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February 24, 2009

Jack Bauer – A shadow of his former kick–ass self

Oh Jack Bauer, how much I loved you in the old days when you were blonde and had a daughter that kissed you goodnight and a wife who wasn’t, you know, dead.

Jack Bauer. Half the man he used to be.

I started watching Season 1 of ‘24’ again yesterday. The wave of nostalgia emanating from the TV screen was awe-inspiring. Remember the days of Standard Definition? Of dodgy sound editing? Of bad haircuts?

Remember when 24 was actually good?

The experience was depressing. Because it made me remember just how face-crunchingly abysmal 24 has become. We’re now on Season 7, and the show should be on a life-support machine.

Every plot twist is recycled from an earlier season. Even characters Just. Won’t. DIE. and keep making miraculous returns, presumably to cut down on the need for casting directors.

But worst of all, the show just doesn’t know where it’s going, what it’s doing or what it’s about.

Villains come and go faster than Jack can say ‘sonofabitch’. Their dastardly plan changes from one minute to the next. Civilians die in their hundreds and the fictional CNN seems to forget about it ten minutes later. And Jack has to defeat his arch enemy Every Fricking Hour just to keep the audience happy.

Well I’m not an American simpleton with a thirst for blood and a desire for Jack to win every round.

There is literally a scene in the first episode of that first season when a character tells Jack exactly what will happen for the whole season. Terrorists will try and kill a Presidential Candidate. That’s it.

Now, the writers would be hard pressed to sustain an idea that simple for ten minutes, let alone 24 hours.

In Season 1, Jack had a team. Yes, two of them were moles, but he had relationships with people. Now he is, to quote Judi Dench’s M, a “blunt instrument”.

24 was revolutionary, and not just because of the way it was told in real-time. It led to hundreds of drama serials which rejected the traditional one-episode, one-story format of CSI, ER and Law & Order. Lost and Prison Break were just two of the more successful attempts to tell one story across six months of television.

And it was also the show that gave us hacksaw decapitations.

24’s not just a lurking shadow of its former self.

It’s as blunt as a spoon.


January 27, 2009

Pluck off, Tesco.

Not everything about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Chicken Out” campaign is perfect.

Getting people to pay more for the same amount of food is a tough ask, especially in a recession.

And he’s only ever persuaded the ‘working class’ to swap to better quality chickens by showing them the inside of a chicken shed.

But last night’s one-off update on his campaign made me pretty angry at my own supermarket-of-choice, Tesco.

Anyone who watched the original series will know they were less than helpful in providing an on-screen interview.

Last night, he finally got one, but it was with Tesco PR woman Darshini David. A former BBC business presenter, she came across abysmally. I suspect her job is mostly to be Tesco’s TV ‘face’, and if last night was anything to go on, she’s rubbish at it.

She claimed Tesco are ‘leading the way’ on chicken welfare.

No, they clearly are not. Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and Waitrose are light-years ahead of them, and it’s clear for anyone to see.

Why won’t Tesco admit on its packaging that chickens are grown indoors (instead of using subtle, yet blatant, marketing speak to imply otherwise)? Darshini: “We don’t want to patronise them”.

Is the nutritional information section patronising? No.

Is it patronising to give us a choice between ‘Free Range Eggs’ and ‘Barn Eggs’? Apparently not.

Is Darshini David patronising? You betcha.

The point Hugh F-W should have made in the interview (but sadly didn’t) is that many people are only aware of Britain’s chicken welfare standards because they’ve seen his show or read newspaper articles related to it.

Unfortunately that’s a very small majority of the British population. Only 2.5 million people watched last night’s show. I would imagine more than half of last night’s viewers were middle-class people who probably read The Guardian or The Independent.

So what of the other 57.5m people in the UK? Tesco doesn’t want to patronise them, but they don’t mind if they’re in complete ignorance either.

I’m seriously tempted to shop elsewhere having seen last night’s arrogant and disgraceful performance.


Doing things differently… some of the time

Writing about web page http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2009/01/27/intv.obama.arabiya.alarabiya

President Obama is certainly doing things differently. His first broadcast interview was with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, one of the most watched TV channels in the Middle East.

Watching it though, there were a few parallels with the past.

He often listens to a question, and begins his answer with “Well what I think is important is this…”

Mr Obama’s message to the Muslim world is that America’s now listening.

As an interviewee, not so much.


January 02, 2009

The future of news… BYOB

Time for a gaze into my crystal ball.

I think I’ve seen the future of television news… and it’s called BYOB.

