Sunday, 28 December 2008

Xmas indigestion...

So how was it for you? T'was lovely here ta, very nice and foody and drunky and friendy and that.

As for telly....

Er, well, wasn't Doctor Who a little disappointing? Having read Russell T's fantastic book on how he came up with it, I'm kinda sorta not surprised really. He had to rush it to film it at the end of the last series, through a horrible cold and nasty flu, genuinely finishing pages the morning they were about to be shot. Obviously the book didn't say much about the content but when you know that's the background, the general unspecialness of this special isn't unexpected.

The other doctor was boring - am I the only one not to rate David Morrissey at all, in anything he's been in? He was boring playing Gordon Brown in that thing about him and Blair (method acting?) and the worst actor in the otherwise sublime State of Play. He's just tall, blank, miserable and shouty. Mind you that didn't do Christopher Ecclescakes any hard (oooh, controversial!)

The story had a few hoho smiley bits in it, like the Tardis/balloon, but seemed like Who-by-numbers to me. Mrs M&S Dirty Voice was OK I s'pose, in the way that the bossy-evil-lady usually is in these eps (even when dressed as a giant spider in the two-Xmases-ago special), but again I've seen this before.

Don't get me wrong, I watched from start to finish and enjoyed it a lot, best drama on the box so far this festive season, but I'm very glad Mr T Davies is passing the baton on to someone else. Now write the Big Gay Thing you know want to, Russie, it's time for you to do something different.

Funnily enough I was with neighbours who'd never seen New Who - they don't watch telly at all... I know, it's a crime, but there you are -  so I got the Titanic Xmas Special from last year for them. Second time around, I loved this more than the first time, and they were amazed at how good the SFX were, how funny the script was, Kylie being in it and the whole disaster movie schtick. A good intro to the series - they're off to rummage for it on the cheap in the End Of The World sales currently on at every shop ever.

As for everything else I've watched:-

Royle Family - Dave and Denise's Xmas dinner was somewhat over the top in their stupidity but it was sublime from start to finish (although I missed the last few mins as friggin' EastEnders overran by seven whole minutes. Grrr)

Harry Hill - superb and peerless

Charlie Brooker - my Tivo took a dislike to him and recorded a repeat of The Soup instead. It's on again soon and it's set proper this time.

Wallace and Gromit - nicely nice niceness. Supernice. Nicer than Nannette Newman. Not that funny, or that dramatic, but just the perfect 8:30pm Xmas Day thing. With my Animationiser hat on... well, I take it off and doff it to Aardman in an exaggerated stylee. Wonderful. A few CG things, I noticed, just adding sheen to the superb handmade oddness of the thing. A Brazilian friend Facebooked me about it, never seen it before - despite being in the UK for 18 years - and thought it was quite the strangest thing he'd ever seen. "Eet is for kids, no? Why does doggie not speak? And that man, that Wallarse, he is an eeeeediot. Why does Eeengland like him, huh?".

(Promise not to write any more comedy accents)

The IT Crowd - not the strongest of episodes to be frank. Moss not being in it, despite the "you didn't even notice I was on my holidays" gag, doesn't help as he's the best character in it. Didn't seem to have much of a story and then kinda fizzled out. 

What else? Well lots of eps of Frasier and Will and Grace, as always when inside at Xmas, very good they were too. Have we ever had a sitcom as clever as the former, by the way? Erudite, clever, pompous (and revelling in it) but such great writing. The episode on today where old DJ Bulldog comes back, becomes Ros's babysitter and scares off her potential suitors, only to declare his love for her, was funny and yet intensely sad in the end.

Right, off now to run on a treadmill watching an ep of Family Guy. Having seen almost all of them in the last month or so, off of iTunes, the formula is obvious but it's still one of the most inventive and gag-packed things around. Makes the cross-trainer seem less of an instrument of torture and more a place of comedy and smileyness.

Happy oh-nine and that!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Festive Felicitations

Here's a seasonal round-up of what I've watched so far...

Er, didn't watch it - I watched a few from series 1 which made me smile vaguely in a 'ah yes this is somewhat amusing' way and haven't bothered with it since. 

Proper good telly, in that it's well-researched, well-made and interviews the right people. To hear Spitting Image's 'I've Never Met A Nice South African' again was worth sitting through some of the less, er, comedy comedy songs. Stutter Rap anyone? I didn't think so... 

Anyhow, BBC Four normally repeats the hell out of things, so it'll be on again. Mind you, some of the clip shows don't resurface very often, probably because all that music clearance costs money. Their good series on advertising had hardly any repeat screenings that weren't in prime time, for example, and I normally record things at 2.30am when the other channels have gone to bed and there aren't any recording clashes.

QI on BBC One! It's like telly is dumbing up! Miracles do happen! And it stays on BBC One for the next series. Yay! And it was a fab show, as ever. Although - small carpy comment - it is a bit sad how it's all just middle-aged men. Far be it from me to be too PC but surely they can book one ladywoman out of four guests? It's not that hard to find funny females, is it?

I saw the end with the Xmas song video. I did smile at the 'you'll be singing this over and over and over again' on a loop bit, and it's for charideeee, well done... but there's something creepy about a fat Northern man dressed up as a fat Northern Irish transexual/transgender/whatever singing slightly funny songs in a voice that's been in no way changed for being a lady.

Maybe they could get Geraldine on QI, to even up the sexes?

I accidentally caught some of this today - the first time I've seen Zac Effron actually speak as I've only seem papped shots of him on the interweb and never any of his, er, products. Boy this was lame. The Kids from Lame.

Ha hah! They've got Wallace and Gromit in them. And probably cost a trillion pounds. And look... um, well, boring really. Not very special at all. Lame direction and ideas and even the animation's somewhat workaday.

I'll still watch the Xmas special though. I'll be full of festive spirits by then so will no doubt think it's uproarious and/or tragically sad and sob all the way through. Depending on which variety of spirits I consume the most of. (Clue: whiskey - NO!)

Well, Doctor Who obviously, that's got the lady off of the M&S ad voiceover dressed in red - "I'm not a comedy panto sci-fi villain, I'm an M&S top-of-the-range evil nasty lady with something hidden under my big red frock I reckon". The Royle Family, one of my fave sitcoms ever - hopefully no-one will die this time as last timedid have me (and the nation) bawling and sobbing like babies.

Shooting Stars is back for some reason, and I'll watch mainly because I used to adore Reeves and Mortimer, and the BBC have decided they're not funny any more and won't let them on telly much now. Boo hiss BBC! The Two Most Different Television Reviewer Cum Performers You Can Possibly Imagine - Harry Hill and Charlie Brooker - are in my To Watch list. Mr B had my eyes moistening with his wonderful tribute to Oliver Postgate. I disagree with some of his conclusions - the programmes haven't held up that well - but totally agree about Mr P's superb voice, pacing, sparse music (no doubt mainly because they couldn't afford it) and unique Britishnessnessness. The We Will Fix It song was perfect...

Oh, and the last IT Crowd of this series, loving it so much. I've got a feeling Mr Linehan isn't the world's best person at writing for lady performers (ooh look, the blog's got a lady theme now I've mentioned it three times, it's like it was planned and that). That Joker woman was a bit poor, and Jen isn't in it much despite being a fantastic performer, but you have to admit watching Moss pretend to be her husband was the bestest comedy treat for a while.

And, er, ummm, well, I'll end up watching EastEnders as it's on every hour over Xmas, and probably some crap fillums, and totally forget to watch something I really don't want to miss... and I have 3 eps of Survivors to catch up on too - I couldn't face them when ill with the flu, I even had swellings in my armpits just like the doomed victims in the show had...

So have a wonderful Winterval and all that. I'll more than likely post more telly ramblings over the inbetweeny period, such as why are there no decent end-of-the-year shows any more, just things with Nick Knowles or Jools Holland when we used to have Clive James (another person the Beeb just dropped for no reason) and Angus Deayton. 


