February 2011 Archives
Comedy can be a very personal thing.
You find Big Momma's House funny. I disassociate myself from you completely.
But there are degrees. I find Catherine Tate personable, but her show was full of overlong sketches that were the same joke week in week out. Little Brtiain became very lazy, again suffering from the same jokes on a repeat basis. Benidorm does well for ITV, but it passes me by.
But they pale into insignificance compared with the programme I've just seen on BBC1.
Mrs Brown's Boys is a sitcom seemingly co-produced by the BBC and RTÉ, starring Brendan O'Carroll and set in Ireland. The Mrs Brown character - essentially a drag act - is something that O'Carroll has had for years in a number of shows and tours. As far as I can tell, this is the first televised incarnation of the character. Although one can only summise that the character has something of a following.
Like one of Tate's character, Mrs Brown, the character that O'Carroll plays, is predicated on a single thing: it's "hilarious" that an old lady swears like a sailor. Swearing can be funny - look no further than Father Jack or the very clever swearing in The Thick of It - but unless you're smart it's just wearing. And it ceases to be funny very very quickly. And there's more swearing in this than an average episode of The Sopranos.
But that's not the main problem. The show just isn't funny at all. I didn't laugh once. Even smirk.
Indeed from the outset, I couldn't understand why the laugh track was so pumped up. There's a live audience there for sure - we see them on a couple of occassions when the fourth wall is broken. Indeed the cast take a bow at the end. But despite that, it feels as though it's been added with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
I simply don't understand how this programme could make it to air. The plot is perfunctory. The "gags" come into view a mile off. As soon as the tazer comes out, we know what's going to happen.
Just in case I haven't been clear. This programme is unutterably bad. It make Bonekickers seem like I, Claudius; Triangle seem like Jewel in the Crown; El Dorado seem like Edge of Darkness. Abysmal.
Now I should say that according to Wikipedia, the programme was immensely popular in Ireland where it aired a few weeks ago. And tastes can differ regionally. Maybe it's something to do with the whole country being in a mess following the financial crisis. Some kind of collective effect on their brains.
I don't get it. And I'm sure that few will. The humour is of the level of Roy Chubby Brown or Jim Davidson - minus any overt racism. And minus any overt humour.
You think My Family or Two Pints of Lager are unfunny sitcoms? Think again. You've not seen this. They seem like Fawlty Towers by comparison.
I could go on. But I'm too busy wondering how this came to air. I know that the BBC is looking to move outside London, and that's to be welcomed. And there's nothing stopping BBC Northern Ireland producing sitcoms (although I'm not sure that they can be blamed for this - there wasn't an obvious sign of it in the credits). But someone somewhere should be getting a cardboard box and handing in their notice tomorrow in shame.
[UPDATE: Note that I've closed this entry for comments after one especially unpleasant comment was published (I've since removed it). There are obviously very different opinions on this programme, and I've made mine clear. However, while reasoned debate is fine, I won't accept comments that are hateful. And because this blog seems to index highly on search engines generating lots of views, I'm getting a broader readership than I ordinarily would. So I've had to take this step.]
A couple of years ago, I wrote about the lazy trope that had invaded television titling meaning that seemingly every factual programme was titled "The Real...".
Since I wrote that piece, we've also had:
Battle of Britain: The Real Story
Britain's Real Monarch
Real Wolf Kids
Real Housewives of New Jersey
SAS - The Real Story
The Real CSI
The Real Da Vinci Code [sic]
The Real Goldfinger
The Real Italian Job
The Real Swiss Family Robinson
The Real Vikings
The Real Bonnie and Clyde
The Real Spooks
And of course Dickinson's Real Deal.
There's a pretty straightforward forumula in place. Take popular film/TV series/book/subject to which you have no rights. Add the words "The Real.." to the front of it, and hey presto! You have a documentary title that in no way infringes anyone's copyright, that catches the eye in newspaper listings or TV EPGs, and alerts viewers in the laziest manner possible.
I'm sure that some of those programmes were actually quite good. But I won't watch anything called "The Real..." because you're creatively bankrupt if you title your programme that way. Sorry. But that's the way it is.
I mention all this because of two "Reals" in the news. And neither is Madrid.
