Thursday, 29 November 2007

What I don't watch part 1: Soaps

I've talked a lot in this blog about tv I love, like, loathe and l..l.. er, sorry the alliteration can end there as it's hard to find an L-word that fits tv that I feel nothing about. As Lisa Simpson would say, meh.

I feel meh about soaps. I simply do not watch any of them. They seem to consist entirely of ugly people in nasty houses shouting at each other. In close-up. Apart from Hollyoaks - replace 'ugly' with 'shiny, young, plastic'. And Neighbours / Home and Away - 'ugly' becomes Australian.

I love visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Liverpool. We eat, drink and have a fab old time. But my lovely, lovely sis-in-law will switch on C4 at 6.30pm for Hollyoaks. And then over to ITV1 for Emmerdale. Next it's Corrie and/or Eastenders, followed by Holby some days, The Bill others and those extra Corries they shove on to get extra viewers for 9pm shows on ITV1.

She's not unusual in doing this - the soaps get much bigger audience shares than other shows, usually 40% plus for the big two of Corrie and 'Enders. But that night of viewing... no, sorry, that daily pattern of viewing is something I can't get my head around.

It's not as if the soaps are badly made - they're expertly-crafted pieces of television, satisfying big, mainstream audiences day in, day out. The sheer volume of drama being produced is astonishing, and unlike the olden days it all looks quite nice and proper. The first ep of Brookside was on the other week as part of C4's anniversary celebrations, and boy did it look crap. One scene, with a fixed camera, lasted ten minutes. You couldn't see or hear anyone at the back of shot, and everything was badly-lit and/or beige. The pace was funereal but the writing crackled and there was a wit and an edge that made it totally unique at the time.

Soap acting is an art, they say. Hmmm. I'd say it's more a case of people playing a part similar to their own character. When they're doing it twelve hours a day six days a week, with no rehearsal and reams of lines, proper "what's my motivation in this scene?" acting isn't practical. The exceptions are the older character actors I suppose - Dot Cotton is frightfully well-spoken in real life. Or maybe her real-life voice is an act and the Dot one is real. I dunno.

People witter on that Dickens would be writing on a soap if he lived now, but I don't think so. I know from soap-writing friends it's a minefield working within the huge story and character arcs, the massive structures and strictures of soapdom, to create something good. Not to mention the "oh no you can't have Ian Beale in this episode, he's doing panto"-type availability of the sprawling cast.

But.. but.. but..

I've said all that and then I have to say the only time I see any of these shows is when visiting family. It's not 'cos I'm posh or snobbish or too busy with my faaaaaaaabulous meeeja life - I wish - it's because I simply couldn't give a monkey's arsecheek what happens to anyone in a soap.

Try and read a potted history of Ian Beale. It's hilarious. How many times has he gone mad/got married/divorced/gone bust/been held hostage? That's just stupid. And then there are the actors moving around from one to the other. I just think my Tivo has hopped channel halfway through a scene. "Didn't he die of Aids?", I said, pointing at Mark Fowler off of 'Enders (and Grange Hill) who was now in The Bill. Or was it Emmerdale? He was, of course, the second Mark Fowler. The original one died of drugs I think. In real life. Or Grange Hill? I dunno.

The only soap I've ever seen much of was Eastenders, which I watched when it first started. I remember the Den and Angie Xmas Miserathon that I watched alongside 30 million other Brits, and the occasional Dot/Ethel two-hander... if little else. It does these things occasionally now, but the pressure for ratings means it's not that often. And, to be frank, would you want to see any two of the younger muppet actors for 28 minutes straight. No thank you. I'd pay them to go away and not sit in the corner of my flat shouting at each other.

Dont get me wrong - I feel no superiority over anyone who chooses to watch the shouting-in-close-up shows. Hey, I watch things other people think are crap ( But at least the crap I kill my braincells with isn't on for five hours a day. Every day.*


*It is you know - Doctors, Neighbours, Home and Away, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale every day, Corrie, 'Enders, The Bill, Holby City, Casualty some days. Omnibuses. Repeats on other channels (The 'Enders rerun at 10pm is usually BBC Three's highest-rated show). New episodes of Hollyoaks and Home and Away on E4 or Five Life straight after the main channel ones.

