Tag Archives: TV

Cancelled!

Well with cancellation season nearly over in US TV, at least as far as most of us are concerned, and pitch season approaching I expect we are all dreaming up new ideas and wondering why our favourite series has bitten the dust. To be honest I’m not fully clear on the cycle of creativity in Hollywood, but there does seem to be a cycle which culminates in the commissioning of series in November and the cancellation of series in late Spring. The ever hungry television machine chomps through ideas and characters with the indecency of an uncontrolled population explosion, creatives young and old, try desperately to work out the magic formula that will be the next hit. Most of us just dream of course, some of us try pitching and all of us are an audience, so all of us have an opinion.

I started this blog with a whinge about the demise of Jericho and how the fans of the show bombarded the network with tons of nuts, yes nuts, to get at least a resolution to the show’s long arc and they succeeded. No such luck so far with Outcasts and Firefly remains the daddy of all network mistakes. On the plus side, in my early years of teaching teenagers I asked them the same standard introductory question at the beginning of their AS year “What is your favourite TV show?” in one year a massive 60% across the genders said The OC. Whether that is the Holy Grail of TV shows, I don’t know, but still students who missed it first time round will smile and admit that they love The OC and like to catch it on DVD. The current success of the BBC series Episodes unpicks this round of pitch, create and destroy with ascerbic honesty, depicting a world where focus groups and research are the modifiers of story lines and character – perhaps they should have asked my students.

But just as curious as the shows that are cancelled are the shows that are commissioned. This season’s offerings included Unforgettable that used to be called The Rememberer (The Rememberer? Is that really a noun?) By the way if you look up The Rememberer  you get a short story, plus study guide on a short story by Amiee Bender about a man who evolves backwards – a kind of Benjamin Button of evolution – that is presumably why Unforgettable did not use that title. Unforgettable was a vehicle for Poppy Montgomery (Without A Trace) and Dylan Walsh (Nip Tuck) and featured a woman who could remember everything, demonstrating a penchant, at the moment for people with odd foibles, such as photographic memories or aspergers (Suits, Whitechapel, The Bridge). Quite why and how the executives come to their decisions is a curious almost magical process, I hope they won’t mind my dropping their names but Jonathan Coe once described to me the process of offering a pitch to Hollywood executives, which involved him preparing a detailed idea, only two sides long, which he began to offer, within thirty seconds the executive had said ‘Too political! What else?’ and expected another 30 or so ideas.                                                                                                    ‘Don’t they know’ said Jonathan to me, ‘I only have an idea once every two years.’ One suspects that the quality of the idea is not the point, which would account for Unforgettable. Brian Sibley on the other hand, pitched any number of ideas to BBC radio for drama serials and put at the bottom, as a forlorn hope, Lord of The Rings, and he got the Radio 4 adaptation which had its influence on what was to come.

Personally whilst I enjoyed Lord of The Rings and its fantasy friends what I miss at the moment is anything space travel. Stargate Universe was an honourable, if not slightly more thoughtful (and that was probably its problem) story of travel in space, as was Firefly, as was Battlestar Galactica. I have already rushed out to see Prometheus and I gather the next Star Trek is on its way and I have hopes of Blood and Chrome the prequel to Battlestar Galactica but now there is news that there is only the pilot and SyFy will not run the series, bad news for our local hero Luke Pasqualino who went from the murdered Freddie in Bristol based Skins to Adama and bad news for those who have long admired the writing of the reimagined Galactica series including Caprica. Not only that the trailer is not available in the UK dammit! Luke P is our local boy – I have taught students who were in that series of Skins, no wonder SyFy are getting cold feet! NBC Universal don’t want to publicise it for “copyright” reasons – those reasons will prevent it being sold at all at this rate, and there goes the money! Mind you if we can’t look I thought we could look at Cookie (Jack O’Connell) as he avenges (or not) the death of his friend played by Luke Pasqualino – apparently not but – in the meantime -lets look at  what we can get – at the moment – and good luck to both of them I say!

AND FINALLY in all that what of the series that last? CSI Miami has bitten the dust after being the most watched TV show in the US. While CSI New York and Las Vegas survive, NCIS goes on and on and Dexter keep going.  Mind you perhaps not one the longest series out there but one of the most consistent, whose popularity is both a mystery and easily explained, is Supernatural, two young men

THEN – 2005

(and there’s the explanation – there’s a lot of eye candy for those who like the scopophilia of women, but not so much for those who fancy men) so two brothers, now not so young,

NOW – 2012

fighting demons in a quiet corner of television history, perhaps soon to be challenged by Grimm, go on  to season 8 and they’re gunning for a season 9 – the demons of middle age beware!

