Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The future and the history of television

Wasn't it actually, genuinely, thoroughly exciting about Michael Grade going to ITV? Ask anyone to name a British TV executive and they'd name him, he's that well known inside and outside the industry. Okay, they might also name Greg Dyke. Doctor Who fans might name Julie Gardner. Drama nuts like me would point to Jane Tranter.

But even I used to haver if asked who was running ITV these days and I'm a dyed-in-the-polyester anorak.

I read Grade's autobiography a few years ago and was a fan before but admired still him more afterwards. And I just looked on my shelves to tell you the title of the book and I can't find it. Have you borrowed my book?

Anyway, I have worked for ITV but not really so much that it or I noticed, yet it's been despairing watching it become like a cheap digital cast-off and Michael Grade's move is the best news in many years. And speaking of years, he's committed to staying at ITV for three, which means he'll be 66 when he goes. Not sure I see that man ever retiring, but if he does, this could be a pretty good end to an astonishingly interesting career. Or a pretty bad one, depending.

And speaking of the future, the history is back: I don't know the dates but Imagine has been re-scheduled for before Christmas and my feature has been ever-so-slightly cut down from two pages to about 40 words. It'll be the TV Insider piece on whichever day Imagine airs. Please read slowly: it's an expensive 40 words!


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Previously on BBC2's schedules...

I was just after telling you this: "Currently it looks like Imagine... TV Pioneers will be on BBC2 at 22:35 on Tuesday 12 December but it's still subject to change."

It's changed. The show's been pulled from that evening and as yet has not been rescheduled. Consequently, and I suspect you won't be surprised here, that Radio Times feature won't run either.

Doubtlessly Imagine... will be rescheduled but I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts it won't be this year. I almost hope it isn't because I wouldn't rate my chances of there being space in RT for the feature. Then even if it pops up next year, there's always a strong chance there won't be room because of bigger programmes in the same week.

And, um, yes, I do know why Imagine... has been taken out of the schedule but I can't say.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

History of TV on TV and in RT

The episode of Imagine... about the history of television is now due in week 50.

There you go, that tells you everything. Waddya mean, you don't know from BBC week numbers? Have you got a second for a quick story? The BBC numbers weeks so that instead of planning for November 21, you can say Tuesday of week 47. Fine. Makes a lot of sense if you're a TV or radio producer making, I don't know, a six-parter: you can say it's on weeks 10-15 or whatever. And it helps at Radio Times too.

Oooh, want to know a secret? Next time you see an issue of Radio Times, look at the barcode on the front. In the top corner there'll be a two-digit number: it's the BBC week number. You can't believe how handy that is.

And I know I keep calling it a BBC week number when you're thinking it's a week, it's numbered, it's not a BBC invention. But just sometimes, it is. Week 1 is the first week of the year, right? What do you do if the first complete Saturday-Friday week begins on January 4th? I can't remember the dates now but a couple of years ago when I was still doing TV reviews for BBC Ceefax, we had the situation where the BBC made one decision about what week 1 was, and the rest of the TV industry went the other. For an entire year I was lost: when they said a tape was for week 38, did they mean my week 38?

Er, that wasn't the story. The story was this. BBC week numbers go from January to December. But my wife Angela works for the Health and Safety Executive and they also number their weeks.

From May to April.

After the first major holiday scheduling disaster, we've abandoned week numbers in my house.


PS. Week 50 is about three weeks away, we are in 47 now. Currently it looks like Imagine... TV Pioneers will be on BBC2 at 22:35 on Tuesday 12 December but it's still subject to change.

Miked up

I sat in on a recording for a DVD commentary yesterday: can't tell you what the DVD is yet, not because I deliberately try to be awkward to you but I just promised. I'll tell you when the DVD comes out and actually you'll hear some of it, partly because I'm sure I'll nick a few choice moments from the commentary track at that time, but also because the cast and crew answered my questions.

After I'd gone.

I went to this recording for a good dozen reasons, starting with how I wanted to meet the producer after we'd talked a lot, and because I really like the piece he's working on. But there was also that the session was in the BBC's Broadcasting House and I haven't been there for work in a decade. Television Centre and BH, I don't know what it is about them but they're special: they've got that simultaneous feel of being alive now, of working to the future and of being steeped in the past. Er, so maybe I do know what's special about them.

I know I'm an anorak here but I also know I'm not alone. However they did it, the BBC has made BH terribly important and just getting lost in the corridors again was fun.

So that was me, that was all I was after, but this 'ere producer, ably demonstrating why he's a producer, was determined to get me an interview with the writer of the DVD title. I wanted it too, I admire the guy's writing, but there was a lot of work going on there yesterday: if I ended up being just a lemon earwigging the commentary from the control room, I'd be happy.

