News round-up Week 49

Jamie Oliver At Home. Fresh One Productions Footballers' Wives. Shed Productions 

In my diary, Monday 1 to Friday 5 December was week 49. It was also the week of my younger daughter’s fourth birthday and therefore I cannot cling to the excuse that I am mum to a pre-schooler for much longer. Post September 2009 I will have no option but to fill my entire week with work. Let’s hope it pays.

And so lucecannon launches a new feature, which may or may not become regular depending on how I’m feeling next week.

It is the round-up of the week’s media news. What you really needed to know about what happened this week. Disregard the millions of stories pouring out of websites and more established news emporia everywhere – here’s where you get your meaningful media summary.

1. Eileen Gallagher is stepping down as chief exec of Shed Media plc to go back into production. From 1 January 2009 she will head Shed Productions, part of the Shed group, and coo Nick Southgate will take over as Shed Media ceo. Shed made Bad Girls and (a personal fav) Footballers’ Wives for ITV and these days make Waterloo Road for BBC 1. Gallagher, ex-ITV, has built Shed Media up from scratch into a group of companies, floated the thing on the alternative investment market and presumably now had enough of dealing with tossers with calculators who know nothing about television but everything about market cap and share prices. Good luck to her as a normal TV person once again. Whoever said floating a production company on the stock market wasn’t a good thing? Certainly not David Frank of RDF who is buying the company back from its publicly listed status.

2. Graham Norton is taking over from Terry Wogan as host of the BBC coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest. Enough said.

3. The Competition Commission has put the frighteners on, but not stopped, Project Kangaroo – a proposed online TV service which will have BBC, Channel 4, ITV and possibly other broadcasters’ programming on it. Forget the iPlayer and C4 and ITV’s online catchup services – they will be one and the same thing. The commission has said Project Kangaroo could restrict competition in the video-on-demand market. But it’s still early days – this is a provisional finding and the BBC, C4 and ITV have time to reassure the commission before a final opinion is published, and the future of the whole venture decided, on 8 February.

4. Roy Ackerman is leaving Diverse, the production company he’s worked at for almost 20 years, to run Jamie Oliver’s production company Fresh One. Diverse, known for serious documentaries and series such as Tribal Wives, Play It Again and Last Chance Kids, was sold to Zodiak, a company based in Sweden which is itself now owned by an Italian company. It’s all a long way from being a small British independent producer but then all indies have been consolidating like crazy to stay alive. Fresh One, meanwhile, has been desperate for a well-connected, serious production executive to help it land it more TV commissions that aren’t reliant on Jamie Oliver, such as Neil Morrissey’s Risky Business for C4. Oliver has found his man in Ackerman. But the tide of celebrity-led factual programming ain’t turning yet. Neil Morrissey was a case in point.

5. There was some bother about John Barrowman, camp performer known for his leading role in the BBC’s Torchwood, exposing himself on radio. As if that were possible. It happened on a live Radio 1 show on Sunday night and presenter Annie Mac apologised at the end of the show. But by Tuesday the rest of the media had picked up on it and it was all being rolled in with Jonathan Ross’ phone calls to Andrew Sachs etc etc. A BBC spokeswoman said the programme had overstepped the mark and Barrowman apologised and grovelled to the BBC.

That’s it – the week in a nutshell. Hope it was a good one for you.

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Ups and downs on BBC TV

 Graham Norton. BBC/So Television Lead Balloon. BBC

BBC 1 and 2 served up a mixed dish last night, which probably counts as a success. Giving all of the people some of what they want some of the time sort of justifies the universal licence fee and that’s the BBC’s mission, after all.

I was disappointed that Little Dorrit was bumped off the schedules by a Panorama special on the Shannon Matthews case, timed to coincide with the verdict earlier yesterday that her mother Karen was guilty of kidnapping the child and holding her, drugged, in a relative’s flat while staging tearful appeals for her return.

Dickensian poverty and strife on a BBC set is always preferable to contemplating the real world, about which we should be able to do something but patently can’t. (Baby P, Elisabeth Fritzl, Victoria Climbie. What would Dickens have made of their stories? That they amount to the ghosts of Christmases past, or future?)

But Panorama did a good job of telling the shocking Shannon story, complete with confessions from various neighbours and officials about a house that wasn’t fit for dogs let alone children and a mother who one policeman thought was clever and calculating. Ratings-wise, the film will have benefitted from airing at 8pm.

