Saturday, 31 January 2009


Christmas TV of 2008 seemed to be all about nostalgia. Shows returning included The Krypton Factor, Blackadder, Shooting Stars, Jonathan Creek... all that was missing was a 10-year special of Goodnight Sweetheart. That's not a bad idea actually. Picking up in the year 1955/2009. Are you listening, BBC?

Well, obviously you are not. Mainly because instead of doing genius ideas like mine (you know what else.. bring back Crime Traveller. It was brilliant), they're doing rubbish ideas. Another nostalgia trip is upcoming... with the return of Noel's House Party.

Oh blob.

I thought it was generally agreed that Noel's House Party took a nosedive, ended up being utterly awful and then Noel disappeared for a bit, only to return in awful shirts and telling people to open some boxes. I also don't understand why the 30-year olds nowadays who say that Saturday Night TV isn't as good as it used to be, but will happily sit and reminisce the time where celebrities were gunged, and a purple/yellow creature blobbed about the set.

Instead of, you know.. Hole in the Wall, where celebrities are pushed back into a pool of water. Granted, there's no purple/yellow blobby creatures, but I'm sure a quick costume change for Vanessa Feltz would solve that.

So you're saying that if a crazy man tells me he can see the future using eggs I should maybe ignore him? Oh, this is too complicated for me.

I'm watching The Real Hustle: High Stakes. They are doing a con called "The Psychic". In it, one of the hustlers has set himself up as a fortune teller, done a bit of trickery, and told a woman she needs to put a load of money somewhere safe so that he can nick it later.

Now that's all well and good, but really? This is a woman who thinks he's got psychic abilities and that an egg was genuinely full of blood. You could get more cash out of her by not getting her to put loads of it in a box for you to steal. I doubt if there's any upper limit on how much money I could get out of her if I was an unscrupulous conman, at least before I came up against the wall of her total earnings over her lifetime. This is not exactly a Derren Brownian level of sophistication being discussed here. When your con relies on the mark being the single most gullible person in all of London, it really doesn't matter what you do: nobody watching a show about Here Are Some Cons So You Can't Get Fooled By Them was ever in any danger of falling for that one.

I guess really that the idea that there exist psychics who aren't conning their customers is what's annoying me here.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Twenty Bored

There are terrorists planning to assassinate a presidential candidate. My wife and daughter have been kidnapped, and some of the people that I work with may be involved in both. Oh, and David Palmer's son may have killed somebody, but he probably didn't.

There's a nuclear bomb about to go off in Los Angeles. An American business looks like it's behind it. But, you know, Jack Bauer's daughter is going to be running for a bit. And getting caught in bear traps.

There's a weaponised virus strain loose in LA. Jack Bauer has a heroin addiction. They need to break a druglord out of prison. Oh, but somebody may say some naughty things about the President. And something involving a guy called Alan Milliken. Who I don't care about.

In case you haven't worked it out, I'm going on about a common theme in American drama 24, which has beautifully returned to our screens on Sky One. It seems they can never complete a series without introducing a very boring plotline that has nothing to do with anything. I call the phenomenon "getting Twenty Bored". But it happens all the time, so it can't be that big a phenomenon. 24's been away for 18 months now due to writers striking and Kiefers drinking. The writers have promised that it will "go back to it's roots" and be "rebooted". This scared me, as the last time it "rebooted" was around the time of Series 4, where something awful happened. They decided to dumb down the "one plot that takes 24 hours to complete" regime, and added a new "plotline is resolved within four hours, new plotline takes over" tactic. It might as well have been four series' of a show called 6. Which sounds good on paper, but really isn't.

And then a grizzly bear started gnawing on her remains. She got a silent clock for that scene

As the seasons went on, so did the plots. We had a nuclear power station melt down, which is heartfelt on it's own... but we had to be given the emotional backstory that Edgar Stiles' grandmother was stuck on the island the power station was melting down on. Emotional overload! The writers decided that this strand of plot wasn't emotional enough, and decided to let Edgar's grandmother commit suicide. And then a grizzly bear started gnawing on her remains. She got a silent clock for that scene.

