Friday, 31 August 2007

This is the news. Happy now? UPDATE

Well, I don't think it's anything to do with me but things are changing in the news. Remember my previous post:-

And then this happened yesterday...,,2158344,00.html

Next this...,,2159344,00.html

So it looks like time's up for faked news footage of people asking empty chairs questions and nodding or frowning at non-existent answers.

Yay The News.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

August blues

Sorry for the lack of updates here but I've been covering for about 4,237 holidaying staff and haven't had two minutes to rub together. Or something.

Also it's the Edinburgh TV Festival, and I thought it'd make a change to keep my head down and not say anything about tv at all. Someone has to offset all the hot air being blown around in Sconny Botland.

I've had some wild old times up there at the festival, but as they were mixed in with 9am sessions about daytime formats or ratings trends, my memories aren't all of puking on the shoes of the then controller of ITV or seeing a famous newsreader drunkenly sit in a bowl of hummus. The £2K+ price of getting there, staying there, getting into the sessions and all that is a wee bit steep, even if I did see have the joy of seeing the finance controller of a major indie almost get his face punched in when he asked for a receipt for two pints of lager in a rough pub on the wrong side of town.

Still, what was said sounds reasonably promising for The Future Of Telly And That. C4 concentrating on public service stuff (TICK), working with small indies (EXTRA 100 TICKS), and 'dropping' Celeb Big Bro (TICKTICK) - although they've said they're "resting" it from C4, and redoing the format for E4, not cancelling it altogether for a year, something that's not being reported much.

Five spending more on UK commissions can't be a bad thing, the BBC wondering how to save lots of money (here's an idea - trim News 24 to cost just twice as much as Sky News instead of gabillions of times as much. TICK!) and lots of serious-faced execs saying how tv needs to get the viewers' trust back.

Here are three random ideas:-


Like those American ads that have fast legal voiceovers... "new Flemgone, proven to get rid of flem for good. Side-effects-include-flem-sweating-vomiting-and-death". Press your red button to get captions or commentary on a show, so if a cutaway was filmed after on The X Factor (CROSS!), a voice goes "Simon-Cowell-made-that-face-for-another-act" in a dead quick voice. "Dermot-O-Leary-isn't-really-in-Birmingham-he's-been-keyed-on"... "Louis-Walsh-wasn't-fired-it-was-all-a-publicity-stunt"..."That-tall-man-won't-be-back-to-choreograph-the-live-shows-as-he-has-REALLY-been-fired"... and all that*


No more crushing the credits, endlessly selling us the next show. No trailers repeated on a loop, especially on digital channels where it's the same ones every break. I know it works but STOP IT NOW. No ramping up the volume for the commercials - it's actually against the rules but all the digital channels do it. So STOP IT NOW. As with "And there'll be more Coronation Street in half an hour". No, there shouldn't be. There's plenty on already. STOP IT NOW.

No more overrunning by two minutes here and there so when you switch over you've missed the start of something - or, worse, your PVR or video has missed the end. It's not big or clever and might get you an extra 0.1% of viewers for the next show as they can't be arsed catching up if they've missed the beginning of something else, but IT ANNOYS THE HELL OUT OF THE OTHER 99.9%. Just be more honest, straightforward and less salesly, preachy and Blair-y. The King of Spin has gone, learn the lesson. STOP IT NOW.


You pay peanuts, you get high salt and fat content... er, or is it monkeys? Anyway, budgets for most shows haven't moved for years and costs have gone up. So there are fewer, cheaper people making them. And the incredible, astonishing, totally unexpected result is that the shows on air aren't quite as good as they used to be. *GASP*. Due to inexperience, deadlines, lack of training and lots of other things that aren't interesting enough to make headlines. So pay more per show or just make fewer eps of Antique Car Boot Auction Sale Challenge! for the same price.

Um, I meant to log on and say "oops, am busy, back soon" and look at that; I've just invented a way to make telly trustworthy again. Sweet.

*By the way, The X Factor is on top form right now, unmissable telly. Not much I can add to the fab reviews apart from it's simply a well-produced, well-funded, well-thought out show with oodles of talent on and off camera. I was at the gym on Sunday and the six people on the cross trainers next to me were watching the repeat on their tv screens. They howled with laughter at the bad ones and looked dead emotional at the soldier not going to Iraq again 'cos he got through.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

"That was the news. Happy now?"

I'll tell you where the title line came from in a few paragraphs' time, but I was prompted to write after seeing this yesterday:-,,2147715,00.html

You know what my immediate thought was? Aw, pity. I want MORE gimmicks. I LOVE gimmicks. I don't like fakery and nodding shots, as mentioned before, but what's the harm in having lots of whoosh noises and slamming sound effects (thanks Sky News and the BREAKING bit!), or making the poor newcasters walk alongside a big green wall pretending they're pointing at things (that's it, ITV News, get 'em perambulating!) or randomly standing or sitting depending on... er, um.. well, something I assume (big shout out to the BBC News lot!)

