Mozart in the Jungle

A mini-review of this new Amazon series, because I think it deserves it!

First things first: there’s no doubt that this is a terrible title for a TV series. It’s supposed to shout something like “classical music in New York City” but I’m really not sure it does. I complain when titles are boring, but this one is a bit lousy. It comes from the book of the same name, a 2005 memoir from Blair Tindall who spent many years in the New York classical music scene performing with various orchestras.

The book seems to have simply been a jumping off point for the series which is set around the fictional New York Symphony, who is just saying goodbye to its old “maestro” (Malcolm McDowall) and welcoming its new South American genius, Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal). There’s a feeling that new is replacing old on a slightly faster timetable than old would like.

We largely follow things from the perspective of Hailey (Lola Kirke), a young oboist who is striving to make a career for herself. She lives with her friend Lizzie (Hannah Dunne) in one of those preposterously large apartments that everyone seems to get in US TV shows even when they’re living hand to mouth (cf. Girls).

Amazon pitches the show as a comedy, but comedy drama would be a better way of describing it, with the show neatly divided into ten 30 minute episodes. At first it seems as though Hailey is going to dramatically get her dream job with the symphony until some real world concerns come into play. This is a heavily unionised world, where even a new conductor doesn’t get to hire and fire at will. We get to know various members of the orchestra over time, although the scale of the personnel limits things somewhat.

Notably we get to know Cynthia (Saffron Burrows) who’s had a relationship with the outgoing maestro, and is very welcoming towards Hailey as she struggles to make her mark. And we also meet Gloria (Bernadette Peters) the long-suffering manager of the orchestra, constantly juggling the financial realities of what they have to do with the needs of the musicians.

I’ve got to tell you that in spite of that awful name, I really enjoyed Mozart in the Jungle and binged on the whole thing in a couple of sittings – thirty minute episodes are very more-ish.

I did read an hilariously testy review of the series elsewhere which bemoaned some of the things that would “never really happen.” But this is something that anyone who’s ever worked in any profession that’s featured in television or film has known for many years. Do we really think any cop show bears more than the faintest reflection on reality? Or a medical show? Or a legal show? I know that scenes set in Frasier’s radio station were some of the least convincing portrayals of a radio station ever committed to celluloid. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t love the show and find it funny.

They obviously did make a couple of changes after the pilot episode though – reining in on classical musicians playing shot games with flutes and oboes and so on. And yes, it doesn’t make sense that a musician could do double duty performing in a concert hall and then dashing across town to play in the pit of a Broadway musical (shows start around the same time). But I’m pretty sure that musicians do supplement their income performing in other places. Whether the players in the premier orchestra would is a separate question, but these people have to make a living, and I’m pretty sure that in the UK your average violinist isn’t on six figures even allowing for currency conversions.

I found it interesting to see the hoops you have to go through to constantly bring in money – having lunches with elderly well-off ladies who bid to support your work.

Rodrigo, incidentally, is surely supposed to be Gustavo Dudamel, now at the LA Philharmonic. I suspect though, that while he may well do some things differently, he isn’t quite the madcap diva that Rodrigo seems to be, with his even crazier wife.

But this is a comedy drama, and so we shouldn’t take it all too seriously. It comes from Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (who’s Bored to Death was wonderful), and Alex Timbers. Schwartzman shows up in a couple of episodes as the presenter of a classical music podcast with ideas perhaps a little above his station. And John Hodgman continues to refine his eccentric billionaire act (as seen on The Daily Show), playing an eccentric millionaire in a couple of episodes here.

There’s a light frothy air to the whole thing. The music is well handled, and you tend to be left wanting to hear more. The closing credits point out that much of the music is available on Amazon Music, although I didn’t find any direct links on their website, so they may be missing a trick. Give viewers a list of the pieces heard and direct links through to buy them! (Given that the producers are working with a real orchestra, I’d almost be tempted to fully film some of the pieces and offer them as streaming “extras” if they could find a way to do it.)