Thursday, 4 December 2008

Writing for tv

If you saw Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe t'other night, then you'll have seen a treat. If not, switch on BBC Four any time after 10, it's usually on. Or iPlayer, if you're technofancy. But sit on a proper comfy chair, zoom out to fullscreen and watch like you would a normal telly.

It was about tv writers - fairysnuff, Charlie is a one himself (confession: I didn't see his Dead Set thing as I was away and E4 ain't repeated it yet, but any show that zombifies Davina has gotta be good) but the thing that made this show stand out were the toppermost top names they had.

Russell T Davies. Them two wot writ Peep Show. Graham Linehan. Tony Jordan. Paul Abbot. All of them brilliant, brilliant writers, yet all so different. I can recommend (again) R.T.D's book on writing Doctor Who - ok, so it's geeky in the extreme about the series but it shows the labour and sheer bloody love that goes into every episode.

And it has Russell expounding on writing in a way that makes you want to sit down and write, something I've never encountered when reading about writing before. He's such a one-off, but full of funny advice.

Anyway, back to the writers with Mr Brooker. R.T.D. went on about how characters pop into his head fully-formed. Fascinating. Sam and Jesse off of Peep Show said they writ big detailed storylines for months. Tony Jordan said when he writes Spooks he loves to paint himself into a corner, with no idea why or how to get out of his plot. Then get out of it. Paul Abbott said how one ep of genius drama State of Play took three days to write, the next seven weeks.

They all said how they hated first drafts but by draft four it was easier, something I can't quite get to yet. Again, they all said it was good to learn the craft writing whatever, be it links or kids or sketches. That made me feel good, with 'many tens' of episodes of telly under my belt but none of them sitcom.

Here are some random bits of writerly advice that made me smile, laugh or nod sagely:-

Mr Linehan: "Writing is like doing a poo. You can't force it. You need to go away and read or surf the web or watch tv and think about the idea until you simply have to go"

Mr Davies: "Finish something. FUCKING finish it. Two pages is nothing. No-one is going to read it. Or love it. Or buy it. Or publish it. FINISH IT! You can't call yourself a writer until you do."

Mr Abbott: "I employ people to make me do the writing. I hate them. But I still pay them so it must work"

Mr Peep Show Duo: "We can't write unless we plan everything."

Mr Jordan: "I hate planning. I hate writing. I like it when it's done though."

Mr Brooker: "..."
(he didn't say much)

Mr Davies again: "90% of dialogue on telly is shit. Worst I heard, first line of a new drama series, a man said to a woman 'Happy Wedding Day, sis!'. I mean, what? No-one says that. No-one calls their sister 'sis'. Good dialogue are two monologues that occasionally cross. No-one actually listens"

Mr Brooker (in reply) "Yeahh. Sorry, wasn't listening. Was planning my next question..."

Anyhoo, if you want to write for the telly, watch this show. Fascinating.

(And extra smiley-thumbs-uppies to Mr Linehan for last week's IT Crowd, sublime. The robbery stuff was superb.)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Christmas tv

We're coming up to the time of year when the telly suddenly becomes important. Not, to be frank, because the content is super brilliant, but because you're too stuffed to move, drunk at 3pm and at least staring at the box beats talking to some relative you can't stand.

And there is the small point of this country TOTALLY SHUTTING DOWN for the festive period. You have to watch the telly as everything else is shut. In London's zany Docklands where I live, most pubs shut at 4pm on Christmas Eve and don't reopen for days and days and days. Some even stay shut 'til after New Year.

I see the tourists in the hotel near where I live wandering around puzzled on Christmas Day - you can imagine, "come to London for Christmas, the British do it better than everyone else!"... and then they spend Xmas Day wandering around empty streets and wondering why they can't get a drink or buy a pie.

Anyhoo. Pluses and minuses of seasonal telly:-

This can tick both boxes - the My Family Xmas special (an hour of Zoe Thingy and Whojaflip Lindsay shouting in a 1970's sitcom stylee? No way) isn't circled in my festive Radio Times... on the other hand, The Royal Family coming back certainly is.

Usually the longer timeframe isn't a help for the sitcom - half an hour is perfect - but occasionally it works. The British public certainly thought so with Only Fools and Horses - my personal view was that it wasn't funny originally, had some bits that were quite funny in the middle, and then became too sentimental to be funny at the end.

Yes oh beloved American telly, I'm looking at you. As they can't say Christmas without offending someone, they say 'holidays', personified in the bizarre Coca-Cola ads with the jingle 'the holidays are coming'. Coca-Cola, of course, invented the modern image of Santa Claus yet can't say Christmas. Tsk.

As US TV basically shuts down over Xmas - people watch a parade on Xmas Day then football then... er, more football, and then go shopping or to the movies over the holidays, totally ignoring the box - their festive telly is usually, to be frank, shite. Even peerless Will and Grace, and Simpsons had crap Xmas episodes. Although South Park did excel with Mr Hanky The Christmas Poo. High-dilly-ho, neighbours!

It's not as if I want a festive Newsnight with Paxo dressed as Santa and the lady presenters as elves (now there's sexism for you) but the news disappears over Christmas, shunted around and cut in length. I don't like that. Although with things being so bleak it might be a plus point this year...

My sub-gnat attention span means I normally get twitchy after 20 minutes watching a movie, but at Xmas there's not much else to do, so I end up sitting through ENTIRE films without being drunk. I know people whine that because of DVD and Sky all the Xmas films are old, but I don't care. They're better than the new ones.

I've got a theory that repeats channel Dave must be shitting itself wirh excitement when Xmas approaches. They can go in the attic and get the boxes of tapes of Xmas episodes down for a few weeks, so the episodes of QI and Top Gear they show on a loop have only been on a few hundred times instead of the eighty-eleven gabillion times the standard ones have.

The best bit of Xmas telly for me is on this day. It usually all goes back to normal. Yay.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Comedy capers

Another one of my occasional forays into the hilarious world of tv comedy - all inspired by the return of my favouritist sitcom The IT Crowd on Friday, and the lovely Harry Hill's TV Burp being back too.

Both are such likeable shows - was it in the profile of Harry in the Guardian at the weekend that the word 'daft' was used to describe him? It fits both shows perfectly -they're silly and lovely and funny and daft. On my recent flight to the US I watched the episode of IT Crowd where Chris Morris kills himself. I was in bits...

It's actually really hard to do daft. Father Ted, another top Graham Linehan shows, was stunningly daft. (His blog has good things on it - go there - clicky herey) But what else? Morecambe and Wise, obviously, but I'm struggling to think of anything recently.

The comedy of embarrassment and cruelty, from The Office to Fonejacker is what da yung kidz seem to like. Hmmm. Cringing as Mr Gervais puts his foot in it yet again, to me, is just that - cringing. Yes it's amusing, I may even crack a smile. But it's not boom-boom funny joke haha time.

(Note to self: write comedy show called Boom Boom Funny Joke Haha Time)

Listening to someone doing crank calls, no matter how well done, reminds me of Noel Edmond's Radio 1 Breakfast Show. As in being cold, wet, twelve and wishing he'd shut the fuck up and play some music.

I know I bang on about it but there's nothing quite like a really good proper normal sitcom, a one with a studio audience (real laughter!), filmed on tape (warm, bright pictures, not nasty, filmy reality!) with jokes (one-liners! catchphrases!) and a few simple story threads designed simply to be funny (no character development at all!) and make you laugh (out loud!)

As for t'other sitcoms on air, I watched Outnumbered, the second series (I think) of that sitcom with improvising kids in it, and it was rather meh. The child actors weren't as child actor-like as usual in a sitcom but it was all just too generic for me. I started to watch that thing with Jack Dee in it playing a grumpy twat (quite a stretch!) but switched off after a while as it seemed not to have any jokes in it.

My bestest tv news of the week was that Will and Grace twosome Jack and Karen might make a sitcom together. Please, if anyone involved from US tv is reading this (yeah, right) just LEAVE THE CHARACTERS AS THEY WERE - don't make them run a little cafe together, or put them in a motor-home, or have them married in some hilarious fake relationship... just have them being campy-queeny-idiot-man and bitchy-stupid-squeaky-rich woman. Hire Rosario back too, stick in some bland-but-pretty heteros and you've got a winner.

