On this week’s Telly Addict, we bid farewell, or au revoir, to three dramas that came to an end last week. The Village on BBC1, whose first chapter took us from 1914 to 1920, took a bow via a lovely closing shot of the entire village gathered around the new war memorial; Endeavour on ITV, whose fourth mystery was called Home, scattered lots of delicious clues to future events which we have already seen, on Morse, and left Detective Constable Endeavour himself with the threat of a limp “in middle age”; and Boss, on More4, whose first season operated at such a high pitch of corruption and venality, it was a surprise to see the delicate visual flourish that I have chosen as my clip to illustrate what has been a terrific run. There’s also a peek through our fingers at The Apprentice on BBC1, whose launch episode drew its lowest audience since 2007, and something almost as horrible, NBC’s Hannibal, on Sky Living. I also find time to commend the accessible documentary Bankers on BBC2, which lines up plutocrats in suits and supplies fruit to throw at them.
So, we’ve reached 100 and nobody’s taken us off the air yet. This is the centennial of Telly Addict. I wrote and read out the first one in May 2011, and have done so pretty much every week (except occasional public holidays and the week I had off when the insanely ambitious Stuart Heritage siezed his opportunity) ever since, for 100 weeks in total, not including the Bake Off special I did at Christmas. That’s a lot of first episodes of a lot of TV programmes that I never watched again, assessed in a pithy and I hope lenient manner while sat at a diagonal from the camera, straining at the Autocue, and taking care to rotate my shirts so that the same one doesn’t appear more often than once every six weeks. (Don’t go back and check, nerds, as I’m more vigilant on this score now than I started out being, and anyway, a lot of those black shirts are different black shirts.)
The big celebration is just a normal Telly Addict, except with a rare clip from one of the first shows I reviewed, which I feel sure you’ve all forgotten, Exile on BBC1. From the modern day: the final moments of Broadchurch on ITV; The Politician’s Husband on BBC1; The Wright Way on BBC2; Playhouse Presents: Snodgrass on Sky Arts; Masterchef on BBC1; and a couple of quick nods to Mad Men, and Da Vinci’s Demons.
I’m not on actual telly very much these days – which is partly my own doing: I have turned down a number of opportunities to be on various news couches of late, and I’ve been hard at it behind a laptop for much of the last year, concentrating on what, I hope, I do best – so I cannot resist making a fuss of this. As the Sky subscribers among you may know, as it was heavily trailed, one of the ten ten-minute films packaged up under the umbrella Common Ground, was written by me and Simon Day, its star. Based on a character we originally wrote for a feature-length comedy for C4 called Personal Training, the name of our episode was Colin – also the name of the personal trainer around whom it revolves – and it aired on Monday night on Sky Atlantic. (I am inordinately excited about having had my name flash up onscreen on the same channel that shows Girls and Boardwalk Empire.)
It is the result of two mad days’ filming in and around Clapham Common in early October last year, as blessed production company Baby Cow completed all ten films in 20 consecutive working days, with producer Ali McPhail and director Dave Lambert at the helm, and a redoubtable crew doing all the heavy lifting and keeping a cavalcade of comedians and actors supplied with coffee on parky days. That the results are already on telly is testament to the insane energy of the project, and of Sky’s commissioning process. By definition, it is a curate’s egg, as each ten-minute character piece is written by different writers, and they vary in tone and intent. I like to think of the format as “speed-piloting”. (We all want a longer commission; one or more may get lucky!)
Anyway, we must blame Dave Lambert for insisting that I do a “writer’s cameo” in Colin, which I did. For the benefit of Sky refuseniks, Virgin customers and Sky subscribers who might have been paying attention to the dialogue taking place in the foreground, on the bench, between Simon and young actor Harry Foster (as Colin’s sole, 12-year-old client), this is it. Hey, I co-wrote that dialogue, so I’d rather you were listening to it than watching a man in an all-weather Blue Harbour coat tramp past, right to left, but I was that man. It was me all along! And I think you’ll agree I walked pretty bloody convincingly. Other, trained actors were impressed.
For the record, my favourite of all the Common Ground mini-adventures so far (and there are two to go – 9pm, Sky Atlantic, Monday), has been Sunshine Simon, starring and written by Tom Davis and Eleanor Lawrence. (There’s a free clip here.) I hope that one gets a series.
