January, 2010

Ross Quits

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The big news today is that Jonathan Ross has quit his job at the BBC. Although he’ll be staying on for specials and on presentational duty at things like the BAFTAs and Comic Relief, he’ll be leaving his Friday Night Show, Film 2010 and Saturday morning Radio 2 show.
Leaving aside the whys and wherefores of his decision – and seemingly it was his decision – what does that mean for TV and radio?
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Fortuitously, Graham Norton has just signed a new deal with the BBC, so I think we can expect to see his current Monday night show swiftly moving into the Friday night slot. Indeed having both shows on BBC1 felt like one too many shows. Yes, I know that in the US, we’d get five nights a week of this kind of fare, with NBC letting Jay Leno creep into primetime this season. But that’s not really the role of BBC1.
Ross himself might end up doing his show on ITV1 – although Paul O’Grady is just about to fill that mantle. That’s not to say that betwen themselves, Ross and O’Grady couldn’t each do 13 week runs throughout the year. You’d anticipate that their shows would fit into Saturday nights, currently chock-filled with X-Factor, Dancing on Ice, Britain’s Got Talent, I’m A Celebrity, Ant and Dec and so on (and we must remember that Big Brother’s up for grabs at some point later this year too).
But I think this does leave BBC1 with the opportunity to launch a new, less comedic and more serious interview show. I was no real fan of Parkinson, but once he sailed off into the sunset, UK TV was deprived of any even vaguely serious interview shows. And with both Ross and Norton on their books, there wasn’t really room for a new chat show. The last real attempt to start a new show was the desperately awful “Davina” McCall show in 2006, something everybody is still trying to forget. I’d suggest going a bit upmarket from that and getting someone who can interview well and get more from a guest.
Getting guests really shouldn’t be a major issue. With only Ross or Norton to go on currently in prime time, the earlier teatime and lunchtime shows do surprisingly well with the calibre of their guests – however embarrassing it must be for your publicist to get you onto Loose Women.
So I’d suggest looking beyond the “usual suspects”, and not to model the show on American chat shows (as nearly every show is) which – with the exception of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (and to an extent Craig Ferguson) are pretty awful. Yes – even Letterman.
Film 2010 is another interesting position to fill. The obvious person is Mark Kermode. BBC2 really hasn’t found a home for The Culture Show, and this might be a good opportunity to use one of its better strands. It’d be nice for the programme to grow some legs and not rely on the somewhat dull star interviews conducted in Park Lane hotel suites. Another option would be Andrew Collins.
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The radio position is really interesting. For a while, Saturday mornings were a real battleground. There was Adam & Joe on 6 Music, Jonathan Ross on Radio 2, Danny Baker on Five Live, and our own Frank Skinner on Absolute Radio. Now the first two have both, or will shortly, be stopping. So who fills that slot on Radio 2 from later in the year?
Matt Wells suggested Liza Tarbuck earlier today. She’s been filling in for Ross in that slot, and she adds a much needed female voice to the Radio 2 roster. Remember that Radio 2 has no female presenters in primetime during the week, with Sarah Kennedy and Janice Long filling the early breakfast and overnight slots respectively. Even weekends are really limited to Zoe Ball at Saturday breakfast and Elaine Paige for Sunday lunchtimes. So Tarbuck would be a welcome fulltime addition.
Would Ross want to do any more radio work? I don’t know. I think he enjoys the medium, and I remember him from his time at Virgin Radio back in 1998/9 when he first presented a radio show nationally (in particular I recall that when he sat in for Chris Evans at breakfast his was one of the funniest ever radio shows I’ve heard). More to the point, could anybody in radio afford him? Might there be a syndicated show in there somewhere? Or would he cause too much stress for compliance people?
Time will tell.
[More Jonathan Ross photos from his time at Virgin Radio in 1998 and 1999 can be seen here] Disclaimer: As ever, these are personal opinions and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. I have absolutely no knowledge of any discussions he may have had or be having with anybody in radio or elsewhere.


When it became clear that it was going to snow fairly heavily near my flat last night, I thought it might be fun to put some timelapse videos together. Indeed, that might be a good idea, but I’m not convinced that I managed the best implementation ever.
This first video is the worst. It’s the view from my kitchen window ledge, and was created using a Canon A470 with CHDK to allow it to run an intervalmeter program. So I left it going overnight taking one picture a minute, and in this video each image represents three frames. Unfortunately, the battery had died by morning, so I’m left with a somewhat dull and very grainy video taken overnight.

The second video was taken using a video camera that was powered. It shows the street outside my flat and the houses opposite. The video was created by taking 0.5 sec of footage every minute, with the resulting video sped up by about 500%.

Not a lot of excitement took place overnight, but there lots of movement during the day. I’ve added a timecode which just about reflects the real time. Spot the multiple refuse collections during the day, the movements of cars and neighbours, and not much more. The snow was relatively constant but not all that heavy, and you don’t really see it develop. But you do here excerpts of my clock radio in the morning, and an alarm that went off when I was out in the evening.

