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Friday 26 September 2008


I came across my old autograph album when I was straightening the study a couple of weeks ago. Back when I was a child I used to study the end credits of my favourite shows and write to the stars at the addresses of the TV studios.

It's not a huge collection. Getting autographs was a very hit and miss affair in those days. Now it’s an entire industry with a lot of fakery involved. But back then you sent your letter and then maybe you’d hear back six months later or maybe you wouldn’t.

My first was Roger Moore, a lovely colour postcard with a genuine signature. It’s got the spit smear where I tested it because I couldn’t quite believe it was real.

Others followed. Flicking through the album now, it's like a mosaic of my dream life at the time. Richard Bradford, Patrick Troughton, Marshall Thompson, Steve Forrest, Lawrence Payne and Roger Foss from Sexton Blake. Christopher Lee. A lovely picture and a typed postcard from Peter Cushing, and a super 8 x 10 and a personal letter from Callan star Edward Woodward.

Callan was possibly the finest popular TV drama of its era, and one of the least well-remembered because it was made on tape, not film. What survives of the show is really just archive material, below what's generally considered to be commercial quality. I know there was a movie, but that isn't the same. Callan nailed the intimacy of the TV medium.

Years later a friend of mine was producing a film in which Woodward was appearing, and I asked if he would do me a favour and pass along a signed copy of Down River with a little note, along the lines of “you won’t remember this, but years ago...” And I think I even included a photocopy of his original letter to me.

My basic message was, “You showed me how a public figure ought to behave, and I’ve tried to follow your example” And I signed the book “To Edward Woodward, still my hero”.

Got another note back from him, saying how delighted he was.

And, you know? I was eleven years old all over again.

Sunday 21 September 2008

I Want it All, and I Want it Now

In today's Independent on Sunday Andrew Johnson writes:

"The Large Hadron Collider, which took 20 years to build and cost £3.6bn, will not be able to unravel the mysteries of the universe for at least another two months, scientists announced yesterday."

His tongue was in his cheek when he wrote it.

I sincerely hope.

Saturday 20 September 2008

A Word from the Showrunners

I hope he'll forgive me for such a shameless piece of recycling, but I wanted to give more prominence to this addition by Eleventh Hour showrunner Ethan Reiff to the comments section of the previous post.

There's a reference here to an earlier entry titled The Brimstone Boys in which I wrote:

The latest coverage suggests that the creator/producers of the short-lived but influential series Brimstone are being brought in to serve as (Eleventh Hour) series showrunners.

Brimstone starred Peter Horton as a dead cop earning his ticket out of Hell by hunting down each of 113 escaped souls. It had texture and energy and was probably too dark for US mainstream TV. Reaper pretty much steals the premise and, being more lightweight fare, has survived better. But Brimstone was the superior show.

And so it came to be! Anyway, move on a few months and here we are.

In that same post I moaned a bit about how press coverage in these cases always manages to name everyone who had a hand in making the deal while overlooking the originator of the material. As time's gone by, my outlook's changed. The buzz for the new show probably isn't helped by dutiful references to what went before. And I'd much prefer to see the show succeed than stress about a namecheck in Variety.

Hi Stephen,

My name's Ethan Reiff and my partner Cyrus Voris and I are the guys running the American version of your show, here in Los Angeles. We do our best to mention your name as the original creator whenever we talk to the press -- though unfortunately they don't always deem that bit of info worthy of inclusion in whatever they write.

It's great to learn you are a fan of BRIMSTONE and thanks for your kind words about the show. It was our first project in television and we remain very proud of it. If you get a chance, check out "SLEEPER CELL" - the terrorism drama we did for SHOWTIME, which aired on cable and then also on broadcast TV in the UK.

"Eleventh Hour" is proving to be a herculean bitch of a show - but well worth all the effort. We are in the midst of shooting our 6th episode and I'm happy to say that so far EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF SCIENCE COMES FROM THE REAL WORLD.

Whether or not the audience will find this as compelling as we do has yet to be seen - but we're hoping for the best!

One last thing: I think you'll be happy to know there are a lot of British subjects employed in the cast and crew of ELEVENTH HOUR - from English producer-director and line producer to Scots-Irish writer-producer to Scottish editor to English stunt coordinator -- and of course, our Welsh star. Around our offices it sometimes feels like Washington surrendered to Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Still, there's always room to entertain another Limey - so please look us up the next time you're in LA!

I couldn't find a picture of Ethan so here's another one of Marley Shelton.

Well, it's an excuse.

Friday 12 September 2008

Eleventh Hour USA

Don Kaplan writes in The New York Post:

JUST when TV networks are shopping for new shows at the budget store, CBS has made a $30-million bet on a new series that sounds like "The X-Files" but looks like "CSI."

"Eleventh Hour," which will debut in October, is being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer - the producer of all three "CSI" series, "Cold Case" and "Without a Trace," making him arguably TV's most successful producer of dramas of the last decade.

Based on a hit British series, it follows a pair of investigators, a hunky scientist and an attractive female FBI agent assigned to keep him out of trouble, as they attempt to save the world from cutting-edge experiments gone wrong.

Shooting's been under way for some weeks now and for me it's been weird, like having a kid brought up by someone else. You don't want to interfere, but you want to know they're okay...

If Marley Shelton looks familiar in the photo, here's how you may have seen her last:

Thursday 4 September 2008

The BBC - The New ITV?

In Broadcast, Katherine Rushton reports:

The BBC is to hand network commissioning power to the nations for the first time in what is being hailed as a "radical reshaping" of its structure. Chief operating officer Caroline Thomson is planning to recruit at least five new commissioning executives across BBC Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, over in The Guardian, we read that the BBC is considering dividing up Jane Tranter's drama commissioning responsibilities after she leaves for the US.

Reading the Broadcast report, it looks as if only BBC Scotland's Anne Mensah, with whom I worked on Life Line, is a drama person. Most of the proposed commissioning power appears to lie in the area of factual, daytime, and 'entertainment'.

But am I the only one who sees this as an ideal opportunity to devolve the over-centralised, personality-focused BBC drama commissioning procedure into something more resembling the old, successful, 'federal' system of ITV, before asset-stripping and consolidation turned it from a showbusiness giant into today's dull monoculture?

Jane Tranter's done a fine job but a 'one gatekeeper' system is flawed at heart, whoever the gatekeeper may be.