Well, you haven't got anything, nothing is guaranteed - hire back the same writers, producers, get a good slot, not be on against anything else that's a massive hit, and you've got a slight chance of being Frasier replacing Cheers (best characters, great writing) instead of Joey replacing Friends (worst character, OK writing).

Right, off to watch Charlie Brooker's Screenburn. He's not daft in any way - he's the anti-daft - and his spin on telly is the opposite of Mr Hill's, but it's a great show. Yay the telly!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Hello, and I'm back from the USA, refreshed, relaxed and re... erm, re-somethinged. Was in West Hollywood [very posh, walkable, hot'n'sunny], drove to Vegas [dull drive], stayed in Vegas [hot'n'sunny, posh hotel, odd place] then drove to Santa Monica [duller drive] and stayed there [sunny if not that hot, ok if very expensive hotel, nice town]

I watched a lot of tv, as ever, but the election obviously somewhat dominated the box. And thanks to a two-hour flight delay - the only time that sentence has probably ever been typed - I got to watch Obama win live in LAX. The lounge in the airport was full of Aussies and Brits, being a BA/Qantas one, but we whooped it up anyway. I shared a bottle of champers with Eric Idle, my one-and-only 'sleb spot in LA (he was off to Barcelona to see Spamalot in Spanish... apparently spam is schpam in Spanish. I had to ask). Oh, and there was music supremo Quincy Jones on the way out. And, allegedly, Peter Andre and KatieJordanPrice, in LA. I didn't see them but there was a fuss and they were at the LA Ivy that we'd just walked past (and thought looked skanky)

OK, telly telly telly. Some random US election tv-type notes:-

Now obviously we don't get these in the UK and they are extraordinary. The proper presidential ones are sort-of OK - they tend to be straightforward and end with the candidate's picture and them saying "I'm Barack Obama and I endorsed this message", so you know it's from them.

So McCain's were all about Obama being inexperienced, divisive and useless (95% of the running time) and McCain in a uniform being a hero (5%). Obama's were all about McCain being Bush's best mate and useless (50%) and Obama actually talking about policies (50%).

So far, so fair enough.

But then there are the ones funded by the parties. The Republican National Committee ran ads saying Obama was a commie socialist who was best mates with a terrorist preacher. They were hideous, with scary music and comedy scary voiceover, like a spoof more than a real, proper ad.

The Democrats ran ones looking like impartial tax advice - go to this website (which is properly independent, I'll give them that) and type in your details and they'll tell you who gives you the most in tax cuts. And, funnily enough, it was Obama - unless you're Warren Buffet or (ironically) Oprah Winfrey. A small tagline revealed who funded the ad. A few took the piss out of Sarah Palin - but, come on, who wouldn't? - but they seemed fairly genuine.

California is, apparently, safe for the Democrats (despite Governator Arnie) so there weren't that many ads for Obama or McCain there. In Nevada, a alleged swing state, they filled every break. All the time. It was a blizzard.

But there were plenty more political ads. Vote for this Governor. Elect this judge (I think the one I saw on a billboard on the way to Nevada might have had some misplaced name recognition - Elect Judge Judey. That's John Judey, but his first name wasn't in big type...)

California was awash with votes on propositions, the most famous being the anti-gay marriage one. The supporters of the make-marriage-hetro-only thing were outrageous, saying the scouts would be shut down, churches would lose charitable status and kids would be taught gay stuff in schools if the proposition was rejected. The gay marriage lot tried not to mention gayness at all and talk about fairness and equality and don't meddle with the constitution - and even Arnie was in favour, by the way, so it wasn't just a Democrat thing.

I'll not grumble about how it passed and that. Grrr.

In California there were thirty other propositions, from local county ones (a fireman saying vote for Proposition L as we'll get a new fire engine in Santa Monica) to the state ones. So you'd sit through four minutes of ads - on any channel - and they'd all be vote this, vote that. Very odd for a Brit, and, incidentally, somewhat lucky for the local tv stations helping them offset the obviously severe recession they're in.

(Selfish note: yay their recession! Lots of sales and even cheaper clothes! Empty shops!)

The only other ads were for huge, massive pickup trucks that no-one wants any more. $10,000 off! Cashback! Free gas for a year!

Again, totally different here. Hardly any effort to be impartial on the cable networks at all. You watch a network, or a presenter on a network, that you like and agree with. And they slant the news to fit what you want to hear. Simple.

You tuned into MSNBC and their new highest-rated presenter is a socialist lesbian who ripped the piss out of McCain and Palin continuously. She doesn't like Obama much either, to be fair, as he's not radical enough. But from showing Obama speeches in full and cutting McCain off after five minutes, to the tone of the questions and content of the bulletins, this was totally pro-Obama.

Fox News, I hasten to add, was the opposite - although they did provide the best liberal bit with their shouty presenter Shepard Smith asking Joe The Plumber why he thought Obama meant 'death to Israel', with the somewhat ignorant yet cocky plumber saying 'that's for me to know', and Mr Smith turning to camera, shaking his head, reading out a line from the McCain campaign about how Joe is a great representative of their views, sighing, then saying that Obama is a friend of Israel and 'things are just scary sometimes'. That was as funny as it was unexpected - the rest of the coverage was as pro-McCain as MSNBC was pro-Obama.

CNN sat in the middle a bit, depending on who was presenting. Lou Dobbs, who's been there since it started, had a diatribe against Bush that was astonishing, calling him discredited, useless and 'a stain on this fine country's character'. Now most Americans would agree but it was very odd seeing a newcaster suddenly rip into a politician. Like Huw Edwards calling Blair a twunt.

The networks were more balanced, but they sold half an hour of airtime to Obama (apart from, oddly, ABC) and replaced their dramas and sitcoms with his rather well-made programme (full of policies again, not just hot air). It rated so well NBC joked they'd ask him to fill it every week if he didn't get elected.

The airport was tuned to CNN, which I'm overjoyed about, as we got to see their high-tech news stuff. All through the campaign John King On The Magic Wall was my favourite thing. This man knew every bit of data in the history of American elections, like Peter Snow used to be but a billion times cleverer, and he had this great interactive screen he could tap, stroke, expand and contract.

On election night he could call up any election result from the last twenty years and compare the voting so far with previously. Incredibly useful (and hugely expensive I'd think).

I won't mention the holograms as everyone else has.... well, err, um... oh God, I can't ignore them. They had holograms!!!!1!!!! Everyone hooted with laughter as presenter Wolf Blitzer (still love the name) was joined "veeeah hologram" by people. They even made them fuzzy with outlines, like R2D2's Princess Leia out of Star Wars in 1977. I wanted Wolf to stick his hand through the reporter lady from Chicago or make her fly across to the Magic Wall and start eating the swing states.

Have a butchers here

Sadly this did not occur. My wishes might have been slightly affected by the repeated topping up of my champers by Mr Idle.

Why would anyone sit and watch David Dimblebum in a tiny studio on the BBC when you could have Wolf, holograms and Magic Walls?

All the networks were very cautious about saying things in advance (last time President Kerry seemed likely early on) so they just projected results where it was obvious and kept schtum when there was some doubt. Every network and lots of newspapers put into one big exit poll which turned out to be very accurate indeed, so they all kinda knew Obama had won but couldn't say so as some states were still voting.

Still, at 11pm Eastern Time, when California and the other West Coast states closed their polls, the 'CNN PROJECTION' sting played for the final time and then... well, it's history, innit. Have a look, go on, it never gets tired...

Obama wins

Monday, 20 October 2008

Bye bye for a bit

I am off to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Santa Monica for two weeks or so, hence no postings on here. Excited to be in the States in the run-up to the presidential election, as well as having a much-needed break in t'sun.

Yay that.

I'll watch some random television there too, like always, and report back at some point.


Thursday, 16 October 2008

I watched the rest of that Peter Kay thing...

... and it was even worse than the first hour. All the same criticisms - lack of satire, lack of jokes, lack of editing... contrasting massively with overabundance of money. Woolly and all over the place. The mock ITV1 end credits and odd trailers for other pretend reality shows with long names were strange to see on C4, almost childish in attitude as they didn't even mention C4's esteemed competition... even if they raised the odd smile to a tv insider ("on this time next week - except Border and Grampian")

And to see Kay's 'Geraldine' mime the winner's song (oh-so-hilariously called 'The Winner's Song') for three long minutes... and then the other lot sing their perky-ed up version for another mind-numbing three minutes... yawnarama.

If I had been producing this - yes, yes, I know, not likely as I believe the exec producer was the same as the star and the main writer (ahem) - then I'd have done a Larry Sanders-style split between the infront of camera stuff and behind-the-scenes' wrangling. All those minor celebs that appeared in clips etc., lots of fun to be had there for a start. OK, I don't think Cat, Nikki, Foxy and, er, Watermannie could've acted in it properly - as they certainly couldn't in the bits where they had to act in what was broadcast, but we could've seen Mr Kay doing different characters, as in Phoenix Nights, and had a bit of fun with the format even if it risked being too tv-insiderish. Although this is C4, they are allowed to be a bit edgy, aren't they? Isn't that what they're for?

The thing is that this show will be regarded as A Huge Triumph for the channel as it rated incredibly well. Good in a way - original UK comedy does well for the channel in difficult times, it means they'll hopefully invest more in original UK comedy - but I have to say this was the worst thing I've seen for ages. And that includes the new sitcom on BBC Three written by someone who is seventeen or something.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Spoofs.. or is the plural spooves?

The Peter Kay X Factor spoof did incredibly well last night - 6.1m viewers on C4? Superb numbers there. And as a big fan of Mr Kay (more in the consistently funny sitcom Phoenix Nights than his nice-but-trad stand-up act) I was waiting with baited breath for it.

OK, so I haven't seen the last hour yet - and I will watch it, I promise - but the first hour was one of the biggest disappointments of the year for me.

I thought it couldn't fail. One of Britain's top comedians writing and appearing in it, what certainly looked like a vast, huge, enormous budget, an obvious target to take the piss out of, and a stunt schedule just like proper reality shows - well, it's an easy winner.

Except they forgot to put any jokes in. OK, that's not 100% fair - there were a few jokes. The name for one. A vaguely funny thing on paper even if it grated when lovely Cat Deeley said it for the tenth time.

Ah yes, the casting. Again, on paper, proper reality presenter (Cat!) alongside real judges (Pete! Foxy! That woman off of Pop Idol!) - very funny, so accurate, spot on. Errr, no. They can't act. Waterman pretending to flirt with Kay's character was just horrible. Not in the comedy-of-creepiness way that was intended but in the just-bloody-awful no ability to act or carry it off way.

The little boy's gran died when he told her he'd been kicked out, so they put him back in. Hohoho. That one gag stretched over ten long minutes. The songs were another flaw - they were just songs really, not much comedy there. Mimed too - tsk, no reality show would put up with that.

The group 2 Up 2 Down with two ladies in wheelchairs - chortle-tastic! Well, a bit - again I think of Phoenix Nights here - but it simply wasn't that good. When the ladies flew out of their chairs as superheroes on wires I simply sighed.

And then Kay turns up - finally, after 40 minutes without him! - and woe betide my splitting sides but he's (a) a lady; and (b) transgender. Well I never. Now Kay is a great comic actor and he lit the screen up with charisma and timing and even some one-liners (unlike anyone else) but again him being a ladyman is one joke not a third of a show.

The whole thing looked almost perfect - if a bit cheaper than the real thing, which isn't a surprise as X Factor is a stunningly well-made studio show that drips of money.

My main beef (in amongst all the other beefettes above) was this didn't even try to be satirical or cutting. It was simply too close to the real thing to be a spoof. No-one would be shocked if an X Factor contestant turned out to have had a sex change, or a group had people in wheelchairs in it, or a small boy dedicating things to his gran. Kay didn't go far enough - a good spoof, for example, was The Day Today, taking news tv to it's supremely twisted conclusion (even if nowadays the real news is far more extreme than the Currency Arse or the Mile High Traffic Pod).

This was nice and gentle and, to be frank, if you switched on without knowing you'd simply think it was a genuine X Factor rip-off, yawn, and hop somewhere else. Too soft, almost as if it was in awe of the subject matter, instead of knowing and cruel and sticking the boot in.

I'll update this soon if the last hour was a work of genius but it's still an hour of my life I won't get back. At least the next hour I spent in the company of Lord Stephen of Fry, and his American adventure show wasn't exactly stunningly original or clever, but at least he's so lovely and jolly and trulu erudite company. Perfect for a Sunday night. I simply couldn't face more of "Doctor" Fox or Pete Waterman or Nikki Thingi.

The only bit I properly laughed at was one of the msucal montages going from 'Free Nelson Mandela' to 'Um-ber-ella ella ella'. That probably says much about my comedic taste (ie I've got none) but there you go.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Comedy, gays and a QIHBAFSR. Ahem.

Well I watched esipode 2 of Beautiful People last night and laughed quite a lot. Any show with a musical montage from Annie, Joseph and, er, another one (musicals aren't my area of expertise) has to be good.

Some sparky one-liners and a general positive-funny-happy feeling made it a pleasant half-hour. A typical British show about a camp kid and his even camper friend singing 'I'm A Barbie Girl' together in a school talent contest would've been full of bullying, homophobia and - even in a comedy - some bleakness. This was just, well, faaaabulous.

Great performances by the young actors again too. OK, I didn't howl at a great setup or roll around to a witty rejoinder (but did laugh loudly at someone mentioning Terry Waite and mum saying "that reminds me, I need to bleed that radiator" - look it up, oh young readers) but for a British gayish BBCish sitcom it was a smashing way to spend 28 minutes.

I still think it'd have been funnier set back in the sixties, and the plot was unconvincing in the extreme ("here's how I broke my nose"... fifteen minutes in, a nose injury... end of show: "actually, I didn't break it properly then, this is how it happened".. clip of nearer present day). I forgive them that as they were spoofing Lorraine Kelly at the time. Extra gay points all round.

Followed by Dame Graham Norton on Beeb2, and we also have E4 currently screening their only good show for a decade Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In The World, in the words of The Flintstones theme music, "we'll have a gay ol' time!". TV is in a very slightly gayer-than-usual phases. I should mention the preceding show Buzzcocks with Simon Amstell and a very bemused Stephen Fry keeping the homo banner aloft for a full ninety BBC2 minutes. But I won't, as despite Messrs Fry and Amstell being funny guys, a quiz about music that's been running for 19 series makes me yawn.

Anyhoo, I do love Rick and Steve, it's offensive to everyone everywhere, be they gay, lesbian, dying of Aids in a wheelchair, addicted to drugs or, in the occasional minor character, straight. When the young guy who goes out with Aids Crippled Man (hey, it's how he describes himself - don't blame me) travels from the gay area (all rainbow flags, happy shoppers, gyms and flower shops) to the straight area (totally grey with shops marked "LIQUIDS" or "SOLIDS") it really made me giggle.

On the other hand it's six episodes in entirety and that'll probably be enough.

I know I said I'd watch that ITV2 thing with crap superheroes in it but I haven't managed to yet. Apparently there was A Special Effect in last night's episode. I will try, oh blogosphere, I will.

And to finish: Questions I Have Been Asked For Some Reason.

Q(IHBAFSR) 9th October 2008: "Is the current economic crisis affecting TV now?"

A: "Yes, sort of."
I won't leave it there - commissioners are looking to the future and what money that can spend, and cutting back. Lots have fixed budgets from a while back, and a level of discretionary spend for anything they really rate. I suspect their bosses will tell them they can't have that extra money from now on.

Things will bite for the commercial networks when the decline in ad income (5% for C4, up to 20% for ITV1, somewhere inbetween for most channels) hits their revenues over the next year or so.

As ever, if you're a top boutique supplier in any genre (ie Aardman in animation), a big company spread across all area (Endemol, All3Media), or a fleet-of-foot small company with a low cost base, you're less likely to suffer than the mid-market, mid-sized companies. In telly that means anyone with a receptionist I s'pose...

Friday, 3 October 2008

New comedy

So I've made the effort to watch some new comedy. And... er, mixed results.

I'll not judge Beautiful People yet as it's just episode one. Well, I'll make some comments now but hold total judgement off until a few more eps have aired. Good compromise?

I just finished reading the original book last week, and very funny and light it is too, if somewhat unstructured and dashing off all over the shop in time and place. The lightness understandably dims a little when covering Aids but otherwise the word 'perky' comes to mind - smiley, lovely and fluffy, no work of genius (unlike, say, a David Sedaris book)

The main thing that stuck in my mind was Simon Doonan's tale of growing up as a fey, gay, hip-hip-hooray kid in the sixties. It was very evocative of that era, and surprisingly upbeat for this kind of subject matter. Very few beatings, bleatings or suicide attempts for example.

And what have they done with the sitcom of it? Only just gone and scrapped all that, setting it in 1997 and having a young Simon (as opposed to his fiftysomething real self) in glam Noo Yorak, with a floppy haired teen back when Blair was just being elected.

Errr, right. This means they can put in, for example, a black camp friend instead of his white one. And make one of the many odd aunties he had Asian - so far, so PC. And, yes, I know it's to make it more modern/relevant blah blah blah.

But the story simply didn't ring true any more. Who made wine from potatoes in 1997? A daytrip on the bus to Slough was an adventure - really? Maybe in 1967 but not 1997. Gay kids weren't so hidden in the 90s compared to the 60s, true, but what made the book so cool was that there was this obviously, totally, utterly gay kid back in the 60s in a suburban environment, and here is a mainly upbeat and positive story of his life.

When Things Can Only Get Better started up I sighed. I didn't laugh much at anything much, to be frank. But to be positive, it was all very nicely shot and everyone seemed to be having a nice time as they made it.

Anyway, it's early days - it's got a great cast (the two young kids are fantastic, as is Mum), the premise is still interesting and in three series' time no-one will remember the book. Or something.

The next thing I watched was The Wrong Door, BBC Three's CG-heavy sketch show. I've seem them all (I think - BBC Three is very naughty when it comes to labelling repeats as new episodes so my Tivo gets huffy with them and doesn't record things at all sometimes).

I really enjoyed episode one but by this one (episode 5?) I think it's just all got a bit stale. Initally, seeing realistic-looking planes flap their wings was new and exciting, and CG monsters stamping London to bits looking for their keys was different. But seeing them yet again is... well, just not surprising any more. Ditto with a flock of buses migrating - they did it with scooters last week. Yawn. It proves how hard it is to get these repeated sketches right.

It's also weird to see the non-CG sketches - you just wait for something special-effecty to happen and it never does. And some of them just go on far too long. Last week's train pirates is one case (although Brian Blessed hammed away even more than usual, wonderful), and this week had a very poor James-Bond-but-a-clown series that I'd have thought a script editor would've crossed out at the ideas' stage. Oh look, it's 007 - but he's got a big red nose! Hahahah! And M is in a big top. Hohoho! And the gadgets are clown-themed! Heeheehee!

And then two series of sketches (the running ninja academy one and, oddly, last week's train pirate one that didn't feature at all this week) melded with the James Bond clown one in some grand plot amalgamation.

Well, they were setting it up as such when I got bored and skipped to the next show on the Tivo, which was Family Guy. It may have none of the sophistication of The Simpsons and little of the jaw-dropping shock of South Park (their spoof of FG is superb, check it out) but it's still got more gags in it than an enitre series of most British sitcoms.

Next week I promise to watch that superhero sitcom off of ITV2. If I can find where that is - it's not exactly my first call for viewing pleasure, seeming to consist entirely of X Factor spin-offs, that Celebair thing and endless shows with Peter Andre and Jordan in 'em.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

My ten point plan to fix the telly and that

So when I write a title like that I really have ten points written down in front of me? Err, well, I've got a vague idea of a few of them. But it's a blog and you're s'posed to do it live and that, yeah?

I was just reading all the conflicting reports about public service broadcasting being broken, ITV merging regions, cutbacks at C4, times being tight at the BBC, footie fans unable to see even highlights of England matches on terrestrial telly, the ad market contracting (one forecast saying there could be £500m in ad revenue by 2020 compared to £3.2billion now - eek) etc. etc.

Woe is me, it's the end, bye-bye quality, hello gameshows when z-list celebrities have to stand in funny shapes to go through a moving wall... oh, hold on, the last thing has just happened. With Dale Winton. On BBC One. WWTI!*

Anyhoo, here is my multi-point plan to fix it all. Everything. Dead easily and that. Harldy thought-through but here we go...

Split it from the BBC to a new body that gives it to public service stuff wherever it is, run by a lean body without too much admin staff. Charge a small tax on satellite and cable subscriptions, and add that to the money pot. If the digital broadcasters make a certain %age of UK-originated programming, their channel doesn't have to pay - an incentive to invest in new things instead of repeats of Will and Grace**

Yeah, you heard me. Close it. I know it's great, and cheap, and watched by the Radio 4 listening posh people who run the country but scrap it. And do the same with More4. Both get miniscule ratings (apart from repeats from their parent channels) and cost a lot of money. Don't shut down BBC Three, just trim it a bit. Add that to the pot from (1). And then...

...set up a joint channel that shows cult-chah, except it has a somewhat nicer budget so it can commission more stuff instead of competing pointlessly. 

It costs £70m or sommit for S4C and will cost £50m or thereabouts for a Gaellic channel for Scotland (60,000 Gaellic speakers available to view). And ITV are trying to save £40m by merging huge swathes of the country to make regional news even less regional? It should be funded somehow - if it's funded by taxpayers for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, then why can't it be for England too?

Noticed how Monday night at 8pm is the ghetto for current affairs now? Panorama, Dispatches and Tonight on BBC1, C4 and ITV1. Tsk. Stop it. It makes them lazy and samey. It happens in the States with staid Sunday morning talk shows on all the networks, and the network news on at the same time everywhere. I want a choice. I also want to be able to watch all three sometimes, and even if I was all Sky+'d and iPlayer'd up it's hard.

Channel Five have just done this, cutting slightly on drama/origination to emphasize children's programmes. Hey, you know, I have an interest in this here, but it's something the public value and therefore it should be a PSB obligation. Go further. Why insist Five has to do news? What for? No-one watches it really, it's just Sky News from a different room so no diversity of content... why can't Five guarantee to invest that money into UK-originated PSB programming instead? 

Do the same with ITV and C4 too. Make C4 do children's programmes - again, self-interest as a producer declared here - but it's important to have a diverse supply. Cut them some slack elsewhere to compensate. I enjoy C4 News, am a regular viewer, but things can't be sacrosanct forever and it is just ITN with a top hat on, instead of the baseball cap they wear on ITV 1. 

More emphasis on comedy here - it is so neglected as it's hard to get right, but a good sitcom is, in my view, so much more valued than a good drama. I'm not saying scrap, say, daytime property shows and put the money into more eps of My Family, God no, but just make the Beeb invest into things the audience enjoy and ITV 1/C4/Five/Sky can't afford to do much of. The BBC Trust need to kick ass here. 

I don't mean on the thieving bastard producers who stole money from drunken students through rigged phone-ins, but the rules on, say, product placement are out of the olden days. Get rid of 'em. Does it matter that the beer in the Rovers Return is from a proper brewer not whatever madeup name they use, and ITV 1 gets more money? Of course not. If the characters turn to camera and advertise it viewers will soon switch off, so keep the regulation simple. There are plenty more stupid rules like that, some of which are going. I mean to say, why should Ofcom decide how many ad breaks Five can put in a movie? If they put too many in, again, people will switch over. Just leave 'em alone.

