Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas TV drama

The BBC's revamp of Upstairs, Downstairs (3 eps over 3 nights) turned out to be much better than expected - completely different from Downton Abbey and not afraid to tackle taboos (British fascism in the run-up to WW2). I enjoyed it hugely.

The Doctor Who Christmas Special was below par, however. A rare chance to watch Britain's finest living actor, Michael Gambon, was squandered on a storyline that was too clever for its own good, leaving no space for emotional engagement. On the plus side, it's always good to see the undervalued Pookie Quesnel in action and Katherine Jenkins was actually superb - it takes some skill to make an ice girl engaging.

What kept me going, however, was the re-run of Justified on Five USA. Missed this the first time round. Won't miss the next series.

Oh, and one last bonus. For one week only a new dramatisation of Just William has been running in the lunchtime Bargain Hunt slot on BBC1. It's by Simon Nye, who lost his way several moons ago, but it is beautifully done. Completely catches the Richmal Crompton tone.

Christmas Highlight

Boxing Night, went to my favourite local pub to see my oldest friend, lead singer of my favourite band. Superb. Gets better every time I see him. Anyone who hasn't seen Honeyboy Hickling perform has no idea about Blues, cannot claim to understand the harmonica, and has never witnessed one of the world's most original performers in action.

Basic details are available on his website:

Use it to find where he's performing near you and make the trip. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunset Park

I have been reading Paul Auster's latest novel, Sunset Park. I have read various other Auster novels, including his New York Trilogy, and have always been in two minds about his artistic achievement. Not any more. If I'm any judge, Sunset Park is a modern masterpiece.

Monday, November 22, 2010

And it comes as no surprise...

...that the Writers' Guild UK award for best radio play goes to Jeremy Myerson's Number 10 which, whatever its merits, is not a play but a recurring open-ended series.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

William Boyd on adaptation

Boyd, interviewed in The Independent, today's date:

"All adaptations lose probably 40 to 60 per cent of the book. Sometimes these decisions make the drama better. The way a novel can meander and pause and digress doesn't work in film. [...] As soon as you get into film you just run up against parameters, constaints and compromises."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Dubya Bush has published 'his' memoires. Matthew Norman has reviewed them for The Independent and the innovative 20p version i. His review (today's date) includes this gem.

"It takes minimal intelligence for the truly dim to have a notion of their dimness, but this is denied him. Where Mr Tony Blair emerges from his memoir as colossally clever, W has the self-awareness of a bison. There seems even less to him than met the eye - and that was precious little. Astoundingly, we misoverestimated him."

Writing of the highest quality.

Cutting edge Beeb

Two days after the BBC Trust's verdict that BBC1 should be more adventurous, BBC1 announces a homage to Mad Men called The Hour. Now, this may turn out to be a winner but it is surely the antithesis of adventurous. The cast includes Tim Piggott-Smith, Anna Chancellor and the gifted but profoundly uncharismatic Ben Whishaw. Dominic ("I was in The Wire!") West plays Don Draper ... presumably because David Morrisey was busy.

Monday, November 08, 2010


The New York Times reports that NBC has cancelled Undercovers, the supposedly hot new series from J J Abrams, partway through its initial run. This is because it's Mr and Mrs Smith, which also tanked.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More recent TV drama

Sky's first Thorne dramatisation was exceptionally well done. Is it a mistake to follow it immediately with the second? We will see.

ITV's second Whitechapel was drivel, senselessly marooned in what was a good idea first time round but was now silly. "The legend says the Krays will return." No it doesn't. The only highlight was some brilliant 'twin' work. I often recoil at the token woman in cop shows but, by God, one was sorely needed here.

Third series of Fringe is much better than the second. The two Olivia's permits two contrasting storylines. Lost rip-off The Event is dismal - I lost interest in Act Two of the pilot. Perhaps the most disappointing for me was the US epic dramatisation of Follett's historical novel Pillars of Heaven (C4) - a lesson for younger folk on how bad historical drama used to be done circa 1965.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Writers' Guild UK - radio drama nominations

The nominees for the WGGB best radio drama are...

Forty-Three, Fifty-Nine -- Wake, by Katie Hims, Number 10 (Jeremy Myerson) and Bad Faith (Peter Jukes). Only the Hims is an original single drama.


