Monday, 15 September 2014

Sunday night crapfest – at the Palladium!

Any industry as bloated and stale as TV is can be forgiven for endlessly recycling old formats which once were culturally significant.

It happened last night when ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’ came back – fronted by that grinning ninny from TV central casting, Stephen Mulhern.

As a viewer I didn’t share Mulhern’s breathless excitement as the show plodded on. I stayed sufficiently alert to record his pisspoor spoken words, mind!
Mulhern spouted clichés right to the end of the show. He’d “had a ball” apparently. Presenting the show had been “a dream come true”. At one point had “literally goosebumps”. At another, he rubbed his hands in theatrical glee and shouted “I can’t wait”. Yes, it was that sad.

Talking of sadness, Bryan Adams looked tired and old as he put way too much rock posing into a mediocre song for the finale.

That was almost as dolorous as Alfie Boe warbling his way through a (predictably) miserable ballad from Le Misérables – the stage musical that appeals to soppy luvvies and naive liberals in equal measure.

The Beatles, the Stones and quite a few big US singing stars appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium in its heyday (early to mid 1960s).

More than 20 million used to watch each show, when it was presented by the likes of Bruce Forsyth and Norman Vaughan, who were quite funny and charming. Now the show will be lucky to get 6 million.

We are now set for another five shows, thankfully not presented by Mulhern. But I doubt I’ll be watching.
The performance mix of silly magicians, near-nudie prancers, moronic contemporary girl and boy bands and dinosaurs of pop (such as Neil Diamond and Art Garfunkel, who are both lined up for appearances, apparently) simply does not appeal.

Nor does the shouty ‘Top of the Bill’ game show element give any pleasure. That’s even worse that the ‘Beat the Clock’ element from the show’s good old days; which come to think of it weren’t that good.

This show’s been revived several times over the years but it simply doesn’t work any more. The theatre itself looks small and strangely provincial. Society’s moved on. So should clueless telly bosses.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Media of the stoopid for the stoopid ...

The media! I work in it and I’ve seen it expand massively in quantity and decline sharply in quality – simultaneously.

As a craft-trained British newspaper journalist, I feel news coverage has gone weird, with showbiz dross everywhere, thick tarts (men and women) on and off football fields, and TV news channels designed for morons.

This is not all sour grapes from an auld curmudgeon. There’s a serious point. The explosion in web and mobile phone-based communications is causing human relationships to fragment and weaken – and that's encouraging superficial thinking, emotional incontinence and social isolation.
We've created a world of far too much communication without considering the consequences. No wonder we feel jaded. ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off’.
What we are steadily losing in the printed word is something resembling truth and beauty, achieved through proper, professional fact-checking and editing. And that is much more valuable than what we're gaining – instant publishing open to virtually all, even the barely literate and the staggeringly stupid and hate-filled.
Even the columnists are not up to much now – mainly because they aren't really newspaper columnists at all, just hired-in jackasses off the telly.
In terms of images and sound (music, film, and spoken word) the digital revolution has also led to a terrible dumbing down and coarsening. Ever more startling presentation does not necessarily mean better. That much is clear – at least to me.
As a hack, I’m not just worried about the future of newspapers, with their endless chasing after tittle-tattle on social media.

Quality is missing in magazines too. Go into any supermarket and look at the titles on the shelves. Soap stars, celebrity chefs ... what Cheryl Cole (or whatever she calls herself these days) is up to, or the latest adventures of Peter Bloody Andre. Honestly, who gives a crap what they are up to?

I think local radio is dying too.

A while ago I recall experimenting with my car radio while driving around Merseyside – picking up Heart FM, a programme sponsored by Birds Eye Potato Waffles and hosted by the inane drivel specialist Toby Anstis, who used to be on children's telly.
Toby's voice … the adverts for stupid social engineering projects by ‘the government of the Welsh Assembly’ … the hideous music. It was torture beyond endurance.

