All entries for October 2006

October 31, 2006

One hit does not equal a franchise

The past couple of months have shown that writing one incredible television show does not forever make you a television genius.

My case studies are the best show ever committed to television – The West Wing – and its poor imitation, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which is facing imminent cancellation in the United States.

The West WingBoth are written by Aaron Sorkin, both are about the inside workings of a powerful empire, they share much of the cast and crew and are filmed on the very same acreage.

Yet Studio 60 has been a fairly colossal flop considering its production costs.

There are two reasons for this. One is that the premise didn’t work. Television executives aren’t sexy, no matter how hard you try to make them so. They are simply arrogant. Pretending they are high-minded, literate and well-versed in the classics does not make for good drama.

Studio 60And secondly, you cannot repeat the success of one television show simply by reusing the same scripts. All of the cliches from The West Wing (especially walking-and-talking) have been used to death in the first six episodes alone. When it’s in the halls of the most powerful building on earth, it’s forgivable. When it’s a television studio, it’s not.

Inevitably when the show is cancelled, Sorkin will claim it’s a victory for commerce over art. But it’s not.

As much as I want to love this show – the cast is brilliant and the dialogue pretty good – the drama is simply implausible.

I suspect Sorkin will decide not to go near network television for a good few years. But can I suggest to him a new subject matter that could be right up his street, and might just get people watching?

Journalists.

We’re an interesting lot, really!


Would an inquiry into Iraq endanger our troops?

The big news story of the day didn’t live up to its billing.

The government eventually won a vote in the House of Commons – which if they hadn’t – would have resulted in an inquiry being set up into the conduct of the Iraq War. The story was only interesting while the government were under pressure, and now they’re not. They won by a relatively comfortable 298 to 273 votes.

If it had gone the other way, it would have been embarrassing for everyone involved – especially Tony Blair.

But if you believed the government spinners, it would also have been difficult for the British armed forces operating in Iraq, harming morale and giving the insurgents greater resolve to break our army down.

But would our armed forces really have been put in danger by this inquiry?

Surely the most definitive answer comes from the armed forces themselves, on the forums of the British ARmy Rumour SErvice or ARRSE.

if you think soldiers will be in more danger becasue of an inquiry then we may as well all start smoking wacky backy (posted by “Ord_Sgt”)

No consequences. Bliar being a coward again and failing to face upto his responsibilities and the death of 120+ service pesonnel. (posted by “DodgerDog”)

If you honestly believe the terrorists in Iraq will receive succour from an inquiry in Iraq, you have a poor grasp of reality. Do you honestly think an inquiry makes it more obvious to them than it is already that many Brits have misgivings about Iraq? (posted by “Northern Monkey”)

It’s true that some of the comments say the inquiry should be held once our troops are mostly home.

But an underlying theme running throughout many of the posts is: We don’t know why we’re in Iraq, and have particularly good reason for wanting to find out!

It sounds to me like the government is playing a dangerous game – using the armed forces as a shield to protect them from political embarrassment.


In Search of God

As someone who tends to avoid religion like the plague, I think it was the presence of John Humphrys that made me listen to a programme about the subject tonight.

Humphrys in Search of God is a three-part programme about his personal search for faith, which has been thoroughly shaken by his observations as a journalist. He points to the tragedy of Beslan as the moment he became certain there was no God.

While he may be a tough, uncompromising, and sometimes over-passionate interviewer, he’s also demonstrated both on Radio 4 and in hosting MasterMind that he’s probably a fairly nice bloke on the inside.

And the questions he was asking Dr Rowan Williams tonight were exactly the same ones that I would use to describe my allergic reaction to anything which can only be justified by ‘faith’.

The striking thing – and the thing that made the programme so interesting – was that even the Archbishop of Canterbury could offer few promises or guarantees to Humphrys about God and faith. Perhaps I’ve been warped by seeing too many documentaries about the loony religious Right in the U.S., but I expected Williams to have some answers.

The fact that he didn’t makes finding answers to Humphrys’ questions even harder, but it also makes Williams a far more compelling speaker.


October 30, 2006

Sam Hammam's talking s**t

From BBC News today:

Outgoing Cardiff City chairman Sam Hammam has claimed that part of his legacy will be how he tackled the club’s hooligan problem head-on. He told BBC Wales that his “you’ve got to meet them to beat them” approach had led to self-policing among fans.

