Not Watching This Weekend: Find Me A Writer!

"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."
“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.”
The Pitch: 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

Not watching this weekend: Deus Ex Social Machina

madeuthinkThe 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.

The Cast:
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

Review: The Man In The High Castle (Amazon TV)

maninthehighcastleLooking 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.
Continue reading Review: The Man In The High Castle (Amazon TV)

Have I Got News For You just had it’s best ever series for female representation (but it could have been so much better) #hignfy

Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenMy 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.

Welcome to The Hate Channel, it’s TV the way you hate it

hateAs part of my long-running scheme to become insanely rich while doing as little work as possible, I had another brilliant idea that will surely make me loads of money if someone else is willing to do all the work and then pay me for the inspiration.

Watching the usual Thursday night flurry of indignant commentary on Twitter’s #bbqt hashtag, it occurred to me that there exists a large group of people (sometimes including me) who appear to only watch some things on TV in order to mock it and argue about it on Twitter. There’s very little ‘hey, this is great, you should turn it on and watch it’ and lots more ‘oh god, this is terrible, they’re all completely wrong.’ This proves that we can have lots of fun socially hate-watching something, while the things we love we prefer to do alone.

That’s all well and good (though a little short of any actual evidence), you say, but how does this revelation lead to your masterplan of getting rich through doing as little work as possible? Yes, certain programmes do have an oddly negative fanbase, but monetising that group to provide me with the many mansions I’m sure I deserve is not a simple prospect, is it? Let’s be honest, whoever is behind Dimblebot isn’t having to sell their mugs and t-shirts through tax havens to protect their millions.

But that’s because they’re thinking too small. What we need is a way to unite all the various hatedoms, to give them one place in which to gather and virtually vent their spleens, to guarantee that at any time of day they can join in an active community of haters who’ll appreciate their wittily crafted quips and bile-laden put downs. What we need, in short, is The Hate Channel.

It’s quite simple. A TV channel that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offers programming that’s solely designed to aggravate and promote communal snark (use of the official #hatechannel hashtags will be promoted, of course). As it’s a likely to begin life as a lower-tier service, it will have to buy in a lot of pre-hated content, but most people are so happy to have something to virtually shout at that they won’t care that it’s a repeat. (No one ever listens to what Goldstein says in the Two Minute Hate, after all)

I’m envisaging mining the archives for previous seasons of classic reality hatealongs like The Apprentice and Made In Chelsea. For drama, there’d entire decades of terrible stuff that was just unlucky to be shown in an age before Twitter: save yourself from the 879th iteration of your argument about Steven Moffat by joining in the bile-ridden discussion of Bonekickers, Attachments, Bugs and countless others, while classic drama will resurrect the most earnestly wooden and dated Plays For Today and other 70s drama to enable group mockery of outdated social norms. Sport will centre around exclusive rights to complete match broadcasts of the World Cup’s least interesting 0-0 draws, cricket’s dullest draws and a The Complete Commentaries of Clive Tyldesley. News will be easy to cover, with The Best Of Kay Burley at 6pm and 10pm every night (with no repeats guaranteed!), followed by Newsnight’s Most Pointless Moments and repeats of Question Time. Current affairs programming also dominates weekend mornings giving viewers the chance to catch up with Andrew Marr’s Least Penetrating Interviews and Sunday Morning Vaguely Religious Themed Shows’ Least Intelligent Arguments.

As the budget permits, new and original programming will be interspersed into the mix, and I’m sure the daily three-hour broadcast of Richard Littlejohn In Conversation With Katie Hopkins will arouse much righteous indignation, with political balance provided by Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee Explain Why You’re Wrong About Everything. I’m also sure that the very flexible panel show format Extremely Minor Celebrities Saying Something Mildly Controversial will prove a great hit, providing everyone agrees to leave all their restraint behind before watching, but as that seems to be de rigueur for most modern TV commentary, we should be fine.

Once the viewer numbers pick up, we’ll be able to ensure that it remains a constant feed of hate-watching by only allowing adverts that actively encourage angered responses. Christmas advertising will start in January each year, and be accompanied by a stream of cheaply made adverts for companies operating on the very edge of legality and morality, all repeated endlessly with ad breaks chopped into programmes at random. Aspect ratios and picture quality of all programmes will be endlessly tinkered with, just to ensure that every form of internet pedant has something to annoy them, and schedules will be advisory at best, regularly tinkered with to ensure that you never quite get to see what you were expecting.