Now, I’m thinking of starting an old-style newspaper or magazine in Liverpool, containing wise news analysis and great colour-writing. It won’t have a website – and the readers, before being allowed to subscribe to it, will have to pass an intelligence test.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Am-Dram antics and 'issues' overload at Corrie

Ken Barlow’s return to the Street was creakily-scripted and over-acted.

“How could you NOT TELL ME?!” he screamed, Am-Dram style, at Deirdre, after discovering that the corny ‘who-killed-Tina?’ storyline had resulted in his alcoholic son Peter being in jail.

And only in a soap that’s lost its way would you get Peter Barlow getting advice from an inmate who is also a philosopher.

Another cliché Corrie peddled last night was the insufferable middle class ‘doctor knows best’ attitude of GPs – but at least that has SOME anchor in social reality.

Meanwhile … It Has Been Decided … that young Max will be diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Well, at least the producers will be able to tick that off their long list of ‘compassionate’ liberal issues to be dealt with by their sinking soap.
I predict an ADHD Helpline up sometime soon ’for those who may have been affected by events in tonight’s episode’.

I’ll tell you one thing. My attention certainly slips whenever Corrie’s on these days.

Just like it has for the incredible 14 million or so viewers this once great drama has lost over the past 30 years or so ...   

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The festival for morons that is British TV

A phrase that crops up in the excellent novel ‘A Prayer For Owen Meany’ by John Irving says it all - ‘made for television’.

'Made for television' ... it's not compliment. It's a withering remark by Owen Meany to sum up what he feels about TV output – that it's dull, feeble-brained and insensitive to the finer aspects of human experience.

Now, last night (Tue 15 July 2014), was one of those rare evenings I’d decided to stay home, so I thought I’d watch telly for a change. But the schedule on Tuesday was pisspoor. Sorry, that's the only word for it.  

A quick look at the TV guide offered up so much crap …

ITV1 had Alan Titchmarsh messing around in a garden in the charmless town of Runcorn. No! A thousand times, no! Frankly, I've only to read the name 'Alan Titchmarsh' and I feel starved of oxygen.

ITV1 had more torture later – the actor Robson Green having a look around Northumberland.  I decided to pass on that. It would be similar to a programme I endured a couple of weeks ago – some old time-server from That’s Life showing us round the Isle of Man. He was assisted by an offensively over-animated arm-waving fetishist called Bettany Hughes. What planet is she from?  

Surely there was something I could watch on mainstream telly on Tuesday night? John Bishop’s Australia on BBC1 perhaps? No thanks. Emphatically, no thanks. Don’t find him funny at all. I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than watch him.

I’m just  not interested in these endless vanity travel shows created for showbiz fluffheads that TV uses to pad out its schedules.

I’ve already suffered Joanna Lumley and Caroline Quentin gushing their way through such ghastly formats. Caroline Quentin, frankly, has spoiled Cornwall for me.

As for Sarah Millican on BBC2. Hmmmm. A comedian who isn’t remotely funny. How does that work, clueless TV bosses?

Well, Sarah’s been given a kind of chat-style show, unimaginatively titled The Sarah Millican Television Programme in which she apparently interviews other charmless TV presenters, such as Chris Bloody Packham. Arrrrghh!  There is no end to tedium of contemporary British telly.

Could Channel 4 rescue Tuesday night? No, seemingly not. On offer is Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA. Yes, of course it was a repeat. Even if it was new you know you'll have seen it all before. Total boredom.

Anything on C5 then? Well there's another vanity project for another bland entertainer … The Dog Rescuers with Alan Davies,  followed by the Festival for Morons that is Big Brother.

No, no, no, no ... to it all. It’s all so “made for television”. It's lazy and clearly aimed at thick people.

I decided I would rather sit in the garden instead and watch my geraniums in the westering sun, a glass of red wine in my hand.

So that’s exactly what I did on Tuesday. I couldn’t even be arsed to watch the Family Guy repeats – though actually FG is one of the few brave offerings on TV; take a bow Seth MacFarlane, I wish we had a British version of you.

Friday, 30 May 2014

A 'top' soap that reeks of DESPERATION!

