A distinct lack of TV excitement

 Jeremy Paxman fronts The Victorians. BBC

Gosh. No TV reviews on this site for ages. Fact is, I just haven’t watched anything worth reviewing for ages. Can’t be bothered with either Jeremy Paxman or the Victorians. Hasn’t TV mined the Victorians enough already? What did the Victorians do for us? Plenty. But I just don’t want to watch any more surveys of their times and mores on TV, even on a Sunday night.

I am watching ER on More4 on Thursdays but now the series is in full swing it’s hardly anything write home or even here about. Distracting, yes; but very far from brilliant.

I have caught a couple of BBC 1’s latest Who Do You Think You Are? episodes on Monday nights. Is it me, or have producers Wall to Wall upped the interest value of the celebrities taking part this time? Fiona Bruce appealed, if only so we could gawk at the modernist extension to her Georgian London pile. Who Do You Think Has Grand Designs? I liked it. And Rick Stein last week was suitably moved by his missionary roots to make the programme work. This is still a great way into the last two hundred years of social history.

I enjoy QI on Friday nights but it’s a shame it’s being used to prop up weak sitcom Not Going Out. It means QI’s brand of erudite chortlement is on too early, leaving a whole hour to be killed between it and Jonathan Ross‘ chat show. Far too much has been said about Ross on this blog already. I continue to enjoy his show. His interview with Mickey Rourke worked on almost every level, cleverly reminding us of what Rourke used to look like with a clip of Angel Heart in the show. The only question Ross didn’t ask and Rourke wouldn’t answer was what the hell, besides age, has happened to his features?

So that’s my TV round-up of the weekend. Oh, there was some really good stuff on Motown on BBC 4 on Friday night including a Storyville documentary but I made my life partner switch over when Ross started on BBC 1. His reaction? “This is so lightweight. At least I was getting some information from that Motown thing.” It was all down to the Funk Brothers, apparently.

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Ishoos with Twitter

stephenfry.com/blog. (C) Samfry Ltd 2009

Don’t get me wrong: I love Twitter. Just like I love Facebook and I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. We have an open relationship. I put my photos etc on Facebook, where I track who my so-called Friends are (a lot of them are colleagues, but it’s all a blur these days). I feed my status updates through from Twitter where I have very few followers, some of whom I don’t know from Adam. Or Eve.

But just as I don’t call in to radio shows with tips on what I do that’s a bit nutty but effective (pace Chris Evans‘ Radio 2 drivetime show – anyway my nuttiness is too freaky and involves not getting hair in the plughole), so I’m not sure I should be following celebs on Twitter. It’s fun to know that Jonathan Ross‘ wife had cupcake ice cream for breakfast yesterday and I’ve just watched this amusingly short interview with Stephen Fry after he tweeted about it. But I’m beginning to feel like I did in the early 1980s when I had a pash on a particular pop star and simply HAD to own every magazine that ever published an interview or photo spread with him. (That wasn’t hard in 1982 – you just had to buy Smash Hits every week and the occasional Just Seventeen.)

I can write off following Messrs Ross and Fry as a professional duty. As a journalist and blogger, I should experience these things so that I can comment on them. But in another sense I’m not exactly their “public”. I listen to Jonathan Ross, as regular readers of this blog will know only too well, and am a great admirer of Fry. But I’m more likely to come across them professionally than those who are truly members of their “public”. I guess this is a case of boundaries blurring once again. For now, Twitter is fun in a mildly distracting and sometimes fulfilling, information-sharing way and if it ceases to be so I imagine we’ll all just move onto the next thing.

PS: If you’re desperate to know who my girlhood crush was on, it was George Michael and I don’t care that he turned out gay and slightly rotund. Love forged in youth knows few bounds.

Do you love/hate Twitter? Go on – leave a comment. You might enjoy it!

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Edgy? What do you mean, edgy?

Frank Skinner. BBC

With the newspapers still attempting to stir up controversy over presenters like Jonathan Ross, let’s remind ourselves of what edgy actually means. I’m going to try to be quite brief.

A couple of other people are also pondering this subject. Well, loads really. Frank Skinner has made a special edition of Panorama about swearing and has shared his views with The Independent. There was also a dreadful attempt by ITV’s Tonight programme to examine what offends people on TV on Friday. (Where did ITV find the guy with the glasses and the comb-over for this panel? Was he chryonically frozen in the mid-1960s and specially defrosted for the show?)

Here’s my take on the whole edgy thing. Edgy means being close to the edge, the edge of that point or line or whatever metaphor you want, that line between comfort and discomfort.

In entertainment, specifically on chat shows, that line lies somewhere between being obseqious and being an arse. It’s a line between sucking up to people simply because they are famous (leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether they have any talent which has made them famous) or being offensive, either to famous people or to those watching.