Sam HammamNonsense. Cardiff City fans are about as capable of policing themselves as Fred West, Harold Shipman and Gary Glitter.

On Saturday, an hour after the game against Derby, I watched a fan walking home carrying a golf club above his head, swinging it in the direction of someone on the other side of the road and threatening them with racist abuse.

If this is “self-policing” I’d hate to see what things looked like before.


October 26, 2006

Trust me, you don't want your own Mayor.

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2422044,00.html

When a book of ill-conceived ideas is written, Tony Blair’s notion of directly-elected mayors will probably be mentioned in the sleeve notes, if not on the front cover. What appears to be a great way of getting people more involved in local politics is actually a disaster waiting to happen, for the simple reason that the British local press won’t know what to do with themselves.

When a mayoral race takes place in a town or city with only one newspaper (or multiple newspapers all owned by the same group – unfortunately very common nowadays) the potential for the race to be rigged in favour of one candidate is extremely strong.

Newspapers differ from broadcast journalism because they can take any editorial line they like and favour one person over another without any recriminations. In general election, there’s nothing wrong with The Sun calling on people to vote for Labour, but if the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 did it, they’d find themselves without jobs or broadcast spectrum.

And it’s the lack of plurality in local newspapers which make directly-elected mayors such a worry. If there was only one national newspaper for the whole of Britain, wouldn’t you be worried if they could proclaim “Vote Smith” on their front page?

Well locally, where there is often a monopoly in newspapers, this is the exact same situation, writ small. In Cardiff, for instance, a town of 300,000 people, there is one truly local newspaper and one Wales-wide paper. They’re both owned by the same company and work from the same offices. If they decided to agree one editorial line (and I’m not suggesting they necessarily would), they could very easily swing an election.

It’s true that blogs, the BBC’s experiments in Local TV and the rise of citizen journalism might make this less of an issue in the future. But while these are in their infancy and local newspapers are the dominant source of local information, Blair’s idea of directly-elected mayors aids only those who want to see the total dominance of machine politics in Britain.


Pleading for bums…

...on seats, that is.

Scenes of a Sexual NatureA new film, Scenes of a Sexual Nature is out next weekend (November 3rd) and the makers are essentially pleading people to help get bums on seats. There’s their MySpace page the official website and then the posters being put up around university campuses.

The film’s about lots of couples on Hampstead Heath, who – according to the trailer – seem to spend 80% of the film talking about sex.

That is probably not the reason for seeing the film. Instead, you should go because:

  • It’s being self-distributed, which is bloody hard work
  • It cost £260,000
  • It’s got a great cast
  • If you don’t watch it in the first weekend it probably won’t get shown for more than a week in the cinemas.

The makers of the film are asking people to pre-book their tickets for the 3rd/4th/5th November so that cinema distributors will pick up on the buzz around the film.

Sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Oh, and it’s got Ewan MacGregor in.


October 25, 2006

Hundreds evacuated after petrol leak in Cardiff

Police car in CathaysI’m only blogging this as it doesn’t appear to be on any news websites at the moment, but seems to be quite a big story.

A large number of people have been evacuated from their homes in the Cathays area of Cardiff following a petrol leak which began late this afternoon.

Petrol has seeped into the sewers and local police say the fumes are rising up into people’s homes, creating a danger of explosions.

As a result, hundreds of people are thought to have been moved to Llanishen Leisure Centre in the city, while others outside the evacuation zone have been told not to use their gas supplies or turn electrical appliances on, and to open windows.

Map of the affected area in CardiffPolice are awaiting a report from environmental health officers before allowing people back into the area. It’s not known how the petrol will be removed from the sewers or when people will be able to return to their homes.

-

Incidentally my house is two doors away from the police cordon, hence me being on the internet but without hot food!


You know when you've been Photoshopped

Me

P.S. If Westbrook makes a disparaging comment his face is next.


October 24, 2006

Review: The Departed

The premise for The Departed is a relatively simple one, and the great triumph is that Martin Scorsese has made it seem complex while making it extremely watchable. The film is also quite long (151mins), but again the film is good enough to make you forget just how late it is.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon put in great performances as two cops on opposite sides of the tracks. DiCaprio plays the good-as-gold cop who spends over a year undercover trying to infiltrate the Irish mafia who are sending microchips to terrorists. Damon is essentially undercover at the police on behalf of the mafia, and the film revolves around the two of them trying to discover the identity of the other.

