Meanwhile in the real world…

…ITV has apparently said it’s going to cut 1,000 jobs. It probably felt left out, what with the BBC and Channel 4 laying off staff left, right and centre.

I’m sorry, I really am. But these are big organisations, with big revenues, facing tough times. If I have to buy value Tesco toothpaste after losing a regular freelance gig then it makes sense that ITV and the others have to lay off a few folk when the going gets tough.

Get on with it. Get over it. We’ll all end up working for the same organisations freelance anyway.


Tess and other t*ss

Not that BBC 1’s adaptation of Tess of the D’Ubervilles is t*ss, far from it. I am loving Tess on BBC 1 and, even though I have no leanings in that direction, I am probably also slightly in love with Gemma Arterton in the lead role. She has the mouth that Alec, Angel and others fall hook, line and sinker for and hair to die for. Well, it’s period. And as for Hans Matheson playing Alec – could he have a more malicious, less trustworthy jaw or hairline?

It’s all so superbly done – and, having caught up with ep 3 last night on the iPlayer – it’s just so goddamn TRAGIC. Just the way Hardy wrote it: all awfulness, chance and fate and slips of a letter under a mat. Angel fails to live up to his name and just can’t forgive Tess for bearing a child to a man before him, even though she was raped. Their wedding night ends unconsummated, after loaded kisses by a roaring fire are twice rudely interrupted. Instead the couple part two brown and grey mornings later, Tess humping her own badly tied luggage onto a stagecoach alone, without even a kiss goodbye.

The whole production – an in-house BBC job led by writer David Nicholls (of Cold Feet and Much Ado About Nothing) – is fabulous. It looks dreary and sad, now that the summer of youth is past, just as we think Dorset should have looked in the late 19th century. The ladies have mud on the hems of their dresses. Perhaps some of the hedges are a little mechanically trimmed but, really, I’m casting around for criticism here.

The best thing about this production is it feels like Thomas Hardy’s novel, televised. No kooky time travel angle, a la Lost in Austen. No mucking about with the plot (as far as I can recall it, some 20 years after reading it). I’m eagerly looking forward to next week and wondering when the BBC or anyone else will be brave enough to put programmes online BEFORE their television TX. Is it from the book or a previous TV adaptation that I have a mental image of blood dripping through a ceiling from the floor above? Can’t wait to find out.

Also enjoying Mutual Friends, BBC 1 again, Losing It on BBC 2 and The Family on C4. God, I love autumn. The leaves are changing colour and there’s some good stuff on TV at last. Who says TV’s finest hour was in the 1970s?


Losing It with Griff Rhys Jones


BBC 2’s Losing It is about a subject close to my own psyche: unbridled rage. It was fascinating and depressing all at the same time. Fascinating because Griff hit the nail on the head when he said anger was a taboo subject, that while people are happy to admit to the quality (good or bad) of their sex lives or to depression or other sorts of disease, most people are unwilling to admit they have a terrible temper and that they can therefore lose control.

It is the loss of control that can be frightening when someone gets angry – for the person losing it but also, much more keenly, for those who witness it. That might or might not include those on the receiving end of the anger, but it also crucially includes those who simply have to stand by and, as Griff’s former agent explained, feel the room fill up with one person’s fury.

My own particular anger falls into what George Galloway (of all effing people) called the dishonourable category of anger: one where it is directed at those more vulnerable than yourself. My children, say. Galloway said that controlled anger (can there be such a thing? Griff didn’t explore that) can be used effectively to rally people to a cause and is therefore honourable.

Dishonourable anger directed at someone a tenth your age is clearly wrong. However frustrating children are – and of course they are. Just as the pressure of certain situations is real, such as having to get to school at a certain time and not when it suits those who would rather put their shoes on the wrong feet, then take them off again and run round the house collecting large, stuffed toys to carry half-way to school only to dump them onto you for the rest of the journey.