This "reboot" was not going to plan. It got worse as the long days continued, until we reached the final abomination that was Series Six. We had a nice idea about suitcase nukes and the potential death of Jack Bauer... until about episode 10 where the writers decided to involve Bauer's entire extended family. There was also the kidnap of a blonde haired effeminate Bauer relative, and a final scene set near some docks, where the bad guy died. And one of the characters announced she was surprisingly pregnant. This was not longer a reboot... it was a rehash.

The fans were very vocal about this series. I'll be honest and say that I haven't even watched three of the final episodes. I didn't have much hope for this new series.

But... it's been good so far. Five episodes in, and we've had enough twists and turns than we did in previous series, everything seems believable so far, and for the first time since 2002, I'm watching the episodes once a week, as they air on TV. I usually wait til the end of the series and watch all 24 episodes in a day. I'm also doing something new, which is watch the new series with somebody whose never even seen 24 before. It's nice to get a fresh perspective on it.

It's also nice to know that in this reboot, we have a plot that I don't care about! It wouldn't be 24 without it. This time, it's Did The President's Son Roger Kill Himself Or Not? , a plot that I didn't welcome with open arms. But, luckily for me, we're five episodes in and the plot is beginning to make a connection with everything else going on! This excites me, as it's never been done before. But then again, when Chloe ended up looking after a baby in Series Three, I never did suspect that it was behind the virus attacks in any way. Would have been cool though.

I look forward to the rest of Day 7. Don't fail me, Bauer

Channel Flip is now on Twitter!

In case you thought checking this sparsely updated blog about television couldn't get more exciting, it just has! We're now on Twitter, where you can check to see if there are new articles or even watch some 140-character reviews about TV shows. We're just rolling aboutin Web 2.0 goodness. Lovely stuff.

Channel Flip on Twitter

Monday, 19 January 2009

Ad Absurdum

Adverts are annoying me again. Some in particular:

I'll Wear This Wig!

[Watch this dreadful ad] Just, no. It's just so awful. First of all, even after Quote-me-Happy-gate, they've decided to invent a character to represent themselves, named him 'Happy', and made a little film about him. But while they've chosen a voice (annoying) and a personality (none), they've not chosen a face for Happy, so to avoid showing it the entire ad is shot in first-person, where the viewer is Norwich Union. That's just surreal. I presume the ad is supposed to be humorous, with the hapless comic foil for Happy (whose name is not mentioned, but I shall call 'Dopey') agreeing to wear a silly wig in the very old and very tired (or 'Sleepy') "Our Prices Are Crazy!" tack. Well, it doesn't work.

But the worst part is, I nearly couldn't find a link for this ad because I honestly heard the character's name as "Abbey" and so never knew who it was advertising. (I don't pay much attention to ads -- I feel it's the ads' job to grab me.)

Mister Muscle: Super Scientist

[Watch this dreadful ad] This advert is bad for several reasons, principally that it makes no sense. It makes no sense in terms of dialogue: why does Mr Muscle say "no, thank you"? What, for having their kitchen cleaned? It also makes no sense in terms of message: the whole point of Mr Muscle's adverts for as long as they've been going out has been that 'Mr Muscle' is a weedy guy who can still clean the tough grease because of the power of the product. When he's a muscly superhero it says nothing about the product: that guy could clean all the grease with tapwaterand a sheet of Bounty. There's no reason why he should be CG, that I can see, except that it makes it simpler to redo his video to match his localised voice... but they didn't even do that.

And a 'super scientist' is not the same thing as a 'twat in a white coat'.

Your Dress? No, My Hair!

(I don't know which particular version of this tripe is on just now, but they're all basically the same so here's the first I found.)

