Questions

Andy Burnham used to be our culture secretary and he gave the thumbs down on product placement on British TV. Ace! Ben Bradshaw, his successor might just be giving it the thumbs up. Drat!

I understand why TV suits want some product placement on our shows. Advertising revenue has fallen through the floorboards and, relatively speaking, the TV stations are stony broke. However, I’m not especially keen on the whole notion of product placement.

Of course, I realise that this very article is surrounded by advertisements. Even some of the words in this rant will be highlighted as keywords to generate cash for my bosses. So any anti-advertising angle I may take may seem rather hypocritical.

Naturally, I have nothing against advertising per se. I do have issues with the blurring of commercial endeavour and drama.

It’s difficult to swallow a convieniently placed beer can or watch whilst trying to get into a gripping storyline or whatever.

This has been going on in The States for ages now… there was a toe-curling scene in one episode of Heroes which saw Claire turning the show into a commercial for a brand of car. It was needless and stuck out like a sore thumb.

On it goes. Jack Bauer uses Dell Computers, the Sex and the City crones aren’t exactly shy about promoting various shoe makes. American Idol is well known for the Coke cups that sit on their desks.

Apparently, in the US, even the subtitling is sponsored which is hardly surprising when you consider most shows are pretty much one third commercials.

When talking about this, I’m always reminded of the one that got away… and that was in Britain. In one episode of Only Fools and Horses, Del was continually seen drinking cans of Heineken, label side out, drinking in profile. Yet no-one ever mentions it.

Naturally, product placement is a part of real life. If you drink fizzy pop, chances are you’re not covering it up in the hope that you’re not influencing anyone. In Sex and the City for example, you kinda understand why they’re going on about Shoe A by Designer X.

That said, I am grateful that British TV hasn’t succumbed to becoming a walking advertorial for the highest bidder. For that reason alone, we can feel slightly smug about ‘artistic integrity’, even if it is a load of old cobblers.

What’s more, we could miss out on all those fun, invented products like Honey Bee Flakes or Newton and Ridley ales.

Still, TV could stand to make more than £100m a year through this which will hopefully make for better shows to watch. I thinks it’s fair to assume that the broadcasters will have to be a bit smart about the ways in which a product is placed… devaluing their own shows would be suicide. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.

(These words were typed on a Xygiano Steam-Powered EcoComputer and the writer was powered by KerBlammo! The energy drink for those who think!)

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has become something of a paradox. He’s got first world problems yet, he’s trying to live like he’s in the third world.

Okay, that seems a bit glib, but you know what I mean. He’s concerned about the welfare of animals which, admittedly, is an admirable thing… all the while, advising that we go and catch our own tea in the sea or grow our own meals in the garden.

However, at a time when humans feel like they’re suffering, with their houses being repossessed, losing their jobs and generally eyeing up those tins of corned beef because the days of sirloin have passed, it seems a bit trite to be on the box and preach whilst we all look on with utter lifestyle envy.

That said, the aforementioned gripes aren’t my real bugbear with Hugh. Basically, I’m just tired of getting preached at. I am weary.

In last night’s Hugh Goes Fishing or whatever it was called, our Hippie 2.0 talked about the environmental impact of catching fish and the like, all the while, completely forgetting that he’d driven from his rural southern idyll all the way to Scotland. There’s a lot of petrol/diesel fumes coming from your direction, son.

This is what I’ve resorted to.

See, I don’t normally pick the holes in the armchair like this… but people on the TV don’t constantly go on at me and how I could live my life better. If this was 10 Years Younger, trying to improve my face, I’d give it such a royal beating and not think twice about it.

Instead, with Hugh, I’m just tired and cranky. I haven’t got the energy to pick a fight and instead, like someone barking at you from the front of the classroom, I’ve developed a system where I can cancel Hugh out with the white noise in my head.

There’s no question he seems like a nice enough chap and I really would like to go to one of those wild boar hog bashes he throws in his shows… however, his shows are becoming a chore to watch. The envy I have of his life is slowly eroding with each bit of advice thrown my way.