The Sunday Mirror has alleged that - shock horror - not everything on The Real Hustle is quite as "real" as it portrays.
And Channel 4 has been heavily promoting its latest "Real" programme: The Real King's Speech. It ticks all the boxes, and in the week of the Oscars!
I'm sure that this is a carefully crafted film that was commissioned many months ago, and not huriedly rushed into production when it became obvious how big a hit a the film was. [Goes away and Googles...]
(Nobody says that fast-turnaround documentaries can't be good, but I do wonder if that's the best way to make historical ones).
[Update] I see that Melvyn Bragg is making a major 20-part documentary entitled "The Reel History of Britain". It'll be history told through:
archive material (brilliant stuff from the BFI, the BBC and other independent documentary filmmakers such as Mitchell & Kenyon in the North West of England at the beginning of the last century) and, we hope, photographs, recollections, diary entries and maybe even film and video from people around the country, we will show the real history of Britain.
I'm inclined to give this a pass since it's essentially a double pun.
I'm still coming down from an excpetional Wednesday night that saw Arsenal overcome a 1-0 defecit to win beat Barcelona, easily the best team in the world, 2-1.
As I sit there dreaming about how Arsenal might maintain that lead in the much tougher return fixture in the Nou Camp a fortnight from now, I've already started thinking about how I might get to the Wembley final of this year's Champions' League.
And then UEFA announced the prices for this year's tickets.
The cheapest seats will be £150, with other tiers offered being £225 and £300 a ticket. In total 11,000 tickets will be offered in a public ballot.
A further 50,000 tickets are for the two finalists and will be shared by those clubs. They'll each have a limited number of £80 tickets - which I imagine will be high behind the goals at Wembley in the nose-bleed seats.
Of course 25,000 tickets are held for corporate sales and the UEFA family (i.e. sponsors and hangers-on).
And did I mention that the "administration fee" is £26? I can only assume that the tickets are laced with gold and an armed guard will personally deliver my ticket. Because card merchants seemingly only charge that much to Ryanair.
Of course UEFA knows that fans will pay those ridiculous prices. Football support isn't a rational activity. At least I can see if Arsenal get past Barcelona before I have to enter the ballot (which probably has quite long odds). Note that as I'm not a season ticket holder, I would have zero chance of getting a club ticket.
Yes - even though that's an outrageous inflation-busting price in these recessionary times - I still would at least think about it. Because UEFA knows, that for fans, this is a once in a lifetime experience.
Still, at least UEFA and FIFA have been knocked back in Europe with their attempts to extract even more cash out of us to see their competitions. The general court of the EU has determined that Britain and Belgium are quite within their rights to include the entire European Championships and World Cup finals tournaments on their protected lists.
UEFA and FIFA would have preferred limiting it to just the games involving those countries, and perhaps the semi-finals and finals. They'd happily sell the rights at a premium to broadcasters like Sky or ESPN and force viewers to pay to see - say - Italy v Spain, rather than free-to-air broadcasters like ITV and the BBC.
That sounds quite philosophical doesn't it? Well it isn't.
Earlier today, I just wanted to check whether I'd previously commented on something in Twitter. All I needed to do was doublecheck my Twitter feed and I'd be away.
Except that it would have been about a year ago. And Twitter's river of tweets doesn't really offer a good way to get back to last year's "considerations." My tweet count stands at something like 4,500. More than many, but fewer than plenty. Scrolling through well over a thousand messages to get back to last year isn't easy. In fact, it's pretty hard.
OK. Let's try using the search box at the top of the Twitter page.
But that's a really crude search box that essentially gives you live results, with perhaps a "Top Tweet" bucking the trend. No good for a historical search. And certainly, it doesn't offer any way to separate out my own search results.
At this point I tweeted my problem and a couple of people suggested that I use search.twitter.com. This is the search engine that Twitter bought way back when it didn't really offer a solution. Oddly enough, you'll have to search hard to get from your Twitter page to this site. Indeed, I've still not found the link. You just have to know that it's there.
If you click on advanced options or use the sytax from:@username you can specify an individual to search.
Except it doesn't work.
Or rather, I couldn't get it to work. When I searched for a word that I knew I'd mentioned in the last couple of week I got "No results." So it's a little hit or miss to say the least.