Friday, 23 November 2007

More Best Telly Ever...

I was catching up with my Tivo last night - well, we haven't been speaking much recently, I've been too busy, Tivo's been doing what Tivo does best, and all in all I haven't sat down and had a good night in with the poor thing for aaaages.

And I say that, unbeknownst to me, Tivo had done A Very Good Thing. Recorded every episode of series one of Queer As Folk which Channel 4 repeated recently to celebrate their 25th anniversary. As a lovely treat for Tivo, me and lots of others - ta C4. As a tactical ploy - err, well, it kinda shows up the drama they make now, doesn't it?

QAF was vibrant, full of life and fun, dirty as f**k and packed with characters who simply hadn't been seen on telly before. From Vince, the ordinary-looking gay guy who works in a shop and loves Doctor Who, to far-too-out-and-proud-at-his-age Nathan, this series kicked the teeth in of stereotypes of gay people on TV.

As a gayster myself, I obviously was going to love this. From that electric first few minutes where you see thirtysomething shagabout Stuart chat up and then properly, totally and explicitly shag young Nathan, this was jaw-droppingly dangerous drama. And it simply got better and better, from Vince's somewhat eccentric mum to the lesbians, minor characters that were simultaneously believable yet extreme, and the whole hedonistic world of Canal Street at that time made QAF unmissable.

An often overlooked part of any good show is music and QAF was oozing with the insistent dance music that was so current in the gay scene then. And still is now, he says, shaking his head like an old man and preferring a bit of Blur. But it was perfect for the show and, yet again, wasn't something I'd ever heard in a drama series before.

Now it was a product of the times, and, yes, QAF is a bit dated in some ways, but it still stands up as a fantastic piece of television. We can thank The Man Who Can Do No Wrong (well, apart from Casanova, I didn't like that much) Mr Russell T Davies, Saviour of Doctor Who And All-Round Telly Genius. It's such a personal piece and all the better for it.

OK, so Russell was a top writer but would C4 nowadays take the risk they did on him back then? They still take a punt on comedy and entertainment but not really with their drama... apart from a few right-on one-offs like Britz (yawn). Maybe it's because British drama rarely produces people like Davies - talented, clever, funny people who can write believable, interesting, funny scripts about anything from the second coming of Jesus through Daleks and Cybermen to gay blokes in Manchester.

When Lovely Vince dumped his bf and went dancing on a stage with Stuart surrounded by drugged-up gaysters, I had to give Mr Davies a special toast - he'd even ended the series in a way I'd never seen before. OK, so Vince's bf was dull and controlling, but - hell - he was cute and nice, and Stuart was such a bastard who'd never really care for anyone but himself, and... and... well, surely, the sign of a top telly treat, even now I feel strongly for these characters.

And the great news is that Mr RTD is going to do a new gay series.

A big gay hooray to that :)

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Titles part 23,281

I couldn't pass up this title without mentioning it...,,2213848,00.html

Surely this is the apex of stupid programme titles. With the BBC Trust turning their ever-so-public-service noses up at F*ck Me, I'm A Wassock and the like, the days of Grab-Em-With-A-Brash-Title programme names are surely coming to an end.

Or maybe not:

A show aimed at "helping" single mothers named after a term of abuse for them. The term was made popular by the used-to-be-trendy-it's-not-still-going-is-it? gossip website Popbitch I believe. Was it used for Kerry Katona... no, hold on, that was Chipshop. The series then moves on to groups of prostitutes then paedophiles, Whore House and Kiddyfiddler Caravan. Or maybe I made that up.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Those who work in tv

It's become fashionable to say that people who work in tv are hard done by. A mainly freelance job, people milling around from programme to programme, with no job security, no career path or bugger-all benefits; long hours, tight deadlines, even tighter budgets. And on top of that now they're are being accused of - gasp! - fiddling with reality to make their shows better.

