Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Strictly Ridiculous

John Sergeant: Political correspondent, one-time comedian but not ballroom dancer. That much we can discern from the judges of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing who, along with many other fans of the show, have claimed he no longer deserves to take part in it.

Today, John Sergeant himself agreed and pulled out of the current series, fully aware of the fact that despite his popularity with much of the British public, other more capable celebrity contestants were being denied the chance to progress.

In many ways, Sergeant appears to have done the decent thing. As many of the other celebrities were voted off following high scores from the judges and low votes from the public, Sergeant remained a part of the programme by achieving the exact opposite.

Last Saturday, actress Cherie Lunghi - who has proven to be a more than capable dancer in recent weeks - became the latest contestant to leave the show via a dance-off. Sergeant and his dancing partner Kristina Rihanoff had no such worries - the general public had voted in large enough numbers to ensure he'd take part for at least one more week.

But the mutterings among those who want the dancers to be judged purely on their dancing have become all the more louder in recent weeks. All four of Strictly Come Dancing's judges, Bruno Tonioli, Len Goodman, Craig Revel Horwood and Arlene Philips, have gone on record recently as saying how unfair Sergeant's ongoing participation is, yet for all that they remained powerless to do anything about it. Now Sergeant has walked, thereby resolving the problem at a stroke.

A very noble act on his part and one that will come as some relief to the programme's makers, but the argument remains - should he have walked at all?

Many of his fans think not. Though this is strictly a dancing competition, it's not enough to suggest that only the dancing should be judged. Strictly Come Dancing is a light entertainment programme aired at 6.20 on a Saturday night, and for all the skills of the celebrity dancers, the public tune in fundamentally to be entertained. Judging the celebs' dancing is something the public do not (in the vast majority of cases) have any qualification to do whatsoever.

And that's what gives one the impression that the BBC have shot themselves in the foot again. If it had wanted Strictly Come Dancing to be a dancing competition in the truest sense of the term, they would leave the judging to the judges. They, after all, are the experts and can tell who's dancing like the next Wayne Sleep and who's dancing like... well... John Sergeant.

The BBC could relieve themselves of any need to involve the public at all, but of course there is a reason to do this: to generate income via the phone voting that takes place every week.

It goes without saying that much of the money raised from the phone votes goes towards the Children In Need charity and very welcome they must be for it, but the BBC are no mugs. By charging Joe Public to interact with one of its more popular programmes, they can also pocket a few quid for themselves. Except now that money has been spent on a contestant who, it turns out, will no longer play a part in the show, contrary to what the quantity of votes suggested.

It hurts to say it, but these are no longer innocent times, and yet perhaps a show such as Strictly Come Dancing would have worked much better had it existed in more innocent times. By allowing the judges to have complete control over the way the scores are awarded, no-one could ever complain about the outcome.

And maybe that's the whole point of this. John Sergeant's reputation as a loveable and affable personality will remain intact and the show's future will no doubt be as assured as ever too. But through failing to lay down the exact remit of the program and executing it in a haphazard way, the BBC will surely end up with egg on its own faces.

And would you pay good money to an organisation that's failing to live up to its purpose like that? Too late - in the form of the TV License fee, you already are.


Sunday, 16 November 2008

I'm stranded on a frozen planet, get me out of here

If George Takei sticks around long enough on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here he stands to be a household name in the UK. In fact he may end up becoming better known than the character he played for so many years in Star Trek. On the basis of that flimsy premise Some People Are On The Telly dons its ill-fitting Captain Kirk t-shirt and Spock ears to look back on the life and times of a Trek stalwart, Lieutenant Sulu.

Hikaru Sulu first appeared on Star Trek in the second pilot episode Where No Man Has Gone Before. As Physicist Sulu he made his debut at the same time as Scotty and Captain Kirk. Only Spock has been in Star Trek longer, appearing in the first pilot episode with and entirely different crew which was rejected by the commissioning network.

When Star Trek was finally commissioned at the second time of asking, Sulu went from scientist to Helmsman of the Starship Enterprise. Sulu was one of a number of supporting crew members who were regulars throughout the series but didn't do much more than take orders and say "Aye Captain". The Star Trek hierarchy went something like this:

Kirk, Spock and McCoy did most of the talking and all the interesting stuff.

Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and later Chekov plus an assortment of guest stars did some of the talking and most of the work.

The security guards in red shirts did none of the talking and pretty much all of the dying.

So, while Sulu is fondly remembered, this is mostly for what is said to him rather than for what he said. The phrase "Mr Sulu, ahead Warp Factor One" is almost as familiar as Beam Me Up Scotty and enjoys the benefit of actually having been said on the programme unlike the latter expression which, contrary to common belief, never was. Still and all, it's not much of a legacy is it - being famous for taking orders and doing a lot of sitting around? However, the character endured throughout the run of the franchise and beyond. In that time there were some highlights:

In the first season episode The Naked Time, the Enterprise is infected with a virus and the entire crew get drunk with hilarious and deadly consequences. Sulu spends much of the episode charging around the ship's corridors topless with a fencing blade acting like a musketeer. His shining moment is on the Enterprise Bridge as he grabs the buxom Lieutenant Uhura around the waist promising to "protect" her (well you would wouldn't you?) Tragically he is cut short thanks to a Vulcan nerve pinch and a rare one liner from Spock: "Take D'artagnan here to Sickbay."

In The Enemy Within, Sulu is stranded on a planet which is about to get too cold for human life to survive. While Kirk struggles with his mysterious doppleganger while trying to fix the transporter, Sulu is progressively covered in fake ice spray until he is barely visible.

Perhaps his finest 50 minutes was in the classic second season episode Mirror Mirror. Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura beam aboard the Enterprise from another dimension. The crew are the same but in this universe they are not part of a peaceful benevolent democracy similar to the United States but an evil and brutal imperialist regime similar to the United States. Spock has a beard and is cruel and Sulu is the Machiavellian Head Of Security. Complete with scar across his face, Sulu leches over Uhura and contrives to depose both Spock and Kirk as the two struggle for control of the ship. Takei clearly relishes his chance to be truly evil and delivers with aplomb one of the best lines from the series as he reveals his nefarious plans to Kirk:

Perhaps because of these rare moments, Sulu's character endured through the three seasons of Star Trek and his services were recalled for the follow up series Star Trek Phase II which was ditched in favour of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The movies allowed the character to develop. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home we learned that he was both in San Francisco and the Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country he finally took command of his own ship, the USS Excelsior. It was in that film as Captain Sulu, he dressed down a young ensign played by Christian Slater (then at the peak of his powers) who'd dropped in for a quick cameo. Years later, Takei would reprise his role in the Star Trek: Voyager episode Flashback which retold some of the events in Star Trek VI.

For a while, there was talk of a whole series chronicling Sulu's adventures on the Excelsior. A few audio plays were released but it never really amounted to anything. However, Mr Sulu is steeped in Star Trek lore and his inclusion on I'm A Celebrity is a smart move for both Takei and ITV. Star Trek remains hugely popular as evidenced by its constant repeats here in the UK. By all accounts he is a smashing bloke and his infectious laugh is legendary. More importantly, his presence will probably have his many followers rushing to the phones when it comes to the public vote.

Some People Are On The Telly doesn't usually do reality TV that much but is prepared to make an exception in this instance. We'll be tweeting matters IACGMOOH on our Twitter stream @spaott. The show is on Twitter too so why not join us there?


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Johnny Vegas Is Actually From Woking

Some People Are On The Telly watched Argumental on Dave last night. This is what it thought.

At a time where commercial television is getting crunched by Colonel Credit's mighty jack-boot its encouraging to see UKTV commissioning their own programmes. The network which has made a business out of repeating other channels TV shows is now making its way into the murky and treacherous waters of original TV.

The network's recent rebrand begun with Dave. The cross-channel makeover is nearly finished with only the factual and documentary stations awaiting the inevitable name change to or Plants or Trainspotting or something equally cerebral.

Dave was originally UKTV G2, a comedy repeat channel. Since adopting a blokes name it has continued to moved more into lifestyle and panel game-shows plus sport. Latterly its has become bolder with its commissioning. The channels' relaunch has been a success and has seen its audience share increase while some of their rival's is shrinking. Furthermore, as a Freeview channel its profile will grow as Digital Switchover continues. Consequently, Dave is UKTV's flagship free to air channel and it appears, has been given the programming budget to match.

