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Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

Once upon a time in a far and distant land people’s favourite entertainment was the theatre.  There were only two theatres in the land, and if you wanted to use them you had to pay a fee every year.  They were sort of independent, but the government who controlled how much the fee was, and who had to pay it.  They were on something of a short leash. Then came a third and a fourth, and eventually a fifth, they were independent from the other two.  They didn’t charge an annual fee instead, they used to stop the plays every so often to let salesmen in.  These salesmen paid the theatres lots of money to convince the audience that they wanted to buy shit they didn’t need.  Then the government stepped in and made rules about which salesmen could come in, at what time and for how long, it helped a little.  But here’s the catch if you ever visited one of these independent theatres, you still had to pay the fee to the original ones.  Then one day another company came swooping down from above and opened lots of little theatres.  They charged another even higher fee.  They were closely followed by another and before long the two companies had merged.  The reason for their success, they not only showed plays, but also all the sport.  While all the theatres had performers from far and distant lands,  this one had all the plays from a distant land across the see to the west, and they had them before anyone else. 

The problem with all these theatres, is they choose what was on and when.  If you didn’t like what was on, all you could do was walk down the street and watch something different.  But if you wanted to see a particular play, you had to be in the right place at the right time.  The old theatres were accused of repeating too many of their plays and being poor value for money.  This was probably true, but they didn’t spend their money on plays, they had other ways to inform, educate​and ​entertain​. 

Then one day everything changed a magician came from the land across the sea to the west and flicked his magical net across the land.  He created a special magical theatre where every visitor chose what they wanted to watch and when they wanted to watch it.  The choice was massive, there were thousands of plays to watch, long and short, old and new.  They could watch half a play or just a few minutes of it and come back and watch the rest another time.  Things would never be the same again.  He charged everyone who came to visit a monthly fee, for this they would get a password they needed to get.  They were allowed to share this password with all the people in their house, but nobody else.  However, some people only visited occasionally and didn’t want to pay every month, but this was okay because if you had a friend who would share their password.  The magician new this was happening, but he didn’t mind because more and more people were visiting.  While all this was going on a magical book salesman had being making his own magical theatre.  Nobody noticed because it wasn’t as big or as good, and it really confused people because it kept changing its name.  But slowly it grew and became a serious rival for the magician. 

Then over time, everyone learned the magic and lots more magic theatres opened.  All the old-fashioned theatres opened magical theatres along side their big old ones.  They didn’t show anything new, but you could watch all their old plays, or catch up on something you had missed.  Best of all they didn’t charge any extra.  It wasn’t all good.  Some of the theatres were poorly built and frequently stopped working.  Some of them still let the salesmen in, they would stop the plays for even longer than in their other theatres because they had different rules.  It was a brake new world, and for a time everything was good.  Because you could watch anything at any time, the theatres started telling longer story broken up into lots of little plays that you could watch a bit at a time or all in one go and people loved it.  This had been done before but they spent all the money in the world and did it so much better.  The people declared it a golden age.  Then a plague swept through every land across the globe and people couldn’t meet up in public for two whole years.  The magical theatres that let people be entertained in isolation thrived as they entertained the world.

But then over time the cracks started to show; there were countless magical theatres across the land, too many!  People didn’t have the time or money to visit them all so had to pick and choose the ones they wanted, but the choice wasn’t always easy.  The magicians who owned the magical theatres started spending more and more money to attract people to their theatre and away from the competitors.  For many years the first magician who owned the biggest and the best theatre wouldn’t tell anyone how many people came to visit his theatre or what plays they were watching.  Very quickly the audience began to smell a rat so the magician gave some cryptic information to appease the masses.  It didn’t really work, but it gave them something to talk about.  The magician wasn’t exactly evil, but he was ruthless and had a wicked streak running though him.  He created a magical device that he called the algorithm.  The algorithm was a cold hard and heartless machine, it didn’t care about the people, its only goal was to please its magical master.  The algorithm quickly worked out that shiny new plays would bring in new audiences at a faster rate than the existing audiences would leave if their beloved plays were cancelled.  The algorithm was really clever, it knew that some plays were really popular and could be stretched out for a very long time, even if they got progressively worse.  It cancelled many beloved plays that were really popular, but it knew they had stropped bringing in new audiences, but it distracted them with new stories every week.  Often disposable rubbish that wouldn’t last long.  Occasionally very good but equally doomed.  But the plan was foolish and short-sighted.  The plays were no longer entertainment, they were content, an opium to distract the masses. 