Google Realtime was also suggested. Google has done a deal with Twitter to ingest its data and improve live search results.
As you'll see from the above screengrab, Google seems to rank my tweets on some kind of secret sauce, and although it's obviously been indexing them for quite a while, there's no obvious logic that I can detect apart from tweets or retweets with well-followed people seem to rise to the top.
But, again, I got a failure. Google couldn't find a word I'd used two weeks ago. So I wasn't confident that it'd identify a word I might have used a year ago.
In summary then, I'm not convinced that there's any reliable way to search for an old tweet you've sent. If you're famous, or your tweet gets retweeted endlessly, then it'll show up. But if it just went out into the ether largely uncommented on, then it's as good as lost...
If you live in Scotland, there's a good chance that you've seen the US version of Cracker - aka Fitz (probably when the rest of the country was watching something STV thought Scottish audiences wouldn't like - Downton Abbey for example). While the original featured Robbie Coltrane as the overweight chainsmoking Fitz, in the US he was somewhat more conventially handsome, no longer chainsmoked, and the stories were told in 42 minute episodes in a 16 episode run (aired over an extended period of time) rather than in two and three parters like the UK original.
Aside from sharing the same name, and origins, the two are basically unrelated.
Now the same is happening with Prime Suspect with NBC having another bash at making a pilot for a prospective series.
Over at Salon Matt Zoller Seitz explains why this is a bad idea.
While a lot of what he says is true, it's also the case that budgets constrain the length of British series. Still, ITV Studios won't be worrying too much about the heritage of the Prime Suspect brand. They'll be thinking about getting a bit fat juicy order of 22 episodes of a major network series, and the long potential that brings with it.
You might be seeing the image above - or an inverted version - quite a bit on TV in the coming months. Ofcom has announced that it's to be shown when a programme has accepted product placement. You'll get at least three seconds of it at the start and end of the programme, as well as coming out of any ad breaks.
The question is whether or not it'll impact on viewers to any great extent. Will viewers think less of programmes that take it. As I understand it, it'll probably limited to light entertainment to begin with as ITV steps carefully before everyone on Coronation Street stops drinking Newton & Ridley and starts drinking London Pride instead. Can you imagine?
And will ITV2 un-blur those Coke glasses on American Idol? Or will that be dependent on whether Coca-Cola UK stumps up for the privilige?
It'll also be interesting to see how channels cope with it when they minimise or squeeze their credits and are busy trailing the next show instead. Will the "P" be lost in the mix? We'll have to wait and see.
A couple of entertaining programmes to catch up on before the dreaded seven day iPlayer window closes!
Paul Jackson* was for a long time an ITV entertainment executive in a variety of roles across a number of companies. And he's also a dab hand at making radio programmes. A few years ago he made an excellent series that detailed how the US TV industry works with their commissioning system heavily built around pilots that may or may not ever see the light of day.
Now he's back with a new series of Britain in a Box. Each week, he looks at an iconic British TV series and tells the story. The first episode of this run (the first for a few years) was about World In Action. The more you listened, the more you realised how much it's missed. Today we do have Panorama on BBC1 and Dispatches on Channel 4 (criminally scheduled against one another, although the former does at least benefit from an Eastenders run-in, albeit up against Coronation Street), but without World In Action (or This Week), we're missing a different angle on serious subject matter.
Ironically, it was Paul Jackson himself who essentially killed World In Action, when Carlton TV outbid Thames Television for it's licence. Jackson sheepishly admitted saying some not very nice things about World In Action, as the realities of their bid meant that ITV couldn't afford to not chase viewers for any minute of the day. I do think that Jackson was a little disingenous, however, blaming the whole thing on the 1990 Broadcasting Act - nothing to do with me guv! And we should member that there were suspicions that Carlton knocked Thames out the way in part because of a Thames edition of This Week - Death on the Rock - which revealed how the SAS had shot dead IRA terrorists rather than attempt to arrest them.
It's good to see that there are couple of volumes of World In Action editions available from Network DVD.