The World Rally Championship's home in the UK is now on Dave with an hour long highlights programme (they even have their own mics with Dave written on them and everything). Other commissions include Batteries Not Included, a gadget programme hosted by John Cleese (apparently). Most interestingly (for us at least) however has been the launched of the comedy panel game show Argumental.

The programme essentially mixes stand-up, with game show with topical debate. Its a kind of Live at The Apollo marries Mock The Week with Have I Got News For You as its bit on the side. Its very Dave.

Former political correspondent and dancing judge botherer John Sergeant is your host. The two team captains stand up comics, Rufus Hound and Marcus Brigstocke, are joined by esteemed contemporaries as guests. Sergeant sets the debate going with a topical statement and the comics take turn in amusing the studio audience by arguing for or against the position. At the end of each round, the audience decide which team was the funnier and vote accordingly. The winner at the end of the show is... well you get the idea.

The result is funny. This Monday, the guests were Johnny Vegas and Robin Ince. The audience were treated to improvised routines from experienced comics based on such topics as Binge Drinking Is Not A Bad Thing, You Can't Beat A British Beach Holiday and Boris Johnson Is As Daft As He Looks. The comics got into the spirit of things, worked well off of each other and the little side argumants while, at times, a bit laboured yielded some decent gags. You even got to learn what the expression Daft As A Brush meant.

On the downside Argumental is not at all groundbreaking. Its produced by Tiger Aspect who are old hands at this sort of thing. The format looks more like a single round of Mock The Week stretched out to a twenty minute show and Sergeant's links are a bit ho-hum (although there is nothing wrong with the delivery). Basically its nothing new but then again, its on Dave and lets face it, there is not supposed to be anything new on Dave. Thats the point of the channel.

Argumental's strength is its familiarity, both to the audience and the participants. Everyone seems comfortable with the format and knows what they are doing. Consequently, its hit the ground running and will not need a whole series to find its feet. This is just as well since it will be expected to deliver a high audience share right from the off. Multichannel commissions are rare enough in today's climate and its doubtful that the show won't be given a second chance. Fingers crossed it won't need one.

Argumental is on Dave every Monday. More details are available the official website.


Friday, 7 November 2008

Count your blessings

Countdown is such a curious televisual beast, isn't it? The longest running show on Channel 4, nay - the first show on Channel 4, it remains an incredibly popular programme among a sizeable cross-section of the British public.

Unsurprisingly for a show that's been on air for 26 years, Countdown is now woven into the fabric of popular culture, lauded, derided, lampooned and respected as it is. For such an innocent and unassuming programme, how on earth has it managed to live so long?

Maybe it's the show's undeniable simplicity. A series of rounds where two contestants have to make the longest word they can with nine randomly drawn letters is about as straight-forward as it gets. There is of course a 'number round' every once in a while to break up the monotony, plus the conundrum at the end (essentially an anagram that has to be deciphered) but that's really it as far as the quiz element is concerned.

All well and good, but that alone can't be the sole reason for Countdown's popularity. Perhaps it can also be attributed to the resident personnel who provide a cosy sense of continuity to every show.

First of all, there's Des O'Connor - variety performer, singer, comic and butt of Eric Morecambe's jokes. With all the showbiz experience you'd expect of a 76-year-old, he very capably provides smooth and polished linkage throughout the programme and brings an infectious sense of contentment to proceedings.

Then there's Carol Vorderman. Once part of the team of five that featured on Countdown during its infancy, she now shares the presenting duties with Des and has become a TV personality in her own right. As everyone knows by now, she's not just a brainless dolly bird (see 'The Price Is Right', 'Play Your Cards Right' and others for evidence of the genre) - far from it. Carol's main function on the programme is to provide speedy solutions to the show's often difficult mathematical puzzles which, if nothing else, has enabled her to launch a whole range of books, DVDs and computer games.

Finally, there's Susie Dent, resident lexicographer and Queen of Dictionary Corner. Her job is to excel with words in much the same way as Vorderman does with numbers. Though more timid and demure in character than the others, Dent nevertheless carries out her duties with a similarly admirable sense of competency.

Between the three of them, O'Connor, Vorderman and Dent form a tenacious triumvirate, but to add a further element of spice, there's always a guest celebrity to keep Dent company in Dictionary Corner over the course of any given week. With a single opportunity to regale the audience with a well-chosen anecdote half-way through every programme, the choice of celebrity can be key to adding to the show's appeal.