Snow Law

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If you’re like me, when someone tells you something that sounds like an urban myth, you’re desperate to do your bit to put the other person right. So you do a quick Google search and end up somewhere where the question has been previously asked. Of course it’s an urban myth. Don’t be so stupid.
At Christmas I was visiting my family, having warily negotiated the ungritted pavement near where I live, trolley case in tow. There I was told that the reason so few pavements had been cleared of snow – especially in front of shops – was because shopkeepers were worried they’d be sued by people who had accidents if they hadn’t cleared the snow properly.
What? This couldn’t be true could it?
Well if it isn’t it’s a widely held belief. So I did some urban myth Googling and – it’s basically true.
According to this piece from the BBC News site in 2004:
Clearing snow from pavements outside your home could make you liable to legal action if somebody slips on ice, the government has said.
But if householders leave the snow, the council is liable, Lord Davies of Oldham, for ministers, told Tory Lord Burnham at question time.

Labour ex-minister Lord Dubs added: “Something I have done for years every time there has been snow is leaving me liable to legal action.”
Lord Davies said: “No householder is at all responsible, providing they do not touch the pavement, which is owned by the local authority.”

That couldn’t still be true could it?
It is. This piece dates from last year in The Time. Section 41(1A) of the Highways Act 1980 says that councils must maintain the highways, and although someone could go to the magistrates court to order a council to unblock a highway, such actions are unsurprisingly rare.
Private landowners are not obliged to clear snow or ice from the highway, even if the road or pavement passes over their land. Indeed, from a legal point of view it may be risky for private individuals to clear these areas. By sweeping snow from one part of the pavement you can create a danger in another area and if someone is injured, you will be liable for negligence or nuisance.
Furthermore, you do need to make your own property safe under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 to make sure visitors are reasonably safe.
And thus, that’s why when the snow comes, nobody apart from the council is allowed to do anything. None of this would matter were it not for those horrendous ambulance chasing legal companies. You know the ones I mean – they advertise everywhere on a no-win no-fee basis.
In the meantime, thousands of people – especially the elderly – will be slipping and sliding in this weather, especially if temperatures drop and the snow freezes into ice.

Radio This Week

There’s a few interesting things on TV just at the moment, but I’m going to concentrate on radio.
All this week, Melvyn Bragg is celebrating the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary with four episodes of In Our Time. The first is already available to listen to as I type (and they’ll stay available, which is fabulous).
I’ve not yet heard it, but I will be listening to Radio 4’s Saturday Play: Private Lives by Noel Coward. It’s got Bill Nighy in it after all – and Helena Bonham Carter!
And Thursday’s Afternoon Play – The Killing of TSR2 – sounds up my street. It’s the British fighter that never was.
In comedy, there’s the last episode of Giles Wemmbley-Hogg Goes Off, and a new series of Just A Minute.
There’s a new series of Jon Ronson On starting tomorrow evening at 11.00pm which as far as I can tell from the Radio 4 trailer, seems to feature all the people I follow on Twitter as well as Ronson himself (Victoria Coren, Charlie Brooker, and Graham Linehan).
BBC 7 has another Doctor Syn book being read fantastically by Rufus Sewell that started today – The Last of Doctor Syn.
Finally – and this is a bit late and useless to you – but Saturday saw BBC 7 broadcast the final episode of series 3 of Ben Moor’s science fiction comedy Undone. I really enjoyed this, but at least with series catch-up, you can still hear all six episodes from this series on the iPlayer. But you might want to wait for the next repeat of the first series.
I was sorry to hear that Clive James has called an end to his A Point of Views now. He’s writing another book and that’s going to fully engage him.
And I feel that if Ed Reardon’s Week was coming back for another series, it’d have been on-air now. If anyone knows, I’d love to hear from you.
So little time, but so much radio to listen to, and that doesn’t even include my day job!