In a packed Telly Addict this week, I attempt, within the standardised ten-minute timeframe, to review the following: the final episode of Lewis on ITV (albeit without mentioning the name of the murderer in this final two-part mystery); Louie on Fox (which I’ve allowed three weeks to “bed in” before assessing); Common Ground on Sky Atlantic (which is a series of shorts to which I have contributed – this is a diplomatic highwire act!); plus two glossy new US dramas, Nashville on More4, and Vegas on Sky Atlantic, with a quick mention of Friday Night Lights, also on Sky Atlantic and now entering what looks like a scorched-earth fourth season. Don’t say I don’t watch enough telly for you. (Incidentally, the episode of Common Ground I co-wrote with Simon Day, Colin, is on next Monday. I won’t be reviewing it.)
First: it looks like I’m getting two weeks off! So, this week’s Telly Addict, although not a review of the year, acts as an end-of-the-year, end-of-the-world edition. Under review are BBC Sports Personality of the Year, BBC1; the finale of Season Three of Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic (no spoilers); The British Comedy Awards, C4; Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets, Sky Atlantic; Inside Claridge’s, BBC2; and Little Crackers, Sky1.
Secondly, I was also asked to promote The Great British Bake Off as my favourite TV show of 2012 (incorrectly billed as “the best TV programme of 2012″ in their more provocative headline). You can watch my little three-minute film here. Props to the Guardian website people for, once again, flagging this up on the main page. It’s reassuring to see that the commenters below the line have been instantaneous with their comfort and joy.
I watched this once. The presenters heads are completely up their own arses and it’s about the most tedious, poncy, self opinionated, piece of shit I have ever had the misfortune to view. Baking should be fun, with these arseholes it becomes a ritualised chore. More utter bilge from the increasingly bilge-producing BBC.
The middle-class fetishisation of food at a time of austerity – just what a PSB provider should be doing! What next … four celebrities in a big house with all the heating and electricity on talking about how warm and cosy they are?
FFS. We used to have telly like Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation, Malcom Muggeridge, Face to Face, Not Only …But Also... Now we have endless cookery crap and people taking DNA tests live on air. Seriously- God help this country. It ain’t the Royals fault, either.
Corn syrup for undernourished brains.
Utter trash. Pointless competitions make for cheap nasty television. The smug presenters and contestants are horrible.
No names, obviously, as that would be playing into their evil hands. (I like the concept of “self opinionated” though.) So it’s “Goodwill to all men!” to those miserable fuckers, and “Merry Christmas!” to the rest of you. Thanks for viewing this year – in increasing numbers, so I’m told, since we moved to Tuesday mornings. Here’s to another year of me sitting at a slight angle and trying not to wear the same shirt two weeks’ running.
After the unusual step last week of trailing something – The Fear on C4 – you’ll be glad to know that I actually review this week. (We record this on a Monday afternoon and the first of four episodes aired on Monday night, running to four consecutive nights thereafter.) In the event, I’m rather surprised to say that Telly Addict seems to be going out on a limb here in praising The Fear to the rafters, as it was rubbished in many quarters. I was also a fan of the first episode of ITV1′s The Town, by playwright Mike Bartlett, also less so of A Young Doctor’s Notebook on Sky Arts 1, albeit mainly due to a disconnect between me and Russian humour, as it’s based on the semi-autobiographical short stories of Mikhail Bulgakov. Oh, and further mention of ITV3′s re-runs of Man About The House, which are an ongoing pleasure.
Well, after all those months of hype, HBO’s mumblecom Girls finally arrives on Sky Atlantic, and thus on Telly Addict, written by Lena Dunham, directed by Lena Dunham, produced by Lena Dunham, executive produced by Lena Dunham and starring Lena Dunham; another new US import, Elementary, from CBS, starts here on Sky Living, probably not watched by Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat or Sue Virtue; and, belatedly, a look at the first episode of season three of The Walking Dead, on FX here, but AMC over there: with 10.9 million viewers the most watched single cable entertainment telecast of all time, so I’m led to believe. Of course, there’s also room for a quick nibble of The Great British Bake Off Masterclass on BBC2, but though it was designed to make obsessives happy, it served only to make me sad that the actual competition is over. Let’s not be a plait about it.
This is confusing. The most recent Telly Addict went live on Friday afternoon. And here’s a new one? Already? Yes, the people upstairs at the Guardian have decided to spread out their video content across the week, so that it doesn’t bottleneck at the weekends. We negotiated Monday as a new write-and-record date, with a view to “publishing” on a Tuesday morning at around 10am. This will hopefully give us a better chance of being picked up and, even better, viewed. (User numbers predictably drop off at weekends.) Due to the “short week” (ie. the weekend), I have reviewed four comedies that are currently on – and the exquisite Hunderby on Sky Altantic, which has just finished – so, eyes down for the multi-award-winning Fresh Meat, which has returned for its second series to C4; Modern Family, whose fourth season has just started on Sky1; and Nurse Jackie, whose fourth season has just started on Sky Atlantic. If you are a Sky refusenik, then just enjoy the clips of some of the best comedy on telly at the moment, in my opinion. And put Tuesday in your diary. (The Great British Bake Off final will be reviewed then, safely after the event, so that I can actually name the winner and not enrage spoiler-alert whiners!)