From comedians to politicians, from actors to sports stars, few of the guests in Dictionary Corner fail to disappoint with their stories that provide a happy contrast to the serious business of puzzle-solving. Even Susie Dent herself now has a five-minute slot in which she discusses the origins of words or phrases in the English language that inform and educate in equal measures.

As for the contestants, you'll find people of all ages and backgrounds from 8-year-old children to clergymen in their 70's. Many of them go on to become champions in their own right and one never ceases to be amazed by their tenacity and intelligence.

So the concept is simple, the presenters are professional, the celebrities are entertaining and the contestants are inspiring. What's not to like?

Some may criticise the cheapness of the show - that is to say there's little in the way of glitz or glamour to please the eye. Certainly there are no round-the-world holidays or vast fortunes to be won, but they'd be surplus to requirements anyway. This is a daytime quiz show appealing to people who like to stimulate their brain cells, not be sent into a zen-like trance by the latest talent show or reality TV epic.

Put simply, Countdown is a valuable stalwart of British television that deserves to exist because of its charm and humility. How long it continues to exist beyond the end of the year, however, is open to some debate. As has been well publicised, Des O'Connor is leaving the show to pursue further musical and performing projects while Carol Vorderman is leaving out of protest at the 90% pay cut she was asked to take.

This latter point has created much furore among many of the celebrities to have appeared on Countdown in the past. Esther Rantzen and Rick Wakeman were just two of the personalities to leap to Vorderman's defence by suggesting that Channel 4 have made a mistake in dismissing the presenter.

Putting aside the subject of whether she deserves to be paid an estimated salary of £900,000, one has to wonder how enjoyable the show will be without Vorderman along with O'Connor and many of its regular guest celebrities when it appears on our screens in 2009.

Some will be quick to point out that Countdown's popularity remained largely intact after the death of Richard Whiteley (the show's original host) three years ago, but this is potentially much more damaging. I suspect Countdown will survive for a lot longer yet, but there's no doubt it will lose many of its fans as a result.

Weakened as it may be, this long-running and much-loved programme is sure to go on for one good reason. In a world going ever so slightly mad, it offers that most precious of things - refuge for the weary viewer thanks to the good, clean, harmless fun it provides. Unfashionable as it may be, there's still a place for it on British TV which is exactly why it should be treasured and loved for as long as is humanly possible.


The TV List of Little or No Consequence #1

A little fermented curd
The 43 Cheeses Requested By John Cleese's Character Mr. Mousebender In The 'Cheese Shop' Sketch From Monty Python's Flying Circus

1. Red Leicester
2. Tilsit
3. Caerphilly
4. Bel Paese
5. Red Windsor
6. Stilton
7. Gruyère
8. Emmental
9. Norwegian Jarlsberger
10. Liptauer
11. Lancashire
12. White Stilton
13. Danish Blue
14. Double Gloucester
15. Cheshire
16. Dorset Blue Vinney
17. Brie
18. Roquefort
19. Pont l'Evêque
20. Port Salut
21. Savoyard
22. Saint-Paulin
23. Carré de l'Est
24. Boursin
25. Bresse-Bleu
26. Perle de Champagne
27. Camembert
28. Gouda
29. Edam
30. Caithness
31. Smoked Austrian
32. Sage Derby
33. Wensleydale
34. Gorgonzola
35. Parmesan
36. Mozzarella
37. Pipo Creme
38. Danish Fynbo
39. Czechoslovakian sheep's milk cheese
40. Venezuelan Beaver Cheese
41. Cheddar
42. Ilchester
43. Limburger


Contact SPAOTT

If you'd like to send us your comments, complaints, compliments or if you'd like to write for us, send your message to the following address: spaott [at] the-onion-bag [dot] com.

If you liked SPAOTT, why not try...

Some People Are On The Pitch
Football for the discerning enthusiast, featuring news, nostalgia, trivia - all served up with a decent side-order of humour.

The Onion Bag
Modern-day football shot through a comedy prism. Brilliantly surreal and always cuttingly satirical

SPAOTT Poll: Are the BBC right to axe 'Not Going Out'?

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP