Sunday, November 28, 2010

Duncing with the stars

I mistimed Ann Widdecombe’s dance: I’d already got a cup of tea before she came on. But as worked hard at getting down to the tea leaves rather than watch her, I had a vision of the future.

It was a very specific vision, the kind of vision you get only by accidentally treading on your Sky+ remote and starting playback of the finale of America’s Dancing with the Stars. But it came to me like a vision of Christmas future because this year’s finale there had many a similarity to what we’re facing here.

They had three people in their finale: Jennifer Grey, Bristol Palin and Kyle Somebody. Kyle Somebody plainly made a big impression on me. Jennifer Grey was rather irritating somehow but she could and did dance. And Bristol, daughter of Sarah “Which is north again?” Palin was the Ann Widdecombe.

That’s a little unfair. Bristol Palin can’t dance, she has no music in her, but you watch for a moment and all you think is that she’s just young. Have another go in the future, bless.

But she made it to the final off the back of the public vote: she needed to get votes from ill-informed people who can’t see the evidence of their own eyes so, actually, she was fine there. You could’ve predicted she’d make it to the end.

The problem was with the judges and this is where it’s scaring me. If we vote Ann Widdecombe into the final or perhaps even to win, we have ourselves to blame. But if the judges copy what appeared to happen in America, they will start giving Ann better and better marks.

We’ve already seen Len switch to the “it’s fabulous entertainment” side. And this week we saw votes that bore more relation to how we’re near the end of the series than to the quality of the dances: Pamela did not deserve 10s, even my previous favourite Kara did not deserve her 9s.

Kara made a disappointing start because while the steps were there, the musicality wasn’t. Nobody had that this week, nobody.

They’re just all jiggered from their jigs, aren’t they?

If I look up now, by the way, I can see the spines of two Titanic books on my shelves. Up in my office I’ve probably got another four. Two weeks ago, I touched a piece of the Titanic’s hull at the Las Vegas exhibition. A real piece. The real hull. The actual metal of the ship. It was a moment like an electric shock.

And still I couldn’t keep my attention on Ann and Anton’s Titanic-themed dance.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's time to meet the stars of our zzzzzz

“Will you be home in time to see it tonight?” writer Katharine Robb asked me at an event today. I have rarely been so certain in my answer yes, so rarely correct and yet simultaneously so entirely wrong. While you were enjoying Kara Tointon and the best dance of the night, I was at home. Asleep.

It hits you at odd times, the post-travel jetlag zero-exercise no-stamina need for a pillow, but it is the first time Strictly has sent me nodding off.

Bless the wonder that is Sky+, though: I got to watch the whole thing, as live but delayed by an hour or so. And the only consequence was that as I reached for the phone to vote for Kara, Tess Daly said on the telly: “No, William, you’ve messed it up again, voting closed about a minute ago.”

I may be paraphrasing there.

Funny night, don’t you think? Blackpool feels very different: we got many more camera angles from behind a row or two of audience and somehow I had a sense throughout that all the dancers were farther away than usual. I felt the distance, felt less connected at times.

And I can only account for the scoring by assuming the judges have finer eyesight and better seats than I do. Matt Baker’s tens were kind, Pamela and James’s ones were a kind of stock clearance, using up the tens before the show finished for the night. And while I could well accept Len’s logic about Kara’s dance not being as advertised, I was disappointed with Craig only giving her a 9.

But as my mind wandered during Ann Widdencombe’s Canary Waif routine,I kept coming back to Anonymous’s comment last week: the point that I was wrong about celebrity dancers and the Argentine Tango. I’d posited that Kara Tointon’s was the first time a celebrity had done it that well and Anon said no: what about Mark Ramprakash?

It’s a true and a good point. I’d forgotten him - and yet I hadn’t forgotten that dance. He and Karen Hardy dancing the Argentine Tango back in series 4, way back in 2006, that was one of the highlights of the whole of Strictly. I can see it now, vividly clearly remember her dance steps, his lifting her, her stroking a leg against him like a preying mantis.

Yet I forgot him because I realise now that I see the Argentine Tango as the woman’s dance. The man is there to frame, to support, the woman does all the work.

