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Too old for TV?

November 11th, 2010

The former controller of BBC1 yesterday rejected claims that she ‘hated women’.

Jay Hunt, who was also accused of ageism by Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly, told a tribunal the claims were ‘profoundly distressing’, ‘hateful’, and ‘categorically untrue’

The BBC has denied the presenter was axed because of her age.

Last week Ms O’Reilly said one of the other presenters dropped from the show had told her the decision was “ageist”.

So can you be too old for television? Does it all come down to a show’s format and time of day it is aired?

Michaela Strachan, as well as Juliet Morris and Ms O’Reilly, lost her job on Countryfile ahead of its move to Sunday evenings, with Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker among new presenters who joined the revamped programme. Throughout the last years of its life, GMTV saw a number of younger presenters intorudced to early morning television and This Morning brought in Holly Willoughby (28) as Fern Britton’s (52) replacment.

In 2007, the BBC “sounded the death knell for ‘traditional newsreaders'”, hinting that a campaign to save the veteran news anchor Moira Stuart from the axe was doomed to fail. Stewart’s removal at the time also brought accusations of ageism and sexism.

Are we seeing a development in television and the role of the young presenter, or is this simply ‘ageism’ and unfair treatment to the older generation of presenter? Perhaps even the new high defintion (HD) television will spotlight the make-up, wrinkles and signs of age and that all presenters will be replaced by clear-skinned children?

The tribunal continues.

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Tough Times for UK Indies

July 23rd, 2010

UK Film Council Statistical YearbookThis week the UK Film Council stated that the number of feature films funded in the UK fell from 77 in 2008 to 71 in 2009. The figures were released as part of the Film Council’s first fully-searchable website with comprehensive statistics.

Median budgets for UK domestic feature films also fell from £1.7 million in 2008 to £1.5 million in 2009.

“Overall it’s clear that British cinema has been weathering the global recession well,” said UK Film Council chief executive John Woodward. He added that the sectors of production, distribution and exhibition were “firing on all cylinders”.

For a small country, the UK film industry has an astonishing creative track record. Of the top 200 global box office successes of 2001-2009, 30 films are based on stories and characters created by UK writers, which together have earned more than $16 billion at the worldwide box office.

The UK Film Council report showed that independent UK films were at their most popular in 2009 – both in the UK and global markets – since records began.

As mentioned on the BBC website this week, with the success of films such as Slumdog Millionaire, indie films took 8.2% of the UK and 2.3% of the global market share. Other top performers included Nativity and The Young Victoria.UK Film Council

The Film Council report also showed that British film talent – including actors, writers, directors and crew – continued to shine on the international stage. Some 14% of all major awards won around the world between 2001-2009 were won by British films and talent.

John Woodward commented that, “Low budget independent production is a tough business – it always has been,” noting that figures for the first half of 2010 showed a continuing pressure on smaller film production. The marketplace for financing small and independent films has always been difficult and the recent economic slowdown has not helped the situation, along with world broadcasters paying less for feature films and the slow erosion of the DVD market.

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CNN Snap Up Piers Morgan. The PMA Network At Summer Party.

July 16th, 2010

piersmorganThe former Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, is reportedly poised to replace veteran talk show host Larry King on American news channel CNN. According to The Sun newspaper, Morgan has signed a £5.5m, four-year deal with CNN to replace King. This follows reports in the US media that NBC had agreed to share Morgan with CNN, clearing the way for negotiations to begin. Morgan is contracted to NBC as a judge on America’s Got Talent. CNN has been losing a ratings war with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and it is hoped that Morgan can gain ground on the competing news channel.

King, aged 76, announced his retirement last month and a host of rivals, many of them better recognised in America, were in the running to replace him on his nightly interview slot. They included American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and CBS News presenter Katie Couric. King was even reported saying he wouldn’t recognise Piers Morgan “if he saw him walking down the street”.

larrykingMorgan, 45, who recently celebrated his marriage to Daily Telegraph journalist Celia Walden, is believed to have impressed CNN executives with his bold and direct interviewing style. Talks were complicated by Morgan’s commitments to NBC. His NBC contract prevented him from taking on extra work that clashed with the show, but this has now reportedly been resolved.

Back in the UK, the BBC announced this week that Gwyneth Williams has been appointed controller of BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7. Ms Williams was, until recently, director of the BBC World Service’s English programming. She will replace Mark Damazer, who is moving on after six years to become head of St Peter’s College Oxford. Her most pressing issue is likely to be the succession process on the station’s biggest show, Today. BBC political editor, Nick Robinson, has been tipped for a permanent presenting role on the programme.

img_4409And finally, some of the industry’s leading production managers gathered on Wednesday evening in Notting Hill for the PMA (Production Manager’s Association) summer party. Sponsored by Production Wizard, the members made the most of what seems to be left of the English summer and were able to relax and converse over champagne and canapés.

