Writing on Television

Going under

I've only seen it maybe three times but, yes, I am addicted to Big Brother. It wasn't unexpected as I always made an effort to watch The Real World whenever it crept into the UK terrestrial schedules (not often enough). And I loved that disastrous 1993/4 BBC2 take on the concept set in Manchester, where the housemates' ballooning egos were threatened by a rowdy public. Although the original Dutch version was showing while I was in Amsterdam in December/January I didn't tune in, and the UK version started after I returned to Houston. I should have more of a look at those live streams as I can't quite imagine it without the fun of laughing at the dumb narcissistic Americans. I suspect the Brits would be even more horrifying in a whole new way.


In Television on 27 July 2000. Permalink

My name is Phil and I am an…

I was going to write pages today. Screens full of dense text. Rich with insight and laughs. New perspectives on the human condition that had thus far escaped the great minds of all the major civilisations. Penetrating commentary on the modern world that would have you shouting from your window, marching into the street with banners raised. One minute the tears would be flowing uncontrollably as you howled a primal scream certain to give neighbouring kids sweating nightmares until well beyond puberty. The next minute you'd be laughing so hard, rolling around incapable of any action save the occasional life-saving breath, that there is no Internet acronym that could begin to abbreviate the shattering experience.

But instead I read hundreds of posts in the The Well's Big Brother topic. This should be enough to have me locked away in any moral and decent society, but I can't help it. If I had a fat enough net connection I would, right now, be glued, Timecode like, to the four simultaneous webcams and you wouldn't even be getting this attempt at confession. Yes, I am an addict, and I'm already dreading the withdrawal in two months time...

In Television on 9 August 2000. Permalink

Can become quite hypnotising

I was going to write a terribly insightful piece about how my life right now is remarkably similar to those inside the Big Brother house (that's the US one; the British one sounds far less harmonious, relatively). After mentally composing amusing lists of similarities and differences I realised, however, that the list of differences was long and obvious and the list of similarities boiled down to life being numbingly tedious. So you're spared.

In Television on 13 August 2000. Permalink

Big Brother

Yesterday I wrote something about how interesting Big Brother is in that you can see how CBS manipulates events. With Real World, for example, you just got the TV show. With BB, you can see events as they happen on the web (or, like me, read rough transcripts of them on the Well).


In Television on 16 August 2000. Permalink

An Ad

One for the British among you. Imagine you're watching Channel 4. King of the Hill is half-way through and you're about to flip through the channels while the ads run their course. But the first ad catches your attention. It's for a sports shop. JJB Sports or whatever those well-known chains are called. The screen is full of scrubbed and smiling people in scarlet jackets riding horses through the woods. They're smiling as they trot. You can hear dogs barking in the background and, yes, look, cut to a shot of hounds scampering in pursuit of something small and fluffy. Cut back to the riders, whose clothing is particularly fine and bright and new, because it has presumably just been purchased from the well-known sports chain. A blond and rugged looking man grins down at a young boy, early teens, riding alongside the father. The boy smiles back, proud of his brand new hunting garb. Cut again. A change of scene. It's the same smiling father and son team, but now clothed in Barbour jackets and spotless trousers. They're both carrying shotguns, the boy's weapon slightly smaller but still definitely hard and cold. The father is carrying a small, dead bird. Cut to a close up of the father kneeling, waterproof waxed arms stretching round his son, helping the boy steady his child-size shotgun, raising it into the air as they both smile.

No, I can't quite see prime-time ads for hunting gear on British TV, but I saw one over here this evening. Very strange.

In Television on 28 August 2000. Permalink

As square as Dawon’s jaw

Contains possible spoilers for British Roswell High viewers.