In my humble opinion, Jonathan Ross has always trodden the line between sycophancy and busting a few celebrity bubbles quite well. I still recall his Radio 2 interview with Bob Geldof, who I’ll admit is a sort of guilty pleasure hero of mine. (I’ll even admit to having seen The Boom Town Rats live.) Ross worried away at how Geldof styles himself on his passport. Is it ‘musician’ or ‘fund-raiser’? Thus he got to the heart of Geldof’s celebrity: a musician who was good for few Boom Town Rats numbers but who is much more widely known for his Band Aid/Live Aid-inspired charitable works.

Yet in that and in most interviews Ross does he manages to soothe the celebrity ego to the point that they invariably part friends. It doesn’t work with everyone. George Michael (another guilty pleasure) famously plumped for an interview with Chris Evans rather than Ross. But generally, Ross treads that line between star worship and ego puncturing.

That’s what we mean by being an edgy presenter and, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s what “the kids” (those under the age of about 60) want.

Finally, finally (oh dear, I said I would be brief), where in the whole debate about taste and decency that followed the Ross/Brand row has anyone talked about British prudery around sex? Surely the concepts of sex, grand-daughters and swearing only have power over us if we let them? If we accept that people do have sex, grand-daughters are invariably the product of that act and people use shocking words to, erm, shock then swearing and sex are already a lot less fraught and a lot less liable to upset people.

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@Wossy: you were great

Jonathan Ross arrives for Saturday radio show. PA/BBC

So what did we all make of Mr Ross’ return to TV and radio last night and this morning? My highly scientific survey of a cross-section of the British public (one septuagenarian and a few presumably younger folk blogging here) suggests the oldies still don’t like him, the younger crowd still do.

In this new spirit of doing everything by the book, I must admit I missed a whole hour of Ross’ Radio 2 show today (kids’ ballet classes, dontcha know). But I was listening at the beginning to hear Ross apologise to his radio listeners for his misdemeanors of October last and to have just the slightest dig at the press: “I said sorry beforehand, but that message didn’t seem to have got out there. I got the feeling the newspapers hadn’t actually heard it, even though some of them printed it, so it was nice to go out there and get the chance to get that off my chest,” he said, referring to his apology on last night’s TV show.

Which reminds me of just how much he was slagging off the papers on one of his R2 shows before his suspension, digging away at the idea that “friends” as sources for celebrity stories means anything other than journalists making things up. Who said the papers were out to get their revenge last year? Wash your mouth out.

Ross did look a little nervous on his chat show when Lee Evans started getting jiggy. But by the last hour of his R2 show, Ross was his usual radio self: ebullient, professional (rocketing through the Elbow and Katy Brand interviews when it was clear the “quiz” had over-run), amusing, down-to-earth and just that tiny bit edgy. “Good luck with the diet,” he bid Elbow’s Guy Garvey. And he insisted Brand didn’t have to be “that cautious” as she tied herself in knots trying to retract a comment about Pat Butcher on crack. Music was good, too.

All in all, there’s something to get up for on Saturday mornings again. Just need to shift the ballet classes.

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Jonathan Ross is back

Jonathan Ross. BBC

Stand by your beds: Jonathan Ross is back with his BBC 1 Friday Night Show tomorrow night at 10.35pm. And by the time you read this the show will already be in the can, having been pre-recorded (as usual) today, Thursday although at the slightly earlier time of midday.

The BBC made something of the excitement around Ross’s return on its news website with footage of people queueing outside Television Centre to watch the show. Both those interviewed said Ross should apologise for the Sachsgate affair but suggested the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.

In a mark of just how quickly the media world can evolve, there was an additional layer of intrigue for those on Twitter as guest Stephen Fry “tweeted” status updates from the green room. Although in reality all he had to say was that the show was being recorded earlier than usual.

Hey ho. So much media stalking, so much “celebredee”. With Tom Cruise also on Ross’ show (“charming”, says Fry), it promises to be a good one. Though not sure about rubber-faced comedian Lee Evans. Why care?

Personally I’m looking forward to hearing Ross on Radio 2 again on Saturday. Welcome back, sir.

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Random post: search hilarity

One of the more amusing things about writing your own blog is seeing what search terms people have typed into various engines to get to your blog. I need to know who typed “jonathan ross” + “wet the bed” into a search engine TODAY?!

It resulted in two page views, so I’m not complaining. Just asking the question. What on earth??? Who, what, why? Sadly I have no information on who types these things in – just the string of rubbish.

So intrigued am I, that I’ve just tried this search myself and, in Google, it generates 167 results. I am proud to say that lucecannon is about 10th in the list but other gems include this (which is unreadable, really) and this from Anorak (“keeping tabs on the tabloids” – like it).

Strange place, the blogosphere.

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Radio 2 needs an energy boost

I really should have something better to do (lots of things, in truth) but once again this weekend I was reminded of what a soulless place Radio 2 is without Jonathan Ross.