People often ask me what it takes to write for TV. I’ll tell you: patience. Actually, patience and perseverance. It was in December 2009 that I was first approached by the exec producer of what would eventually become Gates, a sitcom put into development by Sky. (The series was actually commissioned, if I remember rightly, in April 2011.) Although the kernel of an idea was in place at that stage – a comedy about the comings and goings at the school gates, with particular emphasis on the parents, rather than the kids – the nuts and bolts were yet to be assembled. The producer, Laurence, gathered half a dozen writers from various quarters of the TV firmament and sat them around his kitchen table in February 2010. It’s OK to name us all now, as the show is finally ready to air, next month, on Sky Living – me, Abi Wilson (Jam & Jerusalem), Richard Preddy (Green Wing), Dan Sefton (Holby City) and stand-up Ava Vidal, with Jennifer Saunders at all of the development meetings and acting as script editor on the pilot. Perhaps you’d like to see the very first one-minute trailer? If so, it’s here.
At those early kitchen-table meetings, we grew the entire cast of characters from scratch and created a number of storylines for them. These were then honed into episodes. With the first script written, using a complicated system of farming out various scenes/characters to various writers having all pitched in on the structure in group sessions, we cast for a read-through and the first episode was performed to the bigwigs from Sky. Although very few of the actors survived from that first temporary casting, we were able to forge on with a full series of six once we had the green light, and the final cast were assembled in time for a summer shoot, on location in North London.
Among those cast were Tom Ellis, Joanna Page, Sue Johnston, Will Andrews (seen, incidentally, on Mid Morning Matters on Sky last week on an exercise bike), Nick Mohammed, Catherine Shepherd (seen only the other night on the final Twenty Twelve), Tony Gardner, Ella Kenyon and Adam Deacon. Casting is an inexact science, buffeted by availability and timing, but the cards did seem to fall very well for Gates. I would say that. But there you go.
The cast and crew attended a screening of the first couple of episodes at the end of last year, and then the waiting game began. We learned, to our initial chagrin, that Gates was being held back until the autumn and this felt like an eternity away at the time. But the wait is over. Sky Living is a more “female-friendly” version of Sky One, if I may roll out the virtual flipchart for a moment. As such, I can see why Gates has been chosen to premiere there, as it has a strong female voice, with a female producer (Izzy), female writers and a female script editor for the first episode. (It was commissioned by a female, too!) I’m happy to have played a male part in it. It was like a family. No, really. A family under siege, obviously.
I’m really looking forward to Gates entering the public domain. We all put a lot of work into it, and to have been involved at the ground floor gives an enormous sense of satisfaction. Equally, it’s good for the ego to have worked in a team. No single episode belongs to a single writer – we all worked on all of them, to varying degrees. A lot of what I did was essentially editing, but that’s fine by me. It couldn’t be more different from working solo on Mr Blue Sky. It’s far easier to skulk individually away from a collaborative effort if people don’t like it, or it fails. I don’t anticipate this happening with Gates. As soon as I have the exact TX date, I’ll Tweet the arse out of it.
This is the blog entry I wrote during the shoot last summer, when we all believed that Gates would air in the New Year. There are some nice, esoteric location pics, and a bit more detail about the production, should you be on a course, or something. (I didn’t realised I’d used the same punning title.)
This just in: Episode 1 airs at 8.30 on Tuesday August 14.
Apologies to all Sky refuseniks, as this week, I am forced by professional obligation to cover three whole programmes on Telly Addict that are only available to subscribers to the $3.76bn-contributing eighth of News Corp that provides satellite television. At least you can see a few clips, eh? We’re talking about Sky Atlantic’s big Monday Night Is Comedy Night launch, which includes Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places Of My Life, Sky Atlantic; Veep, Sky Atlantic; and Walking & Talking, Sky Atlantic. I’ve also subjected myself to Man V Food on Dave; and its new sequel Man V Food Nation on The Good Food Channel. However, terrestrially, we have the terrific new cop show Line Of Duty on BBC2, so stop complaining, and, if you refuse to give money to Sky, I hope you didn’t pay to see Prometheus, which also goes to Rupert Murdoch, because News Corp owns 20th Century Fox, which forms a $6.9bn-contributing sixth of his media empire.