Category: TV (Page 2 of 13)

Not So Much A Blog, More A Way Of Scoring Points

None of my schoolfriends believed me when I maintained that there was something… unexpected on Penelope Pitstop’s car dashboard.

But this screengrab vindicates me. Oh yes.

And now, with this decade-spanning disagreement finally resolved in my favour, I can move on with my life.

NB: There is a possibility the above is slightly exaggerated to justify showing an innuendal image. Do not panic. All is well. Please do not adjust your ‘nets.

“Seeing Is Believing”…

…has not been true since Winsor McCay and Gertie The Dinosaur, but it’s startling to see just how much greenscreening there is in use, especially in TV shows where you might not expect it.

I mean: Ugly Betty? Seriously, I’d never have expected that.

10 Things I’ve Learned From Watching Come Dine With Me A Smidgen Too Often

1. Anyone described as being a ‘self-confessed foodie’ is usually a bit of a pain

2. When shopping in your local deli/butcher/fishmonger, be sure to mention that you’re holding a dinner party, and address the person behind the counter by their first name more often than is normal in conversation

3. Not supplying drink for your guests, even if it’s for religious or medical reasons, usually leads to them getting a right arse on

4. Musical entertainment, whether provided by you or hired professionals, is not a good idea if you want to win

5. Any female contestant not in some kind of relationship will be labelled a ‘singleton’ in the commentary

6. Depending on how the group is constituted in terms of gender, a butler (with or without a shirt) may be popular

7. Don’t try out something new on the night of your big event (actually, re haircuts and outfits and the like, this rule applies to much of life)

8. Rare is the person who can lift the silver salver without making the money move in some way. Less rare is being able to see the cameraman reflected in the surface of the salver

9. It’s impossible to stand in the kitchen and talk to the camera about the meal you’re preparing without acting like you’re either Nigella L or Hugh F-W

10. Dave Lamb’s voiceovers for Come Dine With Me are like the commentary for Masterchef, but with an awareness that – ultimately – we are only talking about cooking here.

…Which is probably why I watch the show a bit too much, as the above rather shows.

BBC Writing For Continuing Drama Q&A

So, the good folks at BBC Writersroom are holding another one of their Q&A sessions, this time about Continuing Drama, and they’ll also be talking about the BBC Writers Academy. Attending will be John Yorke, whose name you might recognise from the end of the credits for a lot of TV shows.

It’s at the Drill Hall in London (kind of equidistant between Warren Street and Tottenham Court Road tubes), on Thursday 4 March from 6:00pm. It’s free to get in, but you need to send an e-mail asking if they can add you to the guest list, otherwise one of their scary bouncers will throw you out.

I’ve made a vague plan to focus this year on non-visual media (by which idiotic turn of phrase I mean the novel and writing for radio), but this sounds like a good chance to grab an insight into an area which I’d certainly be interested to write for (I’m not ruling TV or films out forever, I just want to prevent myself being the jack-of-all-manuscripts and finisher of none), so I think I might give it a go.

Full details can be founded right here

And in case you think that the accompanying picture is inappropriate, I’d politely disagree; it refers to events in the Queen Vic on most evenings.

“In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it.”

No, I haven’t gone all hard-boiled; those are the works which you have to use as a first line if you decide to enter Alibi’s search for a new crime writer competition.

The first line is supplied by Stuart MacBride, and then it’s up to you to complete the story (between 2000 and 5000 words in all) and get it to them by noon on Saturday 16 May.

The prizes are pretty decent, I feel – they’ll pay for you to go to the Crime Writing Festival, and you get 100 crime books (though as one of the other prizes is an e-reader, these might be eBooks, I suppose), and they make your story into a downloadable e-edition. I’ve certainly seen worse prizes, and entry is free.

Full details are available here. I’m planning to give it a go, let me know if you decide to.

