There's only one place to be in August, and that's Edinburgh. Yes that's right, the capital of Scotland is THE place to be thanks to two things, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
Unfortunately I've never been to either, that was until now. Walking around Edinburgh this week has been brilliant, there's just so much going on. Everywhere you turn someone's doing a trick, someone's singing, someone's dancing and hundreds if not thousands of people are soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the variety of entertainment that's on offer. Luckily I've been to see some comedy shows and I'm hoping to see some more whilst I'm up here, but the main reason for my trip to Edinburgh is the annual TV festival.
The Edinburgh TV Festival is THE television event of the year. For three days each year, channel controllers, commissioners and talent come together to discuss the industry. New shows are announced, new stats are revealed and pretty much the entire TV industry head up there. This year's highlights are Sheridan Smith, Steph and Dom from Gogglebox and a live version of Through The Keyhole with Keith Lemon.
I didn't want to just go to Edinburgh, have all the fun, and not share it with anyone, so every day I'll be blogging about everything that happened; who was talking, what they were saying and why they were saying it. Basically if there's an exclusive bit of news that comes out of the festival, I will be reporting it here, so sit back enjoy and follow me on my first ever trip to the Edinburgh TV Festival.
Meet The Controller
Kicking off the TV festival was BBC's Director of Television Danny Cohen in a session called Meet The Controller, which was chaired by Dermot Murnaghan from Sky News.
BBC Two turned 50 earlier on this year and with it came a new controller, and the 13th for the channel, Kim Shillinglaw. Danny was speaking at the festival in place of Kim who is away.
Peak-time share has increased year on year for the channel, particularly down to its strong drama output. But the question everyone wanted answering was - "What's going to fill in for The Great British Bake Off?" after a switch to BBC One for the most recent series. Danny responded by saying that moving successfully shows like The Apprentice, Who Do You Think You Are? and of course The Great British Bake Off leaves room for creative refreshment, although he does admit that finding those new formats in the hardest thing to achieve. He admitted that Bake Off does leave a big hole and it's never nice for a controller to lose their most successful show.
Dermot asked the question which all the controllers are going to be asked at this years festival, and that's "What fictional TV character would you be and why?" - to which Danny replied, "The Doctot's assistant, because you're there to enable other people's brilliance. A bit like being a controller." Which then led the discussion to talk briefly about Doctor Who and the upcoming new series. Danny said that "Peter (Capaldi) is going to be an astonishingly good Doctor."
Danny also spoke about Top Gear and the controversy surrounding some of the comments made recently by Jeremy Clarkson. He made it very clear that he was "Incredibly unhappy with his language. Jeremy knows that's my position and will effect the way the show is viewed in the future. People think it's an over reaction, it's not an over reaction. He doesn't think there's anything wrong with what his language. He feels very differently about it to me.
He then revealed what the future held in store for BBC Two, which included (rather expectedly) more current affairs, more science, more history and of course more drama and comedy, describing the time we're in now as "The golden age for drama on TV" and when asked whether the likes of Netflix will have an impact he simply said - "We made 14 drama series on BBC One and BBC Two for the price of two seasons of House Of Cards!" - which if you think about it, is a pretty impressive stat.
As for the future of BBC Three? Well, Cohen made a big point of correcting Dermot Murnaghan when he referred to the channel as "going" - he said "BBC Three is not going. It's moving online. It's a very important distinction." He's aware that young audiences are being underserved by the BBC and that something needs to change. Personally, I don't feel the answer is in getting rid of... sorry, moving online BBC Three.
The plan for where BBC Three programmes will sit was also revealed with Cohen saying that between BBC One and BBC Two these programmes will premiere online and then be repeated on normal television. The most likely slots for these programmes would be 10:35 and 11pm on BBC One and after Newsnight on BBC Two. Whilst some may think of this as a graveyard shift of television, a time when no one's really watching, aka not primetime, Danny defended that by saying that research has shown that a BBC Three audience watch more TV between 10pm and midnight than at any other time, and so over the years BBC Three as a channel have learnt to shift their scheduling accordingly.
He also revealed that Jack Whitehall's chat show with his father will be making the move from BBC Three to BBC Two for its next series.