Going catching my own meals is not really an option for someone who has an actual job. By the time 6pm comes around and I’m all worded out, or indeed, my girlfriend comes home from the office, the last thing we want to do is begin planning a fishing trip in the Hebrides to catch some mackeral.

Sometimes you want a McDonald’s, y’know?

Tonight sees the start of Masterchef The Professionals (BBC Two, 8:30pm) which sees young chefs who work in professional kitchens all vying for a trophy that looks like an electric ring on a ’70s hob.

Masterchef has become something of a franchise which is staggering if you consider the old format of the show which featured Lloyd Grossman tottering around a rubbish, cavernous studio drawling out his vowels over creamy whatnots and blanched thingummybobs. As a child, I would sometimes catch it on the box and feel like it was broadcast for 16 hours at a time.

I hated it.

Then came the revamped version with Gregg Wallace bellowing “Cooking doesn’t get better than this!”, Torode looking like a coked out Serpico and general Never Looking At The Camera And Yelling At Each Other From An Inch Away Of Each Others Faces.

It was fun!

However, of late, the joke has started to fray as the show has stopped being a camp pleasure, rather, something that seems to be taking itself increasingly seriously. What’s more, it’s losing its raison d’etre.

You see, Masterchef is always most fun when we watch the development of rank amateurs and the emotional highs and lows and all that box ticking journey television gunk. Now the makers of the show seem more intent on giving us the celebrity version and the ‘professional’ version. Two groups of people that, really, we only have a passing interest in such formats.

Also, in this ProVersion, Torode is replaced with the charmless Michel Roux Jr. who fails to add the warmth when Gregg is getting into supreme bellowing mode. He just stands there… all thin and fuzzy like a gaunt Alan Sugar.

The recent trailers for the show see the line that this new show has “no time for amateurs” and boy, don’t we know it.

This show is in danger of derailing if its not careful… so do us a favour eh? Bring back those that need the opportunity given by Masterchef as opposed to those already a few rungs up the ladder from us proles.

England’s next qualifying match could be streamed exclusively on the internet suggest reports.

Oh dear.

Imagine the glee when fans, stood at a big projected screen in a pub realise that John Terry isn’t nonchalently standing near a hovering beach ball taunting the opposition, but rather, the landlord’s Apple Mac is ‘having a think’.

Imagine the pained yowls of The Blue Screen Of Death appearing at some pivotal moment or that irritating buffering that goes on with live feed as fans stagger around looking for a piece of internet to kick.

After the 5-1 demolition of Croatia, England are assured qualification, which is nice. However, the downside of this is that the next game against Ukraine is effectively dead skin.

As such, there’s nothing hanging on the match itself. So international football agency Kentaro, who have been appointed to sell the rights by the Ukrainian FA, need to find a replacement for Setanta, who the deal was originally done with.

Apparently the BBC, ITV, Sky, Five, ESPN didn’t offer enough buck, so it has gone for some group called Perform, who is an online sports broadcaster.

Viewers will probably be expected to pay between £4.99 and £11.99 depending on how early they signed up. However, I’m guessing that most won’t bother as they’ll let someone else do it and try watching it down the pub or wait for whichever channel bags the highlights.

Personally, I think it is too early for something like this to work. Most people like to watch football en masse, which often means getting the mates round with a load of beer and yelling at the screen. Somehow, sitting around a computer monitor doesn’t cut the same mustard.

The gloves are off! Which gloves? The fighting gloves. The battle between The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing is to go bareknuckle to see who reigns supreme in the tussle of Variety.

Weirdly, this has conjured up an image of a Fight Club style face-off in a basement between a shirtless Simon Cowell and Bruce Forsyth. No offence Brucie, but if it came down to it, I can see Cowell putting you in a coma before you’ve even managed to scuff his high waistband.

Of course, the battle between each camp will force fans of the shows into making a decision for the first time as the programmes have traditionally aired with pretty much zero overlap.

So, from now on, at 7.30pm, people will have to make an agonising decision (calm down, it’s only TV – Ed.) between the two shows. This year the first two weeks of Strictly will air on Friday and Saturday night. From week three the show will take over Saturday nights with one long episode, including the results.