Who wrote this one? It has exactly no merit at all. It features Davina McCall and appears to have been filmed after she was turned into a zombie but before Andy Nyman thankfully put a lamp through her. In the ad, she talks to her mother -- who again isn't shown (although this time at least it's shot in the third person and Davina is on the phone). Whether this is because they couldn't find an actress who could pass for Davina's mother or to stop her actual mother from suing isn't clear. Personally, I think it's because they couldn't bring themselves to feature anyone who could be a 41-year-old's mother in their advert.

The dialogue is awful even by the standards of other hair-dye adverts (except perhaps the Just For Men one where some guy's kids try to get him a girlfriend using dye) and the voices are, too. I just can't see what part of this advert is supposed to get people to buy the product. Girls, does this shit work on you? If so, I'm going to try talking vacuous crap in bars (more so).

I'm sure there are more ads I hate running at the moment, but I can't think what they are just now. Oh, and while I'm here, I'm not what you might call 'impressed' with what think constitutes an embedded video. A thumbnail and a hyperlink isn't embedded media.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

At Least If Joseph Fritzl was in Big Brother, There'd be Cameras in the Basement this time.

This weekend, me and my flatmate Hugh have been able to have a rare insight about how certain aspects of television are made. The decision that we'd embark on this adventure occurred after a tipsy remark on Friday night, where we joked about auditioning for the next Summer series of Big Brother. The logistics were easy enough... the auditions were just down the road from us, and it'd be a nice easy way to kill time on a Saturday. I'm not saying the decision was that easy; we were able to fit in a couple of pints before arriving at the auditions at 1.30pm. To ease ourselves into it, you see.

We arrived at St. James' Park, and found a very interesting sight. Just at the entrance to the audition room stood two people in their mid-twenties, one holding pamphlets and the other with a large camera. As we approached the entrance, they turned to us and asked "Big Brother auditions?". We agreed. We were then asked to pose for a photo of us holding one of these pamphlets. The experience was an odd one. It was only when we walked inside that I realised what they were doing. In the off-chance that one of these hundreds of applicants would finally get into the house, they were able to take photos of them all endorsing their product. Six months down the line when the housemates are announced, they can trawl through the thousands of photos they have to find anybody who is remotely famous holding one of their pamphlets. It's a very arduously planned method for a cheap photoshoot with a potential future celebrity. How tedious.

One claimed to be gay for ten years, and then worked out that he'd only been gay for six years.

Walking inside St. James', we were greeted with a queue of people on the stairs- all of which were about 20-23. It is interesting how many young people a show like Big Brother attracts. In the hour we were in this queue, we then went to join a second queue. This was a task in itself. A queue for queueing. Seemed a bit pointless. After our extensive double-queue, we were asked to join participants in groups of ten to do a number of activites. This included yelling, contact improvisation, knot tying with our hands and me getting acquainted with the insides of people's legs. After our team won (for, it seems, doing nothing), we were all asked through to the next room for the next stage. Hopefully not involving queues.

In our team of ten, we had to get to know each other with interesting facts. I pulled out my gem of "I have no toenails"; but there were a few facts from others that topped this. One claimed to be gay for ten years, and then worked out that he'd only been gay for six years. One person had a glass eye. Another was a fireman. One person claimed to have a wooden leg, then told us that this fact wasn't true. We all thought he was a bit odd. After this, one person at a time had to line up the team in order from "Most" to "Least"., but wasn't allowed to say what the category was. According to the people, I was the least arrogant (which is fair enough) but one of the most likely to have murdered somebody. So, I'm a serial killer, but I don't let it go to my head. At the end of this, the people through to stage 2 were stamped with the Big Brother logo on their hand. Fake-fake Appendage man and Dyscalculaic Homosexual were the only two in our group not to go through to the next round.