And finally Danny Cohen left us with a clip of what he believed to be the highlight show for BBC Two this autumn, Castles In The Sky, which shows the fight to invent radar by Robert Watson-Watt and British scientists.
Through The Keyhole
Next up, and officially opening the festival, was Keith Lemon with a special live edition of Through The Keyhole. On the panel were Sara Cox, Richard Osman and Jason Manford. Instead of entering celebs houses, and what with it being the TV Festival, Keith instead snooped around the houses of two of British TV's biggest controllers; Peter Fincham (ITV) and Stuart Murphy (Sky).
As expected with Keith, things turned rude and crude very quickly, and Peter Fincham brought up the time that in the early days of Celebrity Juice, Keith stimulated oral sex on him! I mean, I've heard of office flings, but that certainly takes it up a notch!
Peter Fincham revealed that one of the favourite shows he's ever commissioned has been Bo Selecta (no surprises seeing that Leigh Francis was sat next to him!) as well as Alan Partridge.
When in his house, Keith witnessed a shelf full of celebrity autobiographies, but noticed that his was missing! The shame of it. Peter did go on to reveal that the book is actually sitting on his desk at ITV which was the perfect opportunity for Keith to then plug his new book Little Keith Lemon which is out in November and subsequently handed Peter a copy.
Things got even ruder and even cruder when it was time for Keith to snoop around Stuart Murphy's house, especially the moments Keith spent wearing nothing (and I mean NOTHING) but several of Stuart's ties. The look on Stuart's face when he watched the footage was a picture, shock and horror is probably the best way to describe, not least the moment where Keith was laying naked on his kitchen worktop! No, really. It's a shame this won't be broadcast as it was very funny, very entertaining and the panel were on top form!
Last year Keith Lemon brought back Through The Keyhole on ITV to ratings success and it will return on Saturday 30th August at 9:25pm for a second series. Keep an eye on my blog over the next few days as I'll be posting my interview with Keith very very soon.
Next up, and the first screening at the festival, was a preview of upcoming Channel 4 comedy Catastrophe starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney.
We watched the pilot which will also serves as the first episode of the series, and it was very funny and the chemistry between the two was brilliant.
When asked how they'd met, the answer was "...on Twitter!" which I did not expect and what followed was a blind date in a hotel in LA. And then what followed that was Catastrophe, which is a modern romantic comedy about two characters Sharon and Rob (I'll leave you to guess who plays who), who meet one night. Rob's over from America, she's drunk, he's sober and they end up having sex which for Sharon is "...the first time I've had casual sex with a sober person before!" And lo and behold 89 days later we find out that she's pregnant which brings Rob back from America and that's when the sitcom can really begin.
I think Catastrophe showed a lot of promise and I'm really looking forward to watching the rest of the series which starts shooting in October and will be on Channel 4 in the first quarter of 2015.
Most people love to mock it, but many more love to watch it. I am of course talking about Gogglebox, the show on TV where you watch other people watching TV.
It's easily one of Channel 4's biggest hits and luckily for me standout stars Steph and Dom were speaking at the festival in a session titled 'Gogglebox Masterclass'. They were on the panel along with the show's creator Tim Harcourt, the show's producer David Glover and the Head of Development at Studio Lambert, Chantal Boyle.
First things first, at every talk I've ever been to, the people up on stage would drink water but not if you're Steph and Dom it seems. The first thing I noticed was that instead of the usual water, the posh couple from down south were drinking champagne and had a bottle to themselves.
What I loved most was the way that when the talk kicked off and Richard Osman was introducing the panel Steph was busy stirring her champagne with... Dom's glasses. Don't worry though, she licked them clean before Dom put them back on.
First things first - "Why do you think people have taken to you too so much?" - was the first question aimed at Steph and Dom by Richard Osman and unsurprisingly the response from Steph was "'Cos we're bloody marvellous!" and we then shown a clip of them in the show and I couldn't really argue with her. They are marvellous. Together with Leon and June, they're my definite favourites.
