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12.06.18

The Churn

Posted 12th June 2018

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Jonah Nolan1, guesting on the podcast Scriptnotes, Episode #352:

“…I’ve done broadcast TV, and I’d very gotten very used to the sort of endless churn. I liken broadcast TV to getting a tie caught in a shredder. You’re just fucking all in. The prevailing rule of broadcast television for decades was once you’ve got that magic formula, that franchise of cast and characters and the story of the week, you just keep doing that. And I never had any interest in that whatsoever.

I think with Westworld much more explicitly we set out not using the rules of television, because TV has now expanded to fit so many different formats, it’s kind of the Wild West. We looked more at the rules for franchise filmmaking.”

Me? I love the churn. The churn is responsible for some of the best moments of television ever.

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The churn gets you the angriest episode of Frasier ever made. The churn gets you Coronation Street‘s widely-praised storyline about Aidan’s suicide. The churn gets you endless fun on CBBC live links; tons of material, written fast, rehearsed minutes before transmission. The very definition of churn, and stuff which has had me hooting so loudly you could hear me three streets away.

And the churn gets you moments like the Star Trek: Voyager episode Course: Oblivion. Oh, I could have cheated here, and dug up a widely-acknowledged Next Generation classic: Yesterday’s Enterprise, for instance, which was done in such a ridiculous time crunch five people worked on the teleplay just to get the damn thing finished. Course: Oblivion is a divisive episode at the very least, and is rarely considered one of the best Trek episodes ever made.

But it’s a fascinating example of what the churn of television can create. The story of an entirely duplicate Voyager crew, which would never exist if Voyager was a carefully-plotted, 10 episodes a year kind of show. It’s a sideshow – the kind of episode which has many people asking “Who cares – they’re not our characters.”

Or put another way, it’s Voyager having the freedom to say: “What the hell, we’ve got 25 other episodes this year – let’s just do something weird and see what happens”. An episode so nihilistic it barely feels like a Trek episode at times, as our duplicate crew go unremittingly towards their destruction, through no fault of their own. And yet the episode is far from pointless; it’s about the need to be remembered, for your life to mean something. As co-writer Nick Sagan puts it: “it’s about loss and remembering, death and grief.”

I love it to bits. And we owe its existence to the churn of weekly television.

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The churn is “Shit, what the fuck do we do this week?” – and coming up with an answer. Sometimes, the answer is crap. Sometimes, it’s merely fine.

But sometimes, it’s amazing. And you can end up in places it’s difficult to get to with your 10-episodes-a-year, we’re-really-just-one-long-movie-style plotting. Not necessarily superior places, not always. But places we may never otherwise have gone.

As ever: let’s embrace all the different ways we can make television.


  1. Who, incidentally, thinks that The Prisoner doesn’t contain any actual penny-farthings

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04.04.18

“Television is a waste of time, people”

Posted 4th April 2018

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Khoi Vinh, “Movies Watched, 2017”, 5th January 2018:

“That beats my 2016 total by five and averages out to just under sixteen a month, a pace I credit to my continued adherence to a largely television-free diet. I’m going into my third year doing this now and I don’t miss TV much at all, especially as eschewing it has afforded me the time to watch and re-watch so many great or obscure or fondly remembered movies that I’d never be able to otherwise. Television is a waste of time, people.”

Khoi Vinh, “Movies Watched, February 2018”, 8th March 2018:

Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle” Also hilarious.

Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle is not a movie, but a television programme, originally made and broadcast by Sky in 2016. And not only is it a television programme, but it’s a parody which makes fun of the conventions of a certain kind of television documentary. It only fully works in the context of it being a television programme.

If you’re going to dismiss an entire artform, by all means do so. But it’s probably best to be consistent about it, rather than pretending the bits you like are actually movies instead.

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06.08.17

Bob Says It’ll Be Alright on Carrott’s Commercial Wars

Posted 6th August 2017

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Ah, Sunday. Where the vast majority of my Twitter feed seems to want to sit around and read/watch/talk about telly. So in lieu of anything else new here, I thought I’d point you towards a load of articles and videos other people have done instead.

Enjoy.

i.
First off, we have some brilliant analysis of Robot Wars by Christopher Wickham. Fancy learning about a robot which was renamed between the BBC Choice showing, and its BBC Two repeat? Or what about a rigged trial round? Or, indeed, a rigged Grand Final? Or a bunch of other obscure trivia about the show? Most of the CONTROVERSIAL BITS discussed have associated YouTube links, and I highly recommend you don’t rush through them – sit back and watch the fights in full alongside the articles. It’s worth it. Even when it’s difficult to nail down exactly what happened, some of those fights look very strange indeed in the final edit.