The Hate Channel – We Hate What You Hate, And We Hate You. It’s the future of television, now make it real and give me my 10%.

Is #HIGNFY about to achieve some sort of gender balance?

I noted a couple of weeks ago that Have I Got News For You had made a little bit of history a fortnight ago with its first ever episode with more women onscreen than men. I don’t know if we’ll have to wait seventeen more years until all the guests are female again, but this series does appear to be on course to set a new record for women guests.

At the moment, this series has featured 18 guests, of which nine were women. There are four more shows after this, and if each of them has a female guest (in accordance with BBC policy), there’ll be at least 13 out of the 30 in total. That’ll be 43% of the total, the highest HIGNFY has ever managed for a series. (The current record is the first ever series, where 37.5% of the guests were women) If just one of those women guests is the host, there’ll have been an equal number of male and female hosts in this series. This series’ four women hosts already matches the highest number achieved by series 42 in 2011.

With just a couple of other female guests this series, they could finally reach a 50-50 balance of woman and men this series, and maybe that’ll be the shape of things to come. Of course, they could attempt to redress the historic imbalance of male to female guests, and the current rate of 19 shows a year with three guests on each, it’d only take them around 15 years to get there.

(As ever, the spreadsheet is here if you want to see the figures for yourself)

Sexism on game shows: it’s not just on Have I Got News For You #HIGNFY

Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenComing next, I’ll have articles about how water is wet, and an exclusive reveal of just what bears are getting up to in forested areas so I can have equally shocking headlines for you.

As you’ll probably know, I’ve been doing my spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of Have I Got News For You guests which paints a pretty bad picture of how women are under-represented on the show, given that they’re not 23% of the population. Thanks to someone on Twitter bringing us together, I’ve now met Stuart of @astronomyblog who’s been looking at how women are represented on other panel shows.

The figures, as you might expect, don’t make for any prettier reading. In fact, they’re uglier than mine because I was looking solely at guests, excluding the regulars. When you include Paul, Ian and Angus’s appearances as well, only approximately 12.8% of the people on screen have been female. Stuart does use a different methodology to me, going to IMDB’s list of appearances, but it appears to deliver similar results from a different direction) The show that actually does best with this approach is ITV2’s Celebrity Juice, getting up to 44.2% of appearances by women, which is impressive compared to the others, but from what I can tell, it’s a show where at least 50% of the regulars are women, so even with that head start, it still manages to fall short.

Not a very good picture all round, really, but I’ll still be monitoring HIGNFY, which has shown some signs that it might be looking to address this trend – representation on series 48 is hovering around parity, and there have been more women hosting shows in it than men so far, but it’s started well and fallen back before, so judgement can wait until December.

Have I Got News For You makes history – but far too late #HIGNFY

Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenHave I Got News For You has been on the air for twenty-four years, and last night it managed to do something it’s never done before. For the first time ever last night, the majority of people on screen for an episode of the show were women – Victoria Coren Mitchell as the host, and Katherine Ryan and Janet Street-Porter as the guests, alongside regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. As I’m here to write this today, it appears the sky didn’t crack asunder and the world did not come to an end as a result.

As some of you will know, I’ve got a spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of guests on the show since it started (created mostly with the help of this Wikipedia page) and it’s usually been pretty grim reading.

Across the history of the show, less than a quarter of the guests (24.27%) and hosts (24.65%) have been women. During that time, there have been 8 shows (including last night) where all the guests were women, but the first seven were all from the period when Angus Deayton was the show’s permanent host and thus men were still a majority on screen. The last of those seven was in 1997. For comparison, there have been 181 shows (44% of the total) where all the guests were male, and thus everyone on screen was a male. The BBC has announced that there will be no more all-male panel shows, so this percentage will drop, but the fact it happened at all is ridiculous. Consider that in the time since the last show with all-female guests, there were over 100 all-male episodes of Have I Got News For You, and think what message that sends out to anyone watching.

