TV

  • 20 Aug

    The Great British Sod Off

    Hello world,

    First post in a while but that may well change. For starters I’ve unchained the shackles of Comedy Central after several years and am back out there in the real world. Glad I dived right in; the water’s just fine.

    Secondly, I felt compelled to write because tonight marks the return of the adored Great British Bake Off. Now in its fourth series, that chunky, handsome man with the twinkly eyes (no, not me) and the woman who looks the evil pastor in Poltergeist 2 are back to reassure the nation that everything isn’t really that bad and we are in control; nothing calms the soul more than watching a group of people whose greatest struggle involves an inaccurately folded loaf of cholla or an overly-tart lemon drizzle cake.

    I have nothing against this sort of warm cardigan telly in principal, but what I do find rather sad is that this is a prime example of an increasingly depressing trend of major broadcasters of replacing quality, thought-provoking, original and, above all, entertaining programming with what is lazy, drawn-out, quick-win and ultimately empty daytime television.

    I should say, first off, that having worked in TV for a long time, I understand the squeeze programme makers currently endure. The digital revolution has diluted the water, the money is dwindling and the need to spread themselves across multi-platform outlets has seen reduced risk-taking by broadcasters in terms of the formats they commission. I understand all this; I used to see it every day.

    But. Shows like this gall me because historically they would be tucked away alongside Watercolour Challenge and My First Doily in the middle of the afternoon – gentle, passive shows that brought together the pensioner and the student alike, soothing them into a soporific but beatific stupor until they go out/go to bed at about 6pm. The Great British Bake Off should not be on 8pm. At the risk of sounding like a Daily Mail article, it’s a waste of the licence fee.

    Since they have made the jump to primetime, we are left with effectively 20 minutes of television cynically drawn out over an hour to fill the schedule. You just watch. Next time one of these shows is on keep an eye out for the insufferable levels of repetition in the voice over, talking heads, interviews and participants’ comments over 60 minutes. If I catch one more episode of Masterchef where we are reminded every six minutes that Gavin from Weybridge is out of his comfort zone with a fish dish I’ll build a van out of those desserts Greg Wallace loves so much and crash it through his kitchen.

    I’m not saying all primetime TV should be highbrow and elitist. We do have enough channels to spread the love and there’s more than enough room for comedy, drama and documentaries that are broad and mainstream; I welcome it. I just feel (rather sentimentally I admit) that major network broadcasters should be leading from the front as they used to. Also, I just miss the craft that goes into programme making. They say a show comes together in the edit suite but these daytime-turned-primetime shows really do feel like every single shred of footage has been cobbled together just to play for time and chase ratings at the expense of well-made, stimulating entertainment.

    I understand why these shows are popular. I get why people in their millions lap this stuff up. It’s gentle, it’s soothing, a balm after a hard day doing whatever it is people don’t enjoy doing on a daily basis. It’s aspirational. People doing what they love in England’s Green and Pleasant Land.

    That said, television is still (for now) one of the most powerful media in the world, and there’s no reason why prime time schedules shouldn’t be used optimally to benefit the greatest number of people. We need less frothy, forgettable fare that belongs on TV during the middle of the day, and more truly engrossing dramas, uplifting comedies and inspiring documentaries the BBC and Channel 4 used to pioneer so effectively. Lastly, I also believe people will watch whatever’s put in front of them, so there’s really no excuse NOT to make it well written, well structured, well acted (where relevant) and above all actively entertaining.

    Now if you excuse me, I’m off to check my Victoria Sponge hasn’t fallen over…

  • 14 May

    New short film, nature and pigeons.

    Hello world.

    Not much to report, largely because I’ve been very busy. Working two full-time jobs into the time it takes to do one is not to be advised.

    Did notice that new nature programme on the telly. Planet Earth Live. It’s the most ambitious wildlife experience ever made apparently.  It’s presented by that tiny moron from the car show who nearly incinerated himself strapped to a rocket on wheels and that woman who wanders around fields so it must be important.

    And it’s live. A live nature show. Not sure they’ve thought this through. What are we going to get, half an hour in an empty field? A sleeping pig? A bewildered chaffinch? Animals don’t handle direction very well. Even if they use exciting ones like a lion, they might not be in the mood. What are they going to do then, send in some terrified assistant to poke it? They’re going to need a very long stick.

    Thing is, there’s never been a live nature show for a reason. Ever been to a zoo? It’s boring. Imagine that, but without the gift shop. That’s your live nature show right there. In fact, you want a live nature show? Open a window.