Nothing to do with beer, though. It’s my acronym for Build Your Own Bulletin.

The more TV news bulletins I watch, the more frustrated I get. There’s next to never any technology news, increasingly little foreign affairs and too much speculative ‘cure for cancer’ health news.

TV news is also frustrating because I’ve got a fair idea how expensive it is to produce. The number of people sat in a room behind Huw Edwards or Fiona Bruce would beggar belief. Running a 24-hour news channel is a mammoth undertaking. BBC News 24 costs somewhere between £40-50m per year, Sky News a little less.

So, what’s the alternative?

Rather than a linear, 24-hour operation with 30-minute showcase ‘bulletins’ at regular intervals, the televisual equivalent of RSS feeds. Seamlessly stitched together in a Flash video (like BBC iPlayer), a series of news reports, pre-recorded two-ways and interviews selected according to your tastes. You choose the type of story you’re interested in (UK, Politics, Health, Sport) and rank them according to importance. Then a broadcaster (let’s call it the BBC) makes stories for each of those categories, and ranks them according to their editorial importance. Some sort of algorithm works out how to order your news bulletin, and with the help of some recorded studio links for each piece, a 5, 15 or 30 minute news bulletin is delivered to your computer screen or TV. The unfussy could just choose a generic ‘top stories’ bulletin.

The best bit of all of this is the cheap method of distribution means there’s more money to go out and do journalism. Lengthy news packages might come back into fashion, and consumers would have far greater choice. Imagine a world where every Premiership football game has its own TV preview, every major speech in Parliament gets the analysis it deserves and every important judicial decision is explained in full.

My idea would have seemed a bit implausible a couple of years ago. But things have changed. IPTV (internet protocol television) is a reality, and works. It’s like YouTube on your telly, and it’s not sci-fi. I’ve got it at home and it’s great. It’ll be popular within a year, and widespread within five.

So after 75 years, linear TV channels could become a thing of the past. But surely the news channel, with its enormous costs, small audiences and one-size-fits-all model to news, should be the first to go.


December 09, 2008

Up the Thames without a paddle

The organisers of the Boat Race look a bit silly now that ITV has, not altogether surprisingly, lost interest in broadcasting it.

They sneakily fled the BBC back in 2004, in order to try and cash in on greater sponsorship opportunities (oh, and more money).

Now, ITV’s said it’s bored of the race, which doesn’t fit with its football, football and boxing approach to sport.

It’ll almost certainly go back to the Beeb.

Barney Ronay at the Guardian reckons it shouldn’t though. He says:

Taken purely as a sporting event it’s not immediately clear why the BBC would have any interest in broadcasting the race. The perception that the crews themselves are a bunch of itinerant third-raters may be out of date; but this is still not a spectacle that demands, on its merits, to be broadcast live on terrestrial TV.

Maybe this is true.

But then it’s also true of ‘International Bowls’, the Great North Run, cross country horse prancing (I’m going to get a kick from the missus for that one), and if we’re honest, any kind of rowing full-stop.

And yet, how many millions stayed up until 2am to watch Pinsent and Redgrave?

How many millions watch the London Marathon as if it’s not just pictures of sweaty people jogging?

TV sport has never been about showing events that are entertaining or exciting. Just look at bowls.

At least in its brevity, the Boat Race offers a Red Bull shot of sporting aggression and 100% effort.

Which is more than can be said for darts.


December 08, 2008

Top Top Gear

Hats off to the producers of last night’s Top Gear. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in ages.

Jeremy Clarkson did a proper review of the Ford Fiesta. It answered questions like:

  • Can I afford it?
  • Will it break down?
  • Is it economical?
  • Is it easy to park?
  • What if I go to the shopping centre and get chased by baddies in a Corvette?
  • What if I need to launch a beach assault with the Royal Marines?

You know, useful stuff.

Cue one of the best Top Gear films of all time. Clarkson roared around the inside of Festival Place in Basingstoke, knocking stuff all over the place. Being a bit of a dive, the mess was actually an improvement.

Watch it here (48mins in)


December 03, 2008

Strangling the Kangaroo

First the BBC’s local video service. Now Project Kangaroo has been throttled by the powers-that-be.

You might not have heard of Kangaroo (its working title), but it’s basically a British iTunes for video, that was put together by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. It would work online (like the iPlayer) and eventually through TV set-top-boxes.

Some of the programmes would be paid for by ad breaks, others would be pay-per-episode (like iTunes).