Friday, October 08, 2010

I should take up forecasting for a living

The Tinniswood Award went to Ivan and the Dogs, by Hattie Naylor, the Imison to The Road Wife by Eoin MacNamee. So that's me right on both counts, then (see August posting on same subject. How predictable, how depressing.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Recent TV drama

A few thoughts on recent UK TV drama... Inspector Stone, distinctly average. Unfortunately for me, the novel they have chosen to dramatise first is coincidentally the only one I have read. The solution is and always was bleeding obvious. Quality production, though. The new series of Spooks is the best yet - episode 2 was brilliantly written. I was dreading Downton Abbey but it turns out to be very good indeed (bad news for the BBC's forthcoming revival of Upstairs, Downstairs?) But the hightlight, by a country mile and then some, was This is England '86. Everything that Channel 4 drama should be. Flawless in every respect. I am now busily amassing a personal collection of the works of Shane Meadows.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BBC Independence

Last night Panorama abruptly cancelled its investigation into the tax habits of Lord Ashcroft, the man who bankrolled the Tory party's abortive attempt to win an overwall majority in the General Election. Good to see the BBC maintaining its independence...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Late thirties wellbeing theory

This from Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer (1939):

"Directly or indirectly, most of our physical ailments and disabilities are due to worry and craving. We worry and crave ourselves into high blood pressure, heart disease, tubercolosis, peptic ulcer, low resistance to infection, neurasthenia, sexual aberrations, insanity, suicide. ... And it's the same with bodily posture: the more we worry about doing the thing immediately ahead of us in time, the more we interfere with our correct body posture and the worse, in consequence, becomes the functioning of the entire organism."

Whatever happened to neurasthenia?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tinniswood and Imison nominees announced

Nominees for the Tinniswood (best radio drama broadcast in 2009) and Imison (best original drama by a writer new to radio, broadcast in 2009) have been announced.

For the Tinniswood it's The Moment You Feel It (Ed Harris), Ivan and the Dogs (Hattie Naylor), Cry Babies (Kim Newman), Vent (Nigel Smith), and People Snogging in Public Places (Jack Thorne). If the BBC heirarchy hold sway with the judges it will be Naylor.

For the Imison we have Trying (Erin Browne), The Road Wife (Eoin MacNamee), The Lady of Kingsland Waste (J Parkes), and Fifteen (Deborah Wain). The Imison is much harder to predict, given that these are writers not yet being promoted by the BBC. My guess, therefore, is MacNamee, simply because the Beeb loves the Oirish.

We shall find out who actually wins on October 4. In the meantime, congrats to all!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sky announces new comedy and drama

Sky has stepped up its original commissions. Sinbad the Sailor, in 13 parts, is from the makes of Primeval. The compulsory David Morrisey is given Thorne, two dramatisations of Mark Billingham's psycho police thrillers whilst the obligatory John Simm and ubiquitous Philip Glenister get Mad Dogs, which I'm guessing is an offbeat ironic thriller with comedic overtones and protagonists whose personalities are diametrically opposed. To be fair though, nobody expects Sky, at this stage of its evolution, to be cutting edge in concept or casting. It is far worse to think they probably beat the BBC to these commissions.

New US imports include sitcoms Raising Hope (from the makers of My Name is Earl) and The Middle with the guy who plays the janitor in Scrubs. US drama centres on Ride-Along from the makers of The Shield, and Lone Star about a Texan with two lives.

Overall, it's better than ITV.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Philip Womack on children's fiction

Philip Womack, author of The Other Book and The Liberators, wrote a long article about writing successful children's fiction in Saturday's Telegraph Review Magazine. Here are just three key points and Womack's persuasive conclusion:

1. "What is it that makes a good children's book...? Ted Hughes (who wrote excellent stories for younger readers) suggested that you had to 'kill a cat'. ... What Hughes was driving at was that a children's book needs to make the domestic and normal come under threat."

2. "The hero of a children's book must be almost a cypher... A child will think that the child hero of a book is, effectively, itself, and will happily cast itself as princess or pauper."

3. "The villain, on the other hand, should exude personality. Here the writer can give free rein to flamboyance and pull out all the sinister stops. ... Roald Dahl used to say that the villain should come to a grisly end... It appeals to a child's sense of order and revenge, is immensely satisfying, and stems from our oldest stories. Even the new, hyper-liberal Doctor Who slays its villains."

