Saturday, 5 December 2009

Comedy Capers

OK, so the perceived wisdom is that the sitcom is kaput. Finished. Dying. Dead...

Too costly to make, little chance of success, big risk when reality shit rates better and is much cheaper.


Er, well... no, not really. Let's ignore that new sitcom on BBC One about a circus. What do you mean, you haven't heard of it? It's in that prestigious comedy slot, um... ah... 7:30pm on Wednesday. Up against Corrie or the Eurofooty, so plenty of viewers around wanting a nice, wholesome comedy show about clowns and that.

Anyhoo, back to my thesis, the one not totally disproved by the paragraph above. There are some great sitcoms on the telly, some of them even British-made.

Modern Family, screened here on Sky 1, is my favourite of the lot. Get episode one downloadifying or streamerized to your fridge, or wherever people watch tv nowadays (anywhere but on a telly). I'm sure the ABC1 trendy readers of this blog have ways or means to see a show not currently on air. Although, bless Sky, they do repeat it on a loop so it'll be on at some point.

It's one of the best first eps of any sitcom I've ever seen, seamlessly introducing every (well-drawn) character and actually having a surprise at the end. Try and see this before watching the others. Acting is superb, really superb performances throughout, and a great, proper funny script - it's superb. And it gets better - as sitcoms do, as you get to know the characters. The gay couple are the funniest twosome for a long time on telly.

OK, so it's done psuedo-documentary style and there's no laugh track, but - hey, sue me - it's still funny ha-ha not funny cringe-no-don't-do-that-oh-that's-so-embarrassing.

Its on ABC in the States and they've got a couple of other new sitcoms that are apparently really good (and a crap one with Her With The Squarest Head Off of Friends called Cougar Town about old ladies shagging young blokes - shudder). And on NBC, there's...

30 Rock. Do I need to rave more about this? It can be patchy to be frank, but it never fails to amuse, even if it is just Fat Baldwin mugging away, or Campy Kenneth, or Liz Lemon's rubbishness. The great Elaine Stritch as Jack's mother was utterly superb. And it's about the telly, so how can it fail?

Looking forward to seeing Community, the new sitcom with Joel McHale Off Of The Soup in it - the clips I've seen look very funny. And apparently Parks & Recreation, which started last year and almost got cancelled for shitness, has reinvented itself and is actually really funny. Thursday night on NBC in the US is back to their old slogan of must see tv, with Community, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock and The Office in a row.

(Small note - I'm the only person who works in tv who doesn't say how great the original Office series was. I'm sure a lot of other people, like me, didn't laugh, or got bored with the concept, but no-one admits it now. I just can't do cringey comedy - oddly I can do US stuff like that... I like the US version of The Office a lot. Oh well. End of note)

And when it comes to UK comedy, there's Misfits, which everyone is raving about, even non-teens. That probably annoys E4 - if anyone over 25 likes it, they've failed or something. I will comment further when I've actually seen more than one ep. I quite liked it but sense it could build a bit, the high concept stuff normally takes a bit of time to get going.

They're making more IT Crowd, aren't they, and that's even got a laugh track on it. Joy. The blank patch is actually the Beeb at the minute. Name their funny sitcoms. That one with Boycey in it, off of Only Fools? Er, no. My Family? Not my bag. That one on BBC Two about the thirtysomething woman going back to live with her parents? Um, didn't manage to see it - sounded a bit saddo to me. Gavin & Stacey? Passed me by, I'm afraid, I thought it was nice and pleasant and smiley and that, but didn't actually laugh once. And this was on a plane with shedloads of booze. I howled at some dreadful film with Him Off Of The American Office in it, the spy remakey one I can't even remember 'cos was that merry and happy. And then Gavin & Stacey came on, all working class and stuff, and I smiled at 32% or so of the level needed to produce a guffaw.

Oh, and there was some sketch show on Beeb Three that was one of the oddest things I've ever seen. Several ugly middle-class middle-aged men running a council or something. They sang a song with the studio audience at the end, with a bouncing ball on the lyrics so we could sing along at home. As they say on t'internet WTF?!?!???!?!!1!!!!

(Look at how lazy I am, not even putting a link in. Tsch. Sure it's on their website or sommit.)

So with new eps of Family Guy and South Park on my iPhone (watch the one about The Smurfs, where Cartman becomes a right-wing school announcer/DJ, it's got one of the funniest topicalist punchlines ever), stacks of comedies on my Sky+, The Sitcom Is Back: It's Official.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Doctor Who

Ok, so I'm two days later than everyone else with any interest in Dr Who, but in my defence I've been... er, well... my schedule is... um... ah, oh, arsebiscuits - here's my view on the latest Who:-

High definition looking mighty fine - apart from the odd 'that looks pasted on' bit in some of the wider CG shots. Not helped by colour choices of, for example, the escape shuttle thing. From a distance it looked like it had a black outline, like the one off of Futurama.

Still, the colours - often the thing I notice first between standard and high def - were stunning and (SADDO ALERT!) Mr Tennant's Hair was looking good down to the very last be-product-laden strand.

Music - top notch, less syrupy and obvious than it has been.

Performances - not a duff one in the lot, even The Aussie One With The Baggy Eyes What Was In Neighbours. Lindsay Duncan was superb as the control freak captain, and the others were somewhat more rounded than the usual cast; compare them to the cast in that bus in the desert one. Enough said. Baftas all round. Mr Tennant's Hair should, obviously, be nominated for an Oscar. The way it drooped in the snow at the end was as moving a performance as I've ever seen. I wept. "Oh the humanity", I cried, "get the man some Su-Su-Studio Line Rock Fix Gel immediately!"


Humour - not as funny as some but some good lines. Bowie Base - brilliant. "Folding Bikes" - yes! The comedy robot (by the way - "gadgetgadget"... doesn't that sound a little like "bideebidee", the robot off of Buck Rogers In the 25th Century"?) "Name, Rank, Intention"... "Doctor... Doctor... er, fun?". Lovely lovely.

Monsters - good ones, again much better than the last special. Nice prosthetics too.

Now, he says clearing his throat...

Plot. I don't expect Mr T Davies's's's stories to be watertight (oh punnity pun), even more so after reading how last minute he finishes them. But this one was a bit weak. Er, why surrender to "gagdetgadget" when a quick zzzap with the sonic would surely disable it? When he found out who everyone was and that he couldn't change things - why not save them all and put them on a distant planet somewhere they'd never be found? He mentioned that he's been in the "knowing this has to happen" situation before (Pompeii) but this one really moved him - why? The sudden change to Timelord Victorious - er, somewhat clumsy clunking of gears there, only made at all logical by Mr Tennant's superb performance.

The bit with the Dalek sparing the young Captain - didn't work at all for me. Why would the Daleks want Earthlings to explore the galaxies? Surely that would peeve them somewhat? I suppose Russell T was slightly handicapped with what stories he could've used from the recent back catalogue to illustrate why Ickle Baby Captain was special, but still...

Oh, and the end. Why didn't Old Lady Captain just run away, kill her two comrades then herself, so history wasn't altered - she seemed to think it mattered more than old Timelord Victorious about that but didn't try that hard. The change in the web pages was a bit weak too.

OK, enough. It motored along and was fun and exciting and interesting, but - to be frank - it needed a further writing pass to tighten up and fill these holes. And add a bit more as...

Pacing - it was slow. If it'd been standard length it probably would've been OK. The bit where Mr Tennant was stood at the door watching people run around with protein boxes - that seemed to last fifteen minutes alone. There was quite a lot of fat in it. Unlike Mr Tennant, looking even more rake-thin than usual.


OK, I'll stop now. As far as a televisual experience goes, Dr Who still wipes the floor with every other British made drama currently on... or, indeed, on in the last ten years. And as a setup for the Christmas ep, it was marvellous. The Doctor going mad, knowing he's going to die, the Timelord Victorious stuff - that's all new and interesting. Trailing Bernard Cribbins... Catherine Tait... The Master as a Homeless: oh, joy!

I just hope the end of the Christmas one is (temporarily) nice so I won't sit on Xmas Day being a bit frowny and worried.

As for the final ep, I'm expecting everyone to come back, from Sarah Jane, K9, and Mickey to Rose, Martha, Cap'n Jack and all.


