April, 2007

World Cup? What World Cup?

Yesterday Australia won the cricket world cup final – or as the organisers would have us call it, the ICC CWC 2007. It just trips off the tongue doesn’t it?
It was a complete farce of a final, coming after a long and dull tournament that had its own tragedy. The Aussies got to celebrate winning the final twice by virtue of some inept umpiring that forced the Sri Lankans back onto the pitch in complete darkness to face three pointless overs that nobody could see. Even the TV cameras, which normally do a great job of hiding the gloom, were struggling with even basic things such as keeping in focus. The Sky commentators, normally to be relied upon to take a pro-tournament view, didn’t hold back in letting us know that they knew, like we did, that it was a complete farce.
Anyway, Australia duly won the rain interrupted final, while most of the rest of the world carried on in complete obliviousness.
You could argue that after England’s dismal Ashes losing tour to Australia earlier in the winter, and then complete failure in this tournament, what with pedalo incidents the only things to keep us entertained, it’s the public that’s at fault, but I really don’t think that’s the case.
Everybody, and I really mean everybody, knows that the tournament was way too long. The format allows for dead rubbers and completely one-sided fixtures. Yes Ireland and Bangladesh did very well in the early stages, but that’s really not enough. The Football World Cup lasts a month and it’s worth reminding ourselves that when the Olympics finally hit these shores in 2012, they’ll be finished in just over a fortnight.
We hear that it’s TV’s fault that the tournament lasts so long; TV needs lots of fixtures, and doesn’t want more than one match at a time. I don’t buy this for a second. It’s making for exceptionally dull TV in the current format.
And then there’s the fact that the locals seemingly can’t afford to watch cricket in their own country. There’s simply nothing worse in a major sporting than seeing row upon row of empty seats – the only spectators seeming to be white in a country where the locals are mainly black.
But then as I’ve always argued, sports authorities are the most venal and corrupt in the world. It’s the one area of power left where presidencies are elected in dubious manners and backhanders are the way things work. If you want to be a tyrannical despot in the 21st century, don’t muck around trying to gain control of a small country – get involved in the organisational body of a major international sport. If you happen to have a major tournament to bestow upon different nations every few years, then you can be expected to be treated like royalty. And once you’ve got to the top, use the funds of your organisation to “buy” votes from smaller countries to keep you in place.
Back to cricket specifically though. How should the Cricket World Cup be improved? Well fewer games for a start. Make sure locals can afford to watch matches – if your stadia aren’t full for every game, then you’ve got the pricing wrong. Sell the TV rights to free to air stations. I’ve no problem with Sky bidding for World Cup rights, but I do have a problem with the ICC selling them. If the nation can’t watch a tournament, then they don’t care about it. Of course the same is true for the stupid fools in charge of the ECC who also took Sky cash against the sport’s greater interest. Even the crassly commercial F1 realises that without widespread coverage, the “sport” has no real future.
And don’t make excuses. This was a terrible event with a humiliating final. Learn from the many mistakes, and do better next time.
Some Observer journalists make these points far more eloquently than I can in today’s paper.

Entourage Series Three and a Half

I’ve been meaning to say that Entourage is back in the US, and for this set of episodes, the cast is joined by Carla Gugino as an agent (saying any more might mean spoilers). I love Entourage, and Gugino joining the cast just makes it better. I wish the late and much lamented Karen Sisco would get a DVD release.
I guess that UK viewers can expect Entourage to reappear in the Autumn on ITV2. And the New York Times has a spoiler-filled interview.

Is WiFi Dangerous?

wifi.jpg
This week’s Independent on Sunday had a massive banner headline – “Wi-Fi: Children at risk from ‘electronic smog’
A further story was entitled “Danger on the airwaves: Is the Wi-Fi revolution a health time bomb?
The reports go on to report that WiFi is everywhere these days including many homes, towns and schools. So is it dangerous? What’s the basis of these reports?
“Virtually no studies have been carried out into Wi-Fi’s effects on pupils,” says the Independent on Sunday’s report. So what’s the basis of a front page scaremongering story then?
WiFi broadcasts around 2.4 GHz (UHF – Ultra High Frequency) which is somewhere around where microwave ovens work as well as TV is broadcast, along with mobile phones, bluetooth, GPS, some two-way radios and many other things. WiFi is limited to around 100m maximum, whereas mobile phones broadcast for upwards of 2km. I trust that no parent is ever again let their child use a mobile phone, and nor are they going to have any switched on themselves in the home (or any other time they’re with their children).
So, as Rob Beschizza writes over at Wired, either all of these things are dangerous, or none of them.
Undoubtedly, examining whether there are health risks based around all these technologies is a worthwhile venture, but I’d really hope that The Independent on Sunday is above these feeble sensationalist headlines.
There’s an excellent piece penned by Bill Thompson over at the BBC dismantling this kind of scaremongering.