Which means Anonymous sent me off doubting my memory and brings me back ever more sure of what I said: Kara Tointon isn’t a pro but I really think she dances like one.

I’ll say it again: give her the trophy now.

Not that she really stands a chance at beating Ann Widdecombe. Seriously.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Strictly from Vegas – the real one

Perhaps you had the sound muted because Bruce Forsyth was making the funnies but if you caught him contorting a gag about the Las Vegas of the North, please picture me with a cold slice of pizza and a surprised look: I'm in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas of the, er, Nevada.

Angela and I are here, it's a work thing, I'd tell you but I promise you'd be bored by the fifteenth paragraph and I'd be irritatingly giddy, so, you know, enough. The fact that Bruce made this gag that way was disconcerting, that's all. No more about me and half-choked, half-cooked pizza.

Instead, you'll also have seen Pamela and James opening their routine typing on computers. Do you want to know what they were doing? They'd set their Macs in their home office to record Strictly Come Dancing via EyeTV, a teeny Freeview box about the size of a prayer that plugs TV signals into your computer. This EyeTV lark recorded the show for them, it transcoded it into a smaller file size and copied it up for my to my MobileMe cloud space where I was able to pull it down onto the MacBook I brought with me to work on.

If the BBC would just open up the iPlayer to international viewers, I'd have been able to concentrate on my work instead of figuring all this out.

But then it did also occur to me that this is Vegas: would the glamour of Strictly Come Dancing suddenly appear a bit limp to me? Would I have to hide behind geeking out just for something to say? Might I turn to, I don't know, which satellite I bounced the cloud signal off just so I didn't give in and rage at you about Ann Widdecombe?

No, if it had come to that I'd just have told you that The A Team movie is very funny when you watch it on an airplane because all the airplane-blowing-up bits of the plot have been removed. It's like watching Casualty when Gold used to show it during the daytime: you'd get the oh-oh, there's trouble, then the oh-yes, it's that big railing spike they keep cutting to and there'd be ominous music if Casualty had a budget, then there's the eh-what? as the big accident of the week is deleted.

Speaking of Ann Widdecombe, I am just bored. I'm not a fan of the woman anyway, I can acknowledge that she's handling all this aplombably but I just want her gone. So Len's effectively positioning the judges on her side did not win me over.

Nor did Kara Tointon's dance.

But that's because I was won over by her last week, I'm on this woman's side, I expect to enjoy her dances and I truly do believe she should win the whole contest this year. We've seen many a good Argentine Tango on the show but this was the first brilliant one danced by a celebrity.

Next week Strictly is in Blackpool, the Vegas of the North, and I am not. Did you spend that boring half hour applying for tickets to each episode of Strictly separately? Every week now I am reminded of that afternoon because the BBC ticket office regularly now emails me to say tough luck but there may be spaces for a hilarious new Radio 3 comedy about ducks.


I feel a bit bad complaining about never getting to travel to Strictly since I am currently 5,212 miles away.

Right. Sorry about that. I must away to the gaming tables. Someone's got to fund this trip, you know.

It's okay.

I have a system.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Talking, talking, talking at the London Screenwriters' Festival 2010

So it turns out that I can talk. Possibly you’re not surprised, especially if you followed a link here expecting Strictly Come Dancing chatter. There is plenty and it contains News: you’ll find it here, which is the metric equivalent of about an inch down the page.

Anyway. Talking. Possibly you think my problem is more on the shutting up side, more likely you’ve never spent a second thinking about it.

But it turns out I can talk and it was a little startling to me.

Specifically, I can pitch.

At speed.

The one thing that spoiled the London Screenwriters’ Festival for me last weekend was the dread and the fear of pitching an idea to people in a speed-pitching session. And then the things that risked overwhelming the whole festival for me were the fire in me when I got to do the pitching and the elation when it went so well.

It’s interesting to me that what I got out of a writing festival was speech but that was always going to be the way. No matter what anyone tells you about courses, nobody can teach you how to write. Get better at it. Get more successful at it. But writing itself, no. I don’t know if this troubles you at all, but in case it does I will also point out that there are many fine people who state without question that if you were to spend 10,000 hours on your writing you would become a fantastic writer.

If you believe that, please come back when you’re on hour 9,999 and we’ll talk.

Even then, see, it’s all about talking. I used to truly wonder if writers are the people who don’t write.

Then I met several hundred who all wrote, all the time, and still had lives so long as you count other jobs and wine o’clock as lives.

I did get into a natter about science that had nothing to do with writing and everything to do with entirely fascinating me. I did meet people who proved to be as funny in the flesh as they do on Twitter.

And every one of them has at least one great script or great project - oftentimes they left it up to you to work out which it was - and every one of them was increasingly fired up by this festival weekend.

I wasn’t going to the London Screenwriters’ Festival until I got a bursary for it from Screen West Midlands: thank you very much to them. It’s first time I’ve been directly funded for an arts event and it was an event I was very keen to go to so that was particularly good news that could not possibly have even a hint of a dark cloud.

It had rain instead.

I learnt that as part of the bursary, I got to take part in the speed pitching sessions. I just had to tell them ahead of time what my project was so the organisers could match me up with people who might be interested. The project I got the bursary on wouldn’t do: it’s tied up with a producer already. So I said the first one that came to mind, the first script of mine I could think of.

I contemplated pitching the idea without rereading the script or even entirely fully remembering a single thing about it.

Somehow that just seemed to make a five-minute speed pitch feel like it was going to last an hour. So I read. And, since it’s you, I’ll tell you I enjoyed the piece. It’d been a year since I looked at it and I’d forgotten so much that I got into the story again.

Let me skip ahead: all three people I pitched to liked the idea.

But let me skip back: I’m a writer on a bursary who has to show what he’s got and do it at lightspeed. I was genuinely scared going in to this session and it coloured the whole first day of the festival for me.

Since you ask, the colour was a kind of Doppler effect: all blue in the morning before it, all brilliant red in the afternoon after. I left that room ten feet tall and wouldn’t have noticed if the rest of the festival was bad or perhaps if it even happened at all.

I’m bubbly about this event just talking to you, feeling anew that rush that came before the chin-on-desk slump when I got back home to work. There were things that didn’t go well at the festival: one speaker advised new writers to write a spec Absolutely Fabulous script. Silly man. “Hello, Mr or Mrs or Ms Producer, here’s a script I’ve written for a show that finished ten years ago. I promise I haven’t spent a decade on it and I do know that comedy has moved on a bit since then. Can I have a commission now, please?”

But I learnt that soaps are brutal and harsh and so very like the newsrooms I was trained in that they appeal to me again. I found out that German television makes a billion and a half single dramas every hour where UK TV hasn’t since the 1960s. I fortunately also found out that German television translates British-language scripts.

And of all the events, I had the best time in a crime one run by Barbara Machin. Finally, someone else who likes crime and doesn’t care whodunit. Or rather, that’s the least important thing in a crime tale that’s any good.

It sounds a bit off, but hearing people you rate saying the same things you believe is rather invigorating. Please agree with me in the comments here and make me feel great.

I have learnt for next year, however. I’ve learnt that I need to practice my trade more, I need to build up writing muscles, I need to exercise what resilient skills I have: oh yes, next year I too must be able to stay up drinking Pepsi until 7am and losing my voice.

If you want to know more about Screen West Midlands who funded me, they have a particularly fine website here. And as for the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2011, you’ll probably hear about it first on creative director Chris Jones’s blog.

Strictly: Who to Blame and Who to Thank for this year

I’ve said to you before that there’s no Strictly blog on this year and this is true. Would I lie to you? When you could catch me out that easily?

But there is today a piece I’ve written for them about Ann Widdecombe staying in while good dancers go out. For balance, the piece also covers a similar thing that is apparently happening on The X Factor with someone called Wagner but, really, I phoned that bit of the piece in. Are Novelty Acts Spoiling Strictly and X Factor?

Tell me you didn’t look at the final leaderboard this week and gasp: “Scott’s at the bottom!” even though Ann was below him. Tell me it’s not you voting to keep her in every week. We can get past this, our friendship can survive the blow, but if we have nothing else, we have to have honesty.