As any media studies student would be able to point out by the end of the "last week, on Roswell High" flashback, the show is an obvious metaphor on the alienation felt by every teenager. While all teens feel they are somehow misunderstood, these four American kids really are different. You wouldn't know it though, and not thanks to the clever alien genetic engineering that created them. While all angst-ridden youngsters are, in reality, just the same as everyone else, so the quartet of troubled off-worlders are identical to the rest of the Earthly population (or, at least, Americans). Not because they've managed to blend in perfectly with the regular small-town inhabitants, but because none of the locals appear to be human. All of them share the shallow characterization and stilted, melodramatic speech patterns of the well-scrubbed quartet, with the sole exception of Maria, the feisty but frustrated waitress who seems like the only genuine human trapped in a world of aliens. Perhaps this could be used when the increasingly preposterous plotlines begin to flag in a couple of series time.


In Television on 9 February 2001. Permalink


I must admit that I'm a sucker for US TV series featuring teen angst and attractive kids who always seem to glow with the peculiar golden light that only the American networks can achieve. My So-Called Life, Dawson's Creek, Roswell, all that, I'm there. It's bewildering to me that of this genre Felicity has had the least impact in the UK. It's consigned to the digital wasteland that is ITV2 where it obviously failed to find an audience on early Sunday evenings, having now been shunted to the unholy hour of 9.25am the same day.


In Television on 4 February 2003. 9 comments. Permalink

Dawson’s Creek has a cast of one

Exactly two years ago I wrote something about how spookily square kids in US teen dramas are, and how what passes for rebellion is rarely the stuff of true parental nightmares. Today I had another revelation about Dawson's Creek which might have some people slapping their foreheads while emitting a "well, duh!" but whatever: all the kids on the show have exactly the same characters.


In Television on 9 February 2003. 2 comments. Permalink

Questioning time

What he said.


In Television on 21 March 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

The Big Brother universe

Big Brother is the only such "unreality" type show I've ever got into, and every year it has me hooked. This week one of the housemates in the UK house, Cameron, has swapped places with one from the Big Brother Africa house. With the travellers' fellow housemates not knowing until the new arrivals turned up.


In Television on 24 June 2003. 5 comments. Permalink

And Nancy Banks-Smith too

Yonks ago (less than five, but certainly more than a couple) I wanted to add Nancy Banks-Smith, the Guardian's masterful TV reviewer and national treasure, to Byliner but I couldn't find a suitable page to index. Then -- duh -- I realised I could monitor the paper's search results for 'Nancy Banks-Smith'. So here she is, all Bylinered up. While her writing doesn't make me wish I'd caught, say, last night's EastEnders, the turns of phrase at least have me relishing her reviews of it, a talent no other writer can match.

In Byliner, Television on 12 July 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

Great ‘24’ review

I don't watch 24 but I loved this Sight & Sound review of it by David Thompson.


In Television on 27 July 2003. Permalink


I nearly wrote something about the gentle pleasures of Dinnerladies last week, but thankfully Nancy Banks-Smith has done it better for me:


In Television on 24 September 2003. Permalink

Felicity on ITV2

Having previously gone on about Felicity I feel obliged to mention that ITV2 is showing it at around 1.30am on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the moment. Last week was episodes 220, 221 and 222, so maybe it moves on to Season Three this week. For some reason I thought there was a further season after the one ITV2 showed a while back on Sunday mornings, but now I realise that was Season Four, which I guess was the last ever. Ah well.

In Television on 20 October 2003. Permalink


"There's only one thing I hate more than a sore loser."


In Television on 23 October 2003. Permalink

Bolero, Houston, R&B, The Office and Pop Idol

Sunday was a great day for stumbling across interesting shows. First, I came across a programme on Radio 4 that was nothing but orchestral musicians and conductors talking about playing Ravel's Bolero, intercut with relevant snippets of the music. I love hearing musicians discuss playing (like Alan Rusbridger's 2002 article on playing the piano) and this didn't disappoint: a slew of performers who dread playing the piece; how to get it to build in pace imperceptibly; and especially the percussionist who found it easier to play the repetetive beat with only one hand before dashing off for beers when it was all over. Unfortunately the show doesn't seem to exist on Radio 4's site.


In Television on 6 January 2004. 1 comment. Permalink

The Sky at Night

That'll teach me to write stuff past midnight. In my previous ramble about Sunday's TV I completely forgot to mention The Sky at Night, which I stumbled onto at the end of the evening. I'm ashamed to admit that in its decades of broadcasting, and my decades of television viewing, I've never once watched it. It's quite something, and made me realise how few elderly people you see on TV. Not one -- Patrick Moore -- but also two colleagues, each of whom not only had wild white hair, but a bow tie. How often do you see three snowy-headed old men wearing bow ties on TV, eh? And how often do you see one of them get up and start singing, huh? So I probably shouldn't have kept thinking of The Fast Show's Bob Fleming, but I'll be tuning in again for sure.

In Television on 6 January 2004. 1 comment. Permalink

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

To be honest I was a little disappointed by Amusing Ourselves to Death, although this may have been due to high hopes raised by having heard the book mentioned a lot. Much of it seemed either blindingly obvious, or like the moanings of a killjoy who can't bear that TV is entertaining and that people don't listen to long speeches any more. However, it's still very much worth a read for its main point: TV is good at entertainment and anything that tries to rise about that level will fail and be worse than useless. Serious TV is thinly disguised entertainment and there is little need for authorities to censor the media when we so willingly take in the froth that's fed us. Given that this was written pre-internet, many of its ideas could do with updating to critique a whole new media -- it sounds strangely quaint the few times it mentions "computers". Postman's How to Watch TV News (UK, US) is probably a good read too.


In Books, Television on 26 September 2004. 29 comments. Permalink

1970s UK TV Fictional Celebrity Big Brother

Tom and chums came up with their dream Big Brother cast. In the same spirit I came up with my own version, ideal for Guardian Guide reading, TV retro-highlights marathon watching 20-30 something fools whose conversations inevitably descend to how many episodes of Mr Benn there were, or how odd those dubbed kids programmes the BBC used to show were:


In Television on 13 January 2005. 1 comment. Permalink

Contextual signage

Two newish things I like, which together are worth a post: a new sign at the Barbican and one of the new Channel 4 idents. (Click the images to see larger versions.)


In Television on 20 February 2005. 5 comments. Permalink

Where’s my TV?

Steven Johnson has Continued…

In Television on 29 September 2005. 7 comments. Permalink

A laudable idea

Boing Boing has a post urging people to take part in the BBC’s Consultation about On Demand Services. A laudable idea except Boing Boing’s post is entirely about getting people to say that the proposed service shouldn’t solely use Microsoft products. I’m certainly in favour of avoiding Microsoft (and if the BBC avoids RealPlayer too, even better) but sending Boing Boing readers to the consultation with only this issue in mind, and telling them the form “takes 5 minutes to fill in”, really isn’t helping the BBC or licence fee payers.


In Music, Television on 3 February 2007. 5 comments. Permalink

It’s not a race

I’m not the first to ask this question but it’s still perplexing… Why is BBC2 showing The Wire every night of the week? And at 11.20pm? Who is it at the BBC that shoves every decent American import it gets its hands on into the graveyard slot?


In Television on 30 March 2009. 8 comments. Permalink

Misfits is Buffy good

Paul Mison wrote a bit about Misfits, the E4 drama, which reminded me that I’d meant to dash off a quick “isn’t Misfits great” post when series two was on air. So here it is.


In Television on 3 February 2011. Permalink

Trailers as movies

Here’s something I keep expecting to see but haven’t yet: an entire movie or TV show told as speedily as a trailer.


In Television on 5 March 2011. 9 comments. Permalink

Two billion viewers

If you ever get that sneaking suspicion that too much of the authoritative-sounding facts in the news are mindlessly made up, it’s great when you find evidence of this. Everyone from the Daily Mail and the Sun, through the Croydon Advertiser and Shropshire Star, on to CNN, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian blindly reported that “an estimated two billion people” watched the royal wedding.


In Television on 6 May 2011. 6 comments. Permalink

Black and white

It’s the same joke, from Frasier and Parks and Recreation, but still a good one.


In Television on 28 April 2014. Permalink

Practical Television, February 1952

A while back I bought a copy of Practical Television from February 1952. It’s a fascinating look at a time when TVs were new technology and there were societies of people interested in what we might now call “hacking” with their TVs.


In Television on 15 February 2015. Permalink