Make someone like C4 or BBC Three do a nightly satirical show like The Daily Show. That show is certainly doing a public service to the American voter right now and it's a disgrace we don't have one - oh they try, occasionally, but it's just not worked for years. Why can't, say, BBC Three decide to invest a sizeable amount of money into this area as it's something the market can't deliver*** 

That's just one example of being a bit more inventive with the PSB requirements than having a quota %age to hit.  

People still like and watch the telly. 20 million people still watch the two main channels when there are big event shows they like to see on them. I love the BBC but a small fraction of the billions it generates through a compulsory tax should go to ensure a diversity of supply in areas where the free market isn't allowing the commercial broadcasters any leeway. 

I got to ten in the end. And there are footnotes, like in a proper article and that. 

*Who Would've Thought It!
**Please leave the repeats of Will and Grace on. I like them.
***I can answer this one - a topical show doesn't repeat, and as BBC Three has to repeat everything a gabillion times to (in their own internal systems) justify making anything, nothing topical happens. That's why they'll make six episodes of Haha! These People Only Eat Crap! or whatever, 'cos they can show them 'til the tapes wear out.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Property shows on tv

Right now I wouldn't like to a commissioning editor in charge of the vast swathes of factual telly that consists of property shows. For at least a decade now, daytime and primetime telly has revelled in everything linked to property. From the paint-it-beige-and-make-£50K lot to Kevin McCloud and the self-builders; from auctions to makeovers to gardens, property shows are the backbone of many schedules.

And now no-one wants to know.

Oh, sure, it'll be quite a lot of fun to see Property Ladder's Sarah Beeny putting on her oh-so-sad-why-didn't-you-listen-to-me face when she tells some idiot developer that they've lost £100K. But it'll get as tedious as it did when everyone made shedloads of cash despite painting the ceiling of the living room with a homage to the Cistine Chapel and coming in 90% over budget.

The grandad of all of them, Grand Designs, is also cutting back on who they film and when, as it's taking much longer to get money and therefore do any building at all. And, to be frank, despite being a big fan of the show, there are only so many square glass boxes I can drool over.

All those improve-and-sell shows have already remodelled themselves as 'invest in making your home better to live in'. It's not that convincing though, as the makeover show's only point to me was the "now your house is worth loads more" valuation bit.

I say all this now for two reasons. Firstly, a friend went to see that Guy Ritchie movie, RocknRolla or some other such ridiculous title. He said there were hoots of laughter in the first ten seconds when some voiceover started up about how you could make so much money on property in London, it was impossible to lose. Er, yeah? Now? Surely Mr Madonna knows that isn't the case any more. Maybe changing that script cripples whatever passes for plot in his movie, I dunno.

And I watched The Price of Property, C4's new show examining why we've got to where we are. There's some annoying man who sold his flat in London and went to live in France for a bit, then came home to find he couldn't afford here any more. He sounds even less sharp than Guy Ritchie. Can't watch British telly or read UK papers or interweb sites in France, Mr Hot Shot Reporter, eh? Ooooh big shock that houses cost more than they did, innit?

Anyway, ep one was OK, but ep two was terrible. Reporter man wandered around some small village in Cornland where the locals complained about the city dwellers buying second homes for vast amounts of dosh, and the city dwellers all said how fab the locals were. They won't think that after seeing the locals whine about how they were bloodsuckers destroying their village.

Cue lots of Cornish people whining they can't afford houses, and an odd subplot with a tenant farmer saying he can't afford to buy as he only makes £300 a month from working 70 hour weeks. Hmmm. Maybe the problem isn't with the property market, it's more with your job there matey? Just a thought...

I understand why the locals were upset but they had no solution (well, apart from one builder suggesting constructing a wall to keep everyone else out of Cornwall). They talked about how the village had been a thriving fishing port, lots of shops and pubs and community spirit... but no-one said that there are very few fishing villages any more, that without the 'second homers' (made me think of The Simpsons and laugh every time this expression was used) the village would certainly have plenty of cheap housing but still no jobs or pubs or shops.

Lots of locals worked servicing these people too, and the only good part of the whole doc was when Reporter Man stumbled across some locals who made loads of money selling in the village, moved to the council estate further away and then complained their kids couldn't afford anywhere. You had to laugh when one guy admitted he owned a second home in Spain - but Demon Reporter only found out by mistake and then wandered the beautiful streets whining about property killing the village.

No it's not. The village is dying as a viable community anyway, and the only thing keeping it afloat were the views and the property. It looked perfectly horrendous to me, but I love big noisy throbbing cities and the idea of living in a little cottage overlooking the sea drives me to despair.

Anyway, it was a fairly shabby piece of television, although I do like shouting at the screen when such things are on. Oh, and then there was a very odd US sitcom about Lego gay people on E4, but even a hack like me can't make these two items flow together so I'll do that next time.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The new tv season

Yes, I'm back after a wee break trying to sort some business things out. Apologies for not gracing the blogiverse with my unthought-out streams of consciousness about all things televisual.

So it's Autumn, and the schedules are chock-a-block with new shows, returning favourites and all that. How exciting!

Have you noticed how Americanised our way of talking about tv has become? It's not a new series of something, it's a season. From the US, where they simply make 22 eps a year, repeat them over holidays and the summer, and start the new season in the fall- sorry, autumn. We haven't got quite that Yankified.

Or maybe we have.

Last night I saw someone mentioned the start on Living of the new cycle of America's Next Top Model. Now I've worked in tv and had an unhealthy obsession with American tv above all else, but I'm only vaguely aware of the phrase. I think it's because they run two series a year so they can't say season. Probably. Perhaps. Small idea: why not say series?

It all started with video then DVD boxsets - seasons became a more used word, then the cabsat channels started to say "see season 9 from the start again" as it sounded less repeat-y than saying series.

Anyway, must admit to not being that bothered about many of the new highlights. Merlin - hmmm. Looks more like Robin Hood than Dr Who to me. I'll try it out I s'pose. X Factor sneaked in at the end of the summer (as it runs for six months or something now) and so far, so far the same as ever. Great show, well made - how they've managed to keep it seeming even slightly fresh after all those endless singing eeeejits... you know, *RAISES HAT TO THEM*.

But let's look back to the US, they're boring of the endless auditions, of laughing at the tuneless morons and picking a favourite identikit karaoke muppet. It'll happen here too, some day. ITV must be quaking, although they've got Britain's Got Talent and can shoehorn Cowell into it if the other one starts to fade away.

Other Autumn treats - err, um... there's the Peter Kaye spoof of talent shows, that'll be champion I hope. New series of Mad Men, Simpsons and other top American treats. Some documentary stuff looks good - a series about money, that analysis of why British property prices have been so ridiculous manages a new spin on a tired subject, lots of new 9pm C4 shows to replace Big Brother (I managed to avoid all but twenty minutes of one show, surely a record considering the thousands of hours broadcast)

Oh, and one final not-to-do-with-Autumn-or-America-but-here-you-go thing - did anyone see BBC News at Ten last night, the day before the Cern particle wotsit was switched on? They had science guy David Shuckman (sp?) explaining how it would work, with some pretty nice CG effects showing where the big circular accelerator thing was, how deep down - so far, so Day Today but verging on OK.

But but BUT... then they had him standing next to big whooshy dubbed-on particle beams flying around and then reaching in to pick up two huge glowing balls of particles and hold them up. Er, what? This proper actual journalist was holding up his hands and having Mr CG Animator DRAW BIG SHINY THINGS ON THEM. On a NEWS programme? Utterly astonishing. It was too ridiculous to caption it 'Reconstruction' but it was a stunning piece of stupid lowest-common-denominator telly, and certainly the first time I've seen a reporter act along like that.