The PMA provides invaluable information and support for its Members, regular social events, workshops and training courses. “Within the Film and Television Industry the Association provides a unique network for both freelance and permanently employed Production Managers.”

For photographs from the evening visit our News section and Facebook page:

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Broadcasters Follow the Government Trend

June 25th, 2010

CutbacksWhen George Osbourne announced the budget on Wednesday, it was no great surprise that the term “pay freeze” was mentioned here and there. The two-year pay freeze for workers in the public sector mean that the broadcasters are going to find themselves under even greater scrutiny than they previously have been.

With the expenses fiasco at the BBC quietening, they now stroll into summer and Glastonbury, where in 2009 they were criticised for sending over 400 members of staff to the Somerset festival, almost as many as they flew out to film the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There were so many on the corporation’s payroll that it had to block book hotels within a 10-mile radius of the festival. The BBC sent just 32 more to cover the Olympics.

The Glastonbury festival – which has grown with the BBC into a glorious multi-platform thing – has small teams roaming the farm to report on all manner of cultural activities. The output dipping in-and-out of footie and tennis bouts across BBC Two, Three and Four, plus the red button and online.

Then there’s the recent ‘firm stance’ against their staff and the Christine Bleakley saga which has created numerous side stories in the press, “Should she stay or should she go…?” In the end it was decided that enough was enough and that the BBC would not continue their negotiations and so she’s off to…ITV of course! To rejoin her One Show laughter-buddy, Adrian Chiles, and recreate their paragon of sofa chemistry. And it only cost ITV and Peter Fincham (BBC1’s former controller) a mere £4 million. That’s roughly one-quarter of Frank Lampard.

One executive at ITV said, “”There was almost zero consultation with most staff. Even in meetings up to a week ago managers just told us Christine was the ‘elephant in the room’ and they wouldn’t be saying any more.”

David AbrahamChannel 4’s chief executive, David Abraham, is also creating a state of metamorphosis over at Horseferry Road with a 25% cut in senior management. The cull will cut a quarter of senior managers and calls for a “fundamental evolution” at the group. The new shape of C4 will see online commissioning and production combined with its TV equivalent to form a single division.

One industry expert said: “C4 needs to survive the downturn, and in the absence of a deal or the ability to buy its way out, it needs to focus on reorganisation and cutting costs.”

At least the broadcasters are moving with the times and echoing the chorus of the new sprity coalition government, but with industry jobs thin on the ground anyway, these recent cuts cause new and foreboding clouds that waver uncertainty over this already fragile industry.

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Heggessey Departs from Talkback Thames

June 11th, 2010
Lorraine Heggessey

Lorraine Heggessey, beginning of a new chapter after five years at Talkback Thames.

Shock waves rippled across the UK television industry with the news that Lorraine Heggessey would be leaving her post as chief executive of Talkback Thames; producer of Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, The Apprentice and The Bill.

Heggessey – an industry heavyweight – took over from Peter Fincham in 2005 and led Talkback Thames to huge successes through some of the nation’s biggest brand shows.

A spokeswoman for Talkback Thames said, “We can confirm that Lorraine Heggessey is stepping down as the chief executive of Talkback Thames. Sara Geater will now take over as interim chief executive for Talkback Thames reporting into Tony Cohen. No further comment at this time.”

Heggessey’s TV career began in 1979 as a BBC News trainee. Highlights include the Channel 4 show Hard News, editing science series QED, and a producer of Panorama. Her posts as Head of BBC Children’s and Director of BBC Factual and Learning lead her to become controller of BBC1, the first female in the role. As controller she helped the channel successfully revive Doctor Who as well as introducing Strictly Come Dancing. And it was her controversial move of the evening news bulletin to 10pm that paved the way for 9pm drama hits including Spooks, Cutting It and Hustle.

A report in Broadcast stated, “It was known that the Talkback boss fought hard to save The Bill, and if owners Freemantle are making her the scapegoat for its loss, it is more than a little harsh.” ITV’s decision to cancel the long-running police series (26 years old) had a huge impact on the company, to which Talkback owned the rights.

Sara Geater, the company’s chief operating officer, is to take over as interim chief executive. Like Heggessey, Geater will report to Tony Cohen, chief executive of Fremantle Media, the production, distribution and rights arm of RTL, which is Talkback Thames’s parent company.