There'll be no Coronation Street on ITV1 tonight, because the schedule's stuffed with a friendly England v Peru football game  complete with the usual rushed, rubbishy commentary from Adrian Chiles and co as an opener for the World Cup.

Traditionally Corrie fans get upset when football pushes the soap out, but I suspect many of them tonight will be relieved to have a rest from all the artificial sweat and tension of recent weeks.

Tina is in hospital on life-support in a standard soap cliché scene, and Peter Barlow is desperate for a drink, no doubt. ZZZzzzzz.

Now we have those other TV chestnuts to get through ... who was responsible for her death? (Apparently it was Rob, but I couldn't be arsed to watch the Tuesday episode which revealed that.) Next, will the correct killer be bought to justice?

Honestly, who bloody cares? I suspect the actors themselves find it hilarious than anyone can take such overwritten bollocks can seriously.

Now, Corrie bosses are doubtless crowing that viewing figures are up for recent episodes, the ones where Tina planned to run away with Peter Barlow to somewhere down south, where she could get her teeth whitened more regularly.

I think some 10 million have watched those episodes, but actually that's well down on Corrie's viewing figures some 25 years ago, when it regularly pulled in more than 20 million viewers per episode without having to resort to tram crashes and silly murders.

Now, I'm not saying that the Street should be solely about ordinary people doing ordinary things there would be no drama in that, and that is not what drama is about.  

But the producers do need to be less desperate in the plotting and the rush to make everything that happens so anxious and knife-edgey. It just doesn't work.

What this vintage soap needs to get back to is fine script-writing, which builds character, humour and the sort of street-wise philosophy that we who live in the North of England recognise a strong and life-affirming part of daily existence.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Yes, aliens, come and shake us up a bit!

The world has gone a bit dull, with its bitter local wars and international versions of TV crap such as ‘Masterchef’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

I think we need extraterrestrials to land and shake things up.

Now, the question of whether there is intelligent non-human life ‘out there’ is often mocked. Sensible folk reckons it's merely the obsession of sci-fi nerds and demented conspiracy theorists.

But actually, this is the biggest question facing humanity – and actually the subject of serious debate and study by (among others) physicists, philosophers and theologians.

The visitors to Earth won’t – in all probability – be like those American B-movie monsters, or like the Cadbury’s Smash tinpot space aliens from the memorable British TV ads.

But I think their arrival might well result in our ‘small potato’ world becoming more interesting  …

Monday, 7 October 2013

BBC R4’s Today programme – it’s so yesterday!

I’ve recently stopped buying a national newspaper each day. The main reason is that I’m not remotely interested in any of the things that Miley Cyrus, Sharon Osbourne, and Simon Cowell say or do.

From now on I'll be restricting my reading in print to the following journals – The Economist, New Scientist, Private Eye and The Catholic Herald, where you find some of the best and most intelligent writing and analysis. My daily news intake I will get online in future.

Similarly, I’m about to change habit of the past 30 years and stop listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme each morning. I’m just not any more sufficiently interested in its main ingredients …Westminister politics, middle class “humour” and the literary pontificating of James Naughtie.

I think Naughtie is off to offer his tedious insights in the Scottish referendum on independence soon. I won’t be listening to that, either. And while the Today programme’s new presenter Mishal Husain is actually rather good, her presence is not enough to save the show as a daily part of my life, Monday to Saturdays.

Take this morning’s offering from Today (Monday 7 October 2013). It was especially bad at the tail end. Shaun Keaveny made what was supposed to be a wry, amusing plea for the Glastonbury music festival to be switched from being a summer to a winter event.

The “peg” for that item was the likely move of the Qatar football Word Cup 2022 from a summer event to a winter one. Pathetic. Almost as pathetic as the main test for standing up a news story on BBC Radio 4, namely – “errr, has it been in The Guardian?”

Keaveny’s piece made me cringe. It was pisspoor colour-writing – formulaic and predictable. It even included a suck-up reference to John Humphries, which Humphries wisely chose not to respond to.

The only thing that the Today programme is good at these days is crashing the pips.