What next, BBC Business Editor Robert Peston gets his head bit off by a giant CG bear to indicate that stocks are in a bear market? US reporter Justin Webb dressed as a boxing referee in a ring, standing inbetween a cartoon elephant and donkey having a fight to report the presidential elections? Huw Edwards flying onto the news' set (itself virtual) on a huge 3D dragon, just because he's Welsh?

Now the last one would be cool, I admit, but come on - just have the news people GIVE US THE NEWS. I can watch it without it being illustrated in every single way. Much as I like flashy titles, good graphics and whoosh sounds, I don't need an important scientific story to be jazzed up by lying stupid animation. No-one mentioned how Cern got their 'billions' of Euros to do this, that's more important to me than pointing at the screen going "LOOK! BRIGHT SHINY LIGHTS! In that man's hands! It's the neeeeeeeeeews! Happy now?"

Errr, bit of a rant there but that's what these things are for. If you want an example of someone ranting a little bit too much, go to and listen to his latest podgram about tv compliance procedures. I love him to bits but even the godlike Mr F has got somewhat too concerned about certain tv prodedures.

I do hope he didn't spontaneously combust seeing the news last night.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Running a small tv production company

Running a company is a double-edged sword. I've sorta done it in three different iterations:-

As a video game programmer, I ran my own one-man-band business, living on quarterly royalties and less-than-quarterly advances. Tax, planning, accountancy - yes, all there and all as tedious as ever. However I slept 'til midday, did OK moneywise and got many more plaudits than I should've had...

After a spell as a proper employee, I ran a very small tv business as a separate unit of another company. More legal and money things there - directorships, company secretaries, VAT, tax writeoffs from the parent company... all ending in being bought out for a quid in the House of Lords. (Long story)

And now I run a proper bigger-than-small-but-not-that-big company that I wholly own. All the above times twenty.

You know, mostly, I totally love it. When there's lots of work lined up, when the stuff we're making - and it's a 'we' as that's how I view the people I work with, they're 'us' and 'we' to me - is great and going down well, it's one of the best jobs I can imagine. I get to think up ideas and sell them and decide things and have them done and everything ticks along nicely. I'm very lucky in that a lot of good people work with me - oh, and I say 'with' not 'for', important distinction I s'pose but not something I've ever much thought about until now.

Basically I love going into work most days. I still revel in the fact I made telly for a living. I don't all the time, obviously. I still hate the accounty side but try to keep it under control as everyone suffers if I don't (another long story). As I've said here, some aspects of people in some areas of telly annoy the hell out of me - but, hey, it's my business so I don't make anything for them kinda people. 

I feel a real sense of achievement when I see one of our shows on telly, or on DVD in a shop, or in a catalogue for international sales. It's like that end logo for some American production company I'm too lazy to look up, it used to go 'I made that!" when the show finished. And even if I didn't do the animation, or think up the basic idea, or write the script, or record the audio, or edit the- well, you get the idea, even when I did nowt much apart from suggesting the font for the credits, in a way I did make that as I hired the people and in the immortal words of Captain Jean Luc-Picard, I made it so. 

In its many forms my little company has made over a thousand standalone programmes, and eleven years of doing this is a nice happy thing to have. One of my friends said I was obviously an alpha male who enjoyed being in charge and having total responsibility, which really made me laugh - alpha, me? More beta I'd say - but I reluctantly concede there's some truth in it. Some being the operative word.

So yay me, and yay running a telly company,yeah? 

Err, well. Hmm.

There are some times when it's just fucking awful to be in charge. I'm not talking about the aforementioned annoying people that I might have to work for sometimes to make ends meet - if that's the case I get on and do it. I whine constantly about it but I grit my teeth and smile and get the job done. Then whine some more to my long-suffering co-workers in the pub after.

As I've bleated on here many times, tv is an industry with no safety net. Contracts come and go, for companies and individuals. It's freelance, cut-throat and subject to the vagaries of who is in and out at a broadcaster, or the ad market in Germany, or a lord of the realm deciding to cash his chips in. When that happens, and the work you do seems to have no bearing on the work coming in, it's not nice. Not Nice At All, in capital letters and everything.

I'm sure you've guessed I'm currently going through - or, more accurately, we are currently going through - a Not Nice At All time. Decisions have to be made and they're all bad. And I mean bad, as in no matter what I decide, I haven't much choice in the matter and the outcome is, in some shape or form, bad. I'll try my best to make it the least bad outcome possible that word 'bad' is still there. 

I try not to think I've failed when I haven't managed to get the next contract to smoothly flow from one project to the next. I think I've done well in the past to get that to happen almost continuously for a long time, that I've bridged gaps by funding them myself - not easy sometimes - and I've done all I can in trying to get everything to happen at the right time.

Well, in my totally unthought out sprit of honesty, I haven't done all I can do. I've done all I can do without appearing to be desperate to the clients we work for. Hell knows I have no pride or shame but I honestly think that any business can only do the 'but otherwise we'll go bust and you'll lose the thing you want' tactic only once. I did it with my parent companies once each time, and things came good, and I'll get one chance with a broadcaster, perhaps, but if things don't come good then the relationship is tarnished forever.

The irony in all this is that things are far from bleak for my company, thanks to the efforts of the we's and us's in it. (Can I have an award for Not Nice At All English for that last sentence ta?) We're on the verge of two great big lovely commissions, and have a slate of new ideas I'm massively proud of. It's just down to timing, that's all. And timing has meant having a Not Nice At All conversation with lots of people today.


So you'll excuse me from this blogging lark for a couple of weeks, whilst I try and sort this out. I'm in Meeting Frenzy Hell, and then at the end of the month I've got the Desperate Phone Call to make if I can't make the meetings come up with the goods.


Monday, 11 August 2008

Things that annoy you on tv

OK, so here are a few tv things that I find annoying, plus the alleged justification for it, and what I think the real reasons are. Feel free to send me some more.

Really, really, really irritating. Worst on Living for some reason...

Technically, you are not allowed to have higher volume in ad breaks, but due to compression of audio it just seems that way.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We do all we can to make the ads louder so you take more notice of them, otherwise we'd lose money. Compression is a good excuse for us as no viewer knows what it means.



Voiceover: "Welcome back to Property Ladder. Toby and Jocasta Idiot-Posh are looking for a townhouse in Bath for around a million pounds, and a crash-pad in Kensington for under half a million." Over this we see clips that we've seen before. There's ten minutes of the Idiot-Poshes rejecting everything and Phil'n'Kirsty making faces, then: "Coming next, have we found them their ideal pad at last?" over footage of them jumping up and down for joy. Fast forward through the commercials and start again. "Welcome back. This time, we're following Toby and Jocasta-"

No. Stop it. STOP IT! I haven't forgotten what I was watching thirty seconds ago. Just get on with it. Don't show the same clips that you showed straight after the title sequence, at the end of part one, start of part two, end of part two, start of part three. When the clips turn up on the actual programme content I want to SCREAM.

Just leave it out. Assume I have a memory greater than that of a goldfish.

(REASON GIVEN) People drop in and out of shows. It's important that new viewers know what's going on.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) Oh, how many do you want? Us producers think the audience are stupid. They've forgotten what was happening five seconds ago, to be frank. If you don't trail what's coming up they'll switch over to watch something else. Oh, and handily it fills up ten minutes of airtime for free.


A Sky thing but very irritating. Last night it was 'Press RED for GLADIATORS MULTI-START'. For quite a bit of The Simpsons, although it did go away eventually. I'm watching the best sitcom ever, and would rather shove a pugil stick up my nose than watch that regurgitated game show. Often it stays there all the time, and whereas if you're watching live it goes away with pressing BACKUP, it doesn't if you've SKY+'d or Tivo'd it. Grr.

(REASON GIVEN) We're offering our viewers extra choice.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We're advertising the next show whether you're the target audience or not. It's our channel and we disrespect you so much we'll spoil the show you've chosen to watch by spraying graffiti on it.


Last night I sat down to watch some stuff I'd recorded. Top Gear on Beeb2 at 8pm, followed by Britain From Above on Beeb1 at 9pm. Dead straightforward, two shows with a fairly similar audience profile I'd think, surely they'll flow into each other? What with it being Aunty BBC and that?