The next few months will be telling for Talkback. Replacing Heggessey will demand a new media-minded leader with a host of creative ideas to fill the void of the axed shows. With the industry coming through one of the slowest periods for commissioning, there is real emphasis on finding new creative talent. A new and successful long-running series is just what ITV – and perhaps more importantly – Talkback Thames, need.

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Hoffman Takes To Director’s Chair for British Comedy

May 28th, 2010
Dustin Hoffman

Hoffman on the BBC's Friday Night With Jonathan Ross

At The Cannes Film Festival the BBC announced that Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman will make his official directorial debut with a British comedy entitled Quartet. The film will star British acting legends Dame Maggie Smith and Albert Finney in a tale about ageing opera singers who are reunited, after a disagreement in their youth, in a retirement home. Written by Oscar-winner Ronald Harwood, the film will follow events that culminate in the one-off reunion concert of a once world-famous foursome of opera singers.

Although Hoffman is listed as an unaccredited director of 1978 film Straight Time, this is his first official foray into directing.

The BBC also announced plans for a film about Charles Dickens, an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s book We Need to Talk About Kevin and a project from writer and director of In the Loop, Armando Iannucci.

Commenting on the line-up, BBC Films creative director Christine Langan said, “I’m really proud of the range, quality and diversity of our slate. These collaborations, alongside Vertigo’s Streetdance 3D represent our determination to deliver as eclectic, innovative and dynamic a mix as possible from established and brand new talent.”

Other projects include Three Sixty, from screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Deal, The Queen), which has been described as a “multi-stranded tale of love and sexual obsession”.

All thoroughly exciting and wonderful news for the BBC and British film industry.

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TV Talents Out The Door

January 29th, 2010

1So Simon Cowell is leaving American Idol, Jonathan Ross is leaving the BBC, Conan O’Brien is set to leave NBC and Archie Mitchell was killed off from Eastenders – so therefore left little choice. I mean, where are we going to find people who want to be on television?

Amid intense speculation over his next career move and Jay Leno’s widely criticized return to late night, O’Brien stepped down as host of The Tonight Show to his biggest audience ever. The final episode attracted 10.3 million viewers, with final guests including some actor named Tom Hanks and a curly, ginger comedian apparently called Will Ferell.

Cowell inked a deal with Fox earlier this month that will end his American Idol judging role. “We reached an agreement formally at about half past 10 this morning,” said Cowell, who confirmed his new deal in front of reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Monday, Daily Variety reported.

Wossy announced he was leaving the BBC after 13 years working for the corporation. As the BBC’s highest paid star (by some distance), he said in a statement that he had decided not to renegotiate his contract. The presenter added his decision to leave was not “financially motivated”.indianidol

Apparently, both Britain and America have new talent though, or so Cowell, Piers Morgan, Amanda Holden, David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel (it’s okay, I’ve never heard of him either) keep trying to tell us.

Of course, when one door closes another one opens, and just because such TV powers are moving on does not mean we’re left empty handed, lacking sufficient prime-time personalities and missing pizzazz. There’s baggy entertainment whose sole purpose it is to both find new talent and to exploit those who were once famous (or at least to have supposed to be. It all depends on whether you read Heat magazine or receive daily alerts about wags and Z Listers). Big Brother, All American Girl, I’m A Celebrity, Fear Factor, The Amazing Race, Survivor, all create entertainment, albeit in a very different manner than the TV judge or talk show host. There’s even Indian Idol now, already in its fourth season.

So, while the big earners are moving on to pastures new (personally I’d opt for an early retirement), there’ll always be those trying to discover new talent. Uncovering individuals, who, may never have long and successful careers at the worlds leading networks, but in the search, will create light entertainment for the millions who will watch it. Fame and celebrity is constantly being stumbled upon, but very little of it is truly sustained.

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Wossy’s Gone: Are multi-million pound TV contracts a thing of the past?

January 8th, 2010
Jonathan Ross: a colourful personality.

Jonathan Ross: a colourful personality.

So, Jonathan Ross is set to leave the BBC. We’ll miss him. Despite his loquacious manner and entertaining wit, his last four years at the Beeb have been notable for the array of infantile pranks and borderline crude interviews. As The Daily Mail comments, “in his manner of leaving at least, he has finally attained a degree of dignity.” Ross’s announcement that he had decided not to renegotiate his contract with the BBC was uncharacteristically measured and composed.