    Talking of nature, I read recently that pigeons have GPS brain cells. Whichever research team has been paid to investigate this area, this is the earth shattering conclusion they have reached. Pigeons are living, breathing, feathered sat navs. And there we were thinking they were just rats with wings, indifferent to vehicles. Turns out they could develop a symbiotic relationship.

    If we could harness this power, we could have one in every car.  Actually that might be a terrible idea. A bird trapped in a combined space? Can you imagine the humanity? Thousands of lives put at risk as cars spin off roads, lorries jack-knife into central reservations and vans collide into each other, twisting into macabre, mangled of sculptures of metal and fibreglass, just because the sat nav decided it wanted to get out.

    No, we must stop meddling in affairs that do not concern us. Leave the pigeons alone. Let them do what they do best. Spreading disease and upsetting statues.

    Lastly,  I was asked to take part in a short film by the supremely talented Guerrier brothers. We made it from scratch in two days.  To find out more click here, but here it is. Enjoy.

  • 02 Jan

    Hooray for Hollywood

    Hello world,

    2012 is here. This year will prove very interesting, not least if the Mayans are right. Still if they were that good at pinpointing the apocalypse, surely they would have foreseen their own demise…?

    Sadly astral charts and ancient predictions are less likely to bring about the downfall of modern civilization than the current economic meltdown which shows no sign of abating, but I know precious little about the ins and outs of it all so I shall say no more.

    What I will say, is that last year ended for me on a career high when a sitcom script I co created and co-wrote with dear friend James Devonshire is being sold to a major Hollywood studio. As several people have asked me to explain further on Facebook or Twitter I thought here would be a better place to do so.

    The idea was simple enough – a recession comedy about a man who has everything, loses everything and has to return to where he grew up and start again. Not particularly original I’ll admit but what me and James wanted to do is recreate that fast-paced, zingy dialogue that those Yanks have been doing so well for decades, but which is somewhat lacking from British comedies. Think Howard Hawks over Roy Clarke and you’re on the right lines.

    It seems the script had proved a bit too much a storng flavour for the British producers we’d so far shown it to, but on reflection it makes sense it would appeal more to the US market. Sure enough we gave it to a producer now working over in California (who also happens to be a gloriously wonderful, kind, thoughtful woman – a rare thing in this game) who read it, liked it and felt her boss would like it too.

    We’d never heard of her boss, but a quick google search revealed him to be the former President of a major US TV studio. This is when it all got very exciting. further probing revealed that during his tenure, he had a hand in developing and sustaining, among others, Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Friends, ER and The West Wing. This is when it all got VERY exciting. Talk about a proven track record.

    This man did like our work and talks began with a view to develop a US version of our script which, despite the aforementioned dialogue style, was very much a British beast, picking apart and subverting the traditional view of rural English village life. More The Wicker Man than The Vicar of Dibley but without the surreal grotesque overtones of the former that inspired the brilliant League of Gentlemen. In short, village life can be pretty grisly and that’s what we wanted to capture.

    Fortunately for us, America has hundreds of equally grisly rural backwaters and so our script struck a chord over the Pond and as we move into the new year, with any luck we’ll see a pilot being filmed. At the moment I am keeping everything crossed and touching an enormous amount of wood. I ask you please to do the same.

    Hopefully this blog entry won’t have jinxed development, but I always believe that if I had the power to negatively affect the outcome of a future event by merely vocalising my desire for everything to go well then this must make me some sort of demi-urge. Rest assured, I know from my tussle with a minor stomach bug over the festive period I am not a god. Merely a frail, overly-delicate mortal, flesh and blood and full of wind.

    So that’s it. Forgive the vagaries – I felt it best not to mention names (apart from James of course) and I’ll keep this site updates with more news as and when it breaks. If, on the other hand, the Mayans turn out to be right about 2012 then I suggest we all stock up on the ham in the tin and start building that bunker in the garden.

  • 16 Aug

    Films and stuff

    Hello world,

    Been a bit quiet lately, but highlights have been interviewing US actor Patrick Warburton for Comedy Central. He is the voice of wheelchair-bound Joe Swanson in Family Guy but more excitingly for me he was Elaine’s boyfriend Puddy in Seinfeld and The Tick. Anyway he was lovely, witty and all round nice guy. Expect to see that interview online soon.

    Also I just finished filming a scene for an independent movie written by Alex Billington and directed by Stephen M Katz, who was director of photography for The Blues Brothers and Gods And Monsters to name a few. Needless to say he knew was he was doing and the scene was very fun to do. Expect that appearing here soon.

    Lastly, a short film called Ali & The Lamp, which I co-wrote with writer/director Michael Yanny is nearing completion and is scheduled to premiere in September. I also pop up in it as a policeman (again), so we’ll see how that turns out….