Right. I’ve had enough of writing worthy stuff that nobody is interested in. As 2018 comes to a close, I think it’s about time I did something which is just all-out populist. I am more than happy to throw my dignity under a bus for the sake of shareable content.
Here’s when all your favourite TV shows really jumped the shark.
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BBC Media Centre, 4th March 2015:
“At an event co-hosted by BBC Director-General Tony Hall and Shane Allen, Controller of Comedy Commissioning, it was announced that BBC One will host the annual Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture, to be given by a key comedy figure to share his or her experiences and to help inspire others, as well as addressing the present-day challenges and opportunities facing the industry.
Akin to the Reith and Dimbleby lectures, the Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture’s aim is to articulate why comedy matters so much, both on a personal level and how it helps to reflect and define our national character. An inaugural speaker announcement will be made shortly.”
Sure enough, broadcast on the 25th August 2017:
“The inaugural Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture speaker is multi-award-winning comedian, novelist, playwright, film maker and creator of classic sitcoms The Young Ones, Blackadder, The Thin Blue Line and Upstart Crow, Ben Elton. He is introduced by Sir David Jason.
Recorded at the BBC’s Radio Theatre in front of an invited audience from the world of comedy, the lecture is named after the much-loved comedy writer and performer Ronnie Barker, star of The Two Ronnies, Porridge and Open All Hours.”
And what did David Jason say in his introduction in the programme itself?
DAVID JASON: I’m so pleased that the BBC have decided to institute an annual lecture on the art of comedy.
The point: the programme was conceived as an annual lecture, and was described as an annual lecture in the programme itself. With 2018 drawing to an end, then, it seems an appropriate time to ask: where the bloody hell has it gone?
It’s annoying. And it’s annoying because the idea of the lecture was such a fantastic one. I can think of few things better than a funny person talking about comedy for 45 minutes, and then broadcasting it to the nation. “Educational but entertaining… perfect BBC output”, you might say. With the best will in the world, how difficult is it to get someone funny to stand in the Radio Theatre for a while and bang on about comedy?
Indeed, I would argue that naming the lecture after Ronnie Barker and then giving up after a year is a tad disrespectful. If they really weren’t sure they could make it an annual event, it was unwise to sell it as one. They could have just named last year’s The Ben Elton Comedy Lecture, do it potentially as a one-off, and give themselves some leeway.
Still, surely there isn’t a struggle for things to talk about. Last year, Ben Elton made the case for studio sitcom – a topic extremely relevant to Ronnie Barker’s work. I would argue another topic equally as relevant to Barker is the current dearth of sketch comedy on television. The odd show like Tracey Breaks the News aside, there’s virtually nothing – and the lack of sketch shows on TV is incredibly damaging to the health of comedy in 2018. True, if the BBC broadcast that lecture, plenty of people would just yell “commission some, then”. But the BBC has a long and proud history of self-flagellation, and I don’t see why this should be any different.
Although at this point, I’d probably settle for somebody standing on stage and telling us YouTube is the future of comedy. Anything, in fact, than a great idea being thrown away so quickly. I mean, I thought there was a possibility it might peter out after three years or so.
But after one is just ridiculous.
This year, I have been writing for Red Dwarf fansite Ganymede & Titan for a full 15 years. Anybody sensible would think that was more than enough, and go and do something else instead.
Spoiler: I am not sensible.
Recently I published two articles over there which might interest you, taking a look at the set design of the first couple of series. There’s this piece about the reuse of a certain corridor set, and then there’s this piece about the disappearing and reappearing Captain’s Office set. These are the first two parts of an ongoing series which should continue into next year.
I’ve got to admit, it’s been fun writing these. I sometimes find Red Dwarf a little hard to write about these days; we’ve all talked about the old shows endlessly, so going over the same old thing can feel a little dull. Meanwhile, the new shows don’t really capture my imagination in a way which makes me want to write about them. But this really is a topic that hasn’t been talked about in quite this way before. I’ve watched those old shows countless times, but when you put everything else aside just to look at how those sets were put together, it’s amazing what new things you can spot.
I sometimes think there are two kinds of people. Those who understand why I find stuff like deleted scenes, unbroadcast pilots, and the reuse of sets to be fascinating… and those who can’t even begin to understand. I don’t think it’s even a geeks v. non-geeks thing per se: there are plenty of geeks who only care about a show in-universe, and possibly its cast members, rather than how the show was put together.
They won’t get a single thing out of this. But if you’re a silly person like me, then hopefully you’ll enjoy them.
On a short trip to Amsterdam last weekend, I visited Anne Frank House, somewhere which feels depressingly relevant to 2018 in a way I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. And while I am not a religious man, when I actually walked into the Secret Annex, where Anne hid with seven others for two years… it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to stepping into a sacred place.
I cannot hope to get across my feelings as I walked round the annex. But I want to just mention one thing that I found really striking.
As you enter the museum, you pick up an audio guide from the wall. You can either use your own headphones, or just stick the guide next to your ear. As you cross into the various rooms – and up some startlingly steep staircases – you scan the number on the wall, and off you go.