And the conclusion: "Successful children's books tap into a child's hunger for the safe made strange. They rejuvenate ancient folktales of order rising out of chaos. They speak to a child's subconscious, and form its collective experiences."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Advance word on "The Gates"

According to Mary McNamara in the LA Times, The Gates - a new series about a gated community of werewolves and vampires - is better than it sounds. Worth keeping an eye out for this side of the pond. Presumably FX or Sky will oblige.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Two items of positive TV news

Torchwood series 4 has been announced, with Russell T Davies heading the writing team. Barrowman and Myles are both in it, the only surviving original characters, and the series is to have a more international theme (probably reflecting the last original radio series).

The British Comedy Awards are moving to C4. This is a very good thing, given the scandals of the ITV tenure (fiddled phone votes etc). ITV has certainly bucked up its act, having rid itself of Charles Allen who is now busy flushing EMI down the pan, but the Comedy Awards have always sat slightly uncomfortably on a mainstream channel. C4 is a much better fit. It isn't clear if Jonathan Ross will continue to host. Personally I think he should be rested this year and somebody very different brought in (not either of the Carrs, however, perhaps someone who doesn't consider themselves a comedian - a good laugher.)

Friday, June 04, 2010

British brainpower

Found this rather bracing statement by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, professor of history at Notre Dame (USA) in this week's Times Higher Ed:

"In Europe, Britain is notorious for mistrusting the power of intellect and confiding in unchallenging idiocy."

Whoa, steady on, Phil! Then again, he is talking about our ludicrous royal family.

"Members of the younger generation of the family ... seem utterly unpenetrated by the influence of expensive schooling.

"Their various modest and miserable examination performances - which in Prince Harry's case would have disgraced deprived victims of social disadvantage - have been the prelude to lives of deoressing narrowness."

Hard to argue with that (beyond the obvious question of is Harry really royal?). Nice one, Phil.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2010 Sony Radio Awards for Drama

Gold award went to Jack Thorne's People Snogging in Public Places, produced by Steven Canny for BBC Radio 3's The Wire. Silver went to John Dryden's docu-drama The Day Lehman Died, script by Matthew Solon and a rare recognition of drama on the World Service. Bronze was shared between Nick Perry's The Loop (producer Toby Swift), Oliver Emanuel's Daniel and Mary (BBC Radio Scotland drama, produced by Kirsty Williams) and Melissa Murray's dramatisation of William Boyd's novel Restless, a Woman's Hour serial.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Modern Masters - major problem

I was so looking forward to Modern Masters on BBC1 last night, especially as the first was Andy Warhol. On the plus side, the production values were superb, the talking heads varied and well-chosen. But the downside - catastrophe! - presenter Alistair Sooke. Now don't get me wrong, he knows his stuff and did nothing objectionable. The problem is he has zero TV charisma - Warhol's paintings had more - the slightly silly plate glass display board that was the presenter's chosen gimmick had more. As I say, it's a shame because I will certainly want to seek out some of Sooke's written work, but I don't think I can face another hour of his TV 'presense'.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Five Daughters/A Cinema Near You

Five Daughters, BBC1's three-part dramadoc about the Ipswich prostitute murders (2006) was an absolute triumph. So hard to be objective when the wounds have barely healed. This production got the perfect mix of compassion and detachment.

Gillian Reynolds in the Telegraph thought Simon Nye's A Cinema Near You (Radio 2's Comedy Showcase) was "Wilder, bawdier, bolder, more accomplished than any recent comparable comedy on Radio 4." I thought it stank to high heaven. She may be right about the fare on Radio 4 though.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A model to us all

Found this great piece of prose in a short story by O Henry, Calloway's Code:

"Ames was the king-pin, the snowy-petalled marguerite, the starbright looloo of the rewrite men. He saw attempted murder in the pains of green-apple colic, cyclones in the summer zephyr, lost children in every top-spinning urchin, an uprising of the down-trodden masses in every hurling of a derelict potato at a passing automobile. When not rewriting, Ames sat on the porch of his Brooklyn villa playing checkers with his ten-year-old son."


Thursday, April 22, 2010

BBC Notes

Two quotes that struck me in the Spring issue of UK Writer, the Writer's Guild of Great Britain twice-yearly mag.

The first is from an article about Jeremy Howe, Commissioning Editor for Drama at Radio 4, on how to get a commission.