Yet anger borne of frustration at things we would like to control but ultimately can’t is the anger many of us feel most often. I do, just like Griff, get angry with people who aren’t doing things they way I think they should be done, who are somehow obstructing my otherwise smooth progress through life and who are idiots generally.

Heston Blumenthal had it all right when he cackhandedly said it’s about how we respond to situations and how we angry people are incompatible with the world as it is, rather than the other way around. We are not saints whose patience is tested by endless fleets of incompetents. A saint would never get angry, whatever the circumstances. There are no excuses. We’re angry people and we should find a better way to deal with it.

Next week we’ll get tips on dealing with aggression and see inside a Los Angeles anger management course. I, like Griff, am waiting to hear how to finally slay the red dragon within. So I shall indeed be watching again next week, if only to see whether the bizarrely vasilined soft focus edges to the first film were a result of watching on the iPlayer and to discover the explanation – there must be one – for the freakishly long nails on the fingers of one of Griff’s hands.


Ofcom inches forward with interminable review, public doesn’t care

Not the greatest of headlines but a pretty accurate summary, IMHO, of Ofcom’s announcement today about the second phase in its ongoing review of public service broadcasting.

If you don’t work in TV or, to be more precise, in the public affairs department of a British broadcaster, you can’t possibly care about this stuff so I won’t go into too much detail here. The announcement is part of an incredibly tedious – though, it has to be said, thorough – process to decide what so-called public service olibgations the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Five should have in the future when we ALL have digital TV.

Ofcom is really taking its time over this one. In April, the regulator came up with four options for the future of public service broadcasting. These included firstly evolution of the current state of play, where all four major broadcasters have some PSB role but perhaps with more money and fewer obligations for the commercially funded ITV, C4 and Five. Secondly Ofcom proposed a BBC-only model, where the BBC would be the only public service broadcaster. Thirdly, Ofcom foresaw a situation where the BBC and C4 are the main public service broadcasters; and finally the regulator suggested a world where anyone, including but not limited to ITV, C4 and Five, could bid for money to make public service content.

Today, after thinking about this for almost five months, Ofcom has simply dropped the BBC-only option. The BBC will not be the only public service broadcaster when all our televisions are digital and receiving hundreds of channels in 2012 (the date when analogue TV will cease to exist).

That’s a long time to come up with not a lot. Meanwhile C4 wants to know exactly how it will get help with the £150m it reckons it will be short of by 2012 and ITV wants to cut its commitment to regional news bulletins, increase the amount of ads it carries and change the way its ad sales are linked to ratings, so the price of airtime doesn’t go down as ratings go down.

To be fair to Ofcom, today’s announcement does include some detail about ITV’s regional news. It looks like 15 regional ITV news services will be cut to nine, saving around £40m a year. The NUJ is predictably up in arms, saying 500 jobs are on the line.

And Ofcom has today put a figure on the cost of ensuring that the BBC isn’t the only broadcaster making public service TV, radio and so on in future. That cost is somewhere between £145m and £235m. But that seems a pretty big margin to me. Couldn’t they get their figures a little tighter over the course of five months’ policy-wonking?

There is so much detail and lobbying behind the scenes of this review that it’s impossible to do it justice. Suffice to say, Ofcom has merely inched forward today and we’ll have to wait until next year – when several other consultations have also come to a head – to get any real idea of what the future holds. Oh, to be a regulator, now that recession is near.


Bleak week at Channel 4

Channel 4 said yesterday that it will cut 150 jobs, reducing its 1,000 or so staff by some 15 per cent. Understandably, things were said to be “very bleak” at C4 yesterday.

The reason C4 is cutting jobs and hoping to save £50m this year in other ways is because its revenues are being hit by the downturn in advertising. C4 itself reckons the value of TV advertising will fall by 5 per cent this year. As a result it will cut its programming budget by £25m this year. According to C4’s annual report, it spent £624m on programming in 2007. The channel hasn’t said where the cuts will come in programming terms.

The BBC is also cutting jobs because it didn’t get as much money in its latest licence fee settlement as it had hoped. So the pain is being shared around the broadcast sector.