And in the end things did, inevitably, take longer than expected and typically for the best of reasons: it was a group commentary track and it sounds fantastic. I can't wait to hear the ones for segments that I didn't hear.

But I also can't wait to hear my answers. I left in the afternoon but this producer suggested I leave a couple of questions for the writer and he'd get the answers recorded if there was time. I left there thinking this was a nice bloke who had no chance of getting them recorded: obviously his DVD comes first, there was also a limit on the studio time, and nobody in this world can read my handwriting.

Only, I just got an email from him. He did get the writer to answer my questions and what's more, the whole group chimed in with the answers. Hopefully I'll have the recordings soon and while parts relate solely to the project that was recorded this week, I might be able to steal some of it and get it to you in one of the next couple of UK DVD Review podcasts.

It's just, well, eerie. The way it went, I said hello and goodbye practically simultaneously to most of the group who cannot have had any clue who was looming over them like that. And then while I was forlornly and, for a while, fruitlessly looking for the BBC Shuttle Bus outside BH, they were effectively talking to me.

I wonder if I'm being rash saying I'll play you the bits of the tape I can. I haven't heard it, I wasn't there, maybe I'm going to get some beautifully recorded dialogue full of whispers saying "Who was that guy anyway?","Does his wife let him out looking like that?" "He has a wife?"


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good food and other stories

One day I'll remember my username and password to get on to this thing.

If I could've remembered it yesterday, I'd have told you that the site I mentioned the other week, BBC Good Food, is up and running in every sense: I've seen the stats for the first few days and it's just boomed into life. Please add to their good fortune by having a look at BBCgoodfood.com, especially if you're a foodie.

There was a launch party for it in London last night, lots of drink, lots of food and - you're already wondering this, I was wondering it, everybody else on the list was wondering it - yes, the food was indeed good.

But I also wanted to talk to you about the Radio Times feature I mentioned without actually saying what it was. I've delivered it and it was one of those that's so much fun you hate handing it over, but I think by not saying what it was about I either looked coy or grandiose. That or rude, I'm havering. But it's habit, sorry, a longterm habit that comes from how you never know what will happen to a piece.

For instance, I was commissioned for a magazine feature in summer 2005, wrote it, got paid quite nicely, and it's never run. I was asked to update it this summer but fortunately it didn't run then either because I completely blew the assignment.

And it happens. You haven't told me what you do: is this the same for you? It's rare that the piece vanishes, it's more often that you get chucked off it - though that's only happened to me twice and I found it much, much rougher when I was an editor and had to fire a writer - but it's routine that something changes. With this latest one, for instance, that's for Radio Times and it's tied to one specific episode of a series so if BBC2 bumps that episode to January, my feature goes with it. (And BBC2 has been making an amazing number of schedule changes lately; the delay for production on Top Gear set cats amongst pigeons.)

Plus, if that show does air in January, it might be up against bigger shows and my feature shrinks to a paragraph. I expect I'll have a byline on this one but there's plenty in RT that I do which doesn't; I think now that I've finished with it but even today there was a call about a detail so I never regard it as really finished until it's on the shelf at WH Smith's.

And I never, ever say what I'm writing about.

Except now. You read this far, how am I at tantalising? The BBC2 programme is an edition of Imagine... celebrating the 70th anniversary of television and I've honestly forgotten when it's supposed to air but it's soon. And RT is currently intending to run a feature about how Radio Times has covered TV since the start. That's it.

But, grief, I had a good time doing it, most especially when I found a little unexpected connection. You think Radio Times came before television, because radio came before television, and, er, you'd be right, but wait till you see what I found.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

The joy of research is...

...what else you find on the way. I'm doing a feature for Radio Times that's involved researching back issues far, far further back than I'm normally supposed to for the On This Day column and it's, well, it's weird. The paper stock they used in the 1920s feels wrong, it's sometimes glossier than you'd expect yet the printing, the actual text on the page, sometimes looks like it was done on a typewriter.

And the attitudes, the assumptions that plainly went without saying then but are mysteries now or hopelessly innocent. There's going to be plenty of this in the final feature but I also kept finding things that are off the brief and though I can't use them, there is one I really want you to see.

The Radio Times: April 18, 1924 issue, p149, col 2
"Amongst Bournmouth’s distinguished listeners is Mr Thomas Hardy, O.M., the great Wessex novelist, who has not hesitated to give helpful advice concerning the station programmes."

Isn't that fantastic? Thomas Hardy alive and being a right pain in the backside to BBC Radio Bournmouth, or whatever it was called then.

What's "O.M."?