"The key thing, Howe said, is to listen to Radio 4 output, including drama, note the names of producers whose work you like and then contact them.

"He stressed, however, that writers should not 'clone what you have already heard. We want originality, we want your voice.'"

"The most common shortcomings when it came to pitches, he said, were the lack of a hook for the story and the lack of conviction in the offer document. 'Single plays need to be singular, need to stand out. If you submit an idea, you need to communicate clearly and passionately why you want to write it."

There is mention elsewhere in the piece of a 300 word pitch prepared by the producer, but seeing as they are busy, bone idle or both, the idea is obviously for the aspirant writer to do something very close to this. Likewise the two-page proposal which, for the successful, follows.

The second quote comes from Dave Cohen, one of the authors of the fabulous 15 Minute Musicals which has come to an end at the creators' behest. He is addressing those writers who bitch about their treatment from the Beeb.

"... every time I see a successful writer complaining about the latest absurd hoops they have been forced to jump through by the BBC, or a prominent writer openly criticising the Beeb in print, I see more ammunition for the BBC's real enemies. Not us, not actors or producers or directors, but commercially vested interests, hiding their agenda for getting rid of the Beeb behind indignant newspaper editorials about wasting taxpayers' money. [...]

"I don't disagree with their arguments. I'm as exasperated as the next person at having to receive notes not just from my producer but also the actors, accountants, lawyers, lighting crew, taste guidelines sub-committtees and sandwich buyers - all of whose opinions are seemingly respected far more than those of the person who wrote it.

"I accept that some of the notes returned to us are nothing short of ridiculous. And that the continued use of ITCC regulations ('In the Current Climate...') and exaggerated fear at how certain gags will play to Daily Mail journalists is stifling our working relationship. In fact, after more than 25 years of working for the BBC when I've never known them to be in anything other than a state of crisis, this really is as bad as it has ever been."

Food for thought, indeed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Equity on the proposed BBC cuts

This from the latest Equity Journal:

"BBC senior managers are some of the biggest earners in the Corporation. Thirteen BBC staff earned more than £250,000 a year, with a further 26 receiving between £190,000 and £250,000. The majority of senior managers were paid between £70,000 and £130,000. The BBC's 'top 107 decision-makers' claimed £188,000 in expenses last year.

"The proposals contain no plans to cut managers' pay, regardless of the size of their income."

Rightly so, say I. It requires exactly 107 top managers, no more, no less, to make decisions this bad.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mark Damazer to leave BBC Radio 4

I was surprised to see that Mark Damazer is leaving Radio 4 for an Oxbridge sinecure after five-and-a-half years in post. Overall Damazer has had a very good tenure. My only criticism, in my specialist field, is that he confuses theatrical adaptations, brutally edited, with quality radio drama.

The implication is that he is worried about proposed cuts to his pension entitlement. If so, the good news is that there are dozens and dozens of seat-warmers of no perceptible ability who might be tempted to wander off in search of fictitious private sector riches. Please let it be so.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sony nominees 2010

The shortlists for the 2010 Sony Radio Awards have been announced. In drama these are:

Daniel and Mary
BBC Radio Scotland Drama for BBC Radio Scotland
People Snogging in Public Places
BBC Radio Drama for BBC Radio 3
Restless (William Boyd's thriller dramatised for Woman's Hour)
BBC Radio Drama for BBC Radio 4
The Day that Lehman Died
BBC World Service Drama & Goldhawk Essential Production for BBC World Service
The Loop
BBC Radio Drama for BBC Radio 4

Monday, April 05, 2010

Beckett to Higgins - Wise Words

Samuel Beckett offered the following in a letter to Aidan Higgins (April 22 1958), later author of Langrishe, Go Down (1966): "Work, work, writing for nothing and yourself, don't make the silly mistake we all make of publishing too soon."

Let's hope Sam was right.

See "Aidan Higgins, the writer's writer" by Keith Hopper, Times Literary Supplement 31.3.10.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The so-called radio independents

Gillian Reynolds devoted her column in today's Telegraph to the question Why won't the BBC give indie producers their due?

In my view, this is the same reason the NHS doesn't give nurses in the private sector their due: because they are NHS trained nurses who go have crossed over for the higher wages the private sector can pay because they haven't borne any of the training costs.