So what are you deciding between?

Well, as we know, The X Factor is an exercise in laughing at the idiots who are seemingly dragged in off the street to murder Robbie Williams songs (and that’s saying something) whilst Strictly Come Dancing gives us all the chance to look at sparkly things like drooling magpies. Of course, they both share an upward curve of People Getting A Bit Better At Doing Things As The Show Progresses.

However, whilst both shows share a similar feeling, they are clearly very different from each other. The X Factor (irritating, granted) feels modern and kinda hip, Strictly (irritating, granted) feels a bit musty and old fashioned. Yet both have captured the nations attentions and heart… so who will win this battle royale?

Readers, over to you…

Get this! Richard Curtis, the bloke who was a driving force behind Comic Relief, the bloke who brought us Four Weddings and a Funeral and loads of other soppy middle class quirkfests… but more importantly, he’s the man behind Blackadder… and he’s going to write an episode for Doctor Who.

Let the conspiracy begin.

Curtis will write one of the episodes starring the new doctor, Matt Smith and filming for the new series has already kicked off, with transmission due next year.

Concerning the plot, Curtis said: “There will be a monster. And a famous historical figure will battle the monster.”

“It’s tremendously good fun and a treat for my children,” Curtis told today’s Sun. “These days the things you can watch together as a family are much fewer so when you get something like Doctor Who or The X Factor it is such a pleasure to sit down as a family.”

He added: “I am very interested in time travel for some reason or other. I am writing a film about it but on a low budget with no spectacular special effects. Maybe it’s a desire to get out of being old. Sometimes you do just love the idea that you could go back in time and change things.”

So who is this famous historical character going to be? Well, a monster suggests it could be St George or something… but I’m more into the idea that it could be Blackadder himself! Imagine that? Rowan Atkinson treading out the old hangdog face, dripping in sarcasm in the face of the pipsqueak Doctor! It’d be great!

(…but unlikely… I know, I know)

There’s trouble brewing. This trouble is in the shape of the BNP. You see, the BNP have been invited to guest on Question Time, the topical debate show which blah blah blah… you know what it is surely?

Denis McShane in The Guardian is calling the whole thing a ‘disgraceful PR stunt’ and that the BBC should not be allowing “fascists” a platform in which to speak.

While it’s true that, personally speaking of course, Nick Griffin & Co have a dreadful agenda… however, as Voltaire said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

The fact is, not allowing the BNP a platform in which to speak with deny the gathered throng the right to lay the smackdown on him in a very public forum. It’s clear that most people find Griffin’s politics abhorrent and as such, if he is given the chance to speak, then in turn, there will be a throng of people itching to have their reply.

We The People don’t often get the chance to harangue politicians and we should thrill at the chance to do so. In the case of Griffin, he’s notoriously hermit like, only mixing with those that agree with his views or TV pundits. Now, for the first time, we could well see the fear in his eyes as he is shot at from all angles by furious members of the public.

Also, giving him the chance to spout, unedited, he may well dig his own grave and show everyone how appalling his views really are.

This is a wonderful chance for the public to flex their muscle about what they think is right and that right shouldn’t be taken away because some rag thinks it’s in bad taste. Sure, what he says is clearly wrong, but in a democracy, we really do have to listen to everything… even the stuff we really don’t like.

This could be the most important episode of Question Time in years and well worth tuning in for.

As well you know, Channel 4 is getting rid of Big Brother (more on that here). At the moment, Sky One and ITV look favourites to land the show which, for those that hate the programme, is invariably bad news.

However, for fans of Channel 4, this is good news. The loss of Big Brother apparently frees up over £50million for the broadcaster and, more importantly (for a viewer at least) frees up hours and hours of broadcasting time for other shows.

So what should Channel 4 do with all that time and money?

One thing that the broadcaster could look into is a new sitcom. It’s feels like too long since Channel 4 had a big sitcom. The last big hitter I can think of is Green Wing. For a Channel that gave us Father Ted, Black Books, Teachers, Spaced, Peep Show and Phoenix Nights, the current new crop has either been too short lived (Free Agents) or repeats from E4 (The Inbetweeners).

