Roseanne Barr: ‘Fame’s a bitch. It’s hard to handle and drives you nuts’ | Culture | The Guardian

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Roseanne (TV series)

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Here’s a brilliant, excoriating article by Roseanne Barr in The Guardian about her experiences in making a sit-com in the 80s and 90s, and about the effects of fame.

A little while ago, I linked to an article in The Economist about how the distorted representations of “middle class” families on TV give wealthy people unrealistic self-images. Because the so-called middle classes on television are usually portrayed as living in the way that some of the wealthiest 10% of people actually live, nobody really has a clear idea of what middle class looks like. And that goes double for the working class. While British TV shows like Shameless attempt to portray working class characters who don’t actually do any work, our soap operas (for example) give an entirely unrealistic representation of what it would be like to, say, live in London and work part-time in a corner shop.

See, people can’t really afford to sit in the pub that much: the only way to do that is to be like Frank in Shameless: you’d have to be cadging pints off other people all the time.

I caught an episode of Roseanne on a recent holiday, dubbed into German, and it reminded me that this was a high point of working class representation on American TV. There they were: a working, feminist, mother, a non-criminal father who worked with tools, and a family of bickering kids who shared bedrooms and wore ordinary-looking clothes and took the bus to school.

Needless to say, according to her own testimony, it wasn’t easy to get this representation onto the screen. Once the show hit number 1 in the ratings, Roseanne Barr went to a list she kept in her dressing room, and fired all the people who had made her life difficult in the show’s first year.

It’s a long article, but worth reading.

I finally found the right lawyer to tell me what scares TV producers worse than anything – too late for me. What scares these guys – who think that the perks of success include humiliating and destroying the star they work for – isn’t getting caught stealing or being made to pay for that; it’s being charged with fostering a “hostile work environment“. If I could do it all over, I’d sue ABC and Carsey-Werner under those provisions. Hollywood hates labour, and hates shows about labour worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Roseanne anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.

via Roseanne Barr: ‘Fame’s a bitch. It’s hard to handle and drives you nuts’ | Culture | The Guardian.

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Miriam O’Reilly: I was right to stand up to BBC | Media | guardian.co.uk

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The Countryfile age discrimination case is fascinating. Broadcasters habitually discard female presenters when they hit 40, and the roadside is peppered with former bombshells (Selina Scott, Anna Ford) who used to be the nation’s sweethearts.

But love is fickle, and nobody likes a wrinkle. Why, there’s a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to the eradication of wrinkles, advertised with the judicious use of makeup, vaseline on the camera lens, and high-key lighting.

Are the BBC guilty of age discrimination? Of course they are, as are we all. Fact is, the producers wanted a larger audience for Countryfile, and they wanted a younger image in order to do that, just as the producers of Strictly Come Dancing wanted a younger audience when they sacked Arlene Phillips.

O’Reilly won an employment tribunal against the BBC on the grounds of age discrimination and victimisation, after she was dropped from BBC1’s Countryfile show along with three other female presenters. A third charge of sex discrimination was not upheld.

Today’s verdict gives O’Reilly the opportunity to claim damages including loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages. But her legal team said she would not be pursuing aggravated damages against the corporation.

This means the total damages which the BBC will pay out are likely to be in the low six figures. O’Reilly has earned just £500 in the past year and has not worked for Countryfile since its relaunch in April 2009.

via Miriam O’Reilly: I was right to stand up to BBC | Media | guardian.co.uk.

Meanwhile, David Hepworth dares to point out the obvious: if an attractive young woman (or man) gets a job in television, it’s probably mainly to do with looks. Television is a visual medium. If you want to be known for your intellect, go on the radio.

It’s not as if it’s like real life where competence aces everything else. This is television. If you made it as on-screen talent it’s likely that your looks played a huge part in getting you there in the first place and therefore it seems likely that their inevitable decline will play a similar role in your downfall. It’s the same if you’re in the chorus line at the theatre.

Has the curse of ITV struck again? | Media | The Guardian

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Finally, though, the reason that so much talent has suffered when jumping a couple of numbers across the spectrum is that a successful show is a combination of format and broadcasters, in proportions that are notoriously hard to calculate. Phillip Schofield, who is probably the only BBC refugee to have flourished on the third channel, did so because he has found shows that suit him.

ITV1 gambled that The One Show did the business because viewers liked Chiles and Bleakley but perhaps the audience liked The One Show more than the presenters or simply liked the presenters more on a sunset sofa than a sunrise one. Any future presenters tempted to move should be very sure of what it was that the viewers were originally tuning in for.

via Has the curse of ITV struck again? | Media | The Guardian.