Hopefully, last night is a sign that attitudes are changing, though I also fear that for years to come they’ll bring up the ‘all-woman’ show as an excuse for not doing it again for several years. This series might be the one that has the highest percentage of female guests on the show, a record which currently stands at 37.5%. The trouble for anyone hoping for progress is that that record was set back in the very first series of the show, and it’s failed to reach that mark in the 46 series since.

The current series is actually at parity for the four episodes broadcast so far – and there have actually been a majority of female hosts in those episodes – so who knows, it might finally be possible for a high-profile BBC series to almost accurately reflect the nation. (If we assume that 40% of the country are Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, of course…)

5 Things Nick Clegg Could Learn From Peter Capaldi

Doctor Who returns to BBC One tonight with the first full appearance of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. It’s been noted many times that Liberal Democrats tend to be bigger fans of Doctor Whoand SF in general – than members of other parties, though to the best of my knowledge Nick Clegg hasn’t yet talked in public about his own views on the show. With that in mind, I’ve come up with five things that I think the new Doctor and his career could teach Nick Clegg:

1) What it’s like to be a professional actor

Clegg used to act at school and appears to have enjoyed the experience, but didn’t carry on this interest when he got older. Capaldi has had a thirty year career as an actor, and he could probably explain to Clegg just what it’s like, perhaps sating Clegg’s curiosity if he’s ever wondered what things would be like for him if he’d carried on acting.

2) What it’s like to win an Oscar

As someone not involved in film-making, Clegg hasn’t even been to the Academy Awards, let alone won one. Capaldi has won one for his short film Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and if Clegg hasn’t already seen or read one of the interviews with Capaldi where he talks about the experience, Capaldi could tell him what it was like.

3) How to operate the TARDIS

There are no TARDIS console props in Whitehall or Liberal Democrat HQ in Great George Street. I’m also reliably informed that Clegg doesn’t have one in his home or his constituency office in Sheffield. Capaldi, of course, has been a long time fan of the show and now he’s playing the Doctor, he’s likely to be much more knowledgeable about its operation than Clegg.

4) The qualities needed for a successful event and travel organiser

Capaldi’s just come back from promoting his new series on the Doctor Who World Tour. Clegg’s currently recruiting for a Visits and Events Officer. Capaldi could no doubt inform him of some of the things he thinks are the qualities of a person organising a successful event and travel plans.

5) How an actor might approach playing the role of Clegg in a film

Channel 4 have announced that they’re making a film about Clegg and the formation of the coalition. In his career, Capaldi has played several real people on screen including Cardinal Richelieu, King Charles I and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. He could no doubt tell Clegg what it’s like to play a real person and how he prepares for the role, but with the caveat that the actor cast as Clegg may have an entirely different process.

That’s five things Clegg could learn from Capaldi, probably over a pleasant lunch somewhere.

The Man In The High Castle on Amazon TV?

I wrote a few years ago about the BBC’s plans to adapt Philip K Dick’s classic novel The Man in the High Castle
for TV. As with so many TV projects, it seems that fell through but news has now come out that while we’re not in the universe where it got made by the BBC, we may be in the one where it gets made for Amazon TV.

Sadly, it appears that while Ridley Scott’s production company is still involved, the script is no longer being written by Howard Brenton. As I wrote four years ago, one worry I have about any adaptation of The Man In The High Castle is that it’s very easy to see it as just a relatively simple what-if story about the Axis winning the Second World War and how the US would be if it was divided between a victorious Germany and Japan. While Dick does create an interesting story about that, as with many of his books, the more interesting part of The Man In The High Castle is its exploration of the nature of reality. It’s a tale of three different worlds: the world where (most of) the book is set, the world Abendsen writes about in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and our world, with the question as to which one is really real and how the I Ching links them all. Stepping back, there’s also Dick’s belief that we are living in a flase reality and ‘the Empire never ended’ – our reality is possibly a hallucination of a Roman-dominated world.

There’s been plenty of interesting new TV that’s willing to take risks in the last few years, and the online services are definitely willing to try something new, so perhaps Amazon will be willing to contemplate getting their viewers to question the nature of reality. One lesson from most previous Dick adaptations is that the complex philosophical discussions of the nature of reality are the first thing to be jettisoned in favour of the high concept, but maybe we’re in a reality where that sort of TV is possible now.