It’s hard to feel compassion for organisations whose budgets run into millions in the first place. The BBC and C4 operate on a large scale – although C4 is naturally about a 20th of the size of the BBC – and when times get tough, as they patently are economically, they should be seen to be making efficiencies.

It’s hard for those individuals who may be faced with redundancy. But it can be done voluntarily, there should be a payoff and you haven’t lived in the modern world until you’ve been made redundant at least twice. I have and can thoroughly recommend spending a redundancy payment on a Belfast sink unit.


Shaun the Sheep to return to CBBC

And now for some breaking news… a first for

Shaun the Sheep

Shaun the Sheep, the latest fantastic animation from Wallace and Gromit makers Aardman, is to return to CBBC for a second 40-part series some time next year, when it’s been made (and these stop-frame animations take a LONG time to make). The amazing thing, to me, is that this is only the second series.

Aardman announced the deal today, coincidentally just a few days ahead of a major international event for buying and selling children’s programmes, Mipcom Junior which is held in Cannes in a couple of weeks. Oh, ok, it’s not a coincidence at all. Hence the reason the press release mentions the international broadcasters who’ve also bought rights to the second Shaun series plus the 28 licensees so far signed up to support Shaun in some way in the UK, from Golden Bear as Master Toy partner to Egmont as publishing partner.

I mention this to let the laymen among you know how these things work. A broadcaster orders a TV programme but the producers need lots more money to make the show, especially if it’s expensive Nick Park-inspired animation, so it’s sold to other broadcasters including TF1 in France and ABC in Australia in Shaun’s case, and profits, in theory, come from the licensing and merchandising deals.

But it’s such a long time since the first series of Shaun the Sheep was announced. Four years, in fact. And although I’ve actually seen Shaun on TV more recently, the first series was first shown two years ago. A reminder that memories are short in telly-land. Shaun the Sheep feels fresh and new – only about a year ago a non-media mum-friend first spotted Shaun as quality programming. Amazing how long it takes for great TV to come to full fruition.


Channel 4’s The Family


OK, so now I’ve actually watched the first episode of Channel 4’s The Family – made by Firefly, the production company that brought us Jamie’s Fowl Dinners – and I think Fay Weldon is wrong, wrong, wrong (see below).

Wrong about how TV has coarsened our society and wrong to suggest the models for the family in this series have come out of TV.

Yes, the husband talks in a string of clichés – he even trotted out the tiredest line in adult/teenage arguments, something along the lines of “You treat this place like a hotel” but with something about never paying the bill in for good measure. And, of course, the whole family appear constantly self-conscious in front of the cameras which are recording them 24 hours a day in their own home.

But the cameras don’t follow the family outside the home – as viewers we only find out what they do when they’re not at home from the conversations they have with each other once inside again. And the family could not know, not really, how the programme would be edited and presented in the final analysis.

The first episode was all about the mother, Jane, turning 40 and the middle daughter Emily being a handful of a live-at-home 19-year-old, calling in sick to her job because she’s hungover after another night’s heavy clubbing and failing to do anything around the house, much less pay any rent. Weldon might have had a point if she’d wondered why the family in question let this situation develop and whether they only decided to tackle it once the cameras had been installed.

But there were plenty of tender moments, as when the gauche 14-year-old son and youngest member of the family pulls an outsize 40th birthday card from his bedroom drawer as the family prepare for mum’s big birthday bash. It was brief and nearly made me cry.

More obviously sentimental and possibly staged by the family was mother Jane and bad-daughter Emily’s brief kiss and make up session in which they sing the lyrics to Kate Nash’s Foundations together.

Putting personal snobbery aside – my mother would have swooped on the references to Canterbury and deduced that the family lived in a dreaded ‘Medway town’ – this does seem to be what it says on the tin: a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a more or less ordinary family who are materially comfortable but perhaps not individually the brightest of sparks. Just very, very ordinary.