The thing we all wanted to know was whether or not the show was scripted, and whether or not they get told what to watch. Put simply, no, they are not told what to say, with Steph rather offended by the thought and said - "How the hell do you script that? (referring to her husband)... seriously! It comes from the weird part of his brain that no one else has got!" - so not, the show is definitely not scripted.
However yes, they are told what to watch and creator of the show Tim, made a very good point as to why that is - "This isn't a natural history programme, we can't just sit and wait and hope they watch the same programme.". Steph was rather optimistic about that, saying that she's able to watch shows like Educating Yorkshire which she would never normally watch because they brought her mood down, she said "I've watched stuff where I've been bawling my eyes out and I've had to run off to the bathroom and put my face on and get back to it.” Whilst Dom felt less positively about it - "We do get to watch a lot of shit."
The other thing we wanted to know was how the show is filmed. Basically the setup is two fixed rig cameras in the room and either locked away in a bedroom upstairs or a dining room next door are four people who make up a mini gallery, but are under strict instructions not to interact with the families.
Interestingly we watched part of the pilot which was called Talk About TV. Another previous title was 242 Minutes because that's the amount of time we spend a day watching TV. The pilot featured families like the Glover's from Liverpool who we have never seen, but were actually very entertaining. In fact, the only couple to survive the pilot was Leon and June, although not in their well-known armchairs but on a sofa! I know. Big news. The Glover's were asked but turned it down, and have been asked since but still turn producers down. Shame, I reckon they'd add a lot more to the show, but there you go.
Don't expect to see an advert to appear on Gogglebox anytime soon as they don't advertise anywhere. Instead they head out on the street, and do some good old fashioned street casting. They show people pictures of Simon Cowell or the Queen and if they're reaction is good and they start running their mouth, they're on the shortlist for the series.
And finally, the big announcement everyone was hoping to hear, Gogglebox will return for a new series on Channel 4 on the 26th September.
A Factual Drama Masterclass
With Jeff Pope & Sheridan Smith
Undeniably, one of the best dramas of 2014 so far was The Widower on ITV, and Mrs Biggs is one of the best dramas ITV have ever done, so it was a real privilege to hear Jeff Pope speak with Sheridan Smith about that and their upcoming ITV drama Cilla at the TV festival.
I'd been to the press launch of Cilla last week so I already got a flavour for what to expect and if there's one thing I took away from that it was that Sheridan could not admire Jeff Pope as a writer more than she already does and that Jeff is a brilliant talker.
Talking about Cilla, Jeff Pope revealed that when he came to create Cilla he started at the end, at the moment that Brian Epsteing was found dead next to a contract for Cilla Black to have a TV career, something she never wanted. There's a lot of singing in Cilla and Sheridan revealed that none of it is dubbed and everything was filmed 100% live - "I sung it all live. On the day it's terrifying, like being naked infront of your crew. I had singing lessons to sound like Cilla, but there is only one Cilla. " she said.
Sheridan was also keen to get the point across that she is not impersonating Cilla - "I didn't want to do a complete impersonation. I'm not an impersonator, I'm an actress." Sheridan also revealed that after meeting Cilla over lunch, with Paul O'Grady (of course!) Cilla's son Rob rang Sheridan up the next day and gave her Cilla's number, and said that she could call her whenever she wanted to. However Sheridan said how she was too scared to call her so never did!
Jeff revealed that after years of blood and gore it was time to do something fluffier, and that fluffier programme is Cilla. Jeff admitted that when he first spoke to Cilla about it, she wasn't sure where it was going and when asked whether or not Cilla herself has watched it yet, the answer from Jeff was "She's had the finished copy for six weeks now and I still don't think she's seen it. I think she's very nervous of it." Jeff revealed that none of the scenes in Cilla have come out of thin air. I haven't created plot. How I've written them has had to come out of my head. And then I'd talk to Cilla.
When asked why she wanted to do Mrs Biggs and what it was that drew her to the role she said it was because she had "...never heard her side of the story, as a woman, and a mother, and wife. I found it really fascinating, her sir of the story. You don't get scripts like Jeff's, he's a genius. When I got the scripts for Mrs Biggs I couldn't put it down. Jeff took a risk on me letting me play this huge role. It's all on the page. I didn't really have to do much acting."