[One final aside. The pilot episode was obviously produced many months before the rest of the series. Invariably some things change between pilots of full series. Notably, producers decide to change their credits – either in style, or creating themes or stings. What I never understand with US series is why they don’t later go back and re-edit the credit sequences of the pilot to match the rest of the series. Yes, the pilot has long been available on Amazon, so that doesn’t make it as relevant. But this commonly happens with network fare, where beyond executives, nobody has really seen the pilot before it hits the screens, and then the first two episodes look different.]

Unbundling HBO

I find it really interesting what was announced today by HBO. Essentially from some indeterminate point next, HBO will sell a service direct via the web.

Now in a world where we have Netflix and iTunes, this might not seem like a big move, but the pay TV market – and the American one in particular – is an interesting beast. HBO is a premium cable channel. That is, you buy it via a cable or satellite operator. But those operators will only it sell it to you in addition to a basic cable package. In other words, even if you only want to watch HBO, you have to take a big package of channels to be able to subscribe.

The US isn’t alone in this. It’s the same way that Sky and Virgin Media retail their channels. You take some kind of basic package, and then you can add, say, Sky Sports on top of that. The difference is that “basic” cable packages in the US tend to be bigger. And the US equivalent of Sky Sports, ESPN, tends to be included in that basic package. ESPN, incidentally, gets a decent chunk of your cable bill – probably somewhere around $6 a month. They use that pay for their sports rights. But before you say, “Wow – $6 a month is pretty cheap,” you need to think about the economics. It’s only that “cheap” because every customer is effectively forced to pay for it. If you’re not interested in sport at all, you’re still paying $6 a month for sport. If it was an add-on, then fewer than the 100m+ households that take cable (or satellite) would pay it. The costs would remain the same, so the price would go up. That’s why in the UK we have to pay £24+ a month for our Sky Sports package.

There’s a lot of talk in the US about “cord cutters” – those who don’t want to have to buy a full $80 a month cable TV package. They still want to watch Game of Thrones at the same time as everyone else though. So it’s a question of how they get it.

Many channels of course provide what the industry terms Over the Top (OTT) services. But these services tend to be within the walled gardens of the cable TV operators. It’s obviously not in cable TV comapnies’ interests to let that programming just swim around free. Indeed, they don’t really like letting customers pay for it on their own. If we can all start just buying the shows we want, then why should we have to pay for dozens of channels we don’t want? That ecosystem does support a broad range of channels. But it’s arguably propping them up too. You’re paying perhaps only a few cents a month for a channel, but that makes it profitable.

So OTT services like HBO’s HBOGo work hand in glove with your cable supplier. You have to enter your subscriber details to get access to the service. Typical you’ll be limited to a small number of devices to prevent you giving out your details to all and sundry. Although that doesn’t stop lots of kids who moved away from home using their parents’ cable bills to get their HBO. The so-called “millennials” are particularly likely to do this.

Ironically there’s also the problem that it’s those same cable TV companies that are about the only place you can get internet connectivity in the US. It makes them effective monopoly suppliers, and even triple-play phone/broadband/TV packages are still vastly more expensive than in territories where true competition exists, such as the UK.

But time marches on, and cables are being cut, although probably not to the extent that is sometimes portrayed.

And viewers still want to watch Game of Thrones regardless of whether they have cable or not. A campaign called “Take My Money HBO” was even launched.

Well it sounds like they’re now going to do it. And this is where it gets interesting. HBO is an enormously profitable part of Time Warner. Once upon a time, Time Warner also owned a big cable operation, but Time Warner Cable was spun off in 2009. Today Time Warner’s big divisions are Turner (including basic cable TV channels such as TNT, TBS, and the CNN stable), Warner studios (the movie and TV production divisions), and HBO.

HBO itself is enormously successful. In the 2013 Annual Report, it saw revenues of nearly $5bn – a combination of subscription fees and content sales (sales of programmes to non-HBO owned channels, and home video revenues). That generates about $1.8bn of Operating Income. But the Turner division generates nearly $10bn revenues and an Operating Income of $3.5bn. So in other words, there’s a sizeable chunk of business still being done in the cable TV market.