But the Competition Competition, in its infinite wisdom, has said it would restrict competition in the VoD (video-on-demand) market.

As the five-year-old child in BBC sitcom Outnumbered said last week: “Beeping, beeping, beeping, beeping, beeping, beeping, bollocks.”

Is there something with this country about throttling innovation?

I’ve got the Microsoft-powered BT Vision which is pretty good, but has some flaws that Kangaroo would rectify. For instance, there isn’t the option to watch something free, but with adverts. I’d rather do that than pay my £14 a month subscription.

And surely the presence of services like BT Vision, Tiscali TV and the Sky Player all suggest competition is already healthy? What’s more, in the case of BT Vision, the Beeb, ITV and Channel 4 are all putting their shows on there, with no indication they’ll disappear when/if Kangaroo launches.

I guess Kangaroo’s problem is that it’s too close to the BBC, ITV and C4. If an independent had made it, and licenced programmes from the broadcasters, there wouldn’t be a problem. But we’re only a small country. There aren’t the billions of dollars available to make your own iTunes unless you’re established, and in all likelihood, a broadcaster.

BBC iPlayer took aeons to happen because of competition worries and the anti-innovation mindset at the BBC Trust. It’s still not as brilliant as it could be because of arbitrary limits placed on what it’s allowed to offer.

The likely delay, or perhaps cancellation of Kangaroo, is a massive shame and says something about this country today. Skippy probably wouldn’t mind pushing the Competition Commission down a mine-shaft. And I wouldn’t blame him.

P.S. As if proof were needed that Britain’s losing its innovators, the Project Kangaroo boss, Ashley Highfield, recently left… for Microsoft.


December 02, 2008

MI5, not nine–to–five

Leigh Holmwood over at The Guardian takes the words out of my mouth.

Is it just me or is this series of Spooks turning out to be the best yet?

It’s not just him. Last night’s episode was fantastic and recent ones have been brilliant too. I can’t think of one this series that has left me indifferent. It’s like a season of 24 condensed into an hour.

New-boy Richard Armitage is the only disappointment for me. He’s not been given an awful lot to say, and he’s not disarmed quite enough Russian ‘badasses’ for my liking. Maybe next year he’ll get something interesting to do. Ros Myers (Hermione Norris) is getting all the good scenes.

The series finishes, tragically, next week. It’s only eight-episodes long (previous series were ten). Leigh’s article on Organ Grinder drops a cliffhanger by suggesting the next series could also be the last. Let’s hope not! I can think of several BBC shows I’d scrap to make room in the budget for more Spooks.

Incidentally, another show well worth watching is Outnumbered – it’s probably the funniest thing on TV right now and yet no-one knows it. Semi-improvised, the stars of the show are the children.


November 26, 2008

What the f**k?

Check out tonight’s Inside Out England on BBC iPlayer later.

How many people must have watched the programme through before broadcast without noticing the ‘f’ word, clear as day, five minutes in?

Lesson One: If sampling Fatboy Slim songs, don’t use this one. (They used the first five seconds of it.)


November 15, 2008

Pudsey's crying on the inside

Children in Need: Great cause. Appalling television.

It really is cringeworthy. It has the feeling of a show that hasn’t budged an inch in twenty years. From dancing newsreaders (I feel sick just remembering it) to D-list soap stars singing worse than Daniel off of the X Factor, it’s a constant stream of bilge.

One of the better segments – Childrens’ Masterchef – was so rushed you didn’t have time to remember who was cooking what or even who the contestants were. But of course there was time afterwards for Terry Wogan (please put him out of his misery) to patronise the children and the two judges.

The Strictly Come Dancing segment was twenty minutes of ‘so what?’ and the only real highlight – Doctor Who was over so quickly you missed it when you blinked. Merlin was unspeakably bad.

I’m not a cold-hearted old sod – the actual charity bits inbetween were as moving as ever and were far more likely to get people to pick up the phone than celebrities defecating all over their careers.

Next year, can we not have some real entertainment? Does it even need to be a studio show? And for goodness sake scrap the local segments – I don’t think anyone cares what nonsense is going on in the ‘local’ (i.e. thirty miles away) shopping centre.


October 30, 2008

Who's next in the Tardis?

So who should fill the Doctor’s shoes now David Tennant’s revealed he’s leaving? Here’s my choices…

Julian Rhind Tutt
Julian Rhind-Tutt
Last seen as a baddie in Merlin, he’s probably better known from Green Wing. Importantly, he also went to Warwick University, which has to be a plus. He’s probably got the right balance of experience and ‘up-and-coming’ required for the role, but maybe he’d make a better bad-guy?