Another big success in recent years was Channel 4’s cricket coverage, which won over many people and converted them to a sport that has long been a source of puzzlement to those who Just Didn’t Get It. So maybe, this time and money could be spend on that or another sport?

Comedy has always been Channel 4’s strength over the years, yet presently, it’s all a bit lame. They certainly need to pump some money into a new comedy that doesn’t star Kevin f***ing Bishop.

A good shout would be to give recent Edinburgh Comedy Award winner, Tim Key a regular vehicle… or maybe Mark Watson… two very funny and much loved comics.

However, there’s a horrible, sneaking feeling I have that Channel 4 will wander over to the reality genre again, looking to plug the gap left by Big Brother. I hope I’m wrong about this hunch. However, with ad-revenues down right across the board, the broadcaster will invariably look toward something that will create coins for them, as opposed to kudos.

Channel 4 has always felt like the brattish, floppy fringed little brother to the other Big Channels and when it starts playing by their rules, it is often left wanting. Here’s to hoping they do something a little off-centre.

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are returning to our screens next week with Shooting Stars. Not only that, they’re eschewing the commissioners and over sensitive editors (blame Wossy etc) by putting the second series of their sitcom Catterick online.

While on the promotional trail, they decided to stick the boot in on the current crop of comedy.

Reeves said: “I think comedy probably is a young man’s game but it’s gone a bit stale at the moment.” Mortimer added: “It doesn’t feel like there’s been that much new. I think the Mighty Boosh are quite good. But I could have been watching this new crop – Michael McIntyre and people – 20 years ago.”

Reeves said: “When we were doing Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, they were the kind of people that were around, and we came along and did something different. And they’re still there. There’s nothing new.”

Surely though, bringing back a 15 year old comedy show is hardly forward thinking?

“It didn’t feel cynical bringing it back – there’s nothing much like it. There’s a big difference between this and, like, Mock the Week and the other panel shows,” said Mortimer. “I don’t think Shooting Stars has ever successfully been replaced. There have been a few attempts – ITV2 did one with Leigh Francis, a sort of madcap thing … A few of the quizzes, even like QI, took a bit of Shooting Stars on board with silly buzzers and things, but it’s a gap that’s never been filled.”

So has comedy gone stale? Well, the stand-up circuit is as lively as ever with some incredibly talented funnyfolk coming through the ranks. However, concerning television, they certainly seem to have a point. I mean, hands up if you’re stupid enough to laugh at The Kevin Bishop Show or The TNT Show?

Perhaps comedians aren’t the problem, but rather, as alluded to in the Catterick Goes Internet thing, the problem lies in those that commission shows. Have they lost their nerve? Stewart Lee was a success… and hip, smart and edgy. But would they employ someone like Doug Stanhope on a regular basis? Methinks not.

Are you ready for the return of the biggest, silliest, gaudiest, loudest TV show on Earth? Yessir, The X Factor is returning and it’s going to take over the world for the duration of transmission whether you like it or not.

On Saturday at 7pm, Britain’s weirdest talent show returns for a brand new series. Judges Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Dannii Minogue and Louis Walsh will look for hopefuls and baulk at weirdos and people who sing so badly that they could buckle skyscrapers with their putrid voices.

The heats start in London, before moving on to Manchester and Glasgow. Of course, Simon and Louis will fall out and Dermot O’Leary will host with a wry smile as ever.

While the final stages of the show feel like Wrestling For Girls, with the explosions, dramatic music, off-stage spats and panto booing, the opening feels a bit more like watching a weird alternate universe darts league, with podgy people sweating under bright lights and trembling with the pressure.

Whether you like it or not is almost a moot point. It’s an all pervading programme that gobbles up everything in its wake, leaving people who Normally Hate This Sort Of Thing sporadically tuning in and muttering foul words under their breath.

The X Factor: Polarising people into those that hate it and those that don’t watch. It’s an insane, heady brew that will make you feel dizzy and drunk.

In TV terms, it’s pretty much perfect television. Don’t you dare try and get in its way.

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