Oh no. Top Gear started at 7:59 or so I think. It was in full flow when the recording played. And ended at well past 9pm as there was plenty left (ie no credits, at the end of a report). The recorder switched to BBC One and there was Andrew Marr already going with his new series. OK, it was a special series trailer thing, but still - er, why is this happening? I want to see BOTH shows ONE AFTER THE OTHER. Is that so hard for our lovely BBC to organise?

(REASON GIVEN) We engineer the programme junctions carefully to minimise viewers switching channels, and maximise our audience for our shows.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We faff on with everything like this 'cos if you switch over to ITV and something's already started you might think, oh bollocks with that, and switch back. And we don't care that much about you lot with Sky+ and the like as you bugger up our live ratings anyway.


The latest marketing wheeze is to push a small amount of shows at almost every promo junction (ie the start and end of breaks). So if you watch, say, two episodes of Frasier on Comedy Central- er, I mean Paramount Comedy, and switched on a bit early, you'll see eight or nine promo breaks.

And they'll show three trailers max in those breaks. They often don't consider the target audience at all - ie intelligent, wordy Frasier was packed with trailers for moronic kiddycom Two and a Half Men.

(REASON GIVEN) We focus our marketing on key brands, and research proves more promos for less brands delivers eyeballs.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We have to make less trailers which saves us money. Our average viewer only watches fifteen minutes a week (ie one episode a fortnight) or something - if we're lucky - so they won't realise this.


A small selection of gripes there, mainly culled from watching the tv on a rainy Sunday. I will no doubt return to it.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Worst. TV. Ever

American tv is coming up with some corkers at the moment. Here are three, in reverse order of worstness:-

This show consists of people eating until they throw up. Or 'hurl'. The last one to throw up wins. That's genuinely it. Nothing else. Just eat and puke.

A competition between two doggie shows here. Firstly a reality show currently airing where twelve dogs and their owners move into a house and compete against each other in challenges, one being kicked off each week. Naff title though, Greatest American Dog. Nah, let's put this one second.


But with the best title ever. It's about grooming dogs. So it's called.... drum roll... Groomer Has It. Hahahahahhhhahahahhahahah. Campy people who 'style' dogs compete in front of campier judges. Perfect.

C'mon British tv, we need to raise our game. Nothing on air over the summer is as crap as this. Well, apart from Big Brother. It's so far off my radar I didn't realise it was still on. The papers and mags I read don't mention it at all, and no-one has been racist or violent (for a few weeks) so it's not on the news. For some reason I'm conditioned never to try C4 at 9pm either so I don't even hop by it on the lookout for a show about dogs eating too much they vomit (hey, that's my copyright, OK?)

But British tv has one potential winner, something so bad in concept it might be unmissable. A big cheer to ITV 2 and a title to die for :-

Celebrities! Being cabin crew on an airline! And voted off by the passengers! Can you imagine the horror of turning up for a 5am charter flight and it's staffed by, say, Jodie Marsh, someone off of Hollyoaks and Brian Dowling*. Truly, deeply, utterly rubbish. Roll on the Autumn!

*I know, I know - he used to be a trolley dolly, and probably is back on Ryanair now, but he's still someone you really wouldn't want making knob gags at you at thirty thousand feet.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

TV that s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s itself out

Did anyone see Dispatches last night? It featured an earth-shattering exclusive:

Pre-packaged sandwiches can be bad for you!

Big posh sandwiches full of cheese and meat can have a lot of fat in them!

Some factories that prepare these sandwiches aren't that clean or nice!

I actually sat through the full hour of this show, with Mr Third String C4 News presenter striding around shopping centres and looking at pigs' hooves in a bin and turning his nose up. God it went on. A mate said it was one minute of actual information strung out over an hour. Too bloody right.

I've been railing against Pret and Eat for not putting any info on their sandwiches, saying that because they're made fresh on the premises they can't exactly tell what's in each one. What tosh. I've eaten sarnies from at least fifteen different Prets and they're all the same. So what if it's +/- 10% - at least there's a guide. You can check on their website but that's not particularly practical when you're in a sandwich shop. Although I've got an iPhone so perhaps...

Well, anyway, the trouble with this show is all down to C4 trying to be good. A full hour of current affairs every Monday, that's half an hour more than poor old wee half-hour Panorama. Look, Ofcom, we're super-nice and public-spirited! Ignore the hour of Big Brother on after, we have a 50 minute news bulletin then a small documentary thing made by a tiny company about something quirky then an HOUR of hard-hitting factual programming.

But it's not. It's padded as much as David Walliams dressed up as a fat lady in Little Britain. It'd been far better as a half-hour. You would've lost nothing apart from Alex Thompson (yes I've remembered his name) hassling innocent sandwich eaters outside Subway.

The one thing I got from it was that Boots are quite good - fairly healthy and clearly labelled. I went there this morning and bought a salad. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, being influenced by the television and all that, but there you go. A programme I'm berating Changed My Life.

I'm nothing if not complex, am I not?

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Better late than never...

OK, I was away when the finale of Doctor Who was on. Also my Tivo froze and didn't record it, meaning it had to be reset. This took three full days, one of which was poor old Teevs sorting through hundreds of channels using computer tehcnology from 1987 no doubt.

But when the little Tivo cartoon man did his warm up run and swung into the corner of my screen I shed a tear. Sniff. It would've been Sky+ otherwise, even though I only have one satellite socket and therefore it wouldn't work properly.

Techie issues aside, I managed to record it again on Sunday, thanks to the BBC running out of money and rescreening it/deciding to treat viewers who had malfunctioning PVRs to a welcome encore screening (DELETE AS APPLICABLE)

My main thought was that if, in the last ten minutes, a massed army of walking kitchen sinks stomped in I wouldn't have batted an eyelid. Russell T Lady threw everything else into it. Mickey! Rose's mum! K9! That kid off of Sarah Jane again! After the first part when Harriet Jones, Former PM turned up too.. as well as Dempsey out of Dempsey and Makepiece... if Servalan out of Blake's Seven came in riding on Jabba the Hut it wouldn't have surprised me in the slightest.

A load of old hokum, to be sure - shaky story, two Doctors (one with a slightly worse suit and somewhat less terrific hair), Donna having some of the Doctor in her (steady!), Captain Jack hamming away mercilessly (well, the 5% of his face that haven't been Botox'd into maskness), plot holes totally ignored (that Dalek squishy starfish thing saying "one of the Doctor's family will die" - er, will they?), and a fairly shitty ending with poor Donna becoming a simpleton again ("but she's better wif' you" sniffed grandad Bernard Cribbins as Real-Doctor-Fab-Hair looked on blankly) and Rose having to settle for the alternative world and Fake-Doctor-Merely-Lovely-Hair... a bit poor to be frank.

On the other hand...

Fantastic, incredible music. Special effects that were simultaneously great yet blended in perfectly. For God's sake - K9!!!!!1!111!!! Jokes. Utter Britishness, through-and-through. Totally gripping from start to finish, tv drama at top pitch. I bloody LOVED it.

The thing is Who is ALWAYS a load of old hokum. A man travelling in time in a police box? Yeah right... Regenerating every so often when the lead actor leaves or dies? Very convenient for the producers, ain't it? Sonic screwdriver? Don't make me larf. The Face of Bo? Please....

None of this matters. It's just rollocking good fun. As said before, best show on telly full stop. I'm normally not a big fan of the end-of-series ones but this was a cracker - as the ratings and audience appreciation figures reflect.

Well done Russell T. Now go off and write something as groundbreaking as new Who or Queer As Folk or Bob and Rose or the one with Ecclestone being Jesus II: The Sequel. You can do it Russie boy! We're counting on you...

And back in Wholand, we've Cybermen at Xmas to look forward to. The hairdressers in Cardiff must be stocking up on Mr Tennant's hair gee as we speak. He does have the most stunning hair though, doesn't he? A tribute to the Hair Product Industry of this fine nation.