Chiwetel Ejiofor
Chiwetel Ejiofor
He ticks the Shakespeare box, he’s dressed in drag in Kinky Boots, and he’s starred opposite Russell Crowe and Denzel Washingston in American Gangster. Maybe that makes him too big a ‘star’ now. But he’s probably one of the best British actors to have emerged in the last five years, and he’s got the acting range to make the Daleks weep themselves to death.

Hans Matheson
Hans Matheson
Propelled to fame by the 2002 production of Doctor Zhivago, could he be right for Doctor Who as well? He’s been a bit quiet until a stand-out performance in the recent BBC drama Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but has the ‘look’. Like David Tennant, he’s also Scottish.

Henry Ian Cusick
Henry Ian Cusick
“See you in another life, brother” – or perhaps another dimension in space and time? Another Scot, he’s actually half-Peruvian. Better known as Lost’s Desmond, I think he’d be the ideal choice. He looks particularly dashing without all the island-swept hair. Dominic Monaghan, a.k.a. Charlie, would have to be his companion. One problem though – he’s tied into filming in Hawaii until early 2010, which probably rules him out.

David Morrissey
David Morrissey
But the universe seems to be pointing towards this man. Brilliant in State of Play alongside John Simm and Bill Nighy, he’s also starred in Derailed. His career nearly took that path after a role in Basic Instinct 2, but he seems to be okay. He’s in the forthcoming Christmas special of Doctor Who, which happens to be titled The Next Doctor, playing a character who claims to be… The Doctor.


October 29, 2008

If you're alive today, it's because this man spared you

Jack Bauer fans click here

Love the last line.


July 04, 2007

Am I bovvered, Doctor?

My initial reaction seemed to be from another TV comedy… “Are you havin’ a laugh?”

Catherine Tate’s bringing back her character Donna to be the full-time companion to Doctor Who. She was in the last Christmas special, and put in a performance that many people found slightly, well… annoying.

She screeched through most of it, and her character seemed to have been ripped straight out of her sketch show.

But having thought it over for a few hours, I’ve changed my mind. I think this could be genius casting.

Quite frankly, people were getting fed up with the Doctor/Companion having a bit of a romantic quandary, as witnessed with both Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman. Having an older character – who we know already doesn’t fancy the protagonist – will let the relationship be a bit more productive.

And, despite the vitriol you’ll read on the internet, Tate is actually a classically trained actress with some pretty serious roles behind her.

Russell T Davies, head honcho of Doctor Who, suggested in the past that Catherine Tate’s Donna was too annoying to be a permanent fixture in the series. I suspect this means he’s planning to tone her down.

So I’ll reserve judgement until the new series starts. But unless the character’s made a bit less ‘screechy’, viewers won’t be bovvered for much longer.


July 01, 2007

Concert for Diana… what a shambles!

I didn’t intend to watch today’s Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium, but my Mum and sister had it on, so I ended up catching bits of it.

Eventually it became unmissable.

Technically, this was the biggest shambles I think I’ve ever seen on British television. Constant sound dips (played out on various radio stations as well), massive delays, embarrassing performances from the likes of P Diddy, and a completely rubbish climax.

Many of the faults seemed to be the BBC’s fault – especially the sound dips. Claudia Winkleman and Jamie Theakston seemed to be on a different planet to the rest of the production: they’d simultaneously announce different bands were about to play, and sometimes both got it wrong.

Let’s hope they get it right for next week’s Live Earth, also at Wembley, or their reputation for live events will be shot to pieces.


June 14, 2007

The Apprentice: Season Four Guide

Following last night’s surprise winner of The Apprentice, I thought I’d present my guide to the next season of the show so as to avoid disappointment when it comes around.

1) If Sir Alan nods his head, gives a thumbs up, or an ‘ok’ signal to a contestant at a vital moment, that contestant will lose.

2) If a contestant makes themselves look like a complete fool, that contestant will win.

It doesn’t matter who looked like the better contestant last night. The editing will have made the other look better, so Sir Alan’s decision came as a big shock. If you watched the “You’re Hired” show afterwards, you’ll have seen the bit of Simon’s speech which made him look composed and clever. Funnily enough we didn’t see that in the main show.

It’s called TV editing, and it’s my simple two-part guide to the next – and every – series of The Apprentice. Watch Series 3 all over again and you’ll see how right I am.


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