Actually, thinking about it, I might go for something a bit hard-boiled, or noirish, might be interesting to try writing in a very different voice from the usual…

Slightly Further To Yesterday’s Post, But Not Entirely

A new word for your dictionary…

Jedward [Jed’wood]

1. portmanteau n. Contestants John and Edward in ITV talent contest The X-Factor in 2009. Their elimination sparked a very short-lived campaign of complaints.

2. n. Slang term for any item which excites a great deal of interest for a brief spell and is then forgotten as though it had never existed. Often applied to workplace tasks whose lasting impact is inversely proportionate to the importance placed upon their timely creation at short notice, as in:

“Dave, I need a full report on the last six years’ sales figures for the MD, by tomorrow morning.”
“If I bust my guts to deliver it on time, will he actually read it, or is this another bloody Jedward?”

The Never-Ending Story

Unlike many, many people, I haven’t yet watched the Doctor Who episodes The End Of Time, though I’ve got them through iPlayer, and they’re sitting on my computer awaiting my eyeballs.

In a similar fashion, I haven’t read the final volume in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, though I really like the books, and the finale is on my ‘to read’ bookshelf.

I don’t watch Heroes any more, though I cheerfully followed the first series all the way until the penultimate episode, and only missed the finale because I mis-set the recorder; granted, most people I know are suggesting that I didn’t miss much (either in that finale or what has followed), but I was oddly content with leaving it where it was.

I’ve written before about how mysteries and questions can be as satisfying as resolutions and answers, and it’s certainly a feeling that seems to be increasing in my thinking; which is odd, given that one thing that I find deeply satisfying if it’s present (and frankly irritating if it’s not) is a story in which it’s clear that the creator knows where they’re going and what they’re doing.

And yet, like a reunion of a much-missed band or sequel to a much-loved tale, the anticipation can overwhelm the reality, and your excited imaginings can far outstrip what’s actually delivered.

In part, this is an inevitable result of items being exaggerated in their importance; there’s a story which I love (especially if it’s true) that when a group of journalists were attending the official release of the ‘reunited Beatles’ song Free As A Bird, they were asked to turn away as the boxes of the single were carried onstage. One of them, apparently (and rightly) said ‘oh, for god’s sake, it’s only a record!’, and refused to turn away, at which point all the others did the same. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Beatles are far and away the most important band … well, probably ever, but a new song from them is, when all’s said and done, a song, and it’s unlikely that its four minutes or so of music and lyrics is going to actually, literally, knock the world off its axis or otherwise change absolutely everything forever and ever and ever.

I think there’s a similar hyperbole applied to many things, be they books or films or albums or comics or whatever, much of which seems to be intended to get people all giddy and excited and convinced that this thing really, really matters just long enough that they slap down money for it, and after that, well, so long and thanks for all the dosh. In a way, it’s pretty much evident from, say, the promotion for films – there are trailers and posters and interviews on chat shows and press releases dressed up as news reports (I’m looking at you, free newspapers), but within a day or two of the film’s opening, it’s almost as if the massed media has forgotten about what it was so recently talking about, and is trying to pretend its fleeting obsession never happened.

Seemingly the most obvious version of this, though it doesn’t quite follow the theory, is the way that winners of The X-Factor tend to vanish without trace for the best part of a year until they bob back up to the surface of public consciousness in late autumn, to ride the wave of pubic interest generated by the new series of the show. There’s a very real danger in this instance that the public – who are, after all, encouraged to pretend that this really matters as the series goes on, and to forget about people whose standing in the show they were terrifically excited about the previous week – will forget all about these newly-born ‘stars’ in the intervening months, though I guess it takes a few months of being strapped into Simon Cowell’s Strip-Away-Any-Vestige-Of-Personality-And-Ensure-We-Can-Flog-Them-To-The-US-O-Tron before they can be presented safely to the public. But I digress.