(One footnote: not to be snide before the event, but I can't imagine The New Doctor Mr Smith giving a performance like Mr Tennant did in this ep. I suggest he needs EXTRAORDINARY hair to distract from the fact he's around nineteen and looks like he's been slapped in the face with a pan)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

July 17th was the last time I posted on here. Eek. Well, I have had the excuse of employing 30 new staff on a big new project. New offices. New equipment. New bosses. New everything.

Apart from me.

Can't say I can promise to keep this updated any more, but here are x number of random telly notes:-

Am sort of loving it. Really enjoyable series, great premise, good actors, nicely paced, great effects. But. Butbutbutbutbutbut.

Er, it's all going to go to shit, isn't it? Lost did, and so will this. A matter of time. It's already quite inconsistent - the end of ep 4 revealed The Blond Dead One Out of Lost and The Tall Deep Voiced One Out Of This Life 'caused' the flashforward. GASP! Then ep 5 didn't mention it and sent everyone to Washington DC. I thought I'd accidentally flashedforward a week and missed an ep out.

(OK, I didn't, I thought I'd picked the next ep on my Sky+)

And The One Who's Ralph Fiennes Brother - has he had loads of Botox around his mouth or something? He talks clenching his jaw throughout, even when being nice to his ickle baby child. It's irritating.

I'll keep with it but I know, am just dreadfully certain, that it's going to have a hokey conclusion that will make me spit with fury at spending 22 hours of my life with pouty Joseph Fiennes and his mates.

So you all know how much I like the news, or more specifically the titles of the news. And ITV News has redone theirs. I was slightly excited - mainly as ITV News is about as important to me as Supreme Master TV (Sky 835, or - and, no, it's not a spoof)

It's OK, in a low-budget out-of-the-Nineties virtual-reality way. The titles do start and stop three or four times for some reason. And they could've got An Famous to do the voiceover, like they did for CBS News in the States when legendary anchor Walter Kronkite did the v/o announcing (shock, horror - a lady!) "This is the CBS News, with Katie Couric"). They got some PR for that.

Why didn't they ask Sir Trevor MacDonald? Generic Voice Over Man may be more convenient and cheaper, I suppose, and that summarises TV generally nowadays, and ITV specifically.

I think Simon Cowell's saving of Jedward (God, I've typed that word, I want to kill myself.. quick, calm down, it's in the interests of TV, it's OK.. pant) will be the Jump The Shark moment for X Factor. I'm glad they've got rid of the voting to Sundays as I can watch the remaining monkeys sing on a Saturday, in what is a wonderfully produced and artfully contrived big variety show, without giving any consideration to all da kidz texting in. Of course I'm watching Antiques Roadshow in high def when the results thing is on. It'll just make me angry anyway.

Tsk tsk Simon, you've really pissed on your chips there.

Speaking of posh telly pictures, now I've got used to it, it's a bit meh. I notice more when things I like aren't high def (like Flashforward - come on Five, pull yer finger out!) than I do when they are.

5 GARROW'S LAW (I think it's called that)
That new oldene dayes thing about the original defence lawyer, that's high def. And it's the only show that I've ever managed to sit through where people wear hats and bonnets and wigs and other odd headgear - see blogs ad infinitum. Any hatular activity (unless it's sci-fi) sends me diving for the channel change button before the first 'good morrow me lady' is said.

But it kinda works for me here, as it's primarily a courtroom drama, and they always have wigs. Even Crown Court had wigs. ... ...

I loved Crown Court, ITV's fairly rubbish daytime drama out of the seventies. Dirt cheap to churn out, crap acting, wooden sets, but as I only ever saw it when I was off school ill, so it was a 'treat'. Like pancakes for lunch (mmm sugary) and Lucozade.

Back to 2009 - Garrow's Law started off as wooden as the New Forest but got me hooked halfway through the first ep.

Please watch it. It's on E! a hundred times a week and is consistently the funniest thing on telly. Joel McHale is superb, and is now starring in a sitcom so the show comes from NY not LA. My only problem is that the standards division censors everything a little too much, from blanking out the voice of the sponsor of a segment, through blurring title captions and logos, to pixellating the running gag when Joel shoots the little hairy bloke dead most weeks. And blanking out the gunshot. That's just silly.

Rightyho, there's some random telly guff spewed in your general direction. Hopefully the next vomitous episode will arrive quicker than 4 months' time. Probably next week - it's NEW DOCTOR WHO this weekend. So excited!!!!1!!

Friday, 17 July 2009


Hello. S'been a while. I've been on hols and stupidly busy. And here I am on a Friday and, gulp, I haven't even switched my telly on since Sunday.

Maybe I'm regressing to being one of them interweb teens who think tv is boring and pointless, and only watch 30 second videos of dogs falling off swings on Youtube?

Alternatively, it's because I've been hugely busy and out/working late every night.

There's been plenty of stuff I want to see - that Charlie Brooker quiz (although apparently the 'slebs get in the way of Mr Brooker's patented diatribe. Who Do You Think You Are? is always good value. That drama about the financial crisis.

The good news is my Sky+ HD is finally working now, and it's a very nice capable thing. It works fine, the HD picture can be superb (and can be oddly pixelly in the background sometimes), the updated software is functional and quick, and it makes watching and recording anything a doddle.

Note my lack of passion there. As I've said before, it's all very well done but there's no spark, passion or cleverness. Unlike, say, Sky's incredibly slick sports coverage, the presentation is good but not special. I s'pose that's what a monopoly does - although I shouldn't complain, for the price it's truly excellent and the box also looks lovely.

Maybe I'm missing the little dancing TiVo logo man more than I care to admit... sniff...

More telly news as and when I actually watch some telly.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Limited ambitions

As I'm STILL without any telly at home, here's something from the past.

Cue the twanging harps and wibbly dissolve...

Picture the scene, Britain, mid-nineties, a typical indie tv production office (cheap furniture and staff in the open plan bits, expensive fittings and execs in the surrounding offices).

I was producing my first show, and we were due to shoot a one-off pilot episode to test the concept. It was a mix of factual items and comedy nonsense, all around a reasonably strong formatted idea, and had a tried-and-tested set of people appearing in it. Well, apart from me, moonlighting as a games reviewer. I was (a) free; (b) had seen the games so could comment; (c) free, and (d) looked stupid in the wig they made me wear so gave everyone else a cheap laugh.

Speaking of cheap, the show had a TINY budget. Weeny. Infinitesimally small (sp?). We filmed it in a disused old benefits office in Poplar, opposite Kwiksave (now it's an Aldi - is that up or down market?) and a canal full of sludge and broken Kwiksave trollies. The only pub nearby (you can tell I haven't changed much) said that we had to sit in the 'saloon bar' as we had a lady with us. Er, she was a lesbian and more macho than anyone else - but I wasn't going to argue with the man-with-three-teeth behind the bar.

Anyhow, the set looked ok and we'd come up with the monitor-point-of-view shot idea that made it just about filmable on the money we had. (Basically, we'd see a wide of a room and the characters enter - we'd then cut to a fixed camera 'within' the big tv in the corner, with a curvy-not-flatscreen-in-them-days effect on it, and use that for the rest of the scene, saving on relighting and moving camera. Most scenes ended with the main character pressing a button on the tv, cutting to footage so it was surprisingly effective)

Anyhow (ii) I'd spent three months honing the show, making sure the comedy stuff was easy to film and not too visual, as we couldn't afford props and redressing the set was a no-no. (Although we did a Dickens Xmas past/present/future thing, and the set looked jolly fine covered in Kwiksave Bargain Tinfoil as the future. The characters remarked on how the future looked quite like the present, just covered in tinfoil. Postmodern an' everything, eh?)

Anyhow (iii), the exec producer liked the scripts, the actors were happy, the content was good, I was cooking on gas, as we'd say in them days.


The boss came in. "I've written the pilot episode", she announced to everyone, "It's much better than your silly scripts". And with that she hurled a script at me.

Er... um... this was wrong on SO many levels. The boss had no sense of humour - she admitted as much. She hated the secondary character, the only really good actor and comedian. The Carry On-style innuendo and postmodernism made her cringe. She could write, and write well, but drama not comedy.

Her script was incredible. It had a robot supermodel in it, loads of outside scenes and a variety of perplexing remarks I think the boss thought were jokes. But weren't.

I went in to see her and said we couldn't film it, it cost too much. She said she'd pay herself for the extra time.


So we did it, as written. Every last scene. The robot supermodel, Candy LaBelle - I can and will never forget the character name - was an American actress hired at huuuuge expense for 3 days (£300!). I say actress, but, bless, she couldn't act. She had lots of complex techie lines to say and it took 30+ takes to get anything useable.The final denouement had her blowing up. We used a blow-up doll for that. Somehow.