It would be nice to have news. I’m a newsy guy. And I have some. If Ann Widdecombe is the bit of Strictly that should go, perhaps in an ideal world taking all the props with her, then in a fair and just world, there is someone we should be thanking for how very much better the show is this year.

It’s not the fabulous Dave Arch who can’t be bothered to take his headphones off. It’s not the fella with a hat who sits behind him. It’s not any headgear person at all because this one isn’t directly in the production, isn’t even credited at the end.

She’s Katie Taylor, head of entertainment and events at BBC Television and she dun it. It helped that the BBC has invested more money and there is a new executive producer too but Taylor is responsible for the revamp.

And she told Broadcast magazine this week that she may not be done with the show just yet. “Nothing can stay the same or the audience will get bored, and when that happens, they switch over,” she said. “The format is the format, but it’s there to be tweaked.”

You see the word tweak and you think Bruce Forsyth but, no, he’s not on the way out just yet despite skipping the results shows this year. “Bruce is 83 and his energy is quite something,” she told Broadcast. “But it was tiring doing both shows, and Claudia, who is already part of the Strictly family, is so witty and really lives and breathes the show, so Bruce was really happy with it. I am sure he will call me up if he decides to leave, but we’ve not had that conversation yet.”

I’m ready to declare a winner, by the way. I’m ready to call it. Kara Tointon for champion. You saw it here first, unless you saw it anywhere else before me and didn’t mention it.

Yes, the tricks as she called them were quite eye-popping but what got me convinced was the return of what I’ve briefly seen before with her: a moment or three when she wasn’t dancing steps, wasn’t following choreography, she was in the music.

I don’t think there’s anything more I could want.

Except for Ann Widdecombe to do a John Sergeant and leave gracefully. For gracefully read quickly, but gracefully is good too.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Strictly Come Texting

Perhaps you already do this and I'm certain you’d enjoy it if you did: watch Strictly while using twitter to discuss it blow by blow, frock by frock, lift by stumble.

Now, if you do that during drama, if you do that during In Treatment, then you and I are going to have words. After the show. But in shiny floor entertainment, not only is it a genuine boon, last year it was often all that made Strictly worth watching.

This year, things are much better so tweeting isn’t necessary and in fact if you’ve been affected by the subjects discussed in this blog, please contact the helpline on @wgallagher.

But this week I was off. Away. I’m getting reluctantly used to missing episodes of It Takes Two when necessary, I’m itchy but acceptant about delaying watching the main show if Angela’s away or we’re off together. But this week it was me, gone, away, off. By heart-wringing agreement, Angela was left to watch Strictly without me.

And to text me with Very Unhelpfully Tantalising Not To Say Cruel messages.

Such as this one. I’m in a pub. It’s work, okay? I’m not enjo - well, I am, alright, but It’s Kind of Work, and I get the familiar throb over my heart as the iPhone in my shirt pocket vibrates this text at me: “How did Brendan do that with his waistcoat?”

Followed by “Not a great music choice.”

I tell you, after a few of these it is entirely possible that I was chatting with you in that bar and wouldn’t know.

“Vincent has the cutest son.”

Okay. Okay. This has all been by text, it’s all been direct texts from Angela to me. But I’ve still got twitter. Yes, yes, thanks, mine’s a Coke on the rocks, I’ll be with you in a sec.

“I just realised, Kara’s paso dress is the same as Alesha’s AMAZING FLYING CAPE DRESS! I need to get out more” @PadsterMo

“Well that took the sex right out of the Argentine Tango” @gibbzer

Wait, Angela’s back texting: “How do they do those eyes on Jimi?”

Thanks for the Coke, I need a whisky chaser now.

Flashforward to the results show and my beloved Angela texts me on my train home saying: “Shock - I didn’t expect them to go!”


Angela: “Did I tell you we had the first 10s of the series?”


Here’s what I’ve learnt from the weekend. I have yet to see one dance, one vote, one frock and this is all bad.

It’s rather fundamentally bad and it must be stopped, I must watch our Sky+ recording immediately.

But on the good side, it was by far the most tantalising and tense Strictly I’ve ever not watched.

Next week, we continue the science experiment by attempting to watch The X Factor without drinking.