Out of all of the above, perhaps the thing which blows my mind the most is the existence of Robot Wars Revealed – a 1998 BBC Choice behind-the-scenes spin-off series. It being the early days of digital television, hardly anyone saw it – and seemingly only one episode is in general circulation. It’s incredible how easily things can slip away; even programmes made in the last 20 years. What programmes are you watching now that in 2037 you’ll think “Oh, I wish I could see that again”, and be unable to?

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17.05.17

The only post on the internet which uses McDonald’s to talk about the intricacies of television playout

Posted 17th May 2017

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McDonald's logo on black

Let’s take one of this site’s brief excursions into something which is actually a current news story.

“McDonald’s has decided to withdraw its latest TV advert, which was criticised for exploiting childhood bereavement.

The fast food giant had already apologised for “upset” caused by the advert, first aired on 12 May.

It features a boy who struggles to find something in common with his dead father until he goes to McDonald’s.

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s said the British advert will be removed from all media this week and it will review its creative process to avoid a repeat.”

I don’t really want to get into whether the advert is offensive or not; there are plenty of places elsewhere where you can get into that kind of debate. I want to pull my usual trick and pick out one sentence in the story and talk about something entirely different instead.

Today, that sentence is the following:

“Due to the lead-times required by some broadcasters, the last advert will air on Wednesday 17 May.”

My response: what the fuck?

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19.03.17

The Cook Report: Colin Stagg

Posted 19th March 2017

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The Cook Report, 26th November 1996, ITV, 8:30pm:

ROGER COOK: Colin Stagg was the the prime suspect in the Rachel Nickell murder case. He was charged after an undercover policewoman enticed him to talk about his fantasies of sex and violence. A judge threw the case out before a jury was even sworn in, and condemned the murder squad’s tactics. Although innocent in the eyes of the law, many people still see him as guilty.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

COLIN STAGG: There’s nothing there to tie me in with any crime whatsoever.
ROGER COOK: There’s no forensic evidence.
COLIN STAGG: No forensic, no.
ROGER COOK: Which there wouldn’t be, one would think, after two months. If there had been, it would have gone, wouldn’t it?

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

COLIN STAGG: Nobody can remember what they were watching on TV two months ago, at a certain time, but it was around about that time quiz programmes were coming on.
ROGER COOK: So it fitted what you needed to say, some people might say?

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: Question 28 on the lie detector test said “Are you a violent man?” – and you said…
COLIN STAGG: I said no.
ROGER COOK: Right. Did you stab your brother?

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: There are two good examples of violence there.
COLIN STAGG: I was reacting like any normal human being would.
ROGER COOK: Well, that’s for others to judge, I guess. Some people though would say that this is another example of your continuing inconsistencies, and that there have been so many untruths, so many lies told, perhaps you don’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: In all, Lizzie James was sent dozens of letters, each more revolting and sexually depraved than the last, some disturbingly similar to the attack on Rachel.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.1

ROGER COOK: But the lie detector was only one of three tests we asked Colin Stagg to take. We also took him to a hypnotist used by many doctors, who told us he’d resisted all attempts to induce hypnosis. And after a psychiatrist explained that the truth drug – though completely safe – was also difficult to defeat, he finally refused to take it.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: Yet all these other questions, Colin Stagg, remain unanswered.
COLIN STAGG: I’ve answered them as best as I could, and I did my best.
ROGER COOK: Then it’s up to the viewers to decide who to believe.
COLIN STAGG: Fair enough.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

*   *   *

One final thing, in case anyone thinks that all this is very easy to point out with the benefit of hindsight. When Colin Stagg was acquitted in 1994, Justice Ognall said the honeytrap set by the Met police was “not merely an excess of zeal, but a blatant attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind”.

That was 1994. This episode of The Cook Report was 1996. And yet it constantly relies on clip after clip after clip of Stagg’s police interview, along with Cook stating the police’s point of view over and over again.

To call this programme reprehensible doesn’t need hindsight. It’s the fact the programme entirely missed the actual story which was plainly in front of them which is hard to believe.