Radio independents are almost entirely ex-BBC staffers. Some also fail to pay writers and actors BBC rates.

Friday, March 26, 2010

ITV throws in the towel on The Bill

I'm sorry to say I told you so. ITV will pull The Bill in the Autumn after 27 years. Peter Fincham says it is because audience's tastes have changed. This critic says it is because audiences have grown tired of watching the dispirited parade of recycled soap actors traipsing through soap-up storylines written by hacks and directed, it seems, by somebody on the other end of a Twitter feed. The fatal misjudgement was to try and pretend this gloop was drama by giving it an hour-long slot on whatever night nobody was watching. When I think back over the great arching storylines - Don Beech, manic Gabriel and Carver's alcoholic decline - that it should end like this is another stain on ITV's already battered reputation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Silent Sentry

I have just finished Chris Paling's The Silent Sentry. I acquired the book as a novel about BBC radio from a BBC insider but was completely blown away. How have I not heard of a novelist this talented? The Silent Sentry was published in 1997 and there have been other novels both before and since. How has he not won prizes? The writing is very accomplished, the characters both interesting and, in general, attractive. But it is Paling's willingness to engage with deeper, sometimes existential issues, which makes the novel so remarkable. Simply put, it is the best novel I have read in the last six months (and I read a hell of a lot). RECOMMENDED.

Big budget radio "drama"

As Radio 4 announces yet more cuts to its radio drama schedules, vast sums have again been wasted on the sainted Poliakoff and his illustrious predecessor Frederic Raphael. Gillian Reynolds discussed both in her column in The Telegraph today, and was infinitely more generous in her criticism than I would have been.

"The great whale of Stephen Poliakoff's Playing with Trains beached itself on Radio 4 on Saturday afternoon and left no space at all for the listener. Catch Part Two next weekend to hear what I mean. It concerns an entrepreneurial inventor (played with vim by Timothy Spall) whose convictions make him fall out of favour with industry, lose his children's sympathy and probably his fortune. So far, so Shavian, except it lacked even the remotest flash of wit and all too often might have been taken for some personal allegory of career eclipse. This piece was first done on stage. Maybe it came to life there. On radio it rumbled in vain..."

Personally I thought it was abyssmal, endless dreary talk, no banter, no action, no point. I am a massive fan of Timothy Spall but we know now why he is not a radio regular.

As for Raphael's Final Demands, which occupied six Afternoon Play slots (four-and-a-half hours, no less) over three weeks, Reynolds writes: "It could have been annoying, all those quips and puns, all those paths leading back to its protagonist Adam Morris being Jewish and what being Jewish means now, when he and his brother eat lobster while his daughter-in-law (who is also probably his brother's mistress) is converting to Judaism. Yet all Raphael's shifts of plot and focus work. His characters (and the way this superb cast played them) appear real because he sets them at an intentional distance by language and manner. We, listening, appear to work it out for ourselves because he, nudging, is telling us more than we think we are hearing. Well done, Pete Atkin, the director, for independents Above the Title. It takes a steady hand to make all that glitter turn to gold."

Now, I yield to no man in my loathing of Raphael's oeuvre. How anyone can stretch one thin idea over four decades and still get paid for it amazes me. But Reynolds is right about the production, absolutely entitled to credit Raphael's mastery of the radio form. I still don't like it but I have to - albeit grudgingly - admire it. Was it worth such a slice of Radio 4 airtime and budget in a slot that used to pride itself on being the shop window for emerging talent? That is another question entirely.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The first Alice in Wonderland

The British Film Institute has just posted their restoration of Cecil Hepworth's 1903 version online for free.

Their notes are also well worth reading. Go to:

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Writer's Guild response to proposed BBC cuts

The WGGB blog contains an elegant response to the full panoply of Thompson's Tory-friendly cuts, but this was most relevant to my concerns:

A tiny fragment of the money would not only restore but reverse the shameful cuts in BBC Radio drama that in recent years have seen the abandonment of World Service drama, the crazy cancellation of terrific soaps like Westway and Silver Street, the imminent demise of the Friday Play and the dumbing-down of the Woman’s Hour drama slot into little more than a reading with interludes of dialogue.