In truth, although the BBC will probably claim to be sad to lose their highest-earning star, there are likely to be “a few executives not too bothered about losing a man whose waywardness and multi-million-pound contract had become an embarrassment.”

Days before the confirmation of his departure, sources reported that Ross was concerned by the prospect of having his yearly pay slashed by £3million. True or not, he was the BBC’s highest earner and many at the BBC were said to have cheered on hearing the news of his decision not to renew his contract. Perhaps there is now a new pot of money available to fund new talent, dramas, comedies and documentaries?

Outside his London home, Ross told reporters he “would have liked” to stay at the BBC. He continued, “It has been a great 13 years at the BBC. I think it’s not a bad time for me to move on. It’s possibly not a bad time for them either.”

Though £18 million, three-year contracts for TV personalities are now firmly in the past, what we got from Ross was brash with a cutting humour and a wonderful talent. But is that deserving of the taxpayer’s money and £18 million? There is an argument to spend the money on discovering new talent, yet, does money equal talent? Is there even a necessity for talent on television? Reality TV leads the way in the ratings and Z list celebrities (if we can still call them that) actually make their living from such reality dramas. If Ross was host for Channel 4’s Big Brother and then moved on, would the show still draw in the millions, watching, gasping and cringing? Presumably, yes?

Life after Ross then is likely to be business as usual, musical chairs as Norton, Kermode and even Evans step forward to host the chat shows, radio programmes and film reviews. And perhaps Ross will still grace the screens to present the odd BAFTA or even Children in Need? Whether the BBC will see fit to grant a similar sized contract in this age of austerity is doubtful.

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Party Time for Sky with HD

November 13th, 2009

Sky TV have gone all festive and are in bountiful spirits, giving their UK high definition customers a complimentary ticket to watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Angels & Demons and The Hangover on Sky Box Office HD in their homes the same week that the films are being released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.

As part of the Sky+HD Party campaign, Sky hope for customers to share the Sky+HD experience with friends and family. To help the party give customers the best experience, Sky are offering a complimentary Sky Box Office HD movie (worth £3.91) and a £10 Marks & Spencer’s voucher. Now that’s just not any voucher, that’s an M&S voucher (said with a seductive commercial voice).

Sky+HD Party

Sky+HD Party

So are we all ‘HD Ready’?

HD services are already on-air in some parts of the world and they are about to be launched across the UK. To view HD you need a high definition display with HDMI or DVI connectivity, and there is an industry ‘kite mark’ to show whether a particular display is ready for high definition broadcasts.

High Definition TV (HD) is part of the latest digital revolution. HD television brings cinema quality into the home with greater picture quality and sharper images. Like 3D promises (look to the 30th Oct blog entry), there is the hope that such advancements produce a more colourful, exciting and immersive experience when watching television and films.

Sky HD

Sky HD

Standard definition digital TV displays a picture consisting of 720 by 576 pixels. This means the screen is made up of slightly less than half a million points of light.

High definition can display a picture of 1920 by 1080 pixels – well over 2 million – which adds clarity to scenes never before possible with either the old analogue system or standard definition digital.

Large television companies such as the BBC, Virgin, FX, ESPN and the National Geographic Channel have already launched themselves in high definition, magnifying the vibrant colour and quality of such events as the NFL, NHL, NBA, and many more American acronyms that are too tiresome to type. The National Geographic Channel – or NGC – has aired it’s HD content to great success: Alien Worlds, Earth Shocks, Alaska’s Fishing Wars and Inside Nature’s Giants – where a team of experts examine the nauseating anatomy – in full – of an elephant, crocodile and a giraffe, there’s even a 55-tonne whale.

Pixel Value Comparison

Pixel Value Comparison

ESPN HD soon launches on Sky+HD, with the service now offering customer’s access to up to 35 HD channels. That’s a lot of high definition sport! You can see them sweat, up close and in detail.

The Sky+HD Party offer (http://sky.com/hdparty/) is subject to availability and limited to the first 10,000 parties.

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The Rich and The Poor

July 23rd, 2009

Mark ThompsonWhile we in the UK are concerning ourselves with the news that many BBC executives earn over £100,000, with Director General Mark Thompson, topping the list at £647,000, their counterparts in the US blow them right out of the salary pond.

CEO at CBS Leslie Moonves, made a whopping $31.9 million last year, followed by Disney CEO Robert Iger at $30.6 million and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes at $19.9 million.

All companies, ‘struggling’ to find the money to make programmes, but kinda puts the Brit salaries into perspective.

Now excuse me while I book my ticket!

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