I do wonder whether there aren't even commercial considerations for ITV doing something a bit more challenging though. Yes, it has Tonight. But that has repeatedly had its budget cut over the years. I find it interesting that CBS in the US, has the behemoth that is 60 Minutes, that continues to perform very strongly in the ultra-competitive US TV market, where there is no such thing as "Public Service Broadcasting" requirements placed on it. Upmarket, advertising along with a healthy audience is what makes the programme affordable.
By the way, this week's Dispatches on the on-going phone hacking scandal is worth catching.
Elsewhere on Radio 4, they've just embarked on a Raymond Chandler season. Throughout 2011, they'll be dramatising all Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, with Toby Stephens playing the famous gumshoe.
Now I've not yet listened to their first production - The Big Sleep - which was broadcast on Saturday. But I will be. However, I have listened to their half-hour documentary about Chandler (who was educated in Britain) which is well worth catching. And there was a very good afternoon play - Double Jeopardy - which told the story of how Billy Wilder and Chandler came to co-write the dramatisation of the James M Cain novel, Double Indemnity. This was Chandler's first stab at working on a film screenplay. Adrian Scarborough plays Wilder, while Patrick Stewart is the gruff Chandler. Catch it if you get a chance.
*For any radio people reading... No, not that Paul Jackson!
Here's a timely book.
I received my copy of this book on Friday - 4th February. The introduction, penned by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, is dated 1st February! I know publishing speeds have moved on quite a lot, but it's still pretty remarkable.
The Guardian was serialising parts of this book last week. Whoever is behind the Wikileaks Twitter account, is seemingly unimpressed. A tweet from 2 Feb reads "The Guardian book serialization contains malicious libels. We will be taking action." I can but defer to David Allen Green over at the New Statesman.
And as I type, Julian Assange is in court as Sweden tries to extradite him in a hearing expected to last two days.
But what about the book? It essentially details the inside track on the background to Wikileaks as an organisation, and Julian Assange in particular. It then tells in more detail the story of how The Guardian, and other publications inluding Der Spiegal and the New York Times made, sometimes fractious, agreements with Assange to release various US classified information into the public domain.
It started with Afghan and Iraq war logs, and of course has culminated in the release of those diplomatic cables.
This book is authored by David Leigh and Luke Harding, both of whom were involved closely in The Guardian's dealings with Wikileaks and Assange - the former in particular. So the only odd thing is that sometimes the authors themselves are referred to in the third person, although it's perhaps more usual in co-authored titles.
What emerges from the book is a fascinating look at the way Assange operates and looks at how hard it can sometimes be to even track him down, let alone make agreements with him. The sexual allegations from Sweden are also detailed, and although the same information has been published in the paper, you do tend to come away with slightly less conspiracy-theory thoughts about Assange's situation.
Bradley Manning, the US serviceman who is believed to have leaked the documents in the first place, is also gone into. I find it interesting how little coverage there has been about Manning, who's essentially in solitary confinement and isn't even allowed to do press-ups in his cell. And this man has dual British/American nationality.
I suppose that the timing of this book could be a little curious in that the Assange story isn't over yet, although the bulk of the Wikileaks cable haul has now appeared (albeit through the Daily Telegraph latterly, since Assange has completely fallen out with The Guardian). As I say, his extradition procedings are taking place right now.
In terms of comparison, I can only really compare this with Richard Harris' classic look at the Sunday Times publication of fake Hitler diaries: Selling Hitler.
I suspect that updates to this will be required in due course, but in the meantime, it's well worth a read.
I'm not going to try to keep this review up to date with current events, but two things have happened since I wrote this at lunchtime today.
1. First David Leigh, one of the book's co-authors, has reported on Twitter that The Guardian or the authors will not be sued.
2. Luke Harding, the book's other co-author, and The Guardian's Moscow correspondent, has been deported from Russia, in what is believed to be the first deportation of a journalist since the cold war.
The former is obviously good news, since it was would surely be extremely hypocritical.
The latter is terrible news, and seems to be directly aimed at Harding following his reporting of the Wikileaks cables that talk about Russia.
Russia is sounding like a really fun country to go to for the 2018 World Cup...
It's that time of year again. The latest RAJAR's are out.