It's all a lot more exciting than a man at a desk with a still behind him, now isn't it? But has it gone too far? Hmmm.

The title line was from The Day Today, Chris Morris's seminal news spoof. See some bits:-

TDT was at the cutting edge of graphics (I mean, that title sequence, isn't it so cool) and was incredibly over-the-top at the time - when it was on the news was just a man with a still behind him. But now it seems, if anything, quite tame. In The Simpsons movie, Kent Brockman is reporting a story and says "It's so important we've made a title sequence. With music!".

This actually happens now. Sky had a particularly winsome one for the first few weeks of the Maddy McCann story, with plinky-plonky piano music and a montage of images popping up before the latest instalment of... well, of nothing as nothing has really happened since the fateful day. Obviously the 24-hour news channels need to say something about the biggest story, they can't just say, "oh well there's been no news, now the sport", but still...

As you can probably tell my Newsgeek side loves all this presentational guff, yet my Newsprude side wants it straight. The former usually wins with me. I'm the man who had Nationwide's theme music on his mobile, followed with the shortlived replacement for that show, 60 Minutes (nothing like the American one). And if I'm up at half-past midnight I usually tune into CBS News on Sky to see their spin on things...

Sad eh?

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Summer lull...

TV goes quiet in the summer. As in the business and the stuff on the air as well.

Always doubt any new series that starts in the summer.

It's simple and logical that you basically show the rubbish- sorry, more challenging material... during the summer. People are on holiday. The nights are lighter so the viewers aren't sitting in front of the telly, they're.. er, well, you know, doing the garden, singing songs around the piano or BBQing £2 chickens.

And, obviously, all the senior telly people are away so they can burn off their shi- um, more challenging material.. whilst they're not around.

In the States, it used to be even simpler. They didn make or screen any new shows in the summer. US tv commissioned 26 weeks' worth of episodes of everything and simply re-run them all over the summer. Even the 'news magazines' like 60 Minutes.

(Note 26 weeks' worth is actually 22 episodes normally, as there are 8 weeks where they either have stunt scheduling for their 'sweeps' months where ratings are checked, or they have award ceremonies or sports events to fit in, or it's Christmas where totally unlike the UK they just bung on repeats as the advertisers ain't bothered 'cos the shops are shut)

Anyhow, now us Brits have spoilt it for them. We introduced them to cheap reality tv and summer in the US is festooned with all kinds of reality crap. It simply rates a wee bit more than repeats of drama, and can cost less. Big Brother is a very different show in the US (no audience voting for a start) but a regular summer event now. America's Got Talent is a huge hit, as well as our very own Supernanny and Wife Swap. There are two 'sing the lyrics' shows which have done well, and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? (coming to us via Sky One) which is a proper big hit - pitting brainy kids against dumb adults, a winning format if ever I saw one.

Back to Britain now, and the schedules have been full of typical summer fair. Speaking of fairs (hoho), did anyone see that Great British Village Fair thing that was on BBC One? It was made last summer, a full year old when it hit the screens. Does that imply it wasn't the bestest quality ever, or that it was carefully scheduled to fit with summer weather.

As the Geordie off of Big Brother says - "you decide...", especially when the weather when they filmed the series was hot and sunny and the weather this year was, er, somewhat damper.

Friday, 3 August 2007

The agony and ecstasy of tv

New post, new font. It's a bit clearer, that's all*

I've just been sent a link to a website that's made me howl with pain. But in a good way. Sort of.

It's not that well implemented but basically the idea is to compress old hour-long shows to five minutes, to fit with today's tiny attention spans. It's quite funny, although the shows they've used are rubbish. I find it hard to believe they've actually bought rights or cleared anything, more that they think cutting up ancient Yankish shitcom Who's The Boss is post-ironic modernism or sommit.

My howl is because I've been trying for ages to flog a tv channel entirely based on short programme length. 2minuteTV, to be precise, a channel where everything is... I'm sure you're ahead of me.

I've been trying for five years and even won a Broadcast magazine-sponsored competition for best new idea with it. I've spoken to funders who got very excited and then... well, then they weren't any more.

The idea's got a few things in it that are unique, and just in case anyone reading this has a couple of million squid they want to bung my way I won't spill all the beans. Needless to say it's v cheap to make, v varied to watch and v carefully thought through to work financially and creatively.

