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.

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.

On EastEnders

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Victoria Derbyshire’s phone-in on 5 Live (hopefully that’s a link to the listen-again version) this morning included an interesting discussion of the recent EastEnders plotline about Danielle/Amy and Ronnie Mitchell, and Danielle’s attempts to let Ronnie know that she was the baby she’d given up for adoption sixteen years ago.

One thing soaps can do well is run a story over many months, allowing it to bubble along till it reaches a climax and becomes “event TV” just in time for Festivus, or Eostre.

What I found most interesting about the discussion were the number of people who were disgusted with the way the storyline had been finished (with Danielle being run over on the most dangerous stretch of road in Britain). Many felt that they’d been jerked around for a year while they got emotionally involved with the character, only to have the whole thing finish as a kind of in-joke (given the number of roadkill deaths on the Square, you’d think Peggy would have campaigned for some speed bumps by now).

There were also complaints about the “EastEnders Revealed” documentary shown afterwards on BBC3, which featured many of the (male) production staff sniggering about the story. One female caller thought this was indicative that a male-dominated production was unable to imagine a different (i.e. more female) outcome, in which perhaps Ronnie and Danielle spent months/years getting to know each other and healing their emotional scars. One male guest on the show compounded this impression by talking about this as amounting to the two of them “going shopping” and bonding over shoes or something.

So here we have great examples of audience needs/expectations perhaps not being met by an institutional context which holds them in contempt. Why else opt for the road death, which is at least the third time a major character has exited in this way, not to mention Pat’s trauma at running someone over, and all the road accident deaths.

Danielle’s story was an example of EastEnders doing things right (until the end), instead of their previous habit of parachuting whole plotlines into the soap with new extended families moving into the Square. But it seems as if the script meetings came to an impasse once they got to the big reveal. There was so much else they could have done, and it’s clear that in real life, the “reveal” would just be the beginning of a difficult period of emotional growth and development.

Now, emotional growth and development is supposed to be what soaps do well, and why they are so popular with female audiences, but it really does seem as if a rather more cynical approach was taken this time.

Give it a listen while it’s still available. As a related aside, it’s interesting to note that Nicky Campbell’s Breakfast phone-in (male, news-related) is available daily on iTunes, but Victoria Derbyshire’s (female, more general) phone-in is not!

Is TV drama too metropolitan and middle class?

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Gareth McLean, writing in (on?) The Guardian’s TV blog asks whether TV drama is too metropolitan and middle class?. Snip:

In farming out drama money to the nations and regions, is the BBC, under misguided pressure from Ofcom, doing anything more than ticking boxes to fulfil regional quotas?
Just as the BBC is (or at least appears to be) investing in the regions more, ITV is retreating from them. A dumber strategy I can't imagine, since ITV is the regions; its strength is in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow …

It’s an interesting question which ultimately comes down to that key relationship between institutions and audiences. Are drama producers to be in the business of giving the public what is good for them; or giving the public what they want? And which public? Are they interested in sink housing estate dwellers who (a) lack disposable income to spend on advertised goods and/or (b) possibly avoid paying or don’t support paying the TV licence fee, possibly because they (c) pay a Sky subscription and don’t watch that middle class crap on the BBC anyway?

Does Shameless show a contempt for its audience, or does it show a contempt for “people like that”? Should broadcasters be representing (i.e. showing) the whole nation and its regions, including the working class; or should they be focussing on their core audience, which may indeed be predominantly middle class, middle income, middle England?

It’s grim up North, is the impression you get if you watched Red Riding, or (in the 90s) Our Friends in the North, or Shameless. Do people who live in Hampshire, Sussex etc. want Aga Sagas, or do they want Lewis, or Foyle’s War? And should broadcasters give them what they want, or expose them to something out of their experience?

It’s a tough one, and there’s no easy answer. ITV are trying to avoid going down the drain, so they need to chase audiences they can sell to advertisers. The BBC are desperately afraid of losing the licence fee, so they’ll bend over backwards and do everything Ofcom tells them to do, and they’ll pander to the 16–34 demographic with sweary “edgy” comedies, but will they ever convince the Download Generation that the licence fee is a good idea?

Why TV Lost

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Via BoingBoing, the latest in a long line of predictions of the death of TV, this one from Paul Graham: Why TV Lost.

When I was a student, I worked as an iMac demonstrator in PC World for a while, and the manager would bore me with his opinions about the future of computers: convergence, he said.

Convergence has been a buzzword for a long time now. If you predict something often enough and for long enough, is it bound to come true? I’m sure there are millions of people who enjoy watching stuff on their computers. But I have a number of questions about this habit before I’ll be convinced that the 32-55″ flatscreen in the corner of your living room is going to be replaced by a 13-24″ computer screen.

I’m an old has-been, so the fact that I’ve never watched a whole TV show online – even using iPlayer – has no relevance, but what exactly is the average attention-grab of an online video? Aren’t the most popular videos on YouTube the 2-minute ones? Does anybody really click through and watch a whole show in 10-minute chunks? Does something count as a “viewing” on the YouTube stats, even if you only watch the first minute or so of it?

What’s the most comfortable and convenient way to watch a 44-minute TV show? Which system has the best sound? If 20 million people are watching TV at peak time, how many million are watching on the internet?

On the other hand, if the revenue stream of TV dries up, it dries up. If there’s no TV, then there’s no TV on the internet, except for the amateur stuff that users generate. If it costs a million dollars to make an hour of quality TV, where is that million coming from if nobody is watching? How many DVD box sets do you have to sell to break even? Questions like this are going to have people scratching their heads for years to come. And remember this: there are more older people alive than there are younger people. The baby boomers, the biggest generation in history, now getting into their 60s, are going to be with us for 20-30 years yet. Are they really going to give up the TV that they grew up with so easily?

Here’s Paul Graham’s take on what we were talking about today (audience and influence):

After decades of running an IV drip right into their audience, people in the entertainment business had understandably come to think of them as rather passive. They thought they'd be able to dictate the way shows reached audiences. But they underestimated the force of their desire to connect with one another.

Facebook killed TV. That is wildly oversimplified, of course, but probably as close to the truth as you can get in three words.