Mercifully, last night was comedy night on BBC 2, providing some light relief from the gloom. Graham Norton was interviewing Barely Man-Enough, as we used to call Barry Manilow in my house, and the Conkster actually came out of it quite well, gamely knocking out the TV ad jingles which made him a living before ‘Mandy’ hit the big time. Good god – could Norton up his game again and take the treasured Friday night chat show spot from Jonathan Ross? I expect the chaps at So Television are thinking about it. Norton’s taking over from Terry Wogan as presenter of the Eurovision Song Contest. Does that make him hot talent again, or not?

Then came my other favourite comedy of the moment, Lead Balloon with Jack Dee. Dee’s alter ego in the piece, Rick Spleen, had had a near-death experience while filming an ad for accident insurance and lost his splenetic outlook for most of the episode. Instead he came over all ‘Ghandi’, in the words of his co-writer Marty. “If you’re happy all the time, how are you supposed to be funny?” griped Marty, as Spleen stared at ladybirds, leaves and candles instead of writing gritty comedy. A message there for the BBC, post-Sachsgate, one wonders?

Two things to share about Lead Balloon. Magda, Spleen’s eastern European daily help, is played by Anna Crilly, a great friend of my sister’s. That’s not the only reason why I think Crilly is brilliant – but she is brilliant. Apparently she got the gig by being ‘Magda’ from the moment she walked into the audition. She’s got comedy inside her. And if you want more evidence, look up the children’s comedy Sorry I’ve Got No Head (also starring Mel Giedroyc and Marcus Brigstock). Genius – and made by Norton’s TV company, So Television.

Finally, I can’t watch Jack Dee (and I love his whole ‘schtick’) without remembering the time he died on stage at York University in 1990 or 1991. It might have had something to do with the 10p per pint promotion that was on that particular night and the somewhat lively nature of the crowd. But, in my memory, he couldn’t hack it and walked off half-way through the gig. Spleen by nature? Let’s hope so.

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Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and THAT phone call

OK, so these are the lengths I will go to, to keep abreast of meeja issues while I am a) unofficially on holiday (ie taking calls and juggling freelance commitments, but essentially just listening to the radio all day) and b) redecorating my dead mother’s house in a bid to buck the plummeting housing market. Like a bit of natural hessian paint is going to make a difference and like this is actually a holiday.

I have just listened to a bad YouTube recording of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s now world-famous prank call to Andrew Sachs’ answer phone, which featured in Brand’s Saturday night Radio 2 show on 18 October. As I write it is Tuesday 29 October and today the number of complaints to the BBC over this incident has risen from around 4,500 (about the number of complaints the Beeb had about Jerry Springer, the Opera – and that was an orchestrated campaign) to more than 10,000. The day started with ex-BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland and comedian Alexander Armstrong commenting on the story and ended with prime minister Gordon Brown referring to Ross, Brand and Sachs by name. What has the world come to?

Most noteworthy, for me, was the means by which I tracked down the actual broadcast. I am almost in media limbo with only the wind-up radio and dial-up internet via a mobile phone for company. So listening to the extract from Brand’s show involved buffering literally every 3 seconds. Yet I persisted, for the duration of the 4 minute 48 second clip I chose on YouTube. All I got for my pains was Jonathan Ross shrieking “He fucked yer grand-daughter” during the duo’s first answer phone message.

Granted, the words grand-daughter and fuck aren’t often combined in the same sentence, but I doubt whether it was an out and out first on either the part of Jonathan Ross or the BBC. Yet it was on this basis that Sachs took offence, complained to the BBC and an astonishing 10,400 have so far done the same. Surely someone is orchestrating this as a campaign? There were just 67 complaints on Monday, before the MediaGuardian and others went big on the story.

All those mitherers should just leave Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand alone and get a sense of perspective. Far worse things are said every week on Have I Got News for You and on Jonathan Ross’ other shows – not to mention Brand’s, which naturally I don’t listen to having something of a life on Saturday nights. If these entertainers weren’t allowed to push the boundaries of taste they wouldn’t be worth listening to. Just look at Graham Norton since he moved to the BBC – no surfing the internet for glove fetishists who will flick themselves off as Joan Collins removes a pair of elbow-length black numbers. It just isn’t the same and, as a result, Norton doesn’t get the critical attention or, dare I say it, the ratings he used to at C4. We don’t want the same fate to befall Ross or Brand.