I'll give you three of the ideas in it:-

  • There's a spoof drama series called Avenue Road which works in two minute slots as it consists of a "previously on Avenue Road..." recap and a "next time on Avenue Road..." trailer. And nothing else.
  • There's a list in the corner showing what's up next, what you're watching and what you've just missed. The latter is the bestest invention as it means if you've just missed something you like, you're more likely to think good of the channel. It's like if the Tube had an indicator saying a train left a minute ago you would feel better about waiting seven minutes for the next one. Probably.
  • Any channel with Sherlock Homeless on it is surely a winner.

Now I know Al Gore's currentTV does 'pods' of 5-9 minutes' length, and mixes current affairs with sports and cartoons and the like, but it's, er, all somewhat worthy and that. 2MinuteTV is anything but worthy.

The Minisode network and Mr Gore's channel made me howl because it kinda sorta proves the idea works - but those channels are so not what mine is about. There's a full business plan, channel line up and oodles of catchily-named promogrammes if anyone's interested. And a slogan. I like them.

2MINUTETV. You're never more than 2MINUTES away from something else. Not necessarily something better but definitely something else.

Bit long perhaps?

*Trebuchet is a lovely font but Verdana is clearer really, important on small screens. As I found out trying to read websites on my little handheld PC. Hence the change, fontfans.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Thinking on your feet...

Live telly is something quite, quite different to working on recorded stuff. I've mainly done the latter but when I have worked on the former it's really got my juices going. As in I've been (a) shit-scared; (b) adrenaline-fuelled; and (c) absolutely exhausted afterwards.

The old maxim is the audience love it when a live tv show goes wrong - and they do - but as a producer you hate-hate-HATE it when everything goes moobs up.

Some of my toppermost and bottomest live tv experiences:-


A tiny-rated gameshow for Sky where viewers would control tacky games I'd produced by shouting instructions. Satellite tv had a 3 second time lag - to get the picture up to the satellite then back down to 12 Acacia Avenue - so the games had to be, er, helped along a little to make sure they worked at all. And before the TV Honesty Police look up my IP address and throw me in jail, we only ever helped the viewers, we never hindered, and did it all equally for everyone. Isn't that nice and fluffy?

Anyway, my first experience of live tv and jolly thrilling. Even if it was presented by Mick "Mick" Brown off of Capital Radio (who used to have to record his afternoon radio show and pretend it was live tsk tsk) from a bright pink gypsy-caravan-style 'set'.


A slightly-less tiny rating gameshow for Sky where I'd been promoted to be "games producer" - ie I sat with the guy in charge of running the video games live on air and we tried to make sure they actually worked at all. Now the kids pressed the number buttons on their phones to control the games, all via some big grey box that had a phone socket at one end and a joypad-replacement socket at another.

Things worked fine with two-player games as each had the same hindrance, even if they looked like they were being played by people with no fingers. Or brains. Or eyes. But the one-player games needed help. My main role was to stop the show's Actual Producer melt with nerves every week, as he was rather highly-strung, had fallen out with my mate who did the games (to the point of lawyers being involved) and was wound up to the point of explosion every week. My mate getting drunk with me the night before, sleeping in someone's shed and turning up just before airtime didn't help matters.


The bizarrest of the lot, a live Sunday afternoon 'yoot' show from a little boat in Docklands. I was in charge of coming up with something live to do inside the show's 40-celsius hull each week, fitting with whatever stupid arsey theme the show had. I didn't like the show at all - it was interactive, in that the viewers chose the feature content (after picking the presenters in the first place, in a live show where the wrong winner was announced - so the show ended up with an extra, really useless, presenter from the get-go).

My live bits were, er, a bit crap to be frank. The best one was the last instalment of a feature where we were putting a band together. We had to pick a drummer, but whatever Z-list actual pop drummer man we had booked to do the deed didn't turn up. Cue panic all around. As someone who didn't care, and really would've loved to be fired, I was totally calm. I said to leave it to me and went off to the office. Cue screaming and shouting and that. I said, again, give me three minutes on air and it'll be fine.

(My boss, by the way, was loving this - she thought fights between the staff were A Good Thing)

I came back armed with three phone numbers. The show started and I got the telephony guy to get the three people I'd selected from the phone book lined up. The Actual Producers said they trusted me (except I could see them lining up an emergency video bit just in case).

And so it was that three drummers played solos and the 'best' was picked by three totally random blokes called Phil Collins. One was deaf and saying "what?" loudly. It was a top piece of telly. My boss said I was a genius. The Actual Producers smiled and thanked me profusely. I went home to bed early - hey, it was a Sunday afternoon and I worked six days a week...

I still wouldn't let them put my name on the show though. On the final episode they put me down as 'Token Male Producer', which I found totally, yeah, sexist, mmm?