Is stripping a good idea?
I mean the television scheduling practice of course. Tonight on ITV1, the first episode of a new series of Above Suspicion is starting. It’s a three-parter really, with episodes each night from Monday to Wednesday. Over on BBC2, they’re beginning a run of Nurse Jackie, the dark comedy from US cable network Showtime (also home of series like Weeds, Dexter and Californication) starring Edie Falco of Sopranos fame. That’s also airing nightly at 10pm Monday to Friday for the first week. From next Monday it drops back to a weekly series, but given that there are only 12 episodes in total, that’s half the series gone in 8 days.
Are these good scheduling ideas?
In recent times, ITV1 has shown Collision over five nights, following the lead of BBC1 which has shown series like Criminal Justice, Five Days and Torchwood in a similarly stripped manner.
Obviously some soaps air daily, with shows like Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Neighbours and Home and Away showing at the same time and place each weeknight. But they’re different. It’s a rare soap that you can’t easily miss a few episodes of and happily pick up with the minimum of fuss.
But I’m not sure that even a multi-layered whodunnit (or whydunnit) works that well. While the TV station certainly makes the series an “event”, can we all ensure that we’ll be available to watch five nights of the week? Most people, even in these recessionary times, have other things to do at least once a week.
Of course with PVRs we can record epsiodes we miss, and do the “box-set” style catchup thing at the weekend. Indeed Sky Two recently re-aired the last complete series of 24 and Lost over single days in such a “boxset” manner. But those were stunts – with few viewers likely to be watching 24 solidly for 24 hours. Both series had previously aired (multiple times) in a weekly format.
One busy weekend might mean, if you were worried about continuity, that you could end up with six episodes of Nurse Jackie to catch up on. Not having seen Nurse Jackie, I don’t know, but I’d have thought that a comedy would do better spread out over several weeks from the start.
We all remember the way BBC2 has treated excellent comedies like Seinfeld and Larry Sanders in the past, and more recently Arrested Development. I suppose we should thank our lucky stars that it’s not going out in the post-Newsnight slot.
Perhaps BBC2 is just worried that they’ve got another Defying Gravity on their hands? This space-set soap, a Canadian-US-BBC co-production got canned in the States, and even BBC2 had to quietly bump it into late night where it was scheduled so erratically that at one point a new episode was showing late at night on BBC2 clashing with a previously episode being signed over on BBC1. And I see that Heroes is back on BBC2 next Saturday – so far without any publicity at all. It seems to be airing a triple episode at least in the first week. That does mean that we’ll catch up with America pretty quickly if that continues, but on the other hand you wonder how much belief schedulers have in the series.
Sometimes, less is more…

The Year of the Kindle/ebook Reader?

Sometimes, a piece of information just doesn’t smell right. On Boxing Day this year, Amazon announced a couple of pieces of information in a release that got lots of coverage, in large part – I’d suggest – because over the holiday period, and there’s not a great deal of real news kicking around.
We were told that the Kindle is Amazon’s most “gifted”* item ever on Amazon.com. It’s worth noting that Amazon still doesn’t properly sell this device in the UK – in that you have to buy it from the US store and pay the applicable import taxes and so on.
Nonetheless, I’m sure that it is a popular gift. But of course it’s one device compared with literally millions of different book, CD or DVD titles that might otherwise be far more popular as gifts.
The release went on to say that: On Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.
So the dawn of the ebook age is finally here then?
Maybe. But I doubt it.
First of all, if somebody gave me a Kindle and I opened it on Christmas day, then there’s a very high probablility that I buy at least one book. Otherwise, it’s just a not-terribly-attractive paperweight.
On the other hand, most paper books exchanged need no activation or digital download. You can flick through them, or settle into them immediately. These will be many of the many 9.5m items that were shipped on just one day in December by Amazon.
It’s certainly true that many people will have been given vouchers of gift certificates for Christmas. But on Amazon those vouchers can be used for anything – not just books. And I wonder – early sales aside – how many transactions are carried out on Christmas day compared with days either side of that date? That information might put into perspective what kind of achievement was really reached with the Kindle.
I’m not the only person a little sceptical about this. There was a fascinating piece on a blog by Mike Cane. He’s more interested in finding out what the Kindle’s sales figures are. More importantly, an anonymous commentor says that the company he or she works for has seen just 1000 sales of their biggest selling title to date. That person’s information is corroborated by someone else also working for another US trade house.
There are also some interesting discussions about what a book “purchase” might mean for a Kindle. Many of the Amazon top 100 ebook titles are actually retailing for $0.00.
Now I don’t want dismiss either the Kindle or any ebook readers. I think they’ll be a relevant part of the book-reading world, and there’s still plenty of room for growth. For some ebook readers will become utterly invaluable. But we’ve not reached that point yet. And I’m pretty certain that whatever exciting tablet Apple is about to release isn’t going to make a great deal of difference either (for one thing, it’ll cost the earth compared to the flawed, but cheap Elonex e-reader that Waterstone’s has just started selling for £130). In that, I disagree to a small extent to John Naughton’s thoughts in yesterday’s otherwise very good Observer column.
So while Apple will come out with a much better thought out and designed device than anybody else, it won’t change the game. At least not unless it retails for under 200 quid (Data problems aside, iPhones have been great for phone retailers because they achieve strong margins on sales and have normalised 18 and 24-month contracts. How many unlocked iPhones are being sold?). And of course retailers will have to work with Apple’s iTunes store in terms of setting prices and agreeing terms.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that publishers like Simon & Schuster can’t even agree to releasing ebooks at the same time as hardbacks, instead settling on somewhere between the hardback and paperback release (odd – because they can set the price, and publicity tends to accompany paper releases).
So we’re still a few iterations from a really well designed and affordable ebook reader. And even then, in the same way that radio wasn’t killed off by television, and cinema was not put out to pasture by VHS, the printed book has plenty of positive attributes in its favour that will mean it remains an important part – indeed majority part – of the publishing ecology.
* How long has it been acceptable to use gift as a verb in this manner? While it can be a verb it’s dreadful English and I’m not happy with it. I don’t like “Gift Wrap” becoming the default for “Wrapping Paper” either. But that’s another matter.