The cracks turned into rifts.  The magician was spending more money than he was bringing in and the quality of his plays was dropping.  Nobody knew if his theatre was still the biggest, but everyone could see it was no longer the best.  There were many new players in town.  One was a magical mouse, that despite a dubious past was beloved across all the lands.  The other was one of the biggest companies in the world, according to the legend it had made its money selling stylish but overpriced fruit.  The magician had to do something, so he made a plan.  He had two ideas.  The first was he would give some of his customers a discount, but in return he would let the salesmen.  The other was to put guards on the doors to make sure nobody was sharing their passwords with other people.  If people were caught in the act they would be made to pay or not let.  Many people had already stopped visiting, it was clear things would get worse.  But it wasn’t the magician that was having a hard time.  the original two theatres were constantly restructuring and downsizing as they battled with the government over how much their fee should be and what sort of plays they should make.  All this was happening at the worst of times following two years of plague and a war in the east made everyone’s food and heating bill higher. 

I don’t know how the story ended, but it was clear the magician was on shaky ground and his theatre wasn’t as well built as he thought it was.  Would it last?  And surely there were two many theatres charging too much money, some would have to merge or go bust?  One day we will find out what happened next, I don’t think that will be a happy or pretty story for everyone!

This story is entirely fictional, any resemblance to actual persons or streaming service living or dead is entirely coincidental.

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In a recent article on the BBC website (quoting an interview in the Guardian) James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli stated her belief that James Bond will “probably” never be played by a woman. “Bond is male. He’s a male character. He was written as a male and I think he’ll probably stay as a male.” She went on to say “And that’s fine. We don’t have to turn male characters into women.” The same article went on to quote an article where Halle Berry also said that Bond should remain male, she however suggested a new Bond type female character could be created.  While it may not be a popular, or politically correct opinion at the moment, I agree that Bond only works as a man.  We are however, at a point in time where Bond casting can be colour-blind, while Bond needs to remain British (and male), we are a multicultural society, despite the views of a vocal minority, you don’t have to be white to be British.  This leaves the door open, not just for Idris Elba, but for any other British actor regardless of race, I believe Henry Golding has joined the debate!The Next James Bond_

To change the sex of Bond would impact on all his interactions with other characters to such an extent it would distract from the story.  Regardless of what I, or anyone else thinks, Broccoli is the person most directly responsible for casting the part, so will ultimately decide the direction it takes. This isn’t to say characters are locked into being one sex.  The BBC article I mention, refers to the new series of Doctor Who, starting tomorrow with the first ever female Doctor.  Ghostbusters (2016), wasn’t terrible because of the idea, or the casting of woman, the cast were good, the issue was with the terrible script. Barbara Broccoli

Back to Halle Berry and her idea: There has previously been a suggestion that her character Jinx Johnson, from Die Another Day (2002) would get her own spiff-off movie or TV show.  Fortunately, this did not happen, she was a terrible character from a terrible film.  The only positive thing I have ever heard about the character, is that she looks good!  Truely representing all that is bad about Bond!  There are far better characters in the Bondverse to get their own movie, characters with a little agency, would be: Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) from Licence to Kill (1989), Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), or Camille (Olga Kurylenko) from Quantum of Solace (2008).  I’m not sure any Bond shared universe is a good idea, do we want a new Bond related film every year?  The current format of a film every few years, reboot every decade or so works. Female Bond Spin-offs

It would be better to start from a clean slate, developed a new completely different character in their own universe and having their own characteristics.  Fortunately, that is exactly what Barbara Broccoli is doing.  In a rare none Bond movie, EON Productions next movie will be The Rhythm Section adapted from the book of the same name by Mark Burnell.  The first of four books about the character Stephanie Patrick.  In the books Stephanie Patrick is a couple of turns short of rock bottom in a downward spiral following a traumatic event.  She is working as a prostitute to fund her drug problem until a revelation from a  journalist sends her life in a completely new direction.  The books are about identity and purpose, but work on a more surface level too, with great action.  There are four books in the series leaving at least three more stories to adapt, but with author Burnell onboard writing the script, there could be more than that.  Blake Lively is staring, and looks like a good choice.blake lively

And finally the elephant in the room, who will be the next Bond?  The name we can’t escape is Idris Elba, I think he would make a fantastic Bond, but fear his time may have passed.  At 46 he is about the right age now, he should be making his second film.  As it is, he would be 50/51 before he made his debut, giving him time to make three film before he is too old.  I am not going to list contendors or speculate on who will take the part, that’s for another day, but I am going to keep banding the drum for my Bond Movie idea, I know it will never happen but it doesn’t stop me modestly suggesting it’s a great idea: Bring Timothy Dalton back to play a long retired James Bond, forced back for one last mission (there are multiple story ideas to facilitate this).  As he gets older, the same idea could also work for Pierce Brosnan. Old Bond

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Don’t Ruin The BBC!

Since 1 April 2010 the annual licence fee has been £145.50 (less than 40p per day ) for colour and £49.00 for black and white (around five years ago the TV licence agency website reported that “28,000 homes across the UK are still enjoying their programmes in black and white”). The licence fee is reported to generate around£3.7 billion a year of which about 608 million (or 16.3%) was provided by the Government subsidies/concessions for those over the age of 75. The licence fee is reported to generate around 75% of the BBC’s income.   This is about to change, the BBC is going to have to cover the cost of over 75 year old viewers itself by 2020.  In return the fee will rise in line with inflation (measured by the consumer prices index).  It is also expected that legislation next year will close the loophole allowing those who only watch catch-up television to avoid the licence fee.

To put the cost of the licence fee in context here it is in comparison to a few other things:

  • 9 peak time trips to the cinema for 2 (based on average UK price found online)
  • 322 pints of milk (based on price I paid in my local supermarket this week)
  • 3 Premier League football matches for 1 (based on a rough calculation of average prices)
  • 125 litres  of diesel (based on the price I have just paid) (enough to drive about 1,500mile based on the 58mpg my car averages)
  • 46 pints of beer (based on an average price found online)
  • 6 meals for two at Nando’s (1/2 chicken with sides and a drink each)

More important than where the money comes from is where it goes.  Below if a graph (borrowed from The Telegraph) showing how they spend their money.chart

Most of the graph is self explanatory.  One unexplained thing is “other services & production” this, I imagine will include BBC Films; BBC Films is the film-making division of arm of the BBC, they co-produces and distributes British FIlms.  Notable examples are: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, My Week with Marilyn, In the Loop, An Education, Iris, Notes on a Scandal and Billy Elliot. Nut more notable are the fantastic smaller films that may not have been made if not for BBC Films: Fish Tank, X+Y, Shadow Dancer, Perfect Sense, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Made in Dagenham.  Given the state of the British film industry, we can’t afford to lose BBC films.fish tank poster

I could live without most of the television production.  There are many programs I watch but there are only a few  unmissable ones: Doctor Who, Top Gear and Match of the Day.  But there are two elements of the BBC that they do better than anyone else.  Radio and Online.  For as long as I can remember I have looked towards America, my favourite TV shows growing up were American, most films I watch are American, I love the two truly great American art forms; Rock and Roll and Jazz, but there is one thing no-one in the world, including America can do as well as the BBC Radio.  I grew up listening to Radio 1 then graduated to Radio 2 in my late 20’s.  Radio 4 provides great comedy and drama.  Then came the home of news, sport (and Wittertainment) 5 Live.  BBC 6 Music provides a good balance between Radio 1 and 2.  Then there is BBC local radio, my local station BBC WM is great for local sport.  The BBC website is the only place I look online for news, weather and sport. Also online, the BBC I-Player is the best TV and radio streaming service, providing a mixture of older archive programs , and recent catch-up,  and best of all,  it’s free.match of the day

The main point of the big debate is what should happen to the licence fee and what programs should the BBC make?  As for the programming,  you will never please everyone, but on the whole, I think they are getting it right. The lighter programming is the most contentious, but has been part of the BBC for as long as anyone can remember.  Free to air sport is not for everyone, but really is an essential part of the service they provide.  I can not imaging a time time when the FA cup final, Wimbledon, and F1 (ITV coverage wasn’t great when they had it) isn’t on BBC.  The fee is more complicated; the licence is only required to watch TV, all the other services including Radio and online are free for all.  At the moment around  96% of UK homes currently pay the licence fee or receive the over 75’s subsidy.   Is the any millage in funding the BBC directly from the exchequer?  Would this impact on the BBC’s independence?  One thing is certain, The BBC should never become commercial.  Whatever the outcome, my plea is simple, don’t ruin The BBC!

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As I listened to the radio on my drive to work on Monday a news story got me thinking. Reporting on the previous nights Primetime Emmys the main topic of conversation was the lack of British success. Those expecting a Downton Abbey landslide were disappointed, personally I was more disappointed at the lack of recognition for Luther (that received four nominations in 2012) but that’s a different conversation. The thing that interested me was two of the winning programs:Downton Abbey

American political drama House of Cards is based on the BBC miniseries of the same name from the early 90’s famous for introducing the phrase: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.” Like the original series has been described as examining issues of ambition, power, and corruption in the vein of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard III. Unlike the original that was made screened on the BBC, the American version was made by independent production company MRC (Media Rights Capital) and most interestingly premiered on Netflix after outbidding HBO, Showtime and AMC. It is also available via Apple’s iTunes and Apple TV services.House of Cards

It has been reported that Steven Soderbergh and Michael Douglas had first discussed a Liberace Biopic as far back as 2000 during the production of Traffic. When they finally came up with an angle for the story they struggled to secure funding, Soderbergh claiming Hollywood studios found it “too gay.” Eventually they HBO Films stumped up $23million and Behind the Candelabra was made. While it received a UK cinema release in America it premiered on HBO.Behind the Candelabra

These programs may not seem that significant in the greater scheme of film and television, but when you think about it they represent the biggest change in the media’s for a long time. What they boil down to, is a film premiering on TV and a TV show premiering online. Made for television movies are nothing new, but with A list stars and directors it has a different feel to it. As for the online world Amazon/Lovefilm have already got in on the act with their own programs. In future are companies like these going to use TV shows rather than their film content to win customers?

 I would still rather watch movies on the big screen of the cinema and a laptop computer is the only device I have capable of streaming TV and films. This is why I am not the main target audience for either of these changes, but I will still be watching them with interest.

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As I sit watching the second episode of Peaky Blinders I can’t help thinking about the fundamental difference between British and American television drama. On first sight British television is the poor relation. While an American show will run for more than twenty episodes to a season more often than not any British program with high production costs will only get six episodes per season. The best examples of this are The Hour (12 over two seasons), Case Histories (9 episodes over 2 seasons) and Luther (14 episodes over 3 seasons). . What they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality. I am not saying British shows are better than American ones, clearly they are not in comparison to programs like Justified, Mad Men and The Wire. However the restraint and constraint of the short seasons allow the best shows to remain fresh, original and leave the audiences wanting more. This becomes more evident when you look at shows like CSI, The Sopranos and Lost who all started well but lost their way.4482400-high_res-peaky-blinders.jpg

So how is Peaky Blinders shaping up? Whilst not up to the best of British or American drama mentioned above, it is certainly an enjoyable program that is building and unfolding nicely. Cillian Murphy is very good in the lead role despite his inconsistent Birmingham accent but is overshadowed by the excellent Helen McCrery (who depending on your point of view is best know as either Damian Lewis’ or Narcissa Malfoy). The format is as much an urban western as family dram or gangster show.  The production design excellent giving a believable post World War 1 inner city setting. And that is the interest for me, the setting. While the setting for British film and television has diversified and moved away from just London in recent years one location has been mostly overlooked, my home city Birmingham. An industrial city in the heart of England and at the forefront of the industrial revolution, Birmingham built cars and motorcycles are know all over the world, as the music of Birmingham bands but it is a city that has never made a dent in film and television.Peaky Blinders

And that takes us back to the start, when it comes to film and television, England’s second city has an identity crisis and an inferiority complex, just like British television drama. The BBC or ITV (responsible for Downton Abbey) simply can’t compete with AMC, HBO and Fox for budget this doesn’t stop people comparing British show being compared to or described in relation to bigger American shows and thus, Peaky Blinders is the British Boardwalk Empire. There are certainly similarities, but there are also big differences. Set at a similar time in two very different places, they are actually worth watching together.

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