For the full response go to:

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Five Days (and nights)

Michael Hogan, in today's Torygraph, makes the obvious snide remark that this second stripped serial from Gwyneth Hughes feels more like five months - but he has a point. The story is simply not compelling enough and after a promising start on Day One - when the Muslim girl jumping off a railway bridge straight into an oncoming train turned out to be a Muslim boy in burkha drag - the second ep certainly drifted. We are also supposed to share the desire of an alarming number of characters to adopt abandoned baby Michael without asking how the hell does a single white male (the formerly ubiquitous Cal Macaninch) get to foster such young children?

Talking of ubiquity, does every single TV drama have to star Morrisey? Don't get me wrong - he is a very good actor and this is his best outing since the last-but-one Doctor Who Xmas special - but can the BBC, as it goes about the so-called Biggest rethink in eighty years, please consider varying its casting policy to include at least one another furrowed-brow hardman lead?

Suranne Jones - the go-to-girl for resiliant but vulnerable female lead - is also excellent. Overall, the show is worth watching for the performances, including Bernard Hill and the priceless Anne Reid as the Plot B interest. Can't help thinking, though, that tonight's sting in the tail had better be a corker.

Pursuant to an earlier blog in which I said Life on Mars USA was a cracker, I must amend that to note that the last ep, cobbled together after the network passed on series 2, was possibly the worst show I have seen in quite some time. We're in Bonekickers/Big Top territory for crap. It all turned out to be a dream: Sam and the gang were actually in cryogenic sleep as they went into space on a gene hunt (geddit, geddit?). Keitel should have just walked away...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interactive radio drama

Yesterday's Afternoon Play on BBC Radio 4 was another small step into the world of interactivity. The following is from The Times:

Tim Wright's Say What You Want to Hear: The Startup is a two-part drama in which the second part depends to an extent on how listeners react to the first. Erik (Stephen Tompkinson) is a would-be entrepreneur with a big idea - a website that offers users the chance to have their innermost thoughts voiced. His old friend Mike (Ewan Bailey), looking for start-up capital, visits another old school pal, Stephen (John Biggins). Matters take their course - which is where listeners come in, because Wright is inviting them to post messages ( that will form part of the follow-up, to be broadcast on March 9. And not only that, but the action will be moved along by listeners' suggestions for messages for the main characters to send each other.

Promising premise, but it all depends on how much control Wright is willing to give up. I suspect not much. More likely to succeed are the suggested messages.

We will see. In the interim, gold star for effort.

Robin Hood

At last! Grass roots activism! The argument against? There isn't one. Everybody with a shred of decency should sign up immediately.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Thoughts on recent TV

It occurs to me that two US series that don't get the credibility they deserve on the UK side of the Pond are Life on Mars US and Burn Notice.

US Life is much better than the UK original and, by this stage in the series, very different. Obviously for a US-length series the writers have had to create entirely new eps and these have been of the highest quality. The one shown on FX last week, the second half of Sam's undercover in the Irish mob, was simply superb. One thing which I expect nobody foresaw is that Harvey Keitel's undercooked turn as Gene Hunt means that Jason O'Mara as Sam is properly the protagonist and Michael Imperioli as Ray is a hugely compulsive character, shovelling all due shame on the talking 'tache British forerunner.

Burn Notice, too, is classy fare. For me it has the slightly ironic fizz of those great 60s shows like The Man from Uncle and The Saint (Roger Moore version). That ended its run last week and I am already pining.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Great news for original TV writing

I found the glad tidings on Media Guardian (this by Maggie Brown):

Ben Stephenson, the controller of BBC drama commissioning, is poised to cull a number of BBC1's long-running dramas in order to free funds and airtime to commission new shows.

Speaking as he unveiled the BBC's winter and spring drama lineup, Stephenson said the strategy was a "huge risk ... a bloody terrifying decision" but it was the only way to change what was considered mainstream.

Though the BBC was unwilling to be drawn on what might be cut, Holby City, Casualty, Waterloo Road and New Tricks are thought to be safe.

Investment in period/costume drama will be sparing, and shows such as Bleak House or Little Dorrit are unlikely to be commissioned for the 8pm slot.

A ninth series of Spooks is underway, but there are no firm plans for a third run of Criminal Justice. BBC2 is also on the cusp of change, after receiving extra funds. Ambitious new BBC2 dramas, including one about the Medicis, with an Italian partner, are in development.

Stephenson said there had to be a way in future to evaluate the success of BBC drama that did not rely on the size of audiences. "Success at the BBC is much more complex," he added.