Quite happy that both of us were through, me and Hugh went to the next stage- which consisted of having our photo taken and filling in a little form. Questions involved "What do you do" to "What's the most shameful thing you've ever done" and "Is there anything you haven't told your parents?". We both answered the questions with a bit of humour about ourselves, as none of us were taking it seriously. After the form was filled in, we had our one-to-one interviews, which were designed to provoke us:

"So, what's your name?"
"Stephen Frizzle"
"Do you prefer a nickname?"
"Friz, if you don't mind"
"Friz? What if we called you.. Frizzy?"
"Friz is fine"
"What about Frizwald?"
"What? Well.. if you want to"
"I'm not German"
"Please don't call me Fritzl"
"Are you posh? You sound posh? Are you posh, Fritzl?"

At least if Joseph Fritzl was in Big Brother, there'd be cameras in the basement this time.

Then, a bit of a wait, until I was directed to another part of another room.. where I was asked if I had a fun time, and then was told that "unfortunately, we won't be requiring you for any more stages. But, thanks for coming". This was good. I'd done what I planned to. At least I could say that I tried. And, at least I hadn't travelled miles to attend like a lot of other people. It was literally a twenty minute walk. I text Hugh to see if he was ready to go as well. I was text back: "Go home, got more writing to do!".

Excellent! Hugh was let through! Our day wasn't wasted at least. I head off home, prepared for a night out. Hugh joined me later, and mentioned what Stage 3 was like.. basically questions about his life, relationships and creativity. I was happy for the guy. But I was even happier at about 8.20pm when my phone rang.

"Hi Stephen, it's Julie from Big Brother"
"Hi there. Just thought you'd like to know... at the end of the day, we go through other contestant's videos.. and we've changed our minds about our decision with you. Do you want to come in tomorrow at about 11am?"
"... Excuse me?"
"Yeah, just say that Julie called you back. Okay! Thank you!


Check that out.

I told Hugh the good news, and we both were very happy about the turn of events. And that's where I've been today. Filled out the 52-page giant form of giantness. Had a discussion with other potential candidates; one of which didn't know who Barack Obama was. No doubt he'll end up in the house. I was then taken to an impromptu Diary Room, and was asked questions by one of the Big Brother producers/voices. I was mainly asked about my humour, my background, my songwriting and my veiws on life. I was then asked for a 20-second soundbyte to say why I should be chosen.

It's a weird feeling. Part of me doesn't want anything to do with Big Brother, part of me thinks "this is so funny I've been able to get this far without trying", and the tiniest part of me thinks... this might be fun.

Only time will tell.

Is It An Argument Against Flimsy Pretexts For Putting Mildly Amusing Pictures At The End Of Panel Shows?

Dave has commissioned a second series of Argumental. The TV channel Dave, that is, not my mate Dave, who almost never funds or broadcasts comedy panel game series. For those of you who haven't seen Argumental, the idea is that two teams of comedians debate topics in various silly ways and the audience judge who is the best and they win nothing. It basically works, but there are a few things that I noticed in the first series that spoil it somewhat. These things are centred around Rufus Hound.

Hound is one of the team captains, the other being Marcus Brigstocke. While Brigstocke is polite, well-spoken and usually very funny, Hound has an annoying habit of attempting to use Argument By Volume and Argument From Length Of Rant as his two intellectual mainstays. And that's not bad, in its place, but it's place is not when Marcus Brigstocke is trying to say something which is probably cleverer or funnier than whatever Hound is shouting over it. I'm pretty sure I've seen Hound 'win' an episode simply by being the only person who got a word in.

What I'm getting at is that Hound Vs. Brigstocke would be a perfectly good setup if the show had a decent compere. It doesn't. Argumental is presented by John Sergeant, who is an accomplished political commentator but knows as much about compering a comedy panel show as he does about ballroom dancing: he can turn up and go through the motions as well as the next man, but it's not his strong point. He almost never intervenes in the debates -- in the first series I think it happened once, and that was to correct Hound about history.