Ooof it was awful. I mean really unfunny, illogical and slow. I cut it together, crying into my Sky-issue plastic coffee. I took it to the boss, gave her the VHS and walked out of the room to hide in the disable toilet. Pretending the Sky coffee had given me the shits.

She called me in half an hour later, stony-faced and ashen. I started to try and say that I thought it was a bit wooden, and too long, and-

She stopped me.

She told me it was awful. Shit. Dreadful. To cut it to pieces to rescue it, somehow, as we couldn't reshoot it and had to use it. But drop in new bits, filmed later. Some jokes perhaps. She'd leave us alone from now on, she knew comedy wasn't her thing but she now realised that you can't be overly ambitious on 10p an episode. That our brand of silly jokes, cheap jibes and implausible campery sort of worked, for no logical reason.

I left feeling ten thousand feet high. We made the eps we'd written and they were funny. Damn funny. The show rated really well, everyone in the office thought it was incredible, I was the toast of indie producerville. EP 4 went out - Candy LaBelle - hacked to bits but still not too good. We'd just about rescued it (even if some bits made no sense)

And the boss left me alone, for 12 whole episodes, a record in that office. She promoted me to a new show on a big channel, and most of my team came with me. She then had a hissy fit saying we'd ruined the show for the team taking over, that we'd all got the new show on our minds and forgotten the old one (which was wrong as the episodes that she was watching go out had been made long before we'd been promoted, and were the funniest of the lot)

I end this anecdote brutally as I've a train to catch. I think we've all learnt something there. I don't know what it is, apart from "leave me be please lady", but there you go.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


Pluses to Sky + HD: stunning picture on both SD and HD, quick channel changes, one box instead of two, one BLACK box matching my Blu-Ray player.

Minuses: it only worked for a day, and is broken, saying "no signal". The installers are checking the dish but as everyone else in the block is fine, it's not that, is it? 48 hours without telly... oh, the humanity.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Bye bye old friend

Well as I type this a Sky man (as in an engineer from the satellite tv company, not as in someone who with a jetpac or cape) is installing Sky + HD, so my dear old Tivo has been flung into a cupboard.

I did sigh slightly as I went to switch it off for the last time, the wee Tivo logo - a little man, improbably, made of those four letters, swaying slightly in the corner of the screen as the cloudy sky background did the familiar-but-still-swishy animated loop it always does.

I put the Sky box in last night (without the '+' capabilities of recording and that) and have to say HD is very good indeed. I sat through some right shite just to see it in HD, just like everyone does when there's something new on offer. When Sky first started, I had a dish and proudly showed off the four channels to gawping onlookers. Oddly enough my mates mainly came over after 10pm perusing the German and Italian channels for the legendary gameshows-with-ladies-of-little-clothes. There were a few of them - chin,chin! one of the theme tunes went, as busty presentresses opened their carefully-hinged bras and revealed prize logos stuck to one of their chests.


I got a stereo telly just before then, a posh Sony with speakers on ears. It was reet fancy, a fully flat screen in 1995 and everything. Hearing music like off of a CD was quite a gimmick... for about five minutes.

Before that I can remember when C4 started, a long hot summer holiday as a kid, little to do except watch their endless preview broadcasts, six minutes on the hour, every hour, on the portable TV in my bedroom. I can't remember the change from B&W to colour, not really.

Watching Jonathan Ross in HD was... well, the same really, colours brighter, sharper image obviously (boy do most people look older and/or more heavily made-up, including Mr Ross). I did notice how limited the HD range is - I expected more channels really. BBC HD, for example, didn't show the trooping of the colour this morning - surely it's filmed in HD? Not that I approve of such programmes, obviously...

Putting on boring old standard def Sky News made me realise just how nice HD is. But then the new Sky box seems to give a much better picture on standard stuff too, so hey ho.

The Skyman is finishing up, must catch him before he jets off up into the stratosphere. I have to say Sky's EPG and box are nicely put together, well designed and simple to use, if slightly more functional and basic than the lovely design and intuitive nature of TiVo. But when I press channel up or down, the channel goes up or down INSTANTLY. For us TiVoites, that's astonishing, as it takes around 5 seconds to change anywhere. A cable linked to the Skybox and send '1' then '0' then '1' and then a pause... and then channel would change. Believe me it made channel hopping a nightmare...

Comparing Sky+ and TiVo is like comparing a PC - universal, popular, functional - to a Mac - fancy, well-designed but a bit too all-knowing. I say this typing on my week-old MacBook with my iPhone next to me, a dramatic switch to the dark side after 20 years of PCness.

Skyman is now on the roof, checking the second feed for the recording thingie. I've even read the instruction book. The bit about how you can only record TWO programmes at once whilst watching another nearly made me fall over. With TiVo it was like early video recorders, you could only record what you were watching.

Sadly, I can now watch and record more TV than ever, at high-definition resolution and with brilliant digital sound - just as the tv industry cuts production of anything and everything to save money in a recession-hit world. Oh well.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Hey hey USA

So I've been in the States for a bit, and here's a unordered list of What I've Noticed About Yank TV:-

The evening entertainment magazine shows, from veteran Entertainment Tonight (ET) to new guy TMZ (Tee-Em-Zee of course) by way of Inside Edition and countless others, are now so jump-cutty and frenzied they're impossible to watch.

Mary Hart on ET, bless, has been presenting the show forever.. well, since 1989, when Sky Movies started to show it here. She sat alongside John Tesh, a man with a face that looked like it had been hit with a pan - and with a nifty sideline in Richard Clayderman-stylee naff piano music. The two of them read out links and the show was nice to everyone.

Not now. John is long gone, some shouting man with no appreciable personality is there. Mary doesn't look any older than she did two decades ago, just tighter and... er, bigger. As in the Botox and surgery to her face, US-TV-Enormo-Hair and fixed grin makes her head look massive.

But now each shot lasts a second of two, even when a presenter is talking, the camera constantly cutting and zooming. The reports are even worse - the word 'soundbite' being too long for most clips. They did a 'summer movie preview' and I swear there wasn't a single entire line of dialogue in the whole thing. How are you supposed to judge a film if they cut so fast between clips you've no idea what it looks like?

(The answer, oh Blogateers, is - of course - da yung'uns like it, and you look things like that up on the web nowadays. But I don't care. It's like watching bits of broken crockery in a blender - bouncy and noisy and pointless)

TMZ has the novelty of (a) being based on a website; and (b) pretending to be a documentary, with 'journos' pitching ideas to the 'editor', then clips popping up. Very odd. But everything is still in. Tiny. Lit. Tle. Bits. 'n'. Pieces.

If you thought it wasn't possible to cram in more ads on the already saturated American airwaves, you'd be wrong. Branded segments of programs (that's how the US'ers spell it, without the extra 'me', spelling nerds) like a minty chewing gum sponsoring a bit of the somehow-better-when-in-the-US Soup featuring sweary bits of dialogue from reality shows, telling them to clean their dirty mouths... to even more blatant product placement (an ep of some useless drama thing set entirely in a Subway sarnie shop), it's all there.

Most new shows are on twice a week, an 'encore' showing in primetime some other day, usually low-rated weekends, to boost numbers and save money.

NBC's The Biggest Loser is two hours long now. The American Idol results show, which is basically 5 minutes of 'you've won! you haven't!' is an hour long, sometimes 90 minutes, in addition to the two hour main show. The 'season finale' of Celebrity Apprentice (Joan Rivers AND her daughter!) lasted THREE WHOLE HOURS.


Especially, but not exclusively, on cable stations, a box will pop up with clips, animations, teasers, graphics and captions in the corner of the screen after each break, trailing the next show, or the next episode of this show, or some other show altogether. Countdown clocks to new episodes or series also dominate the screen, especially on TLC which seems to specialise in shows about people who have lots of kids. Sextuplets, 14 kids in total, whatever - just screaming children and shouting parents.

The recession means the ads for Viagra, Cialis and other medication seem to dominate even more, with their comedy list of side effects. A pill to 'reduce gas' has a huge list of problems it could cause including 'anal leakage'. So you don't fart but you shit yourself. Champion.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Founding a tv company

So with all the bad news swirling about, I was talking to a friend who said how lucky I was to run my own company, and have the 'stability' of doing so for years. This is lucky year 13 for my company (sort of) so he might have had a point.

But then I thought back to how it all started, and the night it nearly didn't happen.