Except when you reach the Secret Annex. The entrance stands before you, hidden by a movable bookcase. And your audio guide calmly informs you… no, there won’t be any entries while you’re in the annex. You’re on your own. They’ll pick up again once you leave.
This does a number of things. It stops the perhaps slightly tasteless sight of a load of tourists walking around the annex with an audio guide jammed up against their ear. More importantly, it makes each visitor to stop, and actually experience the annex first hand, rather than zone out listening to someone else talk about it. It forces you to actually be there, in other words.
But subtly, it does something else. It says: this part of the museum is different. That it’s all very well walking around the rest of the house, half looking around, half listening to the audio guide… but the annex is special. This is not just another random part of a random museum, where data flaps unbidden into your mind.
And so, when you leave… it lingers.
…or certainly up there, anyway.
I’ve talked before about Jon Wolfert’s Sunday Jingle Show, and how you should all be listening to it. If you can’t be bothered to click on that link: Sundays, 3pm ET/8pm GMT on Rewound Radio, stuffed full of great radio and advertising jingles.
Well, usually great, anyway. Unless I send in a request to the show. Then, I’m afraid, you get the dregs.
Download “Rewound Radio (04/11/18) – Ecology” (12.5MB MP3, 8:41)
After a week’s break, the show is back tonight. So if you want to listen to someone who knows damn well what they’re talking about take a little trip through the history of radio, then give it a listen.
It’s often the highlight of my week; if you like the kind of thing I post here, I think it could be yours, too.
Here’s something from the Radio Times, brought to my attention via TV Forum: an odd little piece about the BBC2 Dad’s Army ident that never was.
Odd, because unused TV idents aren’t exactly the kind of thing the Radio Times usually writes about. I mean, I’d love it if it was, but let’s face it: the only reason this article was published is because it’s about Dad’s Army, a sitcom everyone is still obsessed over, despite the fact that It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi!, and You Rang, M’Lord? are all much better.
Enough of my irritating opinions on comedy. I’m here to give some irritating opinions on TV presentation instead. Let’s take a look at the rejected ident in question:
I mean, it’s beautiful. Really beautiful. Very nicely animated, and the inclusion of the Isle of Wight on the 2 really sells it as what it’s supposed to be. In and of itself as a standalone thing, it’s one of the best pieces of TV presentation I’ve seen for ages. It’s clearly made with a tremendous amount of love and respect for the show.
It wouldn’t have worked as an ident in front of Dad’s Army. Not even remotely.
You could perhaps query the inclusion of Nazi symbols on a piece of TV presentation, but that’s not my main problem with it. Nor is my problem covered in the reason the BBC gave for rejecting it:
“Ultimately, however, the BBC decided not to use the homage to those original opening credits. “They said some very nice things about it and it was clearly something that was under discussion for some time,” continues Norton. “However, they told us that they wanted to move away from content-specific idents on BBC2 and wanted more general idents that could serve all programmes across the channel.”
Here’s my problem with it: stop thinking of the proposed ident as a nice standalone piece of video, and start thinking of how it actually would have been used, in front of an episode of Dad’s Army. Just imagine the ident running, the announcer talking over it, introducing the episode… and then going into the actual title sequence, which looks identical. It would be such a weird, jarring repetition of what you’d just seen. Something which looks utterly magical in isolation, would look naff when used in context.1
Linear television is more than just individual elements, slammed next to each other. What the viewer has just seen impacts on what they’re just about to see. And as the various parts of television get ever-more siloed off, seeing the big picture of what is transmitted when everything gets put together becomes more and more difficult. It’s vital that this overview is protected, and strengthened, across all of television.
Otherwise, you don’t just end up with the oddity of seeing a pastiche of a title sequence followed by the real title sequence. You end up with idents accidentally mocking the dead.
WordPress – the publishing software used as the backend for this very website – is undergoing a few growing pains at the moment. Either that, or – depending on who you believe – it’s blowing itself apart, much as Movable Type managed to do back in 2004.
Not that the outcry about WordPress is to do with pricing – it remains free. No, the outcry about the upcoming release of WordPress 5.0 is to do with Gutenberg – a brand new Editor, which entirely changes the way you write your posts. To say it has been controversial is putting it mildly. Just check the ratings on the current plugin version.
I’m not making any judgement on Gutenberg – at least, not yet. I’ll have a play with it when WordPress 5.0 is released, and see if I like it or not. If I do, great. If I don’t, I’ll go back to the classic Editor (available as a plugin), and think about my options. No, my issue is with how it’s being sold to us.
Take a look at this testimonial, on the official page on Gutenberg:
The editor is just the beginning
“This will make running your own blog a viable alternative again.”
— Adrian Zumbrunnen
Question: what do they think people have been doing with WordPress for years? Feeding the cat with it?
Gutenberg is a serious change to the very heart of the WordPress experience. This is a tricky proposition at the best of times: and it needs selling to people who already love using WordPress. WordPress’s answer to that? By quoting someone who says that using WordPress isn’t currently viable.
It’s literally one of the most tone-deaf pieces of advertising I have ever seen. People use WordPress because they love using WordPress. It’s one thing to tell someone what what they’re currently using is going to be improved. It’s quite another to tell your own users that what they’re currently using is shit, and not a viable choice.