It's fair to say that there are few interesting things that come out of it. Overall radio listening remains firm, although there's a 0.9% decline in listening hours, although listening is actually up 5.9% year on year, so this isn't a significant change. The gap between the BBC and commercial radio share has opened up a bit though, with the BBC gaining 1.0% to a 55.3% share, while commercial radio slipped back 0.9% to a 42.5% share.
In London, as we'll see, the difference is a bit more extreme, with listening hours being down 5.3% on the last quarter, with all of that decline coming from commercial radio. And this is seen in respective BBC and commercial radio shares in the capital with the BBC increasing from 44.0% to 46.6% while commercial radio has dipped from 53.9% to 50.9% this quarter.
Reach among the main BBC networks is largely flat (a percentage point up and down, here and there), with the exceptions being Radio 3 which has seen a 3.3% increase in reach, and counter-intuitively a 4.5% decrease in hours on the last quarter, and Five Live which has had an impressive 12.3% increase in reach and 12.1% increase in hours, giving it record highs in both.
Classic FM has seen an increase of just under 10% in listening hours, while Talksport has also had a good set of results increasing 11.5% on the previous quarter to a record 24.5m hours. Meanwhile Absolute Radio has seen a fall - largely as a result of a significant London decrease, decreasing by 22.6% in hours. It'd be remiss of me not to point out that our figure excluding London FM, actually shows a 0.8% increase on the previous quarter. The decline comes in London as I say.
In the digital world, Planet Rock got a record reach of 827,000, while 6 Music ascent through 2010 has halted with a 4.9% decrease in reach and a more significant 24.0% decrease in hours. Radio 7, much rumoured to be shortly rebranding as Radio 4 Extra, saw a 10% fall in reach to just below 1m and a 20% decrease in hours. 1Xtra and Asian Network both posted increases in reach.
Elsewhere, all the digital Absolute Radio brands - Absolute Classic Rock, Absolute 80s and Absolute Radio 90s - all saw increases to one extent or another in reach. Absolute Radio 00s gets its first figures next quarter.
NME didn't have a great quarter slipping 8.6% in reach, and a more significant 33.5%, while Jazz FM saw a small increase in hours. Fun Radio has taken quite a hit in listening, but unfortunately for them, RAJAR no longer measures children under 10, and so isn't as relevant a measure. The ongoing curiosity remains The Hits, which as far as I'm aware is only available on DAB in London, on Freeview and the internet, yet has 1.1m listeners spending nearly 4m hours with it. But it does share its name with a previously available free-to-air music TV channel.
But it's London that's most interesting, and in many ways, most concerning. As I noted before, commercial radio has not had a great time. Quite why it's performed so poorly isn't really clear. As well as a very significant decrease for Absolute Radio (-41.8% on the quarter in hours), there are also highly significant decreases in hours for just about every major London commercial station. In terms of hours, Smooth is down 35.7% on the previous quarter, Gold London is down 35.5%, Capital FM is down 18.6% (in the quarter when it had all the excitement of the Jingle Bell Ball!), Heart London is down 18.2%, Magic is down 11.1% and LBC 97.3 is down 10.3%. Only the comparatively small Xfm London can show a significant increase of 17.4%, while Kiss rockets to number 2 in London, as much as anything by virtue of the fact that it only fell by 3.2% in hours!
Explaining this dismal picture for the commercial sector away is not easy, and I'll happily predict right now, that most of those numbers will "right" themselves next quarter, and we should perhaps write these results off as some kind of freak occurrences. I remain firmly of the belief that unless you make some major changes to a station's line-up or music policy, or spend gargantuan amounts on marketing, then listeners only ebb and flow between stations. When you see significant double digit changes, you should probably question them. We'll have to wait until Q1 2011's results to see if I'm right, or whether commercial radio just isn't as popular in London as it was.
What this all means is that in terms of bragging rights, it's Magic that comes up trumps in London overall, both in reach and hours.
At breakfast, there are the usual changes. Both Chris Moyles and Chris Evans saw increases in their shows. Evans in particular grew its audience by 3.6% (comparing like with like periods. Evans' show has extended now to a three hour length). Importantly for Capital, Chris Moyles' short term reign as number one in London (amongst popular music services) has ended, with Johnny and Lisa regaining their crown.