I had cosied up to a senior exec at a big independent producer. It wasn't her job to add to the portfolio of mainly youthy, mainly entertainment shows this company made - and made very well - but she said she could help.

I'd got in via a guy who worked for me, who'd gone for a job interview in a period of unemployment, turned up a bit worse for wear but made an impression anyway. So the two of us went to see her, were kept waiting for ages - and we'd been to the pub so were a bit, er, the worse for wear. My mate wanted to walk out, I wanted to wait and see... well, anyway, she turned up, met us, chatted, introduced us to the bosses and we came to a deal to set up a joint venture company.

So I meet their head of new business, and we get on well. He works out a deal, we agree terms, and all that needs to happen is that this guy meets my other mate, who I'll be forming the business with.

Now this friend was easily my best mate in London, and it's fair to say we got on incredibly well despite being very different characters. We'd worked together well in the last job, despite the inevitable ups and downs of working with friends. And he was as enthused as me at the idea of setting up our own thing.

I decide it'd be good to meet in a pub, and off to Victoria Park me and my mate went as it was next to New Business Guy's (NBG for briefness) house. It turns out NBG was a drinker. Oh yes. A VERY big, VERY fast drinker, the sort who drinks half a pint in a sip. I'm quite a drinker, but pints of beer I find hard to drink quickly. My mate, however, is a legend when it comes to boozing, someone who could drink solidly for 36 hours and seem just slightly tired at the end of it. He could drink ANYONE under the table, under the ground or under anything ever.

The two of them are getting on OK, but the drinking is accelerating, and it's obvious my mate isn't exactly enamoured by NBG. "Twat" was his one-word judgement when NBG went off for a piss. "Quite an, um, character" was NBG's judgement as my mate went off to pee, rolling his eyes. I don't think tall, posh, clever NBG had ever met a tattooed, long-haired, leather-jacketed, burly bearded biker guy before. He seemed to view my mate - someone crucial to the business we were setting up - as some sort of amusement that would shock the oh-so-trendy types populating the parent company.

Things got worse. I tried to keep up and felt very ill. The subject of private lives was brought up, my mate fiercely protective of his... NBG seeminlgly yearning for more danger and edge than his lovely nice safe wife-kid-house-big job life was offering.

I was getting sicker and sicker as the two of them got drunker and drunker. They even arm wrestled at one point. I have no idea who won as I went off to vomit copiously. I got back to the table and they were both mute, arms folded, drinking shorts. I said I must've had something bad to eat and would have to go home. Goaded by NBG, my mate stayed and had more shorts. I watched from outside, having managed to grab a life-giving cup of tea from the jellied eel shop next to the pub (hey it was 1997, they still existed in Victoria Park Village)

My mate stumbled out on his own as I watched NBG asleep on the pub table. We wandered off, deciding to walk to Stratford where he lived. We walked through what is now the 2012 Olympic site but was then just wasteland with warehouses, barking dogs and skanky drug addicts slumped in corners. Now this I'd have considered scary except (a) my mate could more than handle himself, even when a bit pished; and (b) I was more concerned with him saying over and over again he couldn't work for that... well, insert every rude word ever here.

I pleaded and cajoled, seeing my dream slip away of a company I owned a stake in, guaranteed funding for a bit, the excitement of working with one of the biggest and most prestigious indies. But to no avail. We got to his place, ordered pizzas, drank booze and decided that was that.

I stumbled into a cab home at 2am, depressed and confused and drunk and ill, the worst night of my career so far.

Next morning I had a 10am meeting with NBG and boy did I feel rough. I was expecting exactly the same negative reaction from him, and on my way in I planned a speech saying how I'd decided to stay where I was after all.

NBG greeted me with "well, what a night!" and then said how wonderful he thought my mate was, how great things were going to be, and how he was looking forward to another "session" on the booze.


In my weakened state I nodded feebly, filled in the forms and went off to Stratford.

I knocked on my mate's door not sure what to do or say. He greeted me cheerily as he ate a slice of cold pizza. "What a shitty night!", he said, laughing.


So I started on my spiel of how NBG seemed fine with everything (a raised eyebrow there) but I know my mate wasn't keen to work with him and I understand that and I-

My mate stopped me in my tracks. "As long as I never have to deal with the twat I'm fine. The bastard we work for now is worse."

And with that he signed the documents and our company was born. Six months later, my mate - still without ever having dealt with NBG at all - met a lovely American lady, decided to get hitched and emigrate, and we went our separate ways business-wise.

My old mate now runs his successful own company Stateside. NBG left the parent company at some point, has surfaced in many different forms in telly and the interweb, and still likes a pint or several drunk at lightning speed.

And I don't do lager any more.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Fish News!

Let's ignore all the bad news about telly right now, and here's one of my Anecdotages from The Far Far Distant Past, a world where big companies spent lots of money on channels no-one watches.

(Like the channel amusingly called Watch today, hoho)

Here's when I was in charge of news for a day.

So it was the silly cable channel I was Head of Stupid Ideas for. I was in really early, for impress-the-boss-early-on-in-your-contract sort of reasons. I mean, 8am in tellyland, it might as well have been midnight.

Boss wanders in, flapping and yacking to Head of Programmes/Programming about random tabloidy things.

He sidles up to me and says he's fackin' bored with the noos (always made me smile, how a newspaper man couldn't pronounce news), go on, think up somethin' stooopid to make the nooos more interestin'.

I have to say here the news was three minutes of a person reading the news from a foot-pedal operated autocue, rarely with any clips (they cost money) just the occasional still (paid for by the newspaper group wot owned the channel). It was Dullsville Street, Boringtown, Bland County.

I can't remember how or why - this was quite a while ago - but I suggested how about the news presented by a goldfish, with thought bubbles popping up with short, snappy captioned comments. I'd like to think this flash of genius (ahem) was spontaneous or off-the-cuff, but it probably wasn't. I remember having a big book of ideas and being a swotty teacher's pet-type, writing things up I thought might work.

(Long since ditched that, btw)

Anyway, boss said "Bingo. Gerrit on air in an hour", news reader man sitting one desk away from me scowled at me with venom - he was about to be replaced by a 10p pet - and the head of programming/programmes chortled to himself, no doubt thinking about the headlines in the papers the next day.

I then got a cab to the local pet shop (not easy to find in the pre-Google days), bought a fish, a bowl, a little shiny arch for the bowl, some gravel and some food (hey, I know how to prepare), and I was back in the office 30 mins later.

We didn't hit the hour deadline - we had to type in news for bubbles to pop up, and find a nice bubbly watery sound track, it took time. News reader was pleased to be typing the stuff up; less so when the boss came over and stuck a sticky label to his jacket saying "Executive Producer, Pet Division (Small Fish Dept)"

Anyway, 2 hours later, Britain's Wettest News went live for a trial bulletin. It wasn't actually broadcast, something I've just remembered, slightly making this anecdote pointless, but it's a blog typed up LIVE AND DIRECT (insert Sky News whoosh here) so these things happen.

And, you know, it was funny. BLUB-BLUB-BLUB - POP! - thought bubble… PING! BLUB-BLUB-BLUB - POP! - another one. The fish behaved itself, the tabloid execs all chortled, and "we're on our way to h'another television triumph" the boss announced, patting me on the back.

I went to grab a sandwich, returning as they set up for the bulletin. The boss was even more thrilled when I said we could just film the fish for five minutes and then use the same footage every day, meaning he could flog the camera.

Only one small item. Our newsreading star, under the harsh tv lights, had… er, kicked the watery bucket literally minutes before air. Someone - surely Executive Producer, Pet Division (Small Fish Dept) - had forgotten to move it.

The boss was mortified. "Get another one, an heir and an spare!", he commanded, and I went to my desk to pick up my pass and the ten poonds for the taxi. Just then head of programming/programmes came over. The cost of the computer stuff to do the captions worked out five times dearer than just filming a bloke on a desk. And the bloke on the desk was the nephew of someone High Up in the company, and somewhat unhappy at his new role. And being replaced by a small creature with a seven-second memory span.

The idea was quietly dropped. My boss was soon onto other things, like why we showed the same ads every commercial break (answer: no advertisers) and why the psychic woman always seemed to be talking to the same people every night on her live phone in (answer: only a few viewers, plus most of the calls were the poor staff working on the show, as otherwise it would fall off air).

Anyway, thought it might make a change from the current bad news flooding tellyland. (Insert gag about news and flooding here).