Or, as one reply has it:
I try not to patronise you too much on here.1 I write the literal opposite of clickbait. While it’s lovely when something I write gets a few clicks, chasing that leads to utter madness. Writing Dirty Feed is supposed to be fun.2 However, I have to confess that sometimes an element of… calculation comes into the timing of what I publish. So it was with my collection of April Fools jokes played out in the pages of old BBC Micro magazines, published on the 1st April, because… of course that’s when you publish it. And I thought it was something that might gain some traction and find a little bit of an audience.
So I sent it out there, back in 2015. And it did… fine. Not spectacular numbers, even for this site – I thought it’d do more – but fine. I linked to it a few times on Twitter in subsequent years, updated it a little in 2017, and job done.
Until something interesting happened over this last weekend, that is. The piece got linked to in the latest b3ta newsletter. And just take a quick look at my stats for the April Fools article, especially the number for this month:
More people have just read (or at least clicked on) the piece than at any time previously. In fact, over twice as many people have read it this month than back in April 2015, when it was originally published. This was a piece designed to be linked to on April Fools Day to get a bit of interest. b3ta get hold of it just now, nowhere near April Fools and… bang.
You can never tell how stuff will end up being read. All my careful planning meant nothing.
And all this is exactly why I keep bleating on about keeping the archives of what you make online. If I’d yanked that piece offline after a year, for whatever reason, it would have lost the majority of people who ended up reading it. As it was, it was just sitting there… waiting to be discovered, and to have a little moment in the spotlight. Just a little moment – it’s not like it racked up thousands of hits. But that’s fine. I don’t need a piece to get thousands of hits.
Because I love people reading my old articles full stop. I think of Dirty Feed as an archive. What’s on the front page isn’t the most important thing about the site. It’s what’s buried in the archives which makes me happy.3 And my favourite thing is when someone tells me they’ve just spent ages in the archives, clicking around on things which looked interesting to them. I think of the site as a complete entity: the last ten posts are a tiny part of the whole.
There’s far too many things competing for people’s attention these days. Even if it’s a piece I’m really proud of, there’s no guarantee people will react to it straight away. But that doesn’t matter. It can just sit there… waiting. Some of them will be found eventually. And that’s enough.
If you found this piece and enjoyed it in 2028: hey there. I love you.
When Season 1 of Serial started near the end of 20141, it inspired many serious pieces of analysis. Whether it was taking on the subject matter itself and probing further, or discussions about whether the podcast was even a moral thing to produce in the first place, the world was not exactly short of Serial thinkpieces.
I’m not here to talk about any of that. What I want to talk to is altogether sillier, so by all means click away if you’re expecting anything about the main topic of the podcast itself, about which I can offer no insight. We’re nowhere near any of that territory.
What I want to talk about is: Mail…kimp?
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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with TV pilots.
TV pilots of all kinds. Shows which eventually made it to the screen virtually untouched as part of a series, like The Young Ones episode Demolition. Shows which made it to screen, but which were substantially or entirely reshot for the series proper, such as Citizen Smith. One-offs which aired, but never became a series – remember Mirrorball? And then there’s my favourite: pilots which were never broadcast, either because they were never intended to be in the first place, or because substantial changes happened between the pilot and the series… or because they were a complete fucking disaster in every single respect.
There are so many of these unbroadcast pilots I’d love to see. There’s the 1986 pilot Dungeon Doom… followed by a second, also unbroadcast pilot under the more familiar name Knightmare in 1987. Similarly, 1983 saw an unnamed pre-pilot, followed by a full pilot called UNTV… with a series appearing the year after, a certain Spitting Image. Then there’s Paul O’Grady’s version of The Generation Game, which by rights should have been the BBC’s big entertainment hit of 2003… and wouldn’t you just love to watch the two pilots they made to see exactly why that didn’t happen?
Occasionally, such pilots get to see the light of day on DVD, if they ended up as successful shows. Sherlock saw its unbroadcast 60 minute version of A Study in Pink released. The Day Today is one of the most obvious comedy examples, with the bare bones of the show there… but the visual panache of the series very much not. And then there’s Doctor Who, where the DVD set The Beginning contains the complete unedited pilot recording, and a brand new edit combining the best of all the raw session’s takes. Because, y’know, Doctor Who.
With comedy, it’s easy to wish so much more was released.1 Blackadder is the most obvious example here, with a pilot which had never been officially put out on DVD, presumably due to somebody not wishing it to be out there.2 Slightly further afield, I would do anything3 to see A Big Bunch of Hippies, the pilot for the underrated sitcom Hippies – and even if you didn’t like the show, its unbroadcast pilot was the last TV show scripted jointly by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, which is surely of interest to the discerning comedy fan.4
But occasionally, we get lucky. Hello Drop the Dead Donkey, Channel 4’s truly excellent 90s newsroom sitcom… which actually released its unbroadcast pilot on DVD in 2005. And watching it in the context of that first series from 1990 is rather instructive.
Let’s instruct ourselves, shall we?
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