And in that sense it’s great TV because we all love looking at other people, at other families because we all have a family whether they’re present or absent. We can mentally comparr the family to our own, gossip about them afterwards and either comfort ourselves that we’re nothing like them or completely the same.

It’s also nicely edited – not least in the way the cat is used as the sort of mute chorus to events. But it’s cleverer than that, which is why it’s good TV. If there were no narrative to each episode, if the sequence of events and our reactions as viewers weren’t manipulated by the programme makers it would simply be like watching your neighbours for 100 days continuously. Impossible and tedious.

Yes – to take on Weldon’s points – there was lots of shouting and not much Tanya Byronesque tolerance, openness and understanding. Perhaps Ms Byron should launch a TV series about living with teenagers. But people have written books and endless newspaper columns about life with teenagers and this first episode of The Family was about 40-something parents living with a teenager. So normal. So remarkable for being the stuff of life.

After watching episode two – and you’ll have to trust me that I’m writing this an hour later than the first part of this post – I like the series even more. Ep two is all about Charlotte, the youngest daughter but not the youngest child, who wants to leave school. There’s lots of shouting and tension again and less liberal-minded ‘let’s not rush to judge but hear what she’s got to say first’, although that does happen. But there’s lots of love, too.

The biggest criticism I would wield at this show – as with so many constructed reality TV programmes – is that a probably university-educated production and commissioning elite has chosen a family from a different milieu to star in this documentary. So we’re watching a family who actually have Cocoa Pops available for breakfast (I know!) and who have an apparently limitless supply of fake fur drapes and cushions to lounge around on.

But the central narrative of this episode – a teenager who wants to do one thing while her parents want her to do another – is one that’s repeated endlessly across families and cultures and has been for eons. This family may often talk to each while staring fixedly at one of the TVs in every room. But I bet other families have similar avoidance or semi-engagement strategies and have done since before the TV was invented. So Weldon is wrong. TV isn’t the only thing that’s changed society. It’s just a whole lot more complicated than that.


Has TV turned us into monsters?

Should we agree with Fay Weldon writing in yesterday’s Sunday Times ? Essentially she was writing about Channel 4’s The Family which started last Wednesday but really she was just having a bit of a rant against TV in general.

Weldon argues – indeed, she seems convinced – that TV has turned us from “dignified, courteous individuals into solipsistic, complacent monsters who feel free to shout, swear, hug and emote as caprice takes us”. She says that reality TV along with gritty drama from Grange Hill to EastEnders has turned us – presumably the British public, but perhaps all westerners – into a highly negative, detestable lot. “Once an unselfconscious species, we have become self-aware,” she writes.

Basically, Weldon doesn’t like what she sees on The Family. The family’s behaviour isn’t even real, it’s set-up because they know they’re being filmed and have even let the cameras into the marital bedchamber (the eight-part series follows a family of six supposedly living their normal lives, much like Paul Watson’s original fly-on-the-wall family documentary series did in 1974).

But does she have a point about the media and TV in particular being responsible for all of societies evils and a supposed collapse in modern-day morals and manners?

I tend to resist talk of the media’s culpability in changing society for the worse for two reasons. One is that I work in the media and don’t generally want to condemn my peers. The other is that I’m reluctant to join the ranks of old fogey, Golden agers who think everything was fine and dandy when they were young up until they turned about 40 since which time everything’s gone to the dogs. This sort of thinking has been around, amongst people of a certain age, forever and is a sad side-effect of growing old.

But pondering this weekend on a different, but possibly related issue – the fraught and perhaps unanswerable question of whether women resented domestic drudgery more, less or about the same 50 years ago, when they generally got married earlier, had children in their 20s and had no great expectations in life particularly of a career – I found myself saying that perhaps one of the reasons that so many 30-something mothers I know are reluctant housewives, trying to be a perfect mother and partner while still wanting some professional stimulation and reward and generally getting their knickers in a twist as a result, perhaps that is because the media has helped feed us the idea that there are women out there who “have it all”.

Then I check myself and remember that some women have always bemoaned their lot. My own grandmother hugely resented the fact that her somewhat Victorian father wouldn’t allow her to go to university. Literature is full of female characters who rail against the constraints of traditionally limited female roles.

I think I do believe that art, culture and the media generally hold a mirror up to life rather than create it – which isn’t to say the media doesn’t have a huge influence on society at the same time. It’s all a bit complicated, which doesn’t go down well with the “blame on the newspapers/television” brigade.

British society has got progressively less stuffy in the last 50 years and in many ways that’s no bad thing. But to say that road rage, knife crime or the unprecedented displays of public grief over the death of Princess Diana are a result of television is a bit too easy. I’d need to see stats, at the very least, about violent crime on the streets of London when Dickens was writing or know more about how the public greeted the deaths of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria before drawing any conclusions.


Disney “Princesses”

Apropos of nothing and before I head off to do the weekly shop because that’s how glamorous my life really is. Yes, it was J Sheekey’s in central London on Wednesday. Today it’s Tesco in Chard. How the mighty are deflated.

I just feel the need to express a little rant about the whole Disney princess phenomenon and related paraphernalia which must set the typical parent of girls back by, ooh, say, several hundred pounds a year.

This was actually sparked by one little tyke showing off her new lunch box on the way to school this morning. It was, indeed, new, bright pink on the back and sporting one of the many Disney princesses on the front. I suppose I feel guilty because my two girls have packed lunch bags that cost £2 from Tesco. But they are pink.

What is it that gets me about the Disneyfication, princessification of just about everything in a little girl’s life? I don’t want to get all Guardian about this, but I do REALLY resent the incursion of effing Disney into the minutiae of my and my children’s lives, such as what their packed lunch bags should look like in order that they eat anything at all at school, even if it is Hula Hoops and a shop-bought sausage roll.

I congratulate Disney and the one marketing man in particular who spotted an unexploited niche and decided to corrall all the heroines of various Disney films from Snow White to Cinderella and Jasmine into one new Disney Princess brand. That was a stroke of genius which pumped life and the potential for millions of dollars of new sales into a series of characters who hitherto existed only in relation to their individual films.

The problem I have with this, as a Guardian-reader, a mother and just, you know, someone who lives in the real world, is that Disney Princess values are at best vacuous and at worst pernicious.

Vacuous because the whole princess schtick plays to a ‘I just need to look beautiful and then everyone will love me’ fallacy which we know can lead to only doom, gloom and breasts the size of Jordan’s (although I believe she’s had them reduced. I try not to follow these things but they seep in through a sort of cultural osmosis.)

Disney Princess values are pernicious because if there are any moral lessons in the shallow husk of a Disney Princess character they appear to be that your Prince Charming is always around the corner. Call me Millie Tant, but the idea that we should bring up girls to think Prince Charming will one day come and sweep them off their feet and land them in a castle where they can plait their hair every day as the roses bloom without the city walls seems like a very poor idea indeed. It’s a rotten world view and one that won’t prepare any young girl for the reality of modern womanhood where a female is supposed to be supermum, supersexy, supersuccessful and supersatisfied.

The people I suspect have imbibed the Disney Princess/Prince Charming philosophy, however subliminally and however much they would consciously deny it, have made poor life choices somewhere along the line. Maybe I include myself in that category.

Parents, people in general, can’t ignore the Disney Princess phenomenon, particularly if you don’t want to raise children who are regarded by their peers as freaks because they are asked to go to school wearing hollowed out bricks for shoes. That would clearly be crazy.

But we should recognise that Disney Princesses and all the crap that comes with them are shallow, misguided little fools and so – if your daughter subsists on a diet of unmitigated Disney Princess fodder – will your child be. My answer, for what it’s worth, is to sprinkle a smattering of other, ‘this is actually real’ interests among my Disney-seduced children. So it’s butterflies and plant names, maps of interesting places and lots of books about things that are nothing to do with Walt.

Where are the good mother figures in Disney? There are step-mothers, usually evil, and fathers who just about manage to hand their darling princesses over to our dashing hero by the end of the tale. But there are no mothers, not even mothers who love their kids to bits but are just a bit too shattered and resentful of the god-awful daily slog involved in bringing them up to say so.

I’m sure there’s a similar rant to be had about Disney boy characters. If there isn’t, the whole Disney merchandising effort is even more misogynist than I can countenance.

And so to Tesco, to resist the lure of Disney branded fun-size apples. They’re apples, ffs, and we take them out of the packaging before the kids see them, OK?


Right, what do I know about rights?

With you, the viewer, in mind executives from the main TV channels have been watching a lot of new American programming in darkened rooms recently, as the big US studios including Fox, Warner Bros and the like have brought sample episodes of their new autumn programming to London to show off.

British TV execs traditionally get a preview in late May and early June of the new programmes that start on American TV in autumn (or Fall, as they like to call it over there). A posse of acquisitive heads from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and so on fly to Los Angeles for a week or 10 days to sit in steamy, dark studios watching a load of old rubbish (which, let’s face it, most American TV is) hoping to spot the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Ugly Betty. When someone or several people spot such a thing, a bidding war can break out as the the various British broadcasters try to out-do each other and land the show for their channel or family of channels.

But this year, there wasn’t much to see in late May and early June because the writers of American drama and comedy had been on strike over the winter and hadn’t finished enough shows to preview. The annual TV jaunt to the City of Angels was necessarily a bit short and, by all accounts, not a whole lot of fun. Poor old TV types. No 10-day stretch of sitting by a pool, dining in fine LA eateries and being feted with goody bags that cost more to ship home than they do to produce.

Instead, this week and last, the good people of Fox, Warners, Universal and so on have been over here in our very own London town showing that they have, finally, got some new scripted comedy and drama for British broadcasters to look at.

So what can I tell you about who might be buying what and what will be hot or not when the autumn season of new US programming really gets going in a week or so’s time?

Not a lot, really. All I’ve gathered so far is that the Fox screening was a bit shit. Sorry, Fox executives, but even the hyped Dollhouse from Buffy creator Joss Whedon hasn’t gone down too well with at least one buyer of American TV programmes. That said, it’ll probably be on one of our channels within a few months. The people who make these decisions just need to see how it does in the US first.

I can’t tell you anything more about any of the other screenings or about the programmes they may or may not have featured. It’s not like I’m being paid to do this (yet), so my research is necessarily limited to a kind of ‘if-I-can-be-arsed’ or ‘if-I-happen-to-find-out-over-lunch’ nature.

I did, however, learn something new yesterday, which is always nice when you’re starting to measure periods of your life in two-decade lengths.

I learnt that there are such things as AVOD rights to programmes. For the completely uninitiated, VOD stands for video on demand and relates to the sort of (usually online) TV service like the BBC iPlayer,’s catch-up service or Channel 4’s 4oD. In order to show anything at all on those services, the relevant broadcaster must have done a deal with the producer of a programme to get the right to show that programme in a video on demand service. Does that make any sense?

Now it seems there are such things as AVOD rights or advertiser video on demand rights to cover programming where viewers don’t pay to watch but the whole thing is supported by advertisers. So 4oD now shows a lot of programming for free but viewers have to watch ads alongside the programming, just like on TV.’s catch-up service is also supported by advertisers and free to viewers. BBC programming, which of course is funded through the compulsory licence fee, is free to view anyway and comes without ads attached. Unless it’s BBC programming on a UKTV channel like UKTV History which is a joint venture and is commercially funded so does carry advertising.

But I digress. The point is, according to those who know, it is now fiendishly complicated to negotiate for all the different rights to show programming in all the myriad ways there now are to show programming – on terrestrial TV, on digital TV, online, online as a streamed service (a bit like broadcast TV), online as a download to watch later (video on demand). Etc etc. I’m no expert so can’t expand the list.

And we all thought buying TV programmes just involved watching lots of programmes and trying not to pick anything that’s too rubbish. Like Dollhouse.