That’s important because of the potential ramifications that annoying cable operators could have. Could we see consumers cutting the cord and just buying HBO?

I suspect that while some will, it won’t be all that many.

There’s a lot of good TV these days, but it’s spread thinly over many channels. I got very excited about the forthcoming new series of Twin Peaks the other day. But that will be on HBO’s premium cable rival, Showtime (owned by CBS). Customers who cut the cord and want to watch Homeland or Twin Peaks will need to subscribe to a similar service from Showtime – assuming they make one available.

Then there’s the cost.

Looking at what HBO tells us about their revenues, based on the 2013 Annual Report, it turns over $4.231bn in subscription revenues. Now the report doesn’t break that out by territory, and there are other versions of HBO around the world. But it does note that HBO Nordic and HBO Asia combined have subscription revenues of around $48m. I’ve plucked $50m additional revenues from other territories out of the air. But to be honest, even if I’m $30m out, it doesn’t make much odds to the maths.

We’re left with $4.133bn for US subscription revenues.

According to this Variety piece, SNL Kagan (a company who model these things closely) say that HBO has 29.2m customers.

So if you divide $4.133bn by 29.2m and then by 12 months, you get a cable bill for HBO of $11.80. And that sounds right. This piece from last year has a range of prices for HBO broadly between $15 and $20 a month. But there are lots of offers, bundles and other things. Plus there’s almost certainly a cable company mark-up. So $11.80 feels right.

Interestingly, an Atlantic piece from 2012 suggested it was $7. I suspect, even allowing for a couple of years of Game of Thrones, that this was low.

What this all says to me is that consumers can be looking at something more like $20 a month when the new service launches.

This will appease cable operators who can say, “Hey, HBO is cheaper with us.” And yes, it’s at a premium compared to what Netflix charges, or Amazon Prime’s implied cost (Amazon did a big $100m+ deal for older HBO programming recently), but it’s not out of the ballpark. There are 70m cable households not currently paying for HBO. And even if some of them only subscribe for limited periods – the ten weeks of Game of Thrones – then it could make sense for all concerned. Yet another reason why those Game of Thrones DVDs take such a long time to get released.

I’m not sure that there are many other companies who could do this. HBO revenues aren’t related to advertising, and cable companies can’t get too annoyed and pull HBO. If they did, then they’d simply lose customers. It’s certainly an interesting move!

This whole piece is probably a bit academic for a UK audience. But it’s interesting that Sky is effectively already doing this same thing with Now TV. £9.99 for a day’s sport is a rip-off compared to £24 a month. But £10.99 for the Ryder Cup weekend might be something of a bargain.

TV Ignorance

There’s a lot of ignorance both on television and around it. That’s why I’ve never watched an episode of Gogglebox (and almost certainly never will). But that’s not what I’m talking about.

It seems to me that as I live more and more of my TV life through a combination of PVR and On Demand playback, I’m becoming much less aware of what’s coming up – even though I’d be really interested in the programmes. Now behaviour may be atypical – news and sport being the only two things I usually watch live – but I think that this is still true even as a generalisation.

Two recent cases in point.

On Sunday night there’s a new three-part Simon Reeve programme – Sacred Rivers. The first episode is about The Nile. I only learnt about the series a few minutes before I started writing this piece. If I hadn’t seen a preview on the BBC’s intranet, I honestly wouldn’t have known it was coming up, even though I’m certain it has been heavily trailed.

Then on Tuesday, the new Brian Cox series starts – Human Universe. I’m 99.9% certain that this has been massively trailed – but I’ve seen none of them. Again, it was an internal communication that alerted me to it (And I also saw Cox himself, alongside, I think, Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, being “mobbed” in the building yesterday).

To be clear, these are both programmes that I certainly want to watch.

Now to be fair, I think I’d have spotted both of these when I made my weekly PVR selections from The Guardian’s Guide supplement on Saturday. And because I read a daily newspaper, I’d have got a second opportunity on the day of broadcast. I might even have spotted the programmes in the EPG. And even if I’d missed the transmission, I might have found out about the series after the event and caught up on iPlayer.

