three days in Nice without a telly. So it´s the interweb occasionally, the news on my phone interweb sometimes and that´s that.

Sadly, no tales of three-hour Spanish gameshow marathons or amusingly bequiffed or ´tached Latin newsreaders.

Will continue to spew tv-related-drivellings (TM) as and when I get to watch telly in a few days´ time.