*Oh, yes, ITV cancels The South Bank Show - well, I saw the one about William Goldman, superb programme and great subject, and there were NO ads in it, just trailers for other ITV shows. It wasn't sponsored by anyone. When it finished and was followed by boxing highlights - way to segway between items, ITV! - there were 7 ads, including one for kebab-flavour Pot Noodle. Lord Melvyn of Bragg's flagship show, ABC1 audience, no ads during, Pot Noodle ad after - ITV SOOO wanted this show dead.

**Oh (ii), in Future TV News, the government replied to my email about product placement (see below). Love to say it was a specific, detailed response but alas not. A cut-n-paste jobbie with no ref to my lovely idea of using prod-place money to fund pub-serv progs. Oh well.

Monday, 27 April 2009

How to save public service broadcasting. Ish.

OK, so I've had an idea. It's probably not that original, but it is workable and could help generate some extra dosh to help the areas of telly that need a bit more investment. Regional news, current affairs, children's telly - with the latter I, as usual, declare my self interest as someone who makes lovely programmes for the wee nippers.

It's not rocket science, but it could be implemented quickly, and it has the benefit that the commercial broadcasters have been pushing for it for a while - if not in the form I'm proposing.

It's a three step plan:-

Just say yes to allowing ITV, C4, Five, Sky and all to have companies pay them to use their brand of product on a show. Watch American Idol clips online - do the Coca-Cola cups and ads behind Ryan Seacrest's tiny head really make the show a disgrace? Just like The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, this show exists simply to create a star that makes money for Simon Cowell and co., so it's just an exercise in product placement (ie the potential star in our minds) anyway.

No product placement on kids' TV, or current affairs, or where there's a conflict with editorial issues/impartiality etc: simple, sensible rules.

Ta-dah! That's it! Any money they raise they've got to spend IN ADDITION TO CURRENT FUNDING on regional stuff, current affairs or kids.

Would you care if Ken Barlow asked for a pint of Boddingtons instead of a jug of Newton & Ridley in the Rovers' Return? It would make Corrie seem more real to me. Well, slightly less surreal - let's face it, that soap has many good qualities, but realism ain't one of 'em.

And if a daytime makeover show said "this lovely Ikea kitchen", or "this bedroom suite from John Lewis", would the world collapse?

Of course not. And if it could pay for a few original UK-sourced childrens' programmes, some regional current affairs shows and/or news, surely that's a real Billy Bonus? Someone from ITV said (hey, I'm not that good a researcher, obvious innit?) that sponsorship didn't raise much initially but not it's £50m - that's a lot of Spotlight North-Easts I'd think.

Obviously there are wrinkles - why would the broadcasters bother to push for this funding if they couldn't use it for what they want? Well, put a limit on the money raised, and say anything under that goes on PSB stuff, anything over can be spent on 'owt: Ant'n'Dec's salaries, executive bathrooms or more episodes of Family Fortunes With Vernon Kay. I'm sure PACT, Save Kids' TV and other bodies can get together and help the government come up with a figure.

What if the public hates the fact, say, everyone on an ITV drama series drives a Ford? Limit it to three years, then review it. If the public hate it, scrap it.

We'd be like American TV - blantant plugs, nasty ads, yadda blah bleurgh. Hmmm.. really? 24 has every car being a Ford for example, Ford even sponsoring entire episodes without ads. Desperate Housewives is apparently packed full of product placement - I don't watch it so can't vouch for it, but a lot of people I know watch it ironically, and clumsy plugs for products would surely spoil that?

The only downside is the poor guy who has to pixellate the Coca-Cola cups on ITV2's repeats of American Idol would lose his job. Sad... but surely he's going a bit crazy after putting a circular blur on a cup frame-by-frame for hours and hours and hours. It'd be a kind thing to do really.

I've written to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham suggesting all this - hey, there's a productive morning! Now back to writing a show with Adair Bear in it.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Telly telly on the wall

So, as per usual, I'm the last person in the world to post my opinion on New Who last weekend. Been snowed under with a billion things - here I am on a Thursday afternoon having already put in forty hours' work this week... and Monday was a Bank Hol...

Anyhow, my opinions on Who...

Yes, Mr Tennant's hair was as good as always, the desert sun didn't wilt it and it look magnificently coiff'd and gee'd and spike'd. Phew.

Did you get any sense they were somewhere exotic or new? It was just some sand. They could've filmed it in a studio and CG'd on something much better. Waste of money.

No ta Michelle Ryan, the least convincing 'Lady' since David Walliams put on a frock... worst acting since Ray Alan's Lord Charles** ... hated, hated, HATED her. Mind you, didn't like Billie Piper in the first few eps... really hated Catherine Tate in her first Xmas spesh... loved Freema from day one though. Hmmm.

The story was a bit poor, not quite as funny as Russell T's usual efforts. The SFX were patchy - sorry, but the flying bus looked awful, HD or no HD. Them fly monsters were proper Olde Skool Who creatures, just a mask and two moving prongs - I liked that in a retro stylee. Lee Evans - meh, doing his usual schtick, although the lines about naming units after himself was funny. Nasty Evil Unit Boss was a good actor I thought, and the bus lot were fine if hardly in it and barely sketched out.


It was New Who! It flew past! Great Mission Impossible opening! Hints of what's to come in the future! Nice end scene telling Porsche Ladeeeh to fack orf! This is what telly is about for me, ideas and jokes and BRITISHNESS and that.

Right, back to making the telly instead of writing about it. Although it's all mobile, interweb and movies for me nowadays, with some telly stuff on the side. Weird, huh?

* Ryan's Daughter was a movie so it's sort of a pun on it
**Google 'em. Lord Charles was a wooden dummy. Point made.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Spring TV

Sorry for not posting much recently - to be frank I've been a bit busy and, er, um, cough... haven't actually been watching much tv at all. There's a first.

Other random observations:-

Sooooo looking forward to NEW DOCTOR WHO!!!1!! over the weekend, how cool is that? Or, rather, how hot is that as it was filmed in Dubai.

Questions about it:-
  • With it not being in "the BBC sandpit" (all the Old Who fans are smiling), has it made a difference to the atmosphere of the ep?
  • A double-decker bus in the desert - is that wise?
  • And, most importantly, has the extreme heat of Dubai flattened Mr Tennant's lovely lovely hairdo? His hair is one of the modern wonders of the world. If he ever endorsed a hair gee surely any man would be a fool not to buy it? Or bald like me...

Notice how Antiques Roadshow has crept up the schedules from 5:45pm on Sun when I was a kid to a full-on primetime 8pm slot now? (WHISPERS) It's cheap and does well...

South Park is now high def, and it looks different. Whereas The Simpsons improved a bit, SP just looks, er, different. This is the anti-animation cartoon, where they purposely move the characters crudely and make them look like they're cut-outs when the series is actually made on whizzy fast powerful computers. Tidying it up is odd. Not bad, not good, just... different.

Right, off to the pub (obviously) - have got a Tivo full of things to watch, although admittedly mainly episodes of Mad Men. Not that I'm complaining on that score, still such a great series, but the sort of thing I can only watch one of at a time. Maybe it's the smoking. Or the occasional wearing-of-hats (and you all know my hat-o-phobia).

I have to clear the Tivo as at some point over the next couple of weeks... (GASP)... (PANT) we're having... (SIGH) Sky+ and... (GULP) Sky HD installed. Scream! It means my lovely six-foot-long Italian designer TV unit that I got off the interwebs will merely have a BluRay and a SkyHD+ box and nothing else. Compared to a DVD player, Tivo, Sky box and old VHS recorder that fitted in it perfectly. Tsk.

This is a dilemma for a man with a hatred of clutter and ornaments.

What to do?


Monday, 16 March 2009

New talent, old clips...

I've just spent a few minutes watching some clips from a comedy show we made in 2001. The fact I watched it is thanks to three things:-
  • New technology - Youtube, interweb, broadband streaming...
  • Old technology - a dusty old VHS copy being found and digistised in...
  • Not much to do - both for me to sit and watch it, and for the show's producer who did all the digitising heheh.
A bit of background - this show was made after we pitched a topical cartoon sketch show to our late-night bosses at C4. We made interstitials for them for 2 years and were coming to the end of a run, and pitched this as a new idea: a midnight(ish) topical show that could be repeated several times over the 4 nights the 4Later strand ran, and made for buttons.