But I do think that all broadcasters are going to have to carry out cleverer marketing to alert viewers to upcoming shows. It always amazes me, if you visit a big city in the US, the extent to which outdoor advertising is used to promote upcoming TV series. Indeed, if your show doesn’t get that advertising, producers often hold it against the network if the show is subsequently cancelled.

What I don’t want to see is more intrusive in-show advertising. But one thing strikes me as interesting – I think the BBC has less of an opportunity for PVR watchers like me than the population as a whole. Because while I might fast-forward through ad-breaks, the sponsorship break-bumpers and the invariable trails either side of those, means that Sky Atlantic is able to do a much better job of alerting me to The Knick during the season ending episode of Ray Donovan, than the BBC can during Doctor Who.


Horizon Transcripts

This year BBC2 is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and as part of those celebrations, its long running science programme, Horizon, is also celebrating being 50.

I must admit that until the last week or so, and I hadn’t known that Horizon started right at the birth of the channel. To celebrate its half-century, Horizon has got heavily involved with the Longitude Prize 2014 – an attempt to replicate the famous prize won (eventually) by John Harrison when he showed how building a watch would solve the major issue of the day, ships knowing their longitude at sea.

The key part of that prize was that anyone could enter, and there was a big cash reward to encourage new ideas and thoughts.

The new initiative seems to be a two step affair, with members of the public determining which current problem of science should be addressed before a multi-year competition is opened to entrants who can solve that problem. Again, the thought behind the prize is that entrants may not always come from the obvious places.

The shortlisted areas are Antibiotics, Water, Flight, Dementia, Food and Paralysis. All worthy subjects, but I’ll be voting for Antibiotics* in the main part because I fear that in the very short term, a lack of antibiotics is going to kill many more people than anything else.

Alongside the Longitude Prize, the BBC has put up a series of classic episodes from Horizon’s history. Highlights include:

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out with Richard Feynman. I’ve seen it before, and I’m going to watch it again. Utterly wonderful.
Fermat’s Last Theorem. Telling the story of solving of one of mathematics greatest puzzles.
The World of Buckminster Fuller. The very first ever episode, which I’ve never seen before.
Strangeness Minus Three on the discovery of a then new subatomic particle in 1964. Again, I’ve not seen it before.

They’ve also released an interactive ebook in iPad, Android (tablet) and Kindle editions. It’s a nice little addition, although be warned that it does take a while to initially decompress itself – at least with the Android version on a 2013 Nexus 7. Just be patient.

The book includes a list of every Horizon ever made which is a nice touch.

Now I’ve got to admit that at times I’ve been quite down on Horizon. But it can still be quite brilliant. Its biggest recent successes (in terms of reaching the popular consciousness), have surely been in areas of nutrition. There was an edition that effectively kick-started the Five/Two diets – it’s included in the collection on the website. But in overall terms, I think the standard is better than it was back in 2007 when I wrote that piece.

The thing is – I cling to Horizon dearly because I love it. It’s the only really serious science programme the BBC airs on television. I’m delighted that Bang Goes The Theory exists and that it goes out on prime time BBC1, but the range of subjects they cover have to be limited. So we need programmes like Horizon to delve into other areas. Yes radio has excellent science programmes, but sometimes you need visuals to explain a subject.

Equinox on Channel 4 is sadly long gone. And multi-channel hasn’t really helped. While theoretically channels like Discovery could be a boon, they tackle mostly simplistic topics. Oh, and naked people surviving on desert islands. To be honest, the best science I’ve seen outside of BBC One and Two is some of the maths problems on Dave’s School of Hard Sums with Dara O’Briain and Marcus Du Sautoy.

It’s also important that we have some way of communicating current science with the wider public. When there are major scientific breakthroughs that really aren’t easy to get away in a three minute news bulletin, it needs a programme like Horizon to allow a curious public the opportunity to delve deeper into something that for them is quite probably very new. We live in a world where everything is phenomenally specialist compared with our forefathers, and most people probably couldn’t even to begin to explain how some of the things they live their life by – phones, cars, televisions – work. We need “explainers”. These are the programmes that will intrigue future generations into upholding Britain’s strength in science. And at the very least help politicians understand the importance of science, the value of it to the economy (and why we shouldn’t sell our national assets to companies that are only in it for corporate tax advantages at untold cost to the country).

