All entries for Tuesday 31 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.


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