Daybreak: Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley’s first morning

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TV bosses can be a bit, I don’t know, foolish sometimes. And none more so than Daybreak’s, who seem to have modelled their set on the lobby of a Premier Inn, complete with dark purple furniture and fake-looking wooden detailing. Chiles and Bleakley were certainly proud of their new set, excitedly touring it, pointing out such heretofore unknown features on a morning TV set as sofas, a weathergirl and a clock. Chiles even insisted on talking about the various clocks he could spot around the room, while Bleakley gazed at him, chemistry-ishly, with a dazzled grin. Although for a contract that size, who can blame her?

via Daybreak: Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley’s first morning on the sofa | Television & radio | guardian.co.uk.

Stephen Fry: Doctor Who is a children’s programme

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Good old Stephen Fry has laid into the infantile tendency in television commissioning. I don’t think the fact that Doctor Who is a children’s programme is the headline an adult would pull from his talk. The Guardian has proved his point by making headline news about it. They’re idiotic enough to “live blog” Doctor Who as it happens – as if it’s perfectly acceptable for adults-without-children to be that into it.

But then The Guardian has a recent tendency to “live blog” a lot of unsuitable stuff – like the Cumbria murders, for example. Here’s Fry:

The number of times I turn on the television and I think ‘Gosh, children’s television’s gone on, that’s a really good art documentary … Oh my God, it’s nine o’clock in the evening. This is for grown-ups?’ It’s just shocking.

“The only drama the BBC will boast about are Merlin and Doctor Who, which are fine, but they’re children’s programmes. They’re not for adults.

“And they’re very good children’s programmes, don’t get me wrong, they’re wonderfully written … but they are not for adults.

He’s kind of right when he says Doctor Who is a children’s programme, though I think it comes into its own as “family” viewing – parents and children. I found it unwatchable after I hit a certain age, and then found the joy in it again when I could watch it with my own children. Nobody over the age of 14 should watch it unless they have kids under 14 with them.

I do think there’s a general tendency toward infantile products, which serves a core market of young (mostly) men with disposable income and questionable taste. I’ve long tried to accept that “there’s nothing wrong” with playing computer games – god knows I don’t want to be grumpy about them. On the other hand, they do mean that an entire generation has turned their back on wit and complexity in narrative in favour of one-liners, first-person shooters and getting to the next level… and the next.

There’s a blight in a certain kind of film – that whole “hero’s journey” nonsense – which leads to Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings – and there’s a whole generation of young (mostly) men who celebrate those films ad nauseam and have never exposed themselves to anything else. Probably Jaws is to blame for this. A stunningly good film in technical terms, but plain stupid in narrative, character development etc.

In America, they’ve a proud recent history of making long-running television series with great writing and long-term character development. The problem with British TV is that (a) we don’t make long-running TV series that aren’t soap operas (which just repeat the same stories over and over again), and (b) nobody in British television is brave enough to take a chance on something different – and give it a good, long go.

History is littered with classic programmes that would have been cancelled and forgotten if the standards that apply today were applied back then. Fawlty Towers, for example, passed almost unnoticed on its first run. It was only a BBC strike that forced an early repeat that helped it find an audience.

Stephen Fry is right: but almost nobody knows what “adult” means anymore. I think that’s an institutional problem: there are no “adults” working in television. The kind of people who think it’s a good idea to put on a fairly long trailer for a programme just before it starts are not going to commission intelligent adult drama or comedy.

The BBC’s idea of an “adult” version of Doctor Who was Torchwood – which was exactly as infantile as Doctor Who, but with incessant kissing.

We get the culture we deserve, right?

Steve Jobs at the D8 Conference

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There’s a whole series of short videos here, in which Steve Jobs discusses Apple, technology, the media industry, and how the iPad came into being. It’s all worth a look. He discusses, among other things, the future of journalism, how he’s trying to persuade the media industry to be more aggressive on pricing (“cut prices and go for volume”), and how traditional PC manufacturers are probably going to be hurting as tablet computers like the iPad take over.

Most of the videos are between 3 and 5 minutes. Steve Jobs appears to be thinking on his feet and answering the questions as thoughtfully as he can in the live setting. This is not one of his keynote presentations, but you get to see how charismatic and persuasive he is (his “reality distortion field”) and how passionate he is about certain things.

Apple have recently overtaken Microsoft as the world’s largest tech company by market capitalisation (share price). He dismisses that as “surreal but irrelevant”, but it’s worth pointing out. This is the company that a lot of the rest of the media industry are resting their hopes on.

Steve Jobs | D8 Conference | AllThingsD

The state of scripted drama in the USA

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All my favourite TV shows are US shows, and we live in worrying times for fans of quality scripted drama. For all their obvious popularity, the short-sighted habits of some of these shows’ most passionate fans means that – for the networks – the numbers sometimes don’t add up. Because fans can’t wait for broadcast and choose to download instead, the shows’ ratings get worryingly low.

American network NBC, in a fit of panic, replaced one of their scripted drama slots with a cheap chat show hosted by Jay Leno. Fortunately, the ratings for Leno were so bad that they’re moving him to a later time, which frees up the prime time slot for something else. Read more here:

The Canadian Press: With Jay Leno out of prime time, producers of drama shows happy to fill void.