Please Can We Have A Moratorium on Size Zero Shows

I’ve got a brilliant new idea for a TV show!
As someone who always like to catch the zeitgeist, I know I’m onto a winner. Any TV production companies reading who might be interested in this potentially brilliant idea, get in touch forthwith. Sky One, Living and Five are bound to be interested!
What I’ll do is get some young person – maybe a celeb, or maybe a journalist – and get them to go on a crash diet, getting themselves down to the fabled “size zero”.
You’ve got to admit it’s an incredible idea!
What do you mean, it’s been done before…? Hang on… You’re right!
Just last night Channel Four aired Superskinny Me: the Race to Size Double Zero, in which “two journalists tried out extreme diets.”
Still, there’s no problem making the same show twice is there? Viewers are simpletons, and they appreciate seeing the same programmes remade over and over.
What? This is already a remake? You’re right again!
Last month ITV1 showed Louise Redknapp in The Truth About Size Zero, in which the ex-singer (and WAG), spent 30 days getting down to said size zero.
Still, two documentaries is hardly a trend is it? What? There was another one? You’re right again!
In Super Slim Me on BBC Three in February, writer and presenter went on an extreme diet to get down to size… You probably know the rest.
So please. Can TV producers think about something else now? We’ve had enough of these documentaries now. And no more puns on Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me please.
[UPDATE] BBC2 is repeating the BBC3 programme tonight. Oh joy.

Disappointment

There’s nothing like having something really built up, only for you to be let down at the last moment. I feel a bit of a heel for saying this, but that’s a reasonably accurate reflection of me earlier this evening.
I was at the evening do for the Radio Academy’s Production ’07 conference. After a day of discussing issues relevant to the radio industry (I really hate the fact that what we do is an “industry”, but there you are), some awards are handed out and some musicians “play” for us.
I didn’t attend the conference proper – mainly because it’s not entirely relevant to what I do for a living. In any case, I was too busy summarising the Future of Radio. But Mediaguardian had a helpful blog of events.
The awards include best pluggers (national and regional – they’re the people who try to get radio stations to actually play their clients’ music) as well as industry achievement awards. The John Peel award, for example, went to Mark Story of Emap. He’s been in radio for donkeys’ years, and was the first programme director I experienced at Virgin Radio.
We also had music from Sophie Ellis Bextor (impossibly thin, great voice, and woefully fake music-playing by her band), Gareth Gates (you can tell this is a class affair can’t you? I’ve got to hand it to him though, he can sing), one of the Sugababes who’s gone solo (not Mutya – buy Siobhán Donaghy), and Simon Webbe (ex-member of boyband Blue, but – and I amaze myself for saying this – a really good singer with a charismatic stage presence).
But the key award of the evening, which was hosted ably by Richard Bacon, was the Lifetime Achievement Award. It slowly became clear that it was going to go to Sir Paul McCartney!
I was standing near the front of the stage in the small and intimate confines of the Café de Paris, and was beginning to get annoyed with myself that my camera’s batteries were flat, and in any case, it was in my bag in the cloakroom. This was going to be great. Sir Paul in our presence!
The eulogy was long and great. The wonderful music he’s made over the decades. The crowd was hushed – which is always hard at these things when there’s a free bar.
You know where I’m going with this don’t you?
A friend from work pushed forward with his camera in hand – he wanted a picture… (copyright free with his Creative Commons Flickr licence).
And then came the letdown.
Sir Paul wasn’t here tonight. He’d missed all our talented musical guests, and sent a message instead.
What a letdown! What a disappointment!
I’d actually been annoyed that The Geoff Show was off air this week and Geoff wasn’t going to be able to see this (there was the small matter that Geoff should have been on-air around the time of the award presentation, but that’s a mere detail).
It didn’t matter – Sir Paul had been unable to make it. He’d sent a note which the presenter read out, but the disappointment in the room was palpable.
[I should, I suppose note, that I did very literally nearly run into him once. It was when he’d come in to be interviewed by Pete & Geoff. I came out of the lift, pretty much unaware that a rock superstar was in the building, and noticed a man who seemed somehow familiar, coming out of the studio and ready to get into the lift. It actually took me a few seconds to clock who I’d just seen. I think all I did was smile – it’s a safe fall-back for just about any situation, after all. But it was a small brush with fame, nonetheless!]

Oyster Cards

The London news today is that the Mayor is giving away 100,000 free Oyster Cards to people who don’t yet have one. This is an attempt by Transport for London to get some of the die hards who’ve not yet got one, to get around to picking one up.
Ordinarily you have to pay a “deposit” of £3 to get one. Once you have one, you’re entitled to discounted public transport tickets… Well I say “discounted”, when what I really mean is that, if you don’t have an Oyster Card, you have to pay significantly more for your travel.
Why is this initiative limited to 100,000? Why doesn’t TfL just make Oyster Cards free for everyone all the time? You see, while I might have “Big Brother” issues with the ability of the authorities to track you around London, I have an even bigger issue with the fact that the really big losers are tourists and visitors to London.
Why should a tourist have to fill out a form, put down a “deposit” for a plastic card, just to travel around London at a reasonable cost? Sure, they can get their cash back at the end of their visit, but who’s really going to bother with that? And I’m not just talking about overseas visitors – I’m also talking about those who come from other parts of the UK to visit London. It’s just not fair.

Breaking News: Young Couple Splits Up

Breaking News: Young Couple Splits Up
I do feel sorry for Kate Middleton. This is Monday’s Standard billboard – “Kate Shows Strain: Picture”
And indeed, the front of that day’s paper showed a picture of Kate sitting in the back of taxi or similar looking seriously pissed off. That wouldn’t be anything to do with photographers following her everywhere she goes would it?

Real Lives

Real Lives
In recent years there’s been this awful new “non-fiction” genre of books develop. It started with the Dave Pelzer books which detailed his terrible upbringing. It was so bad, he got a trilogy out of it.
Anyway, the books sold loads with their distinctive white covers and distant looking photos. There was plenty more misery to come.
And now, Borders, instead of putting these books into biography (or indeed, fiction in some instances), has created a “Real Lives” category. What this picture does show is that there’s a certain dominant feature essential in any book of this type. Can you tell what it is?