So where does Jeff go next? We've already had Appropriate Adult, Mrs Biggs, The Widower and soon, Cilla but who's story does Jeff want to tell next? Well, speaking at the TV Festival, Jeff revealed that he is working on a drama with Danny Baker about the broadcaster and a drama about Jimmy Savile may be on the cards - "I've had a long think about doing something about Savile, and I'm still thinking..." he said.
Meet the Controllers
Peter Fincham & Paul Mortimer
It's a big year for ITV digitally, with the launch of two new channels. ITV Encore which is already available on Sky and ITVBe which is a free-to-air channel launching in the autumn, as well as the repositioning of ITV2, wanting to make it younger.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Peter Fincham (Director of Television, ITV) and Paul Mortimer (Controller of Digital Channels, ITV) revealed plans for making ITV2 a much younger channel and what each of the new channels means to them.
Peter Fincham told us how ITV "...wanted to expand in two different directions" and described how ITV Encore was the channel for "high-end drama" and ITVBe was "a fun reality channel". Paul Mortimer then confirmed the news that TOWIE (The Only Way Is Essex) will be moving to the female-skewing channel ITVBe when it launches later on this year.
Good news for Celebrity Juice fans, the show isn't going anywhere, and is set to become the channel's flagship show with an eleventh series airing later this year - "Celebrity Juice we love.
It's the rudest show on television and it has a warm heart." And there's even better news for fans of Keith Lemon as a brand new show from his was announced, The Keith Lemon Sketch Show which will be on air next year. When I met Keith the other week he showed me some pictures and let's just say it's looking really good!
The golden question was "How are you going to make ITV2 younger?" - the answer was to do a lot more comedy and entertainment. Plebs returns in the autumn, as does The Job Lot which moves over from the main channel as well as new comedy Cockroaches which features BBC Three star Jack Whitehall - "Two years ago we had zero sitcoms. In the next year we'll have four." said Paul.
And what about the shows that didn't perform as well as they had hoped? I am of course talking about Viral Tap and TV OD. Mortimer said - "TVOD was a wonderful show and we love working with Matt (Edmondson), we've worked with him on many projects now and we'd love to hold onto him." - but will TVOD or Viral Tap be coming back? - "We've not made the decision to bring it back yet, or Viral Tap.
So is turning ITV2 into a younger channel a way of capitalising on the death of BBC Three as a linear TV channel? "Absolutely not. "We had these plans before the news of BBC Three." But now that BBC Three is moving online, are they worried that ITV2 may end up the same way if it goes for the same audience? Fincham said - "ITV2 is here to stay. It isn't going anywhere." - that's a no then.
Peter Fincham also confirmed that "We're doing more with Joey Essex.", but what about the not so successful Mark Wright? "We would work with Mark Wright again. He's great talent." Joey Essex I agree with, Mark not so much. How many formats can one person try before giving up altogether? At least with Joey Essex, the first format he tried, Educating Joey Essex worked from the get go. And what next for Peter Andre who finished his reality series at the end of 2013? Paul revealed that if they were to work with Peter again, he would move to their new female-skewing channel ITVBe.
So if Peter Andre returns he'll return on ITVBe, TOWIE is moving to ITVBe, but what else will be on the new reality/female-skewing channel? All the Real Housewives programmes will move over from ITV2, there's going to be a new series called Baby Wears Prada, The Real Housewives of Cheshire, a celebrity version of Dinner Date and confirmed news of a Luisa Zissman and Blue series where they run a bar in Ibiza. No, really.
ITV Encore at the moment is a channel for repeating great ITV drama but Peter Fincham revealed that - "Original commissioning isn't on ITV Encore yet, but it will. We're not talking a lot of hours. 10/12 hours a year rising to 15/18 a year. It has to be something that has a different flavour to any drama on ITV (the main channel)."
Meet the Controller
Day two of the Edinburgh International Television Festival kicked off with another 'Meet The Controller' session, this time it was the turn of Sky1's controller Adam MacDonald. It's worth noting that at Sky they're not called controllers, instead they're called directors which Adam made a point of mentioning during his talk. Adam joined Sky1 as Director (see, I'm learning) a year ago and he was keen not to do what many new controllers (sorry, directors) do which is axe a number of shows - "I'm suspicious of controllers that come along and get rid of stuff." he said.