One final thing. As part of Horizon’s birthday, I’d really love them to go back to it’s old theme music – or a modern updating of it. It has been through a few iterations, but I think it could return to a closer approximation of Wilfred Joseph’s composition. Today it doesn’t really have music – just a sound effect. Oh, and like some of the linked YouTube commenters, I really would be happy to pay for high quality versions!

The picture above is of some transcripts that the BBC used to produce for Horizon. You could send away for them after shows aired – I think for a small amount of money. And obviously, I was a regular subscriber. Later transcripts were published online, but these days they aren’t published at all. Externally anyway…

*I will be voting because at time of writing, I’d failed to get the BBC Horizon website to display the voting panel in spite of being logged in with a BBC ID as required. Here’s hoping they get it fixed!

[Update] I did manage to cast my vote the next day.

Chronicle of BBC Three’s Death Foretold

Today news began to leak out about how the BBC is next going to be saving money. BBC Three is going “online-only”. The official announcement isn’t until tomorrow, but there seems enough truth to the rumours so far.

From a selfishly personal perspective, I’m rather glad that it’s BBC Three that’s getting the [online] “chop” rather than BBC Four. I believe that BBC Four is irreplaceable, whereas large chunks of BBC Three are. But that’s perhaps reflective of me and my viewing habits.

The TLDR version of the story is that BBC Three goes online and saves lots of broadcasting costs.

However, I imagine that there is slightly more to it than that.

In the most recent Annual Report, the costs of BBC Three and BBC Four are as per the following chart.

What you’ll quickly note is that the distribution costs – those largely attributable to broadcasting the channel over a range of platforms – are relatively modest. Indeed, in recent days we’ve learnt that the BBC has agreed with Sky that it and the other PSBs shouldn’t have to pay carriage on that platform. I imagine that it’s seeking similar deals from other carriers – notably Virgin Media.

Indeed, while it might save £4.6m by switching the service off, I’d anticipate that the proposed BBC One+1 channel would swallow those costs right back up again. Indeed I’d imagine that the BBC would like to keep the relatively high channel numbers available for BBC One+1.

The really big cost of BBC Three is the nearly £90m for “Content.” That’s the actual programmes it shows. Simply putting the same programmes online on iPlayer isn’t going to reduce any of those costs. So we might must be looking at some quite severe curtailing of what output BBC Three continues to deliver.

Some of those infrastructure costs probably need to be looked at carefully. I suspect that some costs are pretty fixed and that they’re “recharged” within the BBC to the various channels that use them. Removing a channel from the mix doesn’t actually save any money in the end, and it just bumps costs up for other channels.

While there is little reason in an online world for BBC Three to “show” repeats of Eastenders, Top Gear and Doctor Who, that’s not really going to save any money. The films that randomly pop-up won’t make much difference either.

Original commissions are bound to fall. Comedy is the obvious target here, although there is also drama that will end up being cut. I can’t see that the BBC could continue to buy imported shows for the station. An opportunity for someone else to pick up free-to-air Family Guy rights?

What I would say about comedy though is that before BBC Three launched, the natural home of developing “edgy” comedy was actually BBC Two. And in many ways it’s lost out. Yes – we’ve now got Inside No 9 and The Trip – but I feel certain that Uncle or Bad Education will either live on online, or could find a home on BBC Two.

It has to be said that the 16-34 target audience that the BBC Three service licence says it should be aimed at, is well looked after commercially. ITV2 and E4 also offer free-to-air channels that target this audience. Certainly they’re not as good as BBC Three and have little if any public service values.

Then again, the BBC has to offer this audience something to safeguard the licence fee. Does the BBC properly cater for this audience beyond BBC Three. They need to be persuaded of the value of the Licence Fee too.

Going online only does bring some questions though.