They took a risk and said yes, gave us precisely six buttons and off we went. We spent five buttons on writers, getting in political journos like Simon Hoggart to give us insider info on politicians (interesting, but totally unusable as we'd have been thrown in jail if it had been broadcast) and big grand writers' meetings in an odd Docklands pub we called The Eighties (as it was full of chrome, red piping and alarmingly bad music).

Up'n'coming comedians and writers like David Quantick and, er, some other quite famous ones did some bits, we wrote some others, and the C4 lawyers screamed at us for daring to suggest nuclear waste could be dangerous. We then spent one button animating the whole half-hour show.

The only issue we ever had with C4 themselves was the title - they hated every one we came up with, so the working title, Pen Monkeys, was used. This was our pet name for the animators, and we did a very literal translation for titles and stings, with monkeys flying around on plane-sized pens. Oh how inventive.

The viewing experience was mixed - I'd totally forgotten the sequence about national monuments starting a world war when (then brand-new) President George W Bush accidentally pressed the wrong button. It was quite funny, and I can see why we thought it was just what a cartoon could and should do - a bunch of actors in silly hats couldn't - but God it went on a bit.

My producer friend says that when we did this we revelled in the animation being a bit shit, and as the telly didn't have any crap animation on, we were new and shiny and bold. Unlike today, when the internet is crammed full of low-quality 'toons. Hmmm. Not too sure about that myself, I'd have loved the animation to have been better, but we had no time, no money and (frankly) not that much ability to make nice proper cartoonery back then.

A sketch about killing Mrs Thatcher was less successful, but included to please our com.eds. if I remember correctly (ie I'm not making it up on purpose but my brain does have a tendency to do that to me). We shouldn't have been making 'topical' comedy about a PM who'd left office a decade before...

The show did what it needed to do - C4 liked it, commissioned a second one targeted more at their audience (ie less politics, more celebs), and made us stick to one animation style (Pen Monkeys used anything and everything, from 2D, 3D, hand-drawn, B&W, stills, cut outs...)

That second show was well-received, but it mattered not as the late-night original-content risky-business era was ending. The money went elsewhere and our show wasn't commissioned. Shortly afterwards 2DTV hit the air - twenty times our budget, primetime yet looking rather similar - and that was that, the market for 'topical animated comedy' was taken.

Oh well.

Anyhow, the reason for saying all this (eventually, he gets to the point) is that there doesn't seem to be any opportunity to do something as frankly barking mad as ask some blokes in a corridor with no comedy track record to make a topical satirical half-hour tv cartoon sketch show for the price of a Ford Mondeo. You can get lots of money to make comedy if you've got that track record. Or, it seems today, if you're the fat one off of Gavin & Stacey. Ahem.

But the opportunities we were offered don't exist any more. "Oh yes they do", you cry, "on the internets!". Well, yes, ish. With no money instead of tiny amounts of money, so only loners-in-bedrooms, rich people or big established comedians/companies "experimenting" can afford to do anything. Hence the distinct lack of any original comedic material on the web, and huge amount of digitised clips off of the telly.

We didn't quite succeed with either of our two sketch shows, either visually or comedically, but it was great that Big Important Channel 4 gave it a shot. I think with comedy you need to take risks - not necessarily expensive risks but creative ones. "No shit Sherlock", you shout annoyingly, but my view is that it's better to make ten comedy pilots of small amounts of dosh than one episode of, say, Horne & Corden. I'm picking that show out not because it's bad (TURNS TO CAMERA TWO LIKE HARRY HILL DOES OCCASIONALLY, RAISES EYEBROW SARCASTICALLY, TURNS BACK TO CAMERA ONE) but because it costs a lot of buttons.

Oh, and here's a link to the thing we did. Glacially slow, the worst mouth animation in the history of television, but at least there's weirdness and humour there. Somewhere.


Wednesday, 4 March 2009


So tv is in crisis - ITV laying off another 600 staff, Five getting rid of 20% or so of their workforce, the BBC... er, well, the licence fee isn't affected by THE DOWNTURN (as BBC News calls it, complete with naff sinking arrow on a red background)... C4 is being pressganged into merging with either Five, ITV and Five, BBC Worldwide or BT Vision - depending on which website you glance at... 

It's even affecting some of the smaller digital channels. I note The Business Channel went bust on January 1st. Insert your own joke here about why watch their business advice shows when they didn't follow it themselves.

The reason I noticed was I was hungover on New Year's Day, hopping around tv trying to find something OK to watch. Literally no-one else did - it was a small news story in Broadcast magazine in late January. It comes to something when even broadcast professionals don't notice a channel closing.

I think the next digital trend will be getting rid of the smaller +1 channels that cost zilch to produce but must cost a bit to broadcast. The bigger channels now get a fairly reasonable slice of their ratings from +1s but I can't imagine Living 2 +1 does. (Great name there, from the people who brought you Dave, Watch and now Blighty)

Dave counts as a bigger channel, in this kerrrr-azy age, and I suppose their +1 channel is safe now it's called Dave Ja Vu. Ho, and indeed, ho.

The reason I mention all this turmoil is twofold. Firstly, you wouldn't particularly notice things being much worse on air. There are still good sitcoms (Free Agents, Moving Wallpaper), Saturday night shiny floor shows (Saturday Takeaway), comedy (Harry Hill), panel shows (QI), drama (one of C4's rare excursions, Red Riding, starts tomorrow), as well as plenty of great imports airing now (30 Rock with Carrie Fisher! Mad Men back again!). And, in a rare lapse of scheduling, there are hardly any big 'sleb reality vehicles on. I don't include Dancing on Ice because no-one on it is vaguely famous, and how they can pretend it is about skill at skating when dead Mark Fowler off of EastEnders could hardly stand up on the rink never mind skate I don't know...

Just the odd programme here or there seems a bit cheap. ITV1 running police chasey car crashy things at 9pm, where drama used to be. Primetime repeats of shows already broadcast in primetime the same week - I think Harry Hill is on three times a week on ITV1 now. 

It's going to get worse. A lot worse. I'm no fan of Heartbeat and The Royal but that's lots of hours of drama just scrubbed from the schedule. To be replaced with Coronation Street's Most Hilarious Rovers Return Moments With Pip Scofield On A Stool On The Set And Twenty Nine Clips, Including Some In Black And White. Or other such quality items.

Small pockets of hope? Well, Sky 1 getting Stuart Murphy as boss might mean more original stuff on that channel. Original stuff not involving Shane Ritchie singing, or Noel Edmonds haranging councillors that is... I can only hope. And channels like Dave and Blighty slowly moving to originating content here and there - much as I adore QI and Top Gear there's only so many times anyone can watch the same episode, and their supplies of new material are small (15 or so eps of TG a year, 8-12 of QI considering both shows are on 600+ times a year)

Right, I'm off to download an episode of House to watch on my iPhone at the gym later. I'm thoroughly modern, me.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Television about television

A slight theme to today's post, after the last ragbag of stuff.

I watched Tne Money Programme last night. Well, I did and and I didn't. I watched a show recorded by my Tivo at 10:30pm, made by The Money Programme team, presented by Max Flint who does most TMP duties, with the iconic theme tune and titles, in the 7:30pm slot where TMP usually goes. But it was called Tomorrow's TV in the schedules, hence my DVR wouldn't have recorded it as you can't set a season pass for a one-off show. The fact it did was because I'm sad enough to go through the TV bits of the papers on a Sunday hunting out good content, and set it manually.

Blinkin' BBC types, thinking that the phrase 'money' will put off people from watching. Really? Nowadays? When money and finance is so in the news? And the target audience, up against EastEnders, isn't exactly a big one? Like me, they DO want to watch sensible serious programmes. And their DVRs are probably set to record EVERY Money Programme, yet they'll have missed this one.

The Beeb did this a while back, then reverted to calling the show by it's actual title so those of us with Sky+ or other DVRs can record it

And why was it on a Thursday too? It's usually on Fridays? And-

OK, I'll stop there. Check it out on iPlayer or here

It was good telly about telly - well made, great talking heads - as in proper experts and big names in the tv world - and a good analysis of why telly is in such a state. Seeing the Macedonian version of Millionaire was funny too (it's even sold to Iraq, 109 countries or something now), and the fact that 53% of ALL tv formats worldwide are originated in the UK. That made my Union Jack waistcoated-chest swell with patriotic pride.

But we're all deep in the shit; as someone said, the model for funding telly is the same as it ever was, yet 25% of all ad money has switched to the internet, leaving a big hole. Even though people watch more telly than ever.