The good news is that Sky1 as a channel is going in a great direction; share is up, peak viewing is up and there's a healthy level of investment from Sky in new programming. When asked to describe Sky1 as a channel he revealed that internally and in the industry, the phrase used to describe the channel is "Enjoy the ride" and within that are four pillars that all its programming should fall into and they are; energy, joy, heart and laughter. For him these are the four central strands and he believes that A League Of Their Own, the show presented by James Corden has all that. He then went one further and said that the way James bellows with laughter, the energy he brings, his vibrancy, is something he wants to be more consistent on the channel across all programmes.
Asked whether Sky1 relies on A League Of Their Own Adam denied that and said whilst it is one of their most successful shows, there's only one series on a year so it's a real event when it does return. He also announced that they have a deal to take it up to 10 series and isn't worried about the imminent call James Corden is going to receive from America - "I believe he'll be able to do both." Adam is focussing on the 8pm slot first and foremost, and has announced that he has five quiz shows to put in that slot including one presented by Konnie Huq (Xtra Factor, Blue Peter) called King Of Nerds. One thing he is definitely not focussing on is a new identity for the channel, a brand refresh if you will. He feels like there is no need to do that as people understand what Sky1 is all about and what's on offer. However he does admit that he is currently looking at new indents, promos and new ways of using continuity.
The one thing Adam is finding at Sky1 is being able to find drama that fits each of his four strands, but he is keen to increase the volume of drama on the channel and would like at least two big new dramas and one continuing series in the schedule. One of the new acquisitions which was announced was The Flash which is a sister show to an existing Sky1 show, Arrow. Adam saw this a big must-have show for the channel and says it makes sense that they show it following the success of Arrow. And finally, I'm a big fan of An Idiot Abroad Star Karl Pilkington and it was great to hear Adam say that he is speaking with him and is very positive about working with him again.
Desperately Seeking 16-34s
Next up was a session called 'Desperately Seeking 16-34s' which as you can imagine is all about reaching the hardest audience to reach on television... the younger audience, especially in the aftermath of the announcement that from next autumn BBC Three will be moving online (subject to approval by the BBC Trust).
Chairing the discussion was June Sarpong (I know! Where has she been hiding?) and on the panel were (L-R above) Georgia LA presenter of The Fox Problem, broadcaster Rick Edwards, Zai Bennett, the former controller of BBC Three and now director of Sky Atlantic, Dom Bird who's the head of formats at Channel 4 and finally Ben Cooper who's the controller of BBC Radio One.
The person we all wanted to hear from of course was Zai Bennett, who shortly after hearing the news that BBC Three was to move online, decided to leave the BBC. It was clear back then that he didn't agree with the decision, but now he's settling into his new job, what does he really think about the move?
Well, when June gave him a chance to have his say he said - "I think I made my thoughts pretty clear at the time. It was a perverse decision. The BBC is amazing in what it does but moving BBC Three online and having the budget obliterated I think, is a massive strategic mistake." He then went on to describe BBC Three as "...a perfect example of a multiple genre channel."
Rick Edwards who presents Free Speech on BBC Three, a spin-off from Question Time which is aimed at young people and talking to lung audience, also made his feelings very clear - "How it appears to young people is that we've got four channels and the one aimed at you we're going to cut the budget by 75% and move it online where people aren't watching our shows."
Georgia LA who is one of the presenters on online entertainment show The Fox Problem, and the only person on the panel in the 16-34 age group, described hearing the news as "A kick in the knickers!" she went on to say that "We haven't got that targeting programme anymore which I think is sad." and revealed that one of the reasons she decided to create The Fox Problem with friends Gemma Cairney and Georgie Okell, together with social media production company Telegraph Hill, was because "we thought there was a gap." And although her show lives solely online she said - "It's not about TV or online. It's about mixing the two." She feels "...broadcasters should be taking a few more risks. Having young people making programmes for young people is probably a good step."