I guess one has to be realistic about the level of expectation involved – and when I say ‘one’, I mean you. And me. The final Harry Potter book or a newly-discovered full version of The Magnificent Ambersons or [insert your Holy Grail here] may be a terrifically exciting prospect, but as so many people felt about the Star Wars prequels or Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, the finished article may not live up to your expectations (which may themselves have been stoked by blanket coverage and exaggeration of the item’s properties and importance). Don’t get me wrong, I still retain a frankly child-like ability to get excitable about things which – in the long run, and often in other people’s estimation – aren’t really that important, but I’m trying to keep a sense of perspective, and realise that a comic which finally and definitively settles the fanboy question of whether Captain America could beat Batman in a fight* is, five years down the line, less likely to be quite so important to me, and may well in fact be a bit of a disappointment.

And of course, holding off on the climax has its own rewards (oh, stop that, you filth; you know what I mean): as far as I’m concerned, the story’s still taking place – David Tennant is still The Doctor (though I’m optimistic about the Moffat/Smith era), and Roland Deschain is still en route to the Tower, and neither story’s end has come as a disappointment.

Unlike – very probably for many of you – this lengthy and rambling post, whose end probably comes as a blessed relief.

*Of course he couldn’t – Batman would win hands-down.

A Second Edition (Should That Be ‘Opinion’?)

Many moons ago, I referred – albeit fleetingly – to the book The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies.

As you might imagine from the title, it’s an account of his experiences working on Doctor Who, incorporating scripts as well as featuring nicely candid e-mails between RTD and the journalist Benjamin Cook. It came out in a nice hardback form in 2008, and as you can see from the picture to the left, the paperback has come out – with, cripes, a big chunk of new material, covering the episodes which were broadcast in 2009. In the absence of a ‘supplement’ being issued for hardback-owners, I think that 300 pages of new material is a pretty good lure to buy it again, really.

Anyway, I wanted to draw your attention to the updated Writer’s Tale website, which now features downloadable PDFs of the scripts for the 2009 Specials, including The End Of Time. And, unlike the book I sound suspiciously like I’m hawking above, the scripts can be had for the always-nice sum of nought pence.

I always think it’s interesting to have a look at how these things are done (even if the depth of my insight is limited to thoughts like “Hmm, these episodes are numbered as an extension of the previous series”). A peek behind the curtain, as it were.

Channel Surfing

My current reading material is the second volume of Michael Palin’s Diaries, a very thoughtful Christmas pressie from Mrs S. It covers the 1980s, when Mr P was featuring in an impressive array of films (Time Bandits, The Meaning Of Life, and Brazil, for example).

However, for sheer unexpectedness, one of my favourite onscreen Palin moments is the following from 2006:

All things considered, I think he underplays it rather nicely; good to see an extra not trying to scene-steal in any way whatsoever. Ahem.

Good-Bye To All That

As a year comes to a close, it’s traditional to look back on the its various events and achievements.

Being a non-traditional sort, though, I’d just like to take a moment to talk about something which I hope we’ll see the end of when midnight chimes. I don’t want to sound overly negative, but it’d be nice to see this one thing go when the year ends. And that thing is…

People taking offence on behalf of other people.

Actually, I should probably qualify that slightly – it’s more a case of people continuing to take offence (or claiming to, but I’ll get to that in a minute) on behalf of other people, when those others have either said they’re not bothered or they’ve accepted an apology.

The obvious example would be the Daily Mail-led campaign to continue to be shocked and horrified about the prank phone calls to Andrew Sachs, but this year we’ve also seen a fuss about Ben Elton making jokes about the Royal Family; there are probably other examples, but the key thing about all of these events to my mind is the fact that the person who was directly affected by the remarks accepted an apology from the so-called offender (or, in the case of the Elton ‘fuss’, saw the joke, it seems. So it is a bit odd that people who are not directly involved should continue to stoke the fires of outrage, when the one whose feelings could be legitimately stung is moving on and getting over with it.

I suggested above that the people who get all offended about such matters aren’t truly offended, and whilst I don’t feel that’s the case about all such instances, I think a lot of the time the vicarious offendees are taking a slightly odd delight in feeling affronted. I’d been struggling to verbalise why people might want to do this – beyond the fact that, unfortunately, some people seem to take delight in being angry more often than not – but fortunately, a line on an episode of The West Wing I was watching summed it up for me:

DONNA: …they’re shocked and appalled and disappointed but really, they’re none of those things, they just wish they were. So, never miss an opportunity to feel morally superior.