If the film has a weakness it’s that it makes a half-baked attempt to throw in a love story. Surprise surprise, but DiCaprio and Damon both fall for the same woman, both at the same time.

Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in

DiCaprio’s acting is probably the stronger of the two leads, although this may be because he has more to do. He is of course beaten by an incredible Jack Nicholson, for whom awards will be heading his way early in 2007. Martin Sheen as the police chief is also brilliant – putting up a far more passionate performance than his latter years as Josiah Bartlett, and Mark Wahlberg recovers from a shaky start to deliver a fine act towards the end.

The end is probably a little bit predictable, although I won’t give the game away.

The Departed is Scorsese’s best effort in a good while – certainly better than The Aviator and Gangs of New York. But I’m not sure it will earn Scorsese his long-deserved Oscar for Best Director. While the script is brilliant, the direction may be too subtle to stand out against some of the other films due out in coming months.

P.S. Fans of 24 should keep an eye out for Chase Edmunds (A.K.A. James Badge Dale) with hair! It’s not a pretty sight.


October 22, 2006

Drama!

Being woken at 3am by a U.F.O. is slightly scary.

However it does mean that when you realise it’s not a U.F.O., but a police helicopter shining a spotlight on your window, it is somehow reassuring.

Of course when the aliens cops are running through your garden it does remind you that a murderer on the loose could actually be worse than having an alien in your garden..


October 20, 2006

Sentences that don't make sense, No. 934

Chancellor Gordon Brown refused to comment but added: “It has been known for some time she wasn’t voting with the Labour whip.”

from here


October 19, 2006

Should this woman be teaching in schools, dressed like this?

Aishah Azmi is the 23-year-old classroom assistant who today lost her tribunal at which she claimed she had been discriminated against because of her religion. She was awarded £1,100 for being “victimised”.

The worst thing about recent stories about Muslims integrating into Britain is that they’ve all been bound up into one neat and tidy heap for the media to plow through. This story is about an individual and should be treated as such.

But ignoring what was decided at today’s tribunal, do people think it is suitable for people to wear this sort of clothing (left), on religious grounds, in a class of schoolchildren?

On this occasion I tend to agree with Tony Blair when he says the full-face veil is a “mark of separation” and can make people feel uncomfortable. Especially when children are involved, don’t we need to be careful about their sensitivities as well as hers?

What do you reckon?


Iain Dale Lynched By Student Mob (Maybe)

Writing about web page http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2006/10/tories-tax-and-today.html

From Iain Dale’s blog:

I’m on my way to Cardiff to deliver a lecture on new media to media studies post graduate students and have been listening to Today on Radio 4.

MEDIA STUDIES???

What a ruddy cheek. He’s about to get an utter rollocking from the JOURNALISM students he’s about to address!


October 18, 2006

How to plug a £7m hole

Cardiff Council will tomorrow vote on a radical proposal designed to plug a £7m deficit caused by poorly-managed social services in the city.

Put the cost of sandwiches up.

It’s true. Of all the proposals being heard by Cardiff County Council tomorrow, the proposal to increase the cost of sandwiches sold to Council staff from 60p to 95p is the most specific.

And the most barmy.


October 17, 2006

When Refuse Collection Turns Ugly

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/6058952.stm

The story I’ve linked to tells the tale of a man taken to court and fined £200 because he “contaminated” a recycling bag specifically for bottles and cans with a single piece of junk mail.

Refuse collection has turned nasty.

A similar thing happened to me last year, when I received a curt letter from the Council informing me that my bin bag had found its way on to the pavement and was causing an obstruction.

Clearly I hadn’t put it there, but the mob of Leamington Spa had decided to move it. I was told that if it happened again I would be taken to court.

Which is nice of them.

What’s particularly sad is that they only knew it was my bin bag because they specifically went through it to look for incriminating evidence. Sure enough there was a letter addressed to our flat.

Brilliant.

It’s good to know that our council tax goes towards paying for little Hitlers to go around opening rubbish for evidence of crimes which they can then take you to court for.

I’m sure the cost of doing so is considerably more than the £200 that they raised from the gentleman above and innocent people of his ilk.

Idiots.


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