Woe is me, what is to be done, this can't go on, ah tell yeeh Cap'tn, the engines cannae tekk it etc. etc.

My considered, carefully thought out (and not at all just typed in here with no thought or idea where I'm going with it - perish the thought) view is: what a load of arse.

I base this on a recent "ideas 'meeting" with a tv production company. I don't really go to many of these places, and am lucky that most of the people I work day-to-day with are (a) normal; (b) older than the average tv worker age (twelve); and (c) were picked by me in the first place.

I'd saved this company's arse a few weeks' beforehand, stepping in to help out at short notice when they were let down. They were full of promises about guaranteed series' work and good money and jelly and ice cream and- well, anyway, they were really grateful and the work we did for them went down a treat with their customer. So well this new meeting was being held to brief me on the next step on the road to a commission.

Then I found out they'd asked someone else to pitch for the work too. Hmmm.

So there I was, sitting next to a boy/man wearing wellies "because it just seemed like that kinda day". In my view "that kinda day" would've meant six inches of water and/or mud outside, not the dry and unseasonally warm morning in autumn but there you go. He was the boss. Sitting on my other side was a "creative director" who just doodled on a pad the whole time, just drawing the show's title over and over again. I met an "online content" producer who typed on a laptop the whole time. He was online so he was content.

I came up with some ideas, trying not to think that (a) I was too old for this; (b) why do people wear jeans that only come halfway up their arses; and (c) even ironic mullets look stupid on the top of people's heads.

The assembled throng of telly's top talent seemed to think my ideas were good. Very good. So damn good they sent me the same ideas in a "briefing document" about what they wanted for their show a few days later. Fair enough, you may say, but they also sent this document to another company that was pitching for the work. A company run by people with amusing hair and Russell Brand trousers.

Guess who got the gig?

The funny thing is that even though I've got a right to be a bit miffed by all this, and we could do with the work, it's actually A Very Good Thing we didn't get it. As you may be able to tell, I don't think that company and myself are, er, creatively compatible. I also pitched some work I've reversioned into something much, much better, something potentially vastly more lucrative.

And the minute I sat down at the table for the first meeting I knew nothing would come of it. It didn't affect anything I did or said - I've been in far too many lost cause pitch meetings for that - but I just knew. And so it came to pass. Next time I'll trust my judgement more.

Oh, and the not-at-all-tacked-on point I started to make is that tv is full of people you really wouldn't want to sit next to.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The tellyblogosphere

The media interslice has had an odd time recently, specifically one blog about tv. A post with the link on it - and a mention of this here blog too - by a rather fine person of my acquaintance:-

(By the way Joanne, I am Batman. Or, rather, The Batman. You know who my Boy Wonder is too*)

Anyhoo, that TV Controller thing went on way too long. It was funny, well written and very cutting in places... but also a bit too bitter and shouty too. The allegations of bullying or anti-Semitism aren't that well founded. I understand why the charges were made but it is a bit rich of Senior Media Luvvies to complain about bullying when tv is a place replete with humungous egos (bullies), bigger-than-life personalities (drunk bullies) and highly-pressurised management (drugged-up bullies).

I just found the TV Controller blog puzzling. Mentioning real people with their real names and real jobs... then referring to the 'fictional' controller and The Youth Channel and Corporation One... hmmm. Then there are the made-up names for real people - Fifi, Perry et al - I just wonder why it wasn't either all real or all fictionalised.

OK, OK, hypocrisy alert - yes, I am self-aware enough to know I do kinda the same thing sometimes - but I've tried to be fairly consistent in naming people from my past as descriptions of who they are, and talking about current events as the outsider I am.

Luckily the guy falsely named as the author of said blog is too popular and well-liked for anyone to think he'd have written something as carping and inconsistent. He's also far too busy and clever to spend hours a day blogging.

What's that noise I can hear? It's either that hypocrisy alarm ringing again or the Batphone. Must dash...


*I mean the little fat man down where you live, as the thought of him in a red-and-canary-yellow Robin costume is just too funny for words...