  1. Thank fuck Roger Cook doesn’t have access to my browser history. He’d have me down as Jack the Ripper within minutes. 

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08.02.17

Hi-de-Hi! Edits #4: Goodnight Campers

Posted 8th February 2017

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Ted and Peggy

So, here we are. After looking at the pilot, Series 1, and Series 2 through 5, we reach the conclusion of our series of articles comparing Hi-de-Hi! as released on DVD, and the version repeated on BBC Two last year. Unfortunately, we run into a little bit of a problem.

Throughout the whole rest of the show – the entire Dempster run, in fact – the two versions are absolutely identical. Sure, one episode wasn’t shown, as detailed below, but every single other episode had precisely no edits made to it whatsoever. Which even for Dirty Feed, leaves us with a bit of a damp squib of an ending.

In an attempt to save this piece from being an entire waste of time then, I have a few other notes on the remaining episodes of the series…

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21.01.17

Our Little Genius

Posted 21st January 2017

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Our Little Genius publicity photo

In late 2009, a project was announced with a great deal of excitement.

“Fox announced on Wednesday that it is seeking participants for a new game show that will allow parents of young geniuses – age 6 to 12 – to put their kids’ knowledge to use winning “life-changing money.”

The series, to be called Our Little Genius, will feature the children competing to answer “increasingly difficult questions as they work their way up to win their family hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The new series is being created by Mark Burnett, the producer behind Survivor and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.”

– The New York Times, 11th November 2009

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25.12.16

A George & Mildred Christmas

Posted 25th December 2016

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George and Mildred in bed

Watching things on DVD has an odd habit of hiding patterns in TV shows, as well as showing them. For all that watching classic Doctor Who exposes the runaround nature of some of the middle episodes in a serial, if you’re watching the show out of order, the links between serials go awry. Even if you decide to watch a programme like, say, George & Mildred completely in order, the fact that the show had a Christmas episode each year between 1977 and 1979 is easy to go unnoticed.

Let’s take some notice, shall we?

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14.12.16

Hi-de-Hi! Edits #3: Filth and Lewd Innuendo

Posted 14th December 2016

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Spike and Peggy dicking around with a film can

YVONNE: Something will have to be done about Ted’s act. He’s getting positively revolting.
BARRY: Tonight he did the one about the two sailors and the gruyère cheese, followed that with the midget and the giraffe… and finished up with the one about the curate and the cucumber. Then in the same breath he introduced us, and we had to go straight on and do our Spring in Park Lane fantasy waltz. Well, Yvonne was in tears. I was so embarrassed I didn’t know where to put my face, let alone my feet.
YVONNE: He was distraught, Mr. Fairbrother. And let’s face it, Barry’s the last person in the world you could call po-faced.
JEFFREY: Yes, I do know what you mean. He was very near the knuckle tonight.
GLADYS: He’s been getting worse.
JEFFREY: To be fair on Ted, I think the audience eggs him on. He gets carried away.
YVONNE: A good comedian does not have to resort to filth and lewd innuendo.
BARRY: With Ted, it isn’t even innuendo. He says it.

Hi-de-Hi!, “It’s a Blue World”

Good morning, campers. On we go, with our comparison of the 2000s DVD release of Hi-de-Hi! and its repeat this year on BBC Two afternoons. Previously, we took a look at the pilot. Then we investigated Series 1. This time, we manage to examine the whole of Series 2, 3, 4 and 5 – taking us right to the end of the Jeffrey Fairbrother years.

And in the middle of all this, we discover a moment where Hi-de-Hi! doesn’t even indulge in innuendo. It goes right out and says it.

As ever, the exact two versions we are comparing are:

One thing which is immediately apparent is that as the series progresses, there are fewer and fewer different edits of the programme – indeed, many episodes are identical. Only the episodes with differences are listed here. All timings given are from the DVD version.

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03.12.16

“Network, we’ll have to come back and do the draw…”

Posted 3rd December 2016

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BBC 1, 30th November 1996, 7:50pm, The National Lottery Live. And a 15-year-old John Hoare, already over-excited from Noel’s House Party, watches in wonder as his other very favourite thing in the whole world happens: the telly goes wrong.

Yes, it’s the infamous 107th draw, where the lottery machine failed to act as a lottery machine and draw some damn balls. Like many TV moments I didn’t record on VHS, the memory faded over the years… until some kind soul uploaded it to YouTube back in 2010. Brilliantly, the video includes both the initial failure of the machine, and the hastily-improvised update show which aired after Casualty, where the balls were drawn successfully.

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