Overall Bauer has seen a modest 1.0% decrease in listening, while Global has experienced a more signficant 3.8% decrease on the previous quarter, in part due to those London figures. The rebranding of Galaxy as Capital Radio begins to hit RAJAR from Q1 2011, so that'll be worth watching. Global remains the biggest player in UK commercial radio with a 37.9% market share. GMG saw a very small increase of 0.3% in hours, while UTV is buoyed by its Talksport results and is up overall 11.2% in hours. Absolute Radio Network (TIML) is down 12.8% on the previous quarter, and Orion is down fractionally, 0.6%.
But putting those decreases in context, it's worth noting that every one of these groups has recorded year on year increases in hours - most notably UTV up 13.1% and Absolute Radio Network (TIML) up 27.1% on the year.
Digital listening increases slightly to 25.0% - so now one quarter of all radio listening is via digital platform, with 15.8% being DAB, 4.3% digital television and 3.1% the internet. 1.8% of listening is not attributed to a platform. We're now only a few weeks away from the Radio Player being launched, so that 3.1% of internet listening is the number to watch - as well as the overall picture obviously.
RAJAR publication rules mean that I can only really say that the BBC is at 25.5% digital overall while commercial radio is at 24.0%. But I can say that amongst the Absolute Radio family of brands, this figure is now 65.2%. And even for the main Absolute Radio station, it's now at 41.6% of listening (in other words - digital is very important!).
One final interesting snippet is listening via mobile phones. While RAJAR doesn't break out mobile phone listening as a separate platform - it can obviously be FM or internet listening via apps - it does report the overall number of people who say that they've listened via the device, and it increased by 4.1% on the previous quarter to 13.3%. Amongst 15-24s it remains significantly higher at 30.7%.
For those interested about how RAJAR is collated, Paul Kennedy from RAJAR has written a RAJAR primer over on the BBC's website.
Drop a comment if you have any questions, although the full results are available to read on the RAJAR website.
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending December 2010, adults 15+.
[Disclaimer: These are my own opinions, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. However, this piece is based on work done for Absolute Radio, and the access I have to the data is only due to who I work for. Read about Absolute Radio's results here.]
A bit of switching and changing today at BBC Radio, with Jo Whiley moving over from Radio 1 to Radio 2, while Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie move on to 6 Music.
They're the big stories, but as the graphic above demonstrates (Disclaimer: as I read it from the press releases), there's an overall shuffling around of musical chairs.
Overall, I'd say that these are decent moves. Without getting into a whole ageism debate about how old is appropriate for Radio 1 presenters, Jo Whiley moving networks after 17 years seems sensible. She adds another female voice to the network, albeit one that's still without any females between 6.30am and 8.00pm.
Meanwhile, Radcliffe and Maconie are surely made for 6 Music. Stuart Maconie already presents Freakzone on the network, and devotees will be pleased that this continues. There's a bit of shuffling around at 6 Music with Nemone taking over the weekend breakfast show. While back at Radio 1, Huw Stephens gets the big weekend shows that Whiley had while maintaining one of his currently very oddly disjointed evening shows (9-10pm and then midnight-2am on Wednesday nights).
That does leave a little space in the schedule at 9pm on Wednesday for Radio 1 to do something interesting, rather than simply extend another show's hours. And Whiley's new show finishes nightly at 9.30pm rather than 10pm. So it'll be interesting to know what Radio 2 is going to do with that extra half an hour. Post 10pm tends to be quite specialist, so perhaps there'll be more of that in future?
The digital radio advocate in me is pleased that a significant number of Radcliffe and Maconie fans will discover digital radio via one platform or another as a result of this move, and that can't but help the growth of the medium.
Reports correctly point out that Radcliffe and Maconie will see an audience decrease as a result of the move, and comparing RAJARs shows this to be the case with their current slot achieving 1.66m compared with their new slot's current 411,000 reach (RAJAR Q3 201). But I'd assume that Bob Shennan is hoping that the pair grow this audience to something closer to their current level.
Anyway, most of the changes take place in April.
[Disclaimer: These are my views, and not those of my employer, who'd much rather you listen to Absolute Radio rather than any of this BBC stuff. The Hometime Show with Geoff Lloyd is coming from New York this week!]