Grrrrr, boo, hiss, come on Ofcom / the Government / someone - sort it out!

And, on the theme of telly about telly, my fave sitcom is back on air. And it's on Five.

It's 30 Rock and it's proper good funny boom-boom sitcom fare. No laugh track but still way better than almost any other sitcom on tv. It's set in NBC's HQ - 30 Rockerfeller Plaza, hence the title - and stars Tina Fey as the producer of The Girlie Show (I kid you not), a sketch show that doesn't seem that girlie at all, to be frank.

But it's hardly about telly at all, it's a simple workplace comedy about nutnuts who work together. Alec Baldwin is superb as the mad boss, and the show specialises in digs at NBC and GE, General Electric, who own the network. The Baldwin character is head of East Coast programming, comedy and microwave ovens, for example, and gets huffed when the latter is taken off him.

One day Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) comes into his office and the GE logo just has an E. Jack (Baldwin) says he's sold off the G. The first episode of season 2 has Jack using new technology to digitally insert Jerry Seinfeld into every NBC show, using old footage from, er, Seinfeld. But Jerry isn't best pleased - hence his guest-starring role in the ep...

I'll stop blethering and just say please watch it. Good on Five for buying it - even it's up to season 4 in the US and they're just starting season 2 here - and it's repeated in blocks on FiveUSA too, so no excuse for missing it. A sitcom with actual jokes, funny characters, a real 'sit' and some great performances. Kenneth the page is hilarious, Tracey Jordan (a man), the 'star' of the show less so but still funny, and the rest of the team (sad writers, nice guy who fancies Liz but she'll not touch him, great cameos and guest stars) perfect.


Monday, 16 February 2009

Even more random jottings than normal

Look I've even put in links for once. That's like journalism and everything.

New Simpsons Titles in HD
Yes, they're remade the classic title sequence for high-def. It's brilliant, as ever, with some of the long gone/dead/unused characters replaced by newer ones (Apu's kids!) as well as more visual references than you can shake a stick at... and all in super-duper Expensive-O-Mation more like the movie than the TV series.

But... well, twenty years of seeing the same titles (with different sofa bit, agreed) means it's a big change. The sofa gag on this one was a bit poo as well. Love the plasma screen falling off the wall at the end though. I suppose they could either do a frame-by-frame remake, a bit pointless, or try something new. Two-and-a-half cheers for the latter.

Note that the new HD titles were introduced only when US HD/digital tx was supposed to be compulsory, ie now, and analogue telly switched off. Obama has delayed that until the summer because of the recession. Britain plods along until 2012 with bits'n'pieces changing over. Sigh.

ITV in even more trouble
Not surprising in some ways, worrying in others. Talk of an 'emergency schedule' of soaps and repeats? Makes it sound like the three-day week in the seventies, or wartime, not as if they're just somewhat strapped for cash. I also can't help but thinking that if, as this article states, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent really cost £1million an hour, that ITV is being charged an awful lot of money from Talkback Thames for what are, essentially, shiny floor shows. The former surely is cheaper than that overall, what with endless weeks of cheapo auditions?

Blue Peter sinking
100,000 viewers? Eeek, that's bad. The article mentions it was eight million way back when, but that was without any cabsat, C4 or Five...repeats on BBC2 and more kids on ITV. I produced a show for CiTV when Blue Peter moved to three nights a week, and between the two of us we had ten million viewers. Although the offical ratings were much smaller, as they were supposed to only look at 15 and unders.

Still, it looks like shuffling all the children's programmes forward to accomodate the stunning innovation of moving Weakest Link from Beeb 2 to 1 hasn't worked for the very fragile kids' audience. Won't grind my axe again here (too much), just say that hopefully something will be done to help CBBC/BBC One audiences, as well as lovely BRITISH telly producers making lovely BRITISH programmes for lovely BRITISH kiddiewinkies.

Thanking you.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Televisio Espagnol

So I was in Barcelona for the weekend and watched some Spanish TV. Indigenous, local television, like AXN, Fox and, er, Sony Television Entertainment.

They show programmes in English then have Spanish ads and idents. Que? But in the trailers, all the shows are dubbed into Spanish. I was a bit confused then remembered the olden days before Digiboxes, when the lovely Amstrad satellite box had an audio button you pressed on each channel to get different languages (if available).

Sometimes on German channels you got undubbed versions of US or UK shows, at very low volume. Often with the American content this was before it was on UK tv, so somewhat useful for episodes of, er Murphy Brown or 21 Jump Street, two particular favourites of mine. Google the first one, it caused a presidential stir...

Anyhoo, so I assume Spanish TV is doing that same thing when supplying hotels like the one I was in. I got to watch a CSI, not something I've managed to sit through before - OK in a flashy way - and Brothers and Sisters, which was full of very good-looking people either shouting or having sex with each other. With the most awful effects between each scene, the picture sliding off with a comedy sound effect, like out of 1980s sitcoms like Parker Lewis Must Die. Again, Google is your friend if my ancient US references are too much for you. Think Ferris Bueller, but more like the movie than the dreadful TV series, and on Sky before digital happened.

But the oddest thing are the commercial breaks, sometimes twenty solid minutes of ads in a block, and then nothing for an hour. Why? After fifteen ads they all blur together. Even BBC World News did it - every channel at the same time shows a block of ads. I s'pose it means you can't channel hop but it was so tedious. The German MTV clone showed the same ringtone ad SEVEN WHOLE TIMES in one break.

Err, otherwise there wasn't much new - except as I was in Catalonia, there were two soaps going on different channels at the same time, one in Catalan and one in Spanish. The only reason I mention that is they both had a plot with a lady in a green deep-pore-cleanser-type facial mask, where the green wouldn't come off. Maybe they've two soaps with the same scripts but different locations and actors for no reason - apart from to employ extra people. The Catalan one, by the way, had ugly actors, dreadful sets and laughable music. The Spanish one was merely shit.

And that was my adventure in Spanish telly. I thank you.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Cartoon sitcoms

I was lying on the sofa channel hopping at 11pm last night, as you do, when I found something odd. Family Guy was playing both on BBC Three and FX at the same time. They both had two episodes on in a row (although due to no ads, the BBC block was ten minutes' shorter than FX), both from around the same series.

(Nerdy Note: You can tell when it was made without Googling the episode title by the animation quality - worse on earlier ones, fantastic on newer ones with bits of 3D on vehicles, sets and the like... and also the occasional continuing story - ie Brian's girlfriend for a lot of eps later on. Also the newer eps tend to have the name of writer/producer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong
at the front and you can't help but notice that one. She's just down as staff writer on old ones.)

Quite odd, scheduling the same show at the same time, although it came in quite handy for me as I'd watched one ep on Three and the next one I'd iTuned and iPodded a few days ago, so I could switch to FX and watch another one.

I'm not going to say Family is better than The Simpsons but I have to say it's certainly now up there as one of my favourite sitcoms. The Big Three - Family, Simpsons, Park - have now all made hundreds of episodes over decades of production, and despite the occasional lull (or in Family's case, cancellation and re-commission) they've all maintained a very high quality over this period.

How come? It's so hard to make anything funny, why have these three shows produced more laugh-out-loud comedy than almost every other sitcom on TV put together?

Here we go - making this up as I go along, in true blog style, so here are my x number of reasons. I won't even edit the 'x' out...

Firstly and massively hugely importantly - they're all run by the same people who invented the show in the first place. Groening, MacFarlane and Parker & Stone. Their original vision is still in place, from tiny insert into The Tracy Ullman Show from Mr Groening to rude crude web Xmas card from Matt'n'Trey.

(Nerdy Note: 50% of the creators are called Matt. Discuss)

These four people are, not to put to fine a point on it, geniuses. Groening because he managed to get Fox to leave him alone in the first place, then moved from a kidsy Bart-focused comedy to a Homer-centric 300 cast-list strong comedy epic. Parker & Stone because they revel in being crude and rude and un-PC, and in Eric Cartman they've created the ultimate anti-hero for television. And MacFarlane, lastly, because his show is simply funny.

Yes, Family Guy doesn't push as many boundaries as South Park, but it's much edgier than The Simpsons. OK, Matt'n'Trey did a fantastic spoof of Family in their show, focusing mainly on the habit of a character saying "I haven't been this impressed / depressed / shocked since..." and cutting to a flashback scene, and how it was written by giant sea creatures knocking balls around in a tank (season 10, Cartoon Wars p1 and II) - but you know what? That habit of Family Guy is damn funny. It makes it more into a sketch show than a sitcom.