Whilst Ben Cooper seemed to defend the decision by saying - "Young people are watching TV very differently. The idea of waiting a week to watch another episode is alien these days.", he then went on to say that BBC One, "...is still the place where most young people watch television." He did admit though that when the news broke, it felt "raw".
So there we have it. That's what the panel thought about BBC Three moving online, but what did they think about the overall task of getting more young people in the 16-34 category watching television? Well Zai Bennett recognised that "Young people are valuable because they're harder to reach. You're future proofing longevity. Ben agreed and added that "...you've got to keep listening to your audience" if your channel (or radio station in his case) is to have longevity.
And finally, Dom couldn't get away without talking about T4. After all that was a massive programme for the demographic most broadcasters are trying to hit and Dom made the decision to axe, and two of its best-known presenters June Sarpong and Rick Edwards were sat next to him. Rick accused Dom of not replacing T4 - "...you replaced it with a cookery show nicked from the BBC! (Something For The Weekend/Sunday Brunch) ...which I actually enjoy watching!" Dom responded by saying that "...the audiences weren't there. They weren't watching. It was correct to decommission T4."
MEET THE CONTROLLER:CHARLOTTE MOORENext up for some tough questioning was BBC One controller Charlotte Moore and doing the tough questioning was Krishnan Guru-Murthy. And my word was it tough. So tough in fact that at the end of the session Danny Cohen, BBC's director of television and Ben Stephenson, head of drama confronted Krishnan over some of the questions he put to Charlotte and the way in which he criticised BBC One. The two of them seemed very animated when they confronted Krishan, especially Ben who asked him what his agenda was leaving Krishan to describe the whole situation as ridiculous and later tweeted "...rather sexist that they felt the need to step in when Charlotte had handled it all with calm intelligence". OUCH. So what was it that led to the argument? Well, Krishnan began by tearing into the channel and describe the BBC Trust's warning that the channel needs to be more distinctive and not rely solely on staple shows such as EastEnders, and compared the Trust's request in six months time for a repot setting out how BBC One will “increase the distinctiveness of programmes and schedules" to a school being on special measures. He also pointed out how the channel wasn't even nominated for 'Channel of the Year' at this year's Edinburgh TV Awards. If a little awkward or uncomfortable at times, Charlotte appeared to handle herself well and said she didn't agree with the BBC Trust, didn't think the channel was predictable and said that the channel are taking risks and a programme like Happy Valley is an example of that. Krishnan wasn't convinced and asked Charlotte where the creativity risk was in a cop show starring Sarah Lancashire on BBC One? Seemingly offended and put on the spot, she said "It surprised at every turn. It wasn't just a cop show. It's about a community and its dark past." Krishnan then went on to quiz Charlotte about the comments made by John Simpson, where he claimed that the BBC is run by "tough women" and as a result is "grotesquely managed". It appeared to one member of the audience, who is also a BBC employee, that Guru-Murthy's question “legitimised” John Simpson’s “sexist” comment. As you'd expect Krishnan denied this and at first refused to answer a question from the audience, however when he did, he denied that he was legitimising Simpson's comment and told the audience - "When a leading BBC talent like John Simpson makes a comment like that, I think one of the leading BBC women executives should be invited to comment on it." It wasn't all bad though, Moore also revealed at the start of the session how much she's enjoying her new job - "You get to work with the very best talent. It's what I would've expected, but I've really enjoyed the conversations we've had." She's aware that the "...modernising of BBC One is something you don't achieve overnight. I'm passionate to make it a channel of the future. It's great to see The Great British Bake Off flourish on BBC One, and it brings a whole new tone to the channel." She also revealed that she's "...determined to find that next big Saturday night format. Talent shows when they work, work incredibly well, but I'm not only looking for talent shows. I think people look at BBC One and assume we want more of the same." She also admitted that Tumble is "...in many ways the sister show of Strictly." Charlotte defended the decision to bring Happy Valley back for a second series when I confronted her about it. I felt that show had already come to a natural end and the decision to bring it back was just achieve great ratings, however Charlotte felt differently and said that Sally Wainwright wanted to write another series and that there's still so much to come from