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05.08.18

A Few Notes on the Recording of The Lenny Henry Birthday Show

Posted 5th August 2018

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TV Centre

On the 30th July, I went to see The Lenny Henry Birthday Show recorded in TC1 at TV Centre. The following are a few notes from the experience. Nothing too spoilery, if only because my brain has an innate capability for forgetting the funniest of jokes precisely 10 seconds later.

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21.07.18

“A British Netflix”

Posted 21st July 2018

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BBC News, ‘Netflix effect’ poses challenge to British TV’, 18th July 2018:

Video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime now have more subscribers than traditional pay TV services in the UK, new data from Ofcom has revealed.

The media regulator says British TV will have to change the way it operates if it wants to compete with the internet giants.

Sharon White, Ofcom’s chief executive, says: ‘We’d love to see broadcasters such as the BBC work collaboratively with ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 so that they have got that scale to compete globally, making shows together, co-producing great shows that all of us can watch.

“I think it would be great to see a British Netflix.”

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BBC Media Centre, ‘BBC announces changes to political programming’, 12th July 2018:

The BBC has announced changes to its political and parliamentary output to improve its digital coverage, better serve its audiences, and provide more value for money.

The changes include:

[…]

A changed schedule for BBC Parliament: the channel will still broadcast live and replayed coverage of Parliament and the devolved parliaments and assemblies, but will no longer make bespoke programmes and will not air in the weeks when the UK Parliament or the devolved Parliaments and assemblies are not sitting.

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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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26.04.18

“Genuinely Eager to Champion the Unemployed…”

Posted 26th April 2018

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Of all the striking things about Dennis Potter’s 1965 play Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, one thing in particular stands out: its use of real news footage, of Nye Bevan’s speech on the Suez crisis, and an “interview” with Oswald Mosley1 on unemployment. Clips which aren’t included into the play in a diegetic fashion, but are merely thrown into the mix when a character mentions them.

This is the tale of how such unusual method of storytelling may have preserved a little piece of history. And although the world probably doesn’t need any more Oswald Mosley2, Nigel Barton nonetheless provides exactly that.

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  1. Cunt. 

  2. Cunt. 

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17.04.18

Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton: From Script to Screen

Posted 17th April 2018

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Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton title card

Previously on Dirty Feed, I took a look at the differences between the script taken into rehearsals for Dennis Potter’s 1965 play Stand Up, Nigel Barton, and what was finally broadcast. (Please read that first piece if you haven’t already; it contains a lot of background necessary for understanding this one.) This time, we take a look at Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, broadcast the following week on the 15th December 1965. Fittingly enough, Vote – Potter’s cry of desperation about the state of politics – got bogged down in behind-the-scenes politics of its own, and ended up with a rather chequered production history. So first of all, it’s important to define what this article isn’t.

Unlike the relative peacefulness of Stand Up‘s production, Vote not only had a major rewrite, but that major rewrite was after the whole thing had been shot. Potter details in his introduction to the Penguin scriptbook The Nigel Barton Plays that the play was originally ready for broadcast on the 23rd June 1965, but that executives started to get cold feet and pulled the play seven hours before transmission.

Between June and the play’s eventual December broadcast, several scenes were rewritten and reshot. Needless to say, Potter wasn’t very happy about it.

“The result disfigures the play in a few important ways. Firstly, some of the savagery of Jack Hay’s cynicism had to be muted. It was argued that, in the original, the agent was ‘almost psychotic’. After much edgy negotiation, I was able to settle for what is now in the text – but I hope it will be clear […] that any further diminution in the bite or the fury of the part would have ruined the play.”

The crucial bit for us in terms of analysing the changes made to the text is the following:

“Like the new Jack Hay I, too, have my own ‘private grief’ and nothing will now induce me to publish the original Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton (nor the original of my Cinderella). These published texts are to be related to what was actually shown on the screen.”

Which means we have a somewhat different situation here compared to that with Stand Up, Nigel Barton. There, we could be certain that the text as published in The Nigel Barton Plays was what was taken into the rehearsal rooms. Here, Potter admits that the script published for Vote is not his original intention. These certainly aren’t transcripts, as there are plenty of differences between this script and what made it onto the screen – so they are presumably an amalgamation of his original script, and the specific scenes featuring Jack Hay which he delivered as rewrites.

So, what this article can’t detail is Potter’s original vision. You don’t get the old, even more twisted Jack Hay here, I’m afraid. We only have what is published in The Nigel Barton Plays to go on. We will, however, analyse the sections of the script which Potter admits were rewritten… and in at least a couple of instances, we can tell that the enforced rewrite on his character has entirely been ignored when it came to actually shooting the thing.

Enough background. Let’s get going. Material from the book is styled like this, and dialogue from the show as broadcast is styled like this. Note that I haven’t detailed every single change in wording between the script and the screen – only the stuff where there seemed to be an interesting point to make, or where there have been clear censorship issues.

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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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25.02.18

Stand Up, Nigel Barton: From Script to Screen

Posted 25th February 2018

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Stand Up, Nigel Barton - title card

“Television brings us the Prime Minister, and a faith healer, a bleeding boxer and a sinking ship, a coronation and an assassination. The picture we see may have been thrown across the Atlantic or even off the moon: it can then seem a highly comic sort of activity to write Act One, Scene One, rehearse in a draughty Territorial Army drill-hall for a fortnight, remove the expletive ‘Christ!’ and finally sandwich yourself between Harold Wilson being frank and somebody walking in space.”

– Dennis Potter, Introduction to The Nigel Barton Plays

Much has been written about Dennis Potter’s two plays Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, which aired in consecutive weeks on BBC1 as part of The Wednesday Play in December 1965. About their takes on class and politics; on how both are some of the most autobiographical works in the Potter canon; and how both plays point to themes present in Potter’s later work.

None of that is what I want to talk about here, however. Instead, I want to take a look at the Penguin paperback The Nigel Barton Plays, published two years later in 1967. This contains an excellent introduction by Potter, and scripts for both plays. Note the word “scripts”, there. They aren’t transcripts of the broadcast version of the plays. These contain numerous differences – in fact, they are the original scripts written by Potter, stage directions and all. Which means, by comparing the contents of the book to the final plays as broadcast, we can tell exactly what Potter originally intended to make it to air – and exactly how the rehearsal process changed things.

Spoiler: Potter wasn’t lying with his amusing anecdote about removing “the expletive ‘Christ!'”.

This article, then, is not a general analysis of Stand Up, Nigel Barton. Rather, it’s a look at exactly what changed between that script and the final programme. Of course, it can’t be a comprehensive list of all changes made to the show; that would be immensely tedious, and any good points would be lost in a sea of minor word changes and rephrases. I have, however, picked up on what I think are the most interesting differences – and I have tried to include every single change when it comes to profanity, as I think that’s the most important aspect of how Potter’s work was changed from script to screen.

While writing this piece, I have also had the pleasure of taking a look at pages of an actual copy of the script, as taken into rehearsals by Ian Fairbairn who was one of the children in the play. Aside from some different scene numbers, studying it gives confirmation that the text printed in The Nigel Barton Plays is the actual material taken into rehearsals. Many thanks to Andrew-Mark Thompson for his help here.

Let’s get going. Material from the book is styled like this, and dialogue from the show as broadcast is styled like this.

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13.10.17

Listen to My Sexy Voice Talking About Red Dwarf

Posted 13th October 2017

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Another year, and another series of Red Dwarf. And if you’d told me a few years back that I’d be saying that in 2017, I’d have told you off for talking BOLLOCKS. Yet here we are.

Sadly, with another series of Red Dwarf comes another series of LIVE DwarfCasts over on Ganymede & Titan, the Red Dwarf website where I recently wrote about not liking Red Dwarf very much. So what better person to sit and pontificate about the show for the next five Fridays, starting at 9pm tonight? Just visit our Spreaker page twenty minutes before the show starts for some HOT STREAMING ACTION. Don’t worry, I’m just there to cause trouble – there are people far more qualified than me who are actually running the show.

We’re going at UKTV Play pace this year, rather than broadcast pace – so if you want to join us, make sure you watch the episode available for streaming late Thursday evening, not the episode broadcast on Dave the same day. (We know it’s confusing. We know.) This week, that’s the second episode in the series, Siliconia, available right now.

Oh, and as for the first episode? That was last week, and I couldn’t make it. Don’t worry, we got Clayton Hickman to do it instead. Go and visit his Redbubble store, BTW, if you like an obscure TV show called Doctor Who. I’ve never heard of it, personally. I prefer Starhyke.

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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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