In metropolitan upmarket London, every 17 year old might have a laptop or iPad with which to watch Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, but that’s still not the case nationally. So are younger people in poorer environments losing out?

The most recent Ofcom Technology Tracker data suggests that while tablet penetration has reached 35%, and among 16-24s it’s reached 37%, for those in the poorer DE classes, it’s only 20%. And amongst with household incomes under £11,500, it’s at 15%. The same pattern is true for other devices like laptops. Indeed only 66% of DE households, and 52% of low income households have the internet at home. Online only does disenfranchise a lot of people.

And the other implication is that this does, as Tony Hall said in a speech recently, give the BBC a much stronger argument during Charter Renewal, to demand that anyone watching iPlayer online needs to buy a TV Licence. Although this was always on the cards anyway.

Still, look back to that chart above. If the costs are reduced to BBC Four’s overall cost levels, that would save roughly half the £100m that they’re looking to find.

The detail will make interesting reading, as will the the BBC Trust’s view. I’m not sure that there’ll be quite the backlash there was when 6 Music was threatened, or that there would be if BBC Four was in line for closure. But on the other hand, there’s already a nascent campaign to save the channel, lead by comedians in particular. Nothing’s going to happen very fast.

Radio and TV Favourites

I think my favourite TV programmes over the Christmas and New Year period were a series of films that I didn’t spot at all when I was going through the Radio Times. Endeavour: Everest was a series of three films made by Leo Dickinson shot in and around Mount Everest between 1976 and 1991. They each focus on a different challenge – canoeing down from Everest, making the first ascent of the mountain without oxygen, and the first (and only) flight over the mountain in a hot-air balloon. Dickinson has made many adventure films over the years, and I believe that some of these were originally made for HTV, and they’ve been cleaned up digitally and scanned in HD. So it’s lovely that BBC Four has just gone fully HD to allow viewers to see the most of these films. I think they’ve also been brought up to date a little – for example there’s a Google Maps insert in one of them. But for the most part, they’re still the original award-winning film documentaries.

Two of the films are narrated by Ian McNaught-Davis, who I tend to think of as the chap who presented many of the BBC’s microcomputer programmes in the eighties, but who is also an alpine climber. What’s fascinating about these films, along with epic stories they’re telling, is the way the stories are constructed technically and tightness of the narrative. When you watch a 21st century production, you know that you can probably skip the first five minutes since it’ll give away all the highlights up front. And if it’s on a commercial channel, this will happen at every break. There’s also a distance in these films. Partly I suspect due to the challenges of recording audio as well as film, the films are narrated at a distance. There’s rarely a shot of any of the participants directly addressing the camera. Today it’s a given that we’ll have a night vision “video diary” inside a tent somewhere. But the distance lends something too. It just shows that there are more than one way to skin a cat.

It also feels as though these aren’t really the films that TV companies are interested in any longer. Witness Ben and James Versus the Empty Quarter on BBC Two, or Bear’s Wild Weekend with Stephen Fry. I enjoyed both of these, but it’s very clear that a different form of programme is required by schedulers these days. We need to already know who the participants are. Even if their claim to fame is that they’re a mate of Ewan McGregor!

All three films are still on iPlayer, and get another outing on BBC Four next Monday to Wednesday.

On the radio, I’ve got to highlight a couple of sets of letters that appeared in the Book of the Week slot on Radio 4. Neither is sadly still there on the Radio 4 website – roll on the 30 day catch-up. First up is a delightful reading of Darling Monster, letters from Lady Diana Cooper to her son – Darling Monster. These were beautifully read by Patricia Hodge with inserts from John Julius Norwich – the son in question. Cooper led a wonderful life and seemed to know everybody.

The letters in the lead up to the war and during it are utterly engrossing. Of course over one hour and fifteen minutes you only get a taster of the letters, so just today I’ve been out to buy the book the letters are extracted from (It’s half price in some branches of Waterstones just now.