These comments must be set in the context of criticism from the BBC Trust, whose members are pushing for more distinctive pieces and authored works.

New dramas scheduled for 2010 include A Passionate Woman, starring Billie Piper and Sue Johnston, written and produced by Kay Mellor; Luther, a new police drama; and a further series of Doctor Who, with Matt Smith replacing David Tennant.

The BBC is also currently completing a three-part drama, Five Daughters, written by Stephen Butchard, about the young women lured into prostitution by drug addiction and then murdered in Ipswich by Steve Wright.

BBC2 is running an 80s-themed season of one-off dramas ranging from Money, an adaptation of Martin Amis's novel; to Abi Morgan's Royal Wedding, about life in a Welsh village at the time of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer's wedding; and Dominic Savage's first scripted drama, Dive, featuring Olympic hopefuls.

A third series of hit BBC3 drama Being Human has been commissioned for the autumn, after the second series debuted this week with an audience of 1.4 million, double that of the first run.

BBC3 also will screen Lip Service, made by Kudos, featuring the lives of four young lesbians in Glasgow.

Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, which completes its three-part second run on Sunday on BBC1, has been recommissioned for a third series.

Stephenson said he was guided by the fact that the keynote dramas of 2009 had included Iraq film Occupation which, though it averaged a modest 3.5 million viewers, had dealt with a key contemporary subject; and Small Island, the adaptation of Andrea Levy's novel about the experience of West Indians coming to the UK during the second world war and its aftermath.

He added that the BBC now had a very clear positioning for its output, "as the home of Britain's most creative and exciting dramas", compared with the commercially driven ITV, while Channel 4 and Sky One were turning to adaptations of successful novels.

Key drama producers supplying the BBC, including Kudos and Left Bank Pictures, are concerned, however, about the comparatively low tariffs the BBC is prepared to pay. There are also reports that cash-rich Sky1 is now starting to outbid BBC1 for new dramas.

Plenty to look forward to there, then.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

US take on 3D TV

This from Brad Stelter and Brad Stone in the January 5 2010 New York Times:

"...For most consumers, 3-D is still far in the distance. With the announcement this week [various corporate initiatives and new 3D channels], the media companies are trying to place themselves at the forefront of an emerging technology, much as they did for HDTV a decade ago.
"It took high-definition television about a decade to catch on — to the point where it has become part of the entertainment mainstream, with an adequate stock of HD programming and the sets now cheap enough to entice middle-class buyers. Analysts expect 3-D television to go through the same curve, initially attracting first adopters for whom price is little or no object and gradually moving out to other affluent and then middle-class homes as sets become cheaper and programmers create enough 3-D fare.

"Or, of course, the technology could be a total flop.

"For decades 3-D was a gimmick for B-movies and occasionally on television (in bad quality with flimsy paper glasses), but newer technology has largely erased those memories. Peter M. Fannon, a vice president at Panasonic, called the new sets “totally different than what one had seen over the last 20 to 30 years.”

"In 3-D, television makers see an opportunity to persuade households that have already bought HDTVs to return to the electronics store. Though television sales jumped 17 percent in 2009, the industry needs new innovations to keep the cash register ringing."

"Television begins a push into the 3rd dimension"

All fine and dandy, guys, but I still need to wear the stupid specs, right? Spec-free 3D is a way off, right? Let me know when it happens. And how people without 20/20 vision cope.

Friday, January 01, 2010

P D James tells Mark Thompson a self-evident truth

John Plunkett in today's Guardian quotes Baroness James, a former BBC governor and guest editor on the Today programme, telling the self-important failed DG the basic truth, describing the Corporation as a "large and unwieldy ship ... with a crew that was somewhat discontented and a little mutinous, the ship sinking close to the Plimsoll line and the customers feeling they have paid too much for their journey, and not quite sure where they are going or who is the captain."

Lady James is a dyed-in-the-wool old Tory; nevertheless, with great age comes great wisdom.

Thompson, the only DG to suffer a cut in licence-fee income and who gave up all pretence of independence to get it, lamely offered the Controller of BBC1 in defence. She was earning and could earn more in the private sector, he said. Good - let her return - because the BBC1 hits were all commissioned by her predecessor whilst her choices are all rubbish. Let her go try and sell a second series of Big Top to C4.