I didn’t even bother listening to whoever or whatever is standing in for his Saturday lunchtime show but was forced to listen to some of what was going on on Saturday afternoon, once the Charlie and Lola story on the in-car CD player had looped for the third time. Snow may be Lola’s favourite and her best, but the magic was beginning to fade after a couple of listens.

So it was we tuned in to Dermot O’Leary for a while. Normally I’ve nothing against Mr O’Leary’s afternoon efforts on a Saturday. It’s easy. It isn’t the god-awful “comedy” that comes on after Ross, which is immediatley switched off. O’Leary gets musicians in to play live sets. And I have a degree of loyalty because he’s a friend of a cousin.

But really, the lack of energy, wit, verve and general je ne sais quoi on his and so many other R2 programmes (Mr Ball included) is sadly exposed because Ross, the main star in the firmament, is missing.

BBC 1 controller Jay Hunt was right to praise Ross and his talents as a broadcaster. All those people who were so keen to gun him down should recognise exactly what they’ve done by shooting down the star. There’s a recession on and R2 is a grey place, devoid of sparkle without Ross on air.

I’m wishing for a digital radio for Christmas. Apparently Adam & Joe are quite good on 6 Music of a Saturday morn.

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Just say no to TOGs

I came across this story yesterday, on MailOnline and it’s scared the pants off me.

I’ve been terrified by the Daily Mail before, so that’s not a new experience. But the suggestion that Jonathan Ross might actually, in the real world, be replaced by Terry Wogan on Radio 2 on Saturday mornings is so tremendously discomfiting that I am right now excavating a bunker underneath my kitchen in which to hide from the modern world.

That’s right – the MODERN world, a world where surely to god the empurpled complexion and lilting Irish tones of Terry Wogan have no place. Certainly there should be no place for him on Saturday mornings on Radio 2. I don’t care if you can’t see his complexion on the radio. I can feel the heat of those vein-mottled cheeks in my listener’s mind’s eye.

Was Lesley Douglas’ work on Radio 2 for nothing? Someone at the Mail is having a laugh, aren’t they? Either that or the Mail hopes that by running such a ludicrous story it might gain credibility with the cardigan brigade at the BBC and become reality?

We need a campaign now. Say no to TOGs on Saturday mornings.

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What we want now is Ross!

Now I really want to hear from Jonathan Ross. He hasn’t spoken publicly about any of what’s happened since his infamous appearance on Radio 2’s Russell Brand Show on 18 October and he was last on air on his own R2 show on Saturday 25 October.

Does he think he’s been hung out to dry by the BBC? Has he been watching Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe on BBC 4 which is doing its best to make sure people still have something to complain about on the BBC?

Most importantly, will Ross return to Radio 2, supposedly on 24 January next year when his suspension ends, as if nothing has ever happened?

Speak to us, Jonathan. Your fans need you.

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Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, again

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. BBC

So the BBC Trust – that collection of the great and the good who the government appoints to rule the BBC – has today published its conclusions on the famous Russell Brand Show/Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs farrago.

In short, the Trust led by affable but somewhat “senior” in age Sir Michael Lyons, has decided that Mr Ross’ comments about Brand effing Sachs’ grand-daughter were “so grossly offensive that there was no justification for its broadcast”. Radio 2 was guilty of failure on three levels: editorial control, allowing the comment to be recorded in the first place; compliance, by letting the comments slip through the checks and balances system for programming; and editorial judgement, by allowing the finished programme to go on air with the offensive remarks still in situ.

But the Trust hasn’t called for any more heads than have already rolled. It says the BBC management’s decision to suspend Ross and accept the resignations of R2 controller Lesley Douglas and presenter Russell Brand were “appropriate”.

Whether you agree that what was said by Ross and Brand was “offensive” or not (I don’t), the BBC Trust’s judgement is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. No mention is made of how the BBC responded to the tsunami of complaints which built on Monday 27 October, the day after the Mail on Sunday and later editions of other Sunday newspapers including the Telegraph had both brought the comments to the general public’s attention and encouraged several thousand of them to complain about a programme they clearly hadn’t heard or felt strongly enough about to criticise when it was originally broadcast.

I still feel the BBC needs a stronger editorial champion than it appears to have. Admittedly the BBC Trust doesn’t exist to champion BBC editorial independence but to bring it to book on behalf of the rest of us as licence fee payers and the government which approves the BBC’s funding via the universal tax, the licence fee.

Will anyone from the BBC management – director general Mark Thompson? – be brave enough to stand up for comedy in all its forms, even if it offends some people? It will take a great deal of diplomacy, given the vociferous multitudes who have made sure we all know just how “offended” they are (more than 42,000 according to the BBC Trust).

Defending the BBC will also take a great deal of bravery, now that the Brand/Ross/Sachs row is being used by the anti-BBC brigade to try to bring the BBC’s funding back into question. Radio 4’s Today programme dedicated their “top slot” to debating the future of the licence fee at 8.10am this morning. Chief among the BBC’s critics is Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph. Funny how it’s always the same names attacking the BBC.

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