Licence Fleece?

A cursory browse through the many comments on my little Outcasts article has revealed one repeated mantra – what are we paying our licence fee for? Good question methinks, especially as I am currently paying, not only our own licence fee but one for our son (student) and very soon one for our daughter, soon to launch into the student world (hopefully ahead of the other fees débâcle). That means that for the privilege of the four of us watching TV we are paying £436.50 per year. not only that, if you  have the full Sky HD multi room blah blah blah at £70ish per month – you could be looking at a pretty neat £1,200 a yearish for  TV.

The difference between the BBC and Sky is, that of course we all have a choice, we could dump Sky and go to Freesat, or Virgin, or go out for a walk, but if we don’t want to watch the BBC, if we just want to keep a telly on the wall so we can watch DVDs, Apple TV and Youtube, we still have to pay the BBC for the privilege of owning the set, because it is assumed that TV equals BBC. In fact, our experience is that, even if you don’t have a TV on your wall, or if you’re dead and have been certified as such the BBC licence fee enforcers will still pursue you with vigour and accusation, refusing to believe that there are some out there who eschew the square eye screen, or no longer have any use for it in a coffin or an urn. Technically, if you can prove you only watch non BBC content through a computer you should not have to pay a licence fee, but so bound up in our lives is the presence of the BBC that it is virtually impossible to avoid its use altogether. I wouldn’t be surprised if standing watching it in a shop window would qualify.

Now, that is not to say that I am in total opposition to the licence fee, after all I did work for the BBC (and I was told that not paying your licence fee was a sackable offence). The BBC then did  put out a tremendous amount of content and that was in the days of BBC Enterprises (a misnomer if ever there was one) before BBC Worldwide and BBC web content arrived. There was no doubt in my mind then that the licence fee enabled the BBC to provide content that could not be provided by its competitors ITV and later Channel 4, not least its radio content. In fact one of the ongoing debates I had on the Sony Radio Awards Committee, was that there should not be a Drama Award for radio, because only the BBC could afford to make drama, and therefore only the BBC could win it, and this skewed the results. My reply to that was Dylan Thomas (Under Milk Wood) and Lee Hall (from radio Sony Award to Billy Elliott), plus commercial stations could make drama, they just didn’t want to because they were driven by the ratings and the relationship between cost and audience.

Two debates seem to have arisen from this discussion of whether or not we get value for money from our licence fee

1 Is that relationship between cost and audience more commercially skewed than it should be, denying fledging programming the chance to survive and smaller audiences who pay their licence fee opportunities to watch TV not provided elsewhere?

2 Is the model of the licence fee anachronistic and does a new model of finance need to be found?

If you think I am going to answer these questions -forget it! It is a nightmare of complexity, if the BBC’s content is to be financed by public subscription it will struggle to provide anything but commercial content, or very niche content. If government is to finance it, issues of independence and integrity occur. If this country is to maintain its relationship with quality TV and particularly quality radio and news, a forced subscription of some kind seems to be the only answer.

Considering that last night we watched a Tina Fey interview by Google from Mashable on the iPad – it does seem that neither licence fee nor screen were particularly necessary.  At the same time I am appalled by the ratings driven, reality game show schlock that is turned out by all channels and whilst the BBC is guilty, it does still have its charter to inform and entertain, which it does still do, on occasion very well, and as for the websites, well call a spade a spade the Beeb done good.

However the outrage over Outcasts demonstrates that there is a disenfranchised audience out there, not dissimilar to the one equally outraged over Channel 4’s dumping of The Daily Show and there’s the rub. My experience of the response to the dumping of the The Daily Show for its weekly Global Edition is equally frustrating. Channel 4 may have mentioned that the show’s return would only be in the form of the weekly Global Edition, but, if they did, they did so in a whisper, so by the time most of the audience woke up the moment had already passed, Channel 4’s response to the audience has been equally frustrating and patronising, licence fee or no licence fee – never forget the execs know best and the audience – well obviously the audience is a bit dim and, sadly, judging by the response to some of these shows, that might be true. In the meantime, as a privileged young couple tie the knot in Westminster Abbey, the BBC has a flung a huge amount of licence fee at the biggest reality show of them all, lets hope they get some of it back. As for me I’m not into royal weddings, I’m feeling like a bit of an outcast!