Monday, 31 December 2007

Predictions for Twenty-Oh-Eight

It's that awkward time on New Year's Eve between getting up and starting to drink, so in order to fill time in- er, discuss the future with my marvellous blogspotteers, here are some random predictions for the year ahead.

Look at the lists of 'new' shows coming up this year and you can't help but stifle a yawn. None of them seem actually new at all, just bits of one format shoehorned into another one. I foresee this continuing onwards, mainly due to the poor commissioning editors, under massive pressure from above for 'new', a huge onus from the finance people to get ratings, and desperately pitched any old combination of tat from the producers.

There have got to be some charges somewhere against the people who stole millions of pounds from viewers entering competitions. Just giving the money back to people who bother to go through a tortuous process to find out if they're owed anything - well, that's not on. (I do know the channels are giving the rest of the money to charity - but, and it's a huge but, not every show ever has been investigated)

Can you imagine, say, if the Richard and Judy telephone line company had hijacked a security van and nicked the same amount of money - giving it back ain't good enough. It's theft, pure and simple, and someone needs to pay.

I watch South Park on my iPod Touch in the gym, exercising on a crosstrainer. It's the only way to make my flitty brain do something as boring as that for 22 minutes. I can manage 10 minutes or so listening to music, so it's increasing my exercise levels hugely. It costs me £1.89 to download each ep from iTunes, but the gym costs £100 a month so, in proportion it's not too bad. My only worry is that no-one is putting much else I want to see on UK iTunes so once the little Southparkians are used up, I'll have to go onto, er, other such sites to get content to watch. Public domain, obviously. Ahem.

Anyhow, this can only continue, and telly ratings will, on an average show, fall yet again. But...

I think ratings for flagship shows, like the soaps and Doctor Who and the like will stay the same or actually rise (like they did this Christmas), and ratings for cheap, exploitative crud with stupid titles (see almost every entry in this blog) will continue to do well (due to more people going digital as well as more people actually choosing to watch Fat Pet Autopsy Live!)

It's the middle that'll be affected the most, those nice shows that do OK, well-produced, well-made and reasonably budgeted. There's no place for them any more. This is happening in every market, not just TV. Supermarkets: Waitrose, M&S at the top end; Asda, Tesco, Morrisons at the cheap end, only Sainsbury's inbetween. The BMW 3 series sells more than the Ford Mondeo. And clothes either seem to be designer posh £100-a-shirt or Tesco cheap £2 T-shirts. TV will be the same.


New controller but not much change there I think, just the occasional tweak and more repeats as the not-as-massive-an-increase-as-they-asked-for-not-really-a-cut licence fee settlement kicks in.

Can they run Top Gear all year round - as they probably can't, I'd think Two will end up with more BBC Four content on it. So it'll look like it did ten years ago but at a lower budget. Sigh.

BBC Three
They need a breakout hit, something to justify the £95m spent per annum. Some nichey comedy like Gavin and Stacey and Mighty Boosh really hit the target audience but is it enough?

BBC Four
The series of biopic dramas they've announced are perfect for the channel - mixed with their great factual stuff, it'll still be one of my first calls of an evening. Can they please sort out weekends though? It's shit then.

ITV1,2,3,4,5,6,7 etc.
Er, um, mmm. Well. So they're doing this trendy comedy show about a soap opera being made - then showing the soap itself on ITV2? Full marks for trying but even if it works it's a one-shot proposition. I applaud ITV's efforts at not just being the Corrie-Heartbeart-This Morning big brand, big bland network, but someone, somewhere will have to decide what ITV1 is actually for. It's simply not clear at the moment.

C4, E4, More4
So they got in the papers by "scrapping" Celeb BB. Er, no, they haven't. They've reformatted it and stuck it on E4 only. With a launch show on C4 anyway. At least C4 is being blunt about wondering what it's there for, saying they'll need money to do public service stuff. Good on 'em. Who decides what's public service programming and what isn't, and where the money comes from are the presently unanswerable questions. More IT Crowd is my one personal request. Yay them!

Sky One is the only channel outside of the above ones with a reasonable budget and commissioning ambition, yet it seems to have got stuck into making specials, one-off dramas, documentaries with Grant Mitchell in 'em, and gameshows with Noel Edmonds. They then spend the rest on (admittedly great) acquisitions. It's probably the wisest course of action - all acquisitions would look weak; all commissions would be incredibly risky... but, still, I hope Sky manages to get a show that really catches on, like their Uncovered... series did in the Nineties.

Oh, and has someone run the numbers about replacing Sky One with an on-demand Simpsons channel? It'd probably rate higher.

I single Dave out as it's a great name and has done well. It's still the same shows as UKTVG2 but with a new brand, a big campaign, a Freeview slot and better scheduling. They said they're going to spend some money on original programming, and I hope they do.

Everything else
Even as the number of channels go up, my viewing patterns at least stay either the same or concentrated on even fewer stations. I don't watch Living since they got rid of Will and Grace, my guily pleasure with the papers on a weekend afternoon. I watch Dave for BBC repeats. One night I even watched a QI on BBC Two, then next week's edition on BBC Four, then an old one on Dave. How's that for modernity?

I love documentaries but can never find anything I want to watch on the Discovery or UKTV channels. I really like good classy US sitcoms but apart from the odd ep of Frasier Paramount's channels leave me cold. I watch Cheaters on RealityTV but that's just my inner sickness manifesting itself. I've even currently got the movie channels for nowt (Sky try it every so often; I cancel instantly when the free offer ends) and I can't see a film I want to see on them.

The research says this isn't just me being grumpy, it's almost everyone. My only addition to what I watch is CurrentTV for the odd snippet of earnestness and whatever channel it is that shows Letterman now.

So I think consolidation of channels, again with the middle squeezed out, is likely.

OK, I'm off. It's now just about acceptable to start drinking as it's (a) dark; (b) cold; and (c) the last night before normality returns. Happy New Year to you out there in Blogland, and I leave you with a random fact to entertain party guests tonight. Gerbils are illegal in California.


Thursday, 27 December 2007

Xmas TV

OK, so it's not technically over but here's my view on the telly supplied to us over the festering period.

A commendation of the My Family Christmas special - it was shit but as no worse than a standard episode, a mean feat when the running length is doubled, spoiling the evident perfection in the half-hour running time. The easy winner here is To The Manor Born: Look, Some Of Them Are Still Alive!

I s'pose I was only a wee babychild when the original series aired, but I had fond if not overly hilarious memories of it. But this was genuinely car-crashily awful. Even the premise doesn't work, a fact that didn't seem to matter in the 70's (a decade taste DID obviously pass by). Let's go through the 'sit' in the 'com' again - Audrey, the awful, pretentious, inconsiderate, ugly and pompous lady of the manor is made homeless by Richard the charmless, rich, flashy wideboy... and then they fall in love!

Hmmm. Both main characters are hateful - not a good start. To be fair, I think in the original there was Brabinger, the 154 year-old drunky butler, and "Mrs Poo" (oh what an appropriate name), Richard's 132 year-old Czech mother, who was nice if batty. They're both long dead - cue graveyard scene with Richard talking to his mother's gravestone, asking for some guidance and then - wait for it! - his phone rings!!!1!!1! Fucking hell, that's desperate.

Add in a storyline that was predictable within two minutes of starting (surprise 25th anniversary party for the couple, him secretly managing a company that's put all their local farmer friends out of business, her leaving him) alongside oddly old-fashioned gags about immigrants and 'raves', with side stories that didn't go anywhere (Audrey's soppy friend fancying one of them out of Armstrong and Miller who was 'far too young' for her - ie not 60+ like everyone else - but went nowhere; some "immigrant workers from Czechosolvakia - a country that doesn't exist any more - learning English badly)... well, it was a mess.

And all resolved happily in one of the most rushed and pat endings I've ever seen, which even included a cute puppy.

Manor... proves you should never bring back old shows*

Slim pickings this year - I laughed at two things. Harry Hill, as always, and Catherine Tate. The latter was the same old same old, but it's still got actual setups and gags in it. And George Michael. And Kathy Burke. And she killed off 'am I bovvered' Lauren, for no particular reason - well, apart from the fact Ms Tait ain't no youngster and she was looking even more like Dick Emery dressed up as a teenager.

David Starkey's Monarchy for being genuinely interesting, and having the controversial conclusion that Prince Charles will save the Windsors.

Not Morecambe and Wise for once (UK Old managed to spoil the best Xmas shows ever by putting talking heads on telling us how good they were, alongside dull home movies and a stupid 'ooh what's the best sketch ever?' format that was pointless). No, for me it was More4's repeats of all of Father Ted. Utter bliss, even if I've seen it a gabillion times.

Doctor Who. OK, so it was cheesy, a mix of The Poisedon Adventure and Titanic. In space. With Kylie. But, still, a joy from start to finish, from the remixed title tune to the trailer for the next series coming up.

Small quibbles - err, the background music and scoring was even more over-the-top than before, far too intrusive for an oldster like me. And Brave Kylie, bless, looked like Catherine Tait as Lauren in a minature form - a forty year-old woman in a waitress costume pretending to be young and wanting to see the universe.

But these are mere details. You know when you're watching Doctor Who you're watching a set of professionals at the top of their game. Exec producers, writers, producers, directors, actors, special effects which are finally up there with the best telly has ever done, it all gels to be more than the sum of its parts. Even the what-are-they-doing-THAT-for? addition of Catherine Tait won't spoil it**. I hope.

So I haven't mentioned the Extras special 'cos it ain't been on yet, and I am kinda looking forward to it, but I can't help but feel Mr Gervais is, like Tony Blair and myspace, a bit 2005.

OK, footnotes - I hope you paid attention:-

*OK, this is wrong - two shows came back better than before. Who, of course, and Top Gear (a joke show watched by almost no-one and boring even to petrolheads like me). They did that solely because they were brought back and reinvented by people utterly obsessed with getting them right - Russell T Davies on the former, and Andy Wilman and Jeremy Clarkson for the latter.

**The thinking is, according to people who pretend to know these things, that Ms Tait is popular with da teens and da yoots, and this'll fill the gap in the audience for Doctor Who as it's loved by kids and adults but, like everything on telly, a bit meh for dem pesky hooded youths.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Xmas meanderings

Telly and Christmas. They go together like Morecombe and Wise, Dempsey and Makepeace or Pinky and Perky. Repeats of Eric and Ern at lunchtime, Noel Edmonds making old ladies cry by flying in long-lost relatives, the absurdity of anyone over thirty watching Top of the Pops (to cries of "what the hell is that?" when a modern beat combo pops up).

A "family film" in the afternoon, game shows with tinsel stuck to the sets (even though they were recorded in August), extra-long eps of 'Enders and Corrie when a long-planned storyline comes to fruition (ie something actually happens), 'specials' of comedy shows that are the same as usual but ten minutes longer, and five-minute news bulletins.

There are three highlights this Xmas for me:-

Do I need say more? The Titanic - in space! Kylie - as a waitress! David - Tennant! Champion.

I have a real soft spot for Harry Hill, and it's so good to see this always funny show finally getting reasonable ratings to match the critical success. Well done ITV! (not a sentence I type often)

No idea if this exists but I hope they've made one.

As you can tell, I was struggling for highlight #3. Maybe it's the grumpy old blurke in me but I don't like them fancying things up and moving things around at Christmas. I like long news bulletins, short soaps, Newsnight at 10:30 and that. I'll end up seeing blimmin' 'Enders at some point as it'll be on at 8.57pm. And there's no need for that.

From a worky point of view, it was always odd when we had to do Christmas specials. We genuinely recorded a gameshow in August for TX during the festive time - halfway through the ninth day of a gruelling two week shoot (5-6 eps a day), the set was covered in tinsel and out came the Santa costume. Three eps later the tinsel came off and the presenter was wishing everyone "Happy 1994"

I once had to edit on New Years' Eve, finishing at 10:30pm at Sky's barren HQ in Osterley (it's posh now but wasn't then, mainly Portacabins and huts). All my mates had gone away for NY, so I drove home on my ownsome somewhat downhearted. The show I'd just cut together was poo as well...

There is a typical Christmas-episode-happy-ending though. I thought, awww fuck it, dumped the car in central London and went and jumped up and down with thousands of strangers in Trafalgar Square as the new year dawned. I even bumped into someone I used to work with on my way back to the car and ended up partying most of the night, sleeping on the floor of someone else's incredible penthouse flat.

And the seasonal cheer continued when I saw my car (a) hadn't been clamped; (b) wasn't ticketed; and (c) had HAPPY NEW YEAR written in shaving foam on the bonnet. Well, the last one wasn't too cheery as the foam had damaged the paintwork and the words wouldn't come off properly. But the car was a £100 rusty orange Fiat and I used to have to hit the starter motor with a hammer to get it going.

Friday, 14 December 2007

WIFMs and 4Ps

I'll explain the title at the end but I thought I'd write about one of the stupidest meetings I've ever had in the media.

There is quite a competition for the accolade, believe me. There was the one where I asked the interweb company why the walls were covered in astroturf. "Ve arrr an incubator zo ze grass helps grow du bizzznesses" was the reply. They were Swedish by the way. You may have guessed that.

In another I addressed the two senior financial controller ladies of the company I was working for as "dolly dealers". Well, I was pitching away at a major satellite broadcaster and they were uncovering parts of a schedule for the channel I was selling - all on a giant multicoloured polystyrene grid we'd had made for a fortune - and I got carried away Brucie-stylee. And I was pitching to an American who had no idea what Play Your Cards Right was. He did laugh, though, but probably at me calling fat women 'dollies'.

But, no, the worst meeting was at Channel 4 around four years ago. They'd asked for theme nights - you know the sort, Top 100 Sitcoms, TV's Bestest Pets Ever and The 1,250 Most Annoying Clips of Kate Thornton.

We'd come up with a cracker. Swearing Night, a full evening of foul-mouthed shows. There were comedy links, alongside a documentary on the history of the C-word, that really sweary film with Ray Winston in it at the end, the ep of Sex In The City where they say the C-word a lot, Viz's Profanisaurus as a cartoon and other naughty delights. Our lovely programme treatment had pictures of Trevor McDonald with a speech bubble and the word 'arse biscuits' in it. For that alone I think we got a meeting.

I saw the Head Of Lists, Themes and That Kind of Thing. He was very nice, even introducing me to random other commissioning editors after the meeting. He was probably trying to palm me off on them, or desperately needed a pee, but he wanted us to do some work on the idea and come back, so it wasn't a bad meeting at all.

The next one was, with the Assistant Deputy Head of Clip Shows And So On. She flicked through the now-expanded treatment and then mused for a while. I'd brought along my tame producer to keep me company, and bless him, he'd even changed out of his normal garb (stained Charlton top, stonewash jeans, baseball hat and David Attenborough-style jacket). OK, all he'd done was put a black sweatshirt on instead of the footy shirt but it was something.

Dep. Head looked at the treatment, I blethered something about each page, then she put it on her desk and thought for a moment. I'd been taught at a sales conference to look for the SUN moment - SHUT UP NOW, where you say no more as that puts the buyer under pressure. Or something.

Alas this wasn't that kind of moment. The woman looked at me and my sidekick and said the following:-

"There won't be that much swearing in this, will there?"

It takes a lot to render me speechless, but this did. My producer was staring mouth agape. I'm sure I was only silent for five seconds but it seemed like aeons. I think I said something about, well, no, the swearing will not be constant to start with and--

I can't remember much else. We left and went to the pub and sat staring at each other in wonderment. No, of course there won't be much swearing in a full night of programmes named Swearing Night. No fucking way.

BBC Three did a similar night miles after we'd pitched it. No sign of Sir Trevor and his arse biscuits though.


Oh, and WIFM means 'What's In It For Me?' and is apparently what people you're selling to need to know before they'll buy anything. And 4Ps is PPPP, Pitch PowerPoint Presentation, something I'm glad to say I've never done as even I am not that much of a twunt.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Yet more telly shows I don't watch

Everyone is going kerrrr-azy over Cranford, the latest ooh-look-at-the-money-spent-on-horseys-crinolines-and-Dames costume drama on BBC One.

I'm not.

I managed to sit through a bit of it and it looked lovely, replete with fantastic actors, superb production values, nice lines and not one but two Dames of the British Empire giving it large and that.

But my phobia of hats put me off ( , a bit further down the post )

As soon as a gentleman actor puts a top hat on, it's game over for me. He may as well put a giant sign on his head saying "THIS IS ALL PRETEND".

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

What goes around...

Remember my diatribe about how horrid people who work in tv are?

( )

Hilariously, I got a call from the MD of a company I met ages ago. They've won the work I was pitching for at the end of the piece above, the producer wearing wellies etc. etc.

And they want to outsource it.

To me.


If I wasn't a Richard Dawkins type, I'd be praising Jebus right now.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

TV I don't like: Part 2: "Self Improvement"

What is it with tv's obsession with bossy ladies turning up and telling people what to do? There's a new one on about arranged marriages now, a show so bizarre I don't know where to start. I can just imagine the pitch meeting:-

Tasteful if quite small office, plants and nice pictures and a few awards (no BAFTAS, more TV Quick's Best Daytime Show 1992 in quality). A posh lady with a £300 hair-do adjusts her £500 glasses and looks at the similarly-dressed posh lady pitching to her opposite.

(picking at her £5000 bracelet)

Hmm, I think I'll have to pass on Fat Pet Gym, sounds a little too similar to Get Your Pets Fit Not Fat! on Five. Anything else Jocasta?

(deperately flicking through notes and not finding anything)

Well, you know arranged marriages?

(doubtful, glancing at her £3000 watch)


I thought wouldn't it be, y'know, fun to try and arrange marriages for everyone! Not just... er... well... um... Asian or ethnic people, but whi- I mean caucasian people who have no tradition of arranged marriage.

(looking at her £100 manicured nails)


We'll focus on it being fun and light, none of that coercing women to marry men they haven't met or don't like, just light and fun?

Not sure about the ethics here...

Think of it as Supernanny for women instead of kids! Or What Not To Wear but with love not frocks! Or that one about dogs but with husbands instead of dogs!

(liking the comparisons)

Brilliant! And with an Asian host and everything! Multi-cultural but mainstream. Fun and light. Let's do it!


Sigh. I'm just bored of all these shows where some well-groomed lady with a £500 haircut in a £2000 pantsuit turns up and sneers at someone's food/house/kid/dog/clothes/fat arse, and then twenty-three minutes later their food/house/kid/dog/clothes/arse is transformed through the sheer power of the well-groomed lady.

The worst one had to be How Clean Is Your House? Like lots of this genre of shows, it starts off being quite interesting. Lots of info on different ways to do something. Quirky presenters. Comedy voiceover. Nice resolve at the end.
But then after a few eps, you can almost hear the producers screaming for something more interesting. We don't just want dirty people, we've had them, we want really hideously horribly filthy people. Look, this one's never ever cleaned their toilet - yay! There is rat shit in their baby food... brill! This one poos in a bag and puts it in the microwave... fab!

So the nice simple show about telling messy people how to clean up becomes a let's-laugh-at-the-borderline-mentally-disabled, full of shots of maggots, mank and monkeyshit, all to a puntastic voiceover and hilarious comedy music. It became something unwatchable at 8pm with your tea.

How Clean...? got so bad, I swear you could tell the presenters had been told to go easy on some of the filthmongers as they were either simple or mental. The dirty people, not Kim'n'Aggie.

So when I see newer shows like How To Look Good Naked I just can't be bothered. How many times can Gok Wan 'transform' normal-looking women into normal-looking women in heels and makeup who feel slightly better about themselves?

And as for arranged marriages - well, you're better off with Cilla Black in 'er wedding 'at on a Blind Date Wedding Special.