And I think that’s at the heart of it – a lot of the time, these ‘campaigns’ seem to be organised not with the intention of ensuring respect for the monarchy, or … er, that people don’t ring grandfathers and talk about their granddaughters’ sexual activity (not actually one of the biggest blights on society today, I suspect), but more of allowing the person being shocked and horrified to feel that they’re morally superior to the miscreant whose actions they’re so very appalled by.

To use a phrase I’ve written before, I question their sincerity. Yes, many of the jokes that people claim to be so appalled by may not be incisive or sharp, and may well be ill-judged, but they rarely seem to merit the big hoo-hah that follows; a lot of the time, the involvement of newspapers (especially in cases where the BBC can be given a kicking) makes me wonder how much of it is a crusade for social justice, and how much of it is a decision to try to have their paper spearhead a campaign against [whatever] by way of making newsprint seem important and current and relevant in the face of stiff competition from 24-hour news channels and new media.

On a meta- level, you might well ask why I’m so bothered by this when most of the attacks have been on comedians and writers and the like; surely, one might think, it’s paradoxical at best and hypocritical at worst for me to be offended on behalf of these other people. And I might agree, but for the fact that I, and everyone else who spends time watching TV or film or listening to the radio or reading, suffers if we live in an environment in which producers or publishers are constantly examining works in case they offend, they might offend, or someone might take offence at the very possibility that they might offend someone else. Whilst many people are aware of the protests at the time of the release of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian (pictured), it’s all too easy to forget that now, just under thirty years later, it’s seen not only as one of the funniest films ever made, but one of the most insightful about the nature of religion and belief. At the time, it was deeply offensive and shocking and blasphemous, but now it’s held up as being a classic of intelligent humour, and without its creators being able to risk offence those insights (and jokes) would never have been made.

I wouldn’t want to pretend that Frankie Boyle’s joke about the Queen’s ladyparts is likely to be as respected as “You’ve got to think for yourself! You’re all individuals!” in years to come, but an intellectual climate in which material which might possibly offend any portion of the audience has to be excised is a perfect breeding ground for intellectual stagnation, and – ironically – TV schedules full of material which, by its sheer blandness, I find deeply offensive (for example, the currently-on programmes All Star Family Fortunes and All Star Mr And Mrs, whose titles and content differ so wildly I’m surprised Trading Standards haven’t intervened).

In 1990, Salman Rushdie wrote the Hubert Reid Memorial lecture, entitled “Is Nothing Sacred?”; due to his life being threatened for some words he had written on religious matters, Rushdie was in hiding, and so the lecture was delivered by Harold Pinter. In the lecture, Rushdie argues the case for literature being allowed to say things and propose ideas that people might not like, and compares literature to a small room in a large house, in which anything might be said:

“The room is empty, but there are voices in it, voices that seem to be whispering just to you. You recognize some of the voices, others are completely unknown to you. The voices are talking about the house, about everyone in it, about everything that is happening and has happened and should happen. Some of them speak exclusively in obscenities. Some are bitchy. Some are loving. Some are funny. Some are sad. The most interesting voices are all these things at once.”

A similar analogy might be struck for almost any form of media or other means of communication, and whilst I’d strongly urge you to read the entire lecture, if you apply Rushdie’s ‘room model’ to a medium you care about – whether it be film or TV or radio – then the final line of the lecture, even if slightly edited, cannot fail to give pause for thought:

“Wherever in the world the little room […] has been closed, sooner or later the walls have come tumbling down.”

And on that relentlessly cheerful note, this blog bids farewell to 2009 – and, hopefully, to the idea of taking offence, or pretending to take offence, at jokes or comments or ideas, specifically those which relate to another who is notably less concerned by them. I question the sincerity of those who do so on a regular basis, and so perhaps we can close the door (with a hearty slam) on this practice as we leave this year – indeed, this decade.

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