If your compere isn't prepared to wade in, you need polite and respectful contestants, and if you have shouty, ranty contestants then you need a strong compere to rein them in. Hound and Sergeant are both returning in series two, so either Dave has not noticed that the setup isn't working as well as it could or else they're going to have a stern word with Sergeant and tell him he needs to stop Hound sometimes so other people can play.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

If It Ain't Broke, Update It: The Secret Twin Motto Of Microsoft and ITV

In retrospect it was inevitable after the success of Doctor Who that ITV would realise the potential of ressurecting popular shows that were axed long ago. And so, The Krypton Factor is back. I notice disapprovingly that the show has been entirely ITVed.

It's not all bad by any means. They've kept the green K that morphs into symbols for the rounds, albeit in a more modern incarnation. (The change is probably for the best given that today's new generation of nerds would look at the old logo and say, 'I never knew they made a game show out of Slashdot.') The new set is very impressive, too, if about four sizes too large. They've even kept a couple of smaller touches from the old series, such as the links between questions in the general knowledge round.

They've changed the scoring system slightly. In the old days they'd generally tiebreak the rounds based on some secondary factor, usually time, and give out 10, 6, 4 and 2 points come hell or high water. That wasn't ideal, since a photo-finish could result in an 8-point gap, so the new series doesn't do that, and (learning nothing from Strictlygate II) allocates 10, 6, 4 and 4 in the event of a tie for third place. Potentially, this means you could lose an extra 10 points on the other players just because they happen to tie. I think you'd then have legitimate grounds to feel hard done by. What would be wrong with splitting the total points (i.e., 10, 6, 3, 3 in a tie for third) I don't know. More generally, why TV producers are so repeatedly incapable of inventing scoring systems that work is something of a mystery.

Other changes are more unambiguously bad. The show is now hosted by Ben Shephard, a basically okay but woefully generic presenter who ITV and the BBC seem to drag out whenever a show is so unremarkable that Nick Knowles refuses to do it (this despite Gordon Burns working within walking distance of the studios). The Mental Agility round now takes place in something called The Cube, an idea presumably taken from Families At War. This is a flimsy plastic hut in which questions are delivered by a mechanical female voice, but not until Shephard has "Activated" the Cube. There is also a heart-rate monitor in there for no adequately explored reason. As is TV practice, the heart-rate monitor's output is shown as an graphic designed to look like an ECG trace by someone who clearly knows less about ECG traces than can be easily derived from watching Casualty. The Observation round in the first new episode featured a clip from Emmerdale. The theme music has been replaced with that tune that ITV always use for theme music on game shows. The series winner will be the "Champion" and not the "Superperson". The assault course seems to be much longer and has been totally redesigned in such a way that only two contestants can run it at once and it's in a forest so you can rarely see them both at the same time. The second race is shown interspersed with the first, but delayed, so you're left with utterly no idea what the hell is going on until the times are shown at the end. The order the players are shown crossing the line is certainly not a clue. All it needs now is a phone-in competition.

I also noticed that the show didn't have any flight simulators in it. The Response round had been totally removed. You can't do that! That's like an episode of Jonathan Creek without a mystery: you might watch the show and enjoy it if you didn't know anything was missing, but when you know what is supposed to be there it feels like you're being short-changed. Especially since one would hope that flight simulators would, by now, be better and cheaper to use. Possibly there were fears of terrorists appearing on the show to get practice at flying planes into buildings.

It's as though ITV actively want to make shit television. They've bought a successful show with a sizable following and set about systematically changing things that didn't need changing. I'd chalk it up to plain old incompetence -- after all, few shows from a decade and a half ago could be shown now without seeming preposterously dated -- but let's not forget they did the same thing to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? after no break at all. Hell, it was probably ITV's meddling that killed The Krypton Factor in the first place.

Seriously, ITV, why must you always break everything?