Family Guy really pushes some gags until they break. And then some. An ep I watched the other night had Peter trying to scoop a dead toad up in a box as it lay against a wall. He failed for at least a minute, it kept flopping out. And, unlike my description, it was very, very funny. Like when Peter fought with a giant chicken for no reason, right in the middle of an episode, then went back to the plot after.

This went on for FIVE AND A HALF MINUTES. Watch it here:

They do this kind of thing all the time - it's as if the freedom they have from (a) being successful; and (b) having a powerful man the network love as showrunner from the start means they ain't scared of anything.

In other reasons-why-it's-good, I'd have to cite the lovely animation (Youtube does it no favours above, but look at the 2D/3D mixes in the background), great voices and - so important here - fantastic score. I think in the latter it bests The Simpsons. Although the latter's musical spoofs are just incredible - watch the Sherry Bobbins one for a perfect pitch Disney pisstake.

Anyhow, raise a glass to the two Matts, Seth and Trey - here's to many more years of sitcom-making tomfoolery. The Matts have said they won't be making any more movies to concentrate on the show, as it's too hard to do both. I understand that, but South Park: The Movie and Team America are two of my favourite films (musicals in a way, hmm, I see a theme). I loved The Simpsons Movie as well, unlike most people who said it was just an extended episode. Well, it was in a way, in that it was longer therefore 'extended' over the telly. In other ways - the animation and plot being just two aspects - it was much more complicated.

The only bad thing I have to say about these three series is that they set the bar so high that the rest of us who work in telly and/or cartoons shy away from competing. There have been efforts but they've all been more niche-y, smaller concepts, piddling away round the edges.

And don't get me started on why we can't make something like these shows here.


Thursday, 15 January 2009

"Your eyes are bigger than your belly"

The title comes from something my Ma used to say to me when I'd ask for seconds of dinner then leave some of it on the plate. An old Geordie expression, no doubt, which I use in a more general sense when people's ambitions don't quite match their... er, um... I was going to say 'talent' but it's not quite the right word. When ambitions don't match reality perhaps?

I was thinking of this when reading about how Richard and Judy, morning titans and ratings' winners for many years on ITV, then successful in the afternoons on C4, are now watched by an average of 44,000 people on the stupidly-named channel 'Watch'.

(SLIGHT SIDEBAR - I mean, come on. Watch. Who thought of that? Bet he or she had a stupid name too, like Tarquil, Doodah or Ampersand. Whereas Dave is a good channel name, Watch is just idiotic. Probably repeating myself but Dave is similar to something in the US. Over there, yer Americans have two radio formats known as Jack and Jill, one more blokey, one more girly. You often hear "You're listening to KYFC, Jack 99.4 FM" or the like - it's well-known. So Dave was 'inspired' (ahem) from that. I should imagine. Don't sue me Mr UKTV bigwig. Anyway, Watch is still a rubbish channel name. Do they say "You're watching Watch" at any point? I don't suppose you, me or the 99.99% of the population who don't watch Watch would know. Rant over. Breathe.)

Back to R&J. So their eyes were bigger than their belly. They wanted primetime. They wanted, in effect, to lead a channel. More money was probably on offer too, and Paul O'Grady and Deal or no Deal were doing better for C4, so they maybe had little choice.

But their brand of television shouts daytime. Sofas, chat, small scale, no audience, etc. It was never really going to work at 8pm, was it? I suppose the high-ups at Watch thought the next afternoon repeats might do OK too, but I assume they're not. Slightly-warmed-up-last-night's-topical-telly wouldn't be top of my list of viewing.

So they were moved to 6pm but it hasn't helped the ratings. Expect them to leave amicably before their contract is up. A deal signed before the current downturn is probably cheaper to buy out than cruddy ratings day after day.

This happens all the time in tv. I worked with a really great presenter. He was clever and great on screen, popular with the audience of the show he presented, the people he worked with AND the channel the show was on (all three is very rare), and moving on up the food chain of the television world.

Series 1 of this show had been a minor hit, series 2 had done incredibly well, in the channel's top ten most weeks, rating much better than the low budget and pre-primetime slot should've got for them. So big cheers all round, here's to series 3!

Er, no. He refused to present it, as it was sponsored by a company he didn't like. He also wanted lots of other things too, feeling - quite rightly in some ways - he was a big part of the show's success and he'd been underpaid and overworked for two series, and that the show wouldn't work without him.

He was unceremoniously replaced. And you know what? The show didn't work as well without him, as the new presenter was an actor who knew nothing about the subject matter. I was a producer on this series, and spent aeons with this guy (a really lovely talented bloke who is now a big proper actor in primetime dramas) coaching him, scripting almost everything and preparing him, only for my boss to rip them all up the day before shooting and tell him to 'wing it'. Sigh.

Anyway, this show was a bit of a disaster. The content was better than ever, but the lack of the naughty humour of the previous presenter really showed. And it looked cheaper, a mixture of a crap location and hurried filming. The content was great though and the ratings held up OK until the format was revised yet again halfway through, into what became such a disaster lawsuits by people on the show were filed at the end.

Series 4, funnily enough, saw the return of the previous presenter. And it was great... but, it's funny, the time had somehow passed and it just seemed a bit 'been there, done that'. Ratings dipped, the content was weaker and the ladsy gags got grating, and the series slipped away almost unnoticed a few series later.

That's usually the way a show dies in telly but it's odd, that third series could've been a blockbuster, lifting the show into primetime, bigger budgets, greater ambitions and a much higher profile. But the presenter's eyes were bigger than his belly.

No-one ever seems to learn lesson one of appearing on telly - you're famous for Being On That Show On That Channel At That Time, not for being fabulous or funny or brilliant or beautiful. Be like Ken Barlow, stick around for ever and the public love you.

Don't go to a small channel from a big one, even if the money or hours are much better. Eamonn Holmes is watched by 10,000 people on Sky News in the morning, compared to a few million in his heyday on GMTV. It's a fact that 98% of the people staring at the ever-expanding Mr Holmes are in gyms panting on treadmills listening to their iPods, not his lilting Irish brogue.

And don't leave daytime telly - if you're good there, you can do it until you drop. Primetime is unforgiving, people get bored quicker; both the viewers and the commissioners.

The sad thing for Richard and Judy is they did all three.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Telly Twenty Oh Nine

It's annoying being nine years into a decade that doesn't have a name. The 'Noughties' never took off. The next one is the same - someone suggested the Teens but that won't include 2010, 2011 or 2012.


Anyhow, television. It's always a bit quiet in Jan when it comes to tvland, but it's worse this year due to the entire crux of capitalist society collapsing. My little company is as badly affected as most, with commissions thin on the ground and what is there being cut back to the bone.

The one fact most people agree with is that tv viewing goes up in recessions. Makes sense - more people can't afford to go out so they slump on the sofa and watch the box. But it's not quite that simple - subscription tv does well too, as people are willing to pay more money if they're around at home and think it's good value.

The trouble is the advertisers have run away like a bunch of scaredy cats. On fire. In a war. On the Moon. So there's little money around, even less for C4, Five and smaller Sky-type channels, as with budgets plummetting, the remaining advertisers can get afford time on ITV1, which still delivers the best bang for your buck.

With the public service broadcasting review from Ofcom investigating the sorry state of serious telly in the UK adding to the confusion in the industry, it's not a nice time in tv. A senior broadcaster - a man who NEVER swears - said television "is in the shit".

It's not just the current problems, it's that no-one can see a sustainable business model for telly in the UK in five years' time. Sky should be OK (can I bet on Sky1 just showing The Simpsons every half hour by 2014?), the BBC probably fine-ish (less original programming, more repeats), ITV... well, totally buggered probably, more cheapo quizzes replacing expensive dramas, C4... er, maybe worse; wall-to-wall pop factual or reality, no comedy or drama, Five... um, part of Sky?

Not a nice thought. It must be hard to, say, be someone working for Five and knowing that if you showed 4 eps of CSi every night instead of the current 2, replacing original, home-grown programming with an import, you'd (a) save money; and (b) almost certainly increase ratings.

In the current economic climate, the cheapest option will win every time, as it has in other sectors. That's not The IT Crowd, Doctor Who or even I'm a Celebrity (£1m an ep apparently - I'm sure it's profitable but that's a HUGE cost) - cheapest = Masterchef, Mastermind and something else with master in the title. They're good shows but cheap as chips.