The other set of diaries I only listened to after I’d read the diaries in question. I read some rave reviews of Love Nina in the papers, but I was a little nervous. The people who were saying such lovely things are very much part of the literary set. And this book of letters from Nina Stibbes who arrived in NW1 as a nanny is just brilliantly funny. The cast of characters is wonderful with some very funny kids under her care as well as Alan Bennett dropping by for supper each night. She writes back to her sister in Leicester relaying direct quotations from all and sundry. It’s just wonderful. You need to read/listen to it! At time of writing, just the last episode is still on iPlayer, while the book is thoroughly recommended and can also be found for half price in the Waterstones sale. Both the assistant who sold me my copy and a stranger on a train expressed excitement when they saw me with the book.

Perhaps both of these will show up on Radio 4 Extra in due course.

Also on the radio was the regular New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna – a firm favourite for me. It also gets broadcast on BBC Two and again on BBC Four. Invariably, a CD will be available.

And there was a lovely Front Row special on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was only ever a very occassional watcher, but seeing as the whole thing is on Netflix…

More or Less always does a good “numbers of the year” episode which is worth a listen. And while I didn’t hear a great deal of the celebrity edited Today programmes, I did listen to an interesting discussion at the end of Eliza Manningham-Buller’s edition which really didn’t address some of the serious points Tim Berners-Lee had made the day before over the nature of the Snowdon leaks. (Deserving of a whole blog to itself, is a superb and essential piece by John Naughton from Sunday’s Observer.)

On TV, the obvious highlight was Sherlock. Put away your phones and tablets when you’re watching it. You’ll miss something. The verve of the shoe is joyous. And I loved the way they handled the “how did he survive” element. It looks like this brief run – all three episodes over ten days – will give us another bad guy to enjoy. We even got a mini episode. And Mark Gatiss was great too!

Gatiss is on a hot streak, as he directed a fine new MR James adaptation of The Tractate Middoth (the BFI collection of previous Christmas ghost stories was a lovely present for me this year). And this was followed by a superb documentary on the man himself. It’s always wonderful to discover that there’s someone alive who can be interviewed who knew the subject. Although both have dropped off the iPlayer, I’m sure a DVD release will happen in due course – perhaps by the BFI in time for next Christmas?

We managed to wean the family off Downton this year – the scripts really are awful. But I was a little disappointed by Doctor Who. It wasn’t bad – just not as great as the fiftieth anniversary episode a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to Peter Capaldi though (first up in the new Musketeers series!).

I did like Death Comes to Pemberley over three nights though. It kept my family engrossed, even if mum had read the book and it was all we could do not to get her to give away plot details. The story was very cleverly weaved into the existing world I thought. And PD James can tell a good whodunnit. I’m also looking forward to the stars’ upcoming new series: Anna Maxwell Martin’s Bletchley Circle which starts on Monday, and the second series of The Americans with Matthew Rhys (I’m curious to see what ITV does with this, since I think they thought they had the new Homeland. But even if they did, I’m not convinced they’ve got anywhere they can naturally house it. ITV3 is probably their best bet, but they’d have to tell people it was there!).

Still Open All Hours felt very much like a pilot for a new run of the show. I guess David Jason still feels he wants to prove something after the fiasco of The Royal Bodyguard. Judging by the numbers it got, I’d have thought there was a fairly decent chance of that happening assuming all those involved want to. However I’m a bit concerned about the constant temptation to revisit old classics rather than make new ones. I’ve not been “lucky” enough to watch the ITV continuation of Birds of a Feather, but I was never a fan of it first time around, and certainly not by the time it had been on for many years. In recent years we’ve also had To The Manor Born, while Gold has made a new run of Yes Prime Minister which felt very stale in a post-Thick of It world.

Finally, I was personally really pleased to see what I think must be the return of Moments in Time. This used to run regularly and served as a news review of the year, but through the medium of iconic photojournalism. It disappeared a few years ago, but re-appeared over Christmas with a slant on the increased emergence of camera phone pictures, from the Vauxhall helicopter crash, and the Lee Rigby murderers, to the survivors of Australian bush fires. There were plenty of photos from journalists too – including the paparazzo who shot those pictures of Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. It’s on iPlayer until 6 January.