Since I first started doing my breakdown of HIGNFY guests by gender a few years ago, it’s always been a quite depressing experience. Sure, there are occasional chinks of light – the BBC stopping all-male panels, and the first show for 17 years with all-female guests – but the general trend is still absolutely nothing to write home about, and the very first series of the show back in 1990 is still its second-best for representing women.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the 49th season ended, and while I’ve had other things to distract me, I partly resisted updating the spreadsheet because it would be a rather annoying reminder of just how much this series did the bare minimum. Sure, there was a female guest on each show, but just one each time with four men around them. Only two of them – Jo Brand and Victoria Coren Mitchell – got to host it, with the other seven shows in the series all hosted by men. After series 48 got close to parity of hosts, this was a depressing return to the norm where only a quarter of the shows since the introduction of guest hosts have been hosted by women. (24.73% of guests in total are women while the exact figure for hosts is 24.35%)
You can see the spreadsheet for yourself by clicking here, and I’ll keep on doing it in the hope that series 50 improves the situation, but I’m not expecting it to break from the established norm.
Because I’m a masochist, I watched Question Time last night, where one of the panellists was a representative of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Contrary to the image they present, the TPA isn’t a membership-based grassroots organisation, but a privately funded lobbying group that doesn’t represent anyone but its donors – what’s normally known as an ‘astroturf‘ group. However, like other lobbying groups and corporate shills that pretend to be ‘think tanks’ (the ones with ‘Institute’ in their names), it often gets invited to go on Question Time and other news programmes as though it has some kind of impartiality and objectivity, rather than being something established to campaign for a specific purpose.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with campaigning for something, even if that is to ensure that addressing the concerns of the wealthy and privileged is even more over-represented in political debate, but why aren’t other campaigning groups given a seat on the Question Time panel? I can’t recall anyone from organisations like Friends of the Earth or Amnesty – groups with actual memberships, often larger than any of the political parties – ever sitting on the panel, while the TPA and their ilk regularly get a seat there.
Alternatively, if the producers of Question Time are actually incapable of doing any sort of research into the people they invite and accept the spin that these people are some kind of impartial experts, why not invite some genuine experts on the programme? There are hundreds of academic experts in politics and public policy and at least some of them are safe to put on television before a general audience. Naturally, I’d suggest someone like David Sanders from Essex, but other academics and academic disciplines are available. I have been told by reliable sources that there are historians with opinions out there who aren’t called ‘David Starkey’.
They can still have the astroturf lobbyists on there occasionally if they want to, but surely it wouldn’t be too hard to find a wider range of panellists that might actually allow some facts to be interjected into the discussion occasionally?
Some good news to report: Amazon TV’s pilot of The Man In The High Castle has been commissioned for a full series. It’s rather unsurprising news, as reviews for the pilot were almost universally positive, but still good to hear.
I reviewed the pilot when it was broadcast and look forward to seeing the series. No announcement yet on when it will be broadcast, but I’m hoping to see it appear before the end of the year.
“You might already know that these are books. But what you might not know is that the words inside them are made up by people.”
: There’s been a lot of complaint that TV mainstream doesn’t have much, if any, programming about books (rather than just being based on them). This show aims to change that by finding Britain’s Next Top Writer in a primetime show. Having made one giant leap of originality by doing a show about books in primetime, the rest of the show will be a complete ripoff of other talent formats. Thus, one round will feature wannabe writers reading a small sample of their work to celebrity writer judges, who’ll be sitting in the chairs from The Voice
that have been badly modified to look ‘writerly’. Writers will be expected to jump across genre, style and form at a moment’s notice. (An amateur playwright protesting they know nothing about novel structure being berated by an angry Salman Rushdie will become a YouTube favourite) The life of a writer will be presented as effortless luxury, casually dispensing bon mots at cocktail parties between dashing out a newspaper column and being showered in money by benevolent publisher.
The climax will come in a live final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff where a book-wielding audience of thousands will watch as the four finalist writers discover that the hours they’ve spent sweating over their work, carrying out every edit and demeaning video diary task ordered by the producers, was utterly wasted as the executives have discovered no one really likes reading books, so they’ll be engaging in It’s A Knockout style contests with a vaguely books-that-have-become-well-known-movies theme. The winner will discover that there book was already published for free as a sample on Amazon that morning and they’ve made £2.35 from the millions of downloads.
Initially planned judges/mentors by the producers: JK Rowling, that one who wrote that thing that we were all reading last year in Tuscany, what was it, look, just get me JK Rowling. What do you mean, she doesn’t want to do it?
Actual judges: A generally confused looking Salman Rushdie, three other authors who could be made to look vaguely presentable on camera and are happy to appear on The One Show and regional radio programmes on an almost daily basis to plug this.
Likelihood of actually boosting book sales across the nation: Low
The Pitch: This Black Mirror episode is told through the story of four friends, all of them eager modern types who are regular users of social media, obviously. One of them discovers a mysterious and anonymous account that is sending messages to celebrities, revealing supposed secrets and telling them to ‘repent for their sins’. Surprise turns to shock when it’s revealed that the secrets are all true and celebrities all over the world start confessing their secrets. Soon, more and more of these accounts appear, all revealing deeply held, personal and private things that no one but the accused could have known about. Suddenly, it’s not just celebrities being accused but politicians and business leaders as more accounts spring up, each using the same format and all talking about sin. Finally, the accounts turn to the rest of the population, and everyone finds their sins exposed for the whole world. Before long, it’s realised that the Second Coming has occurred, and God has returned to judge everyone through the internet.
The final shot is a room deep within a CIA facility, as a man smiles to himself while typing code into a computer. We see it running the accounts and then a flash of code reveals it to be the Global Online Database.
John (Friend capable of delivering infodumps as dialogue): Ben Whishaw
Alice (Friend good at showing other people what she’s found online): Faye Marsay
Tamara (Friend good at asking questions that move the plot along): Jenna Coleman
Brian (Friend who’s American, to help us sell it there): Aaron Paul
Newsreader: Krishnan Guru-Murthy
Newsreader who didn’t want to appear, but don’t tell Krishnan that he wasn’t our first choice: Jon Snow
Scarily intense fire and brimstone priest interviewed on TV: Donald Sumpter
Very liberal priest who becomes more fundamentalist with each TV appearance: Russell Tovey
Ambiguously smiling CIA person: Rob Lowe
Likelihood of dominating Twitter trending topics while on: Very high
Likelihood of people finding the ending a shocking twist, not a dodgy cop out: Worryingly high
Likelihood of someone implying you’re thick and didn’t understand the subtlety because you didn’t like it: Very high
Looking back over my previous posts, I see I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of The Man In The High Castle for over four years. It was first announced as being adapted by Ridley Scott for the BBC in 2010, but after disappearing into the netherworld of development hell, it was then announced as an Amazon series last year, and the first episode of it has now appeared as part of their latest pilot season.
The big question, then, is was it worth the wait? On the evidence of this pilot episode, yes it was, and also worth the (hopefully shorter) wait for it to return as a full series. His involvement may not be quite so hands on this time, but Ridley Scott has shown yet again how to adapt a Philip K Dick novel. Just as Blade Runner used the characters and themes of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? but was prepared to deviate from the plot, so does The Man In The High Castle. There’s an understanding that a book and a TV series tell stories differently, especially one that’s being told through the multiple levels of Dick’s imagination. In short, I would definitely recommend watching it, whether you’ve read the book or not. Spoilers for the book and the adaptation follow, so read on at your own peril.
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My spreadsheet of HIGNFY guests and guest hosts broken down by gender is now complete for the end of series 48. The good news is that as well as featuring the first show with all-female guests since 1997 (and the first time ever that a majority of people on air during an episode were female), the series overall had the highest percentage of female guests ever for the series.
The bad news is that was still only 13 out of 30 guests (and 4 out of 10 hosts) and that came after the show had reached 50% of guests being female (and a majority of the hosts) after the first six episodes. They managed to achieve parity – and the sky didn’t fall in when there were more women than men on screen – but then threw it away over the last few episodes.
Maybe 2015 will be better. It might even be the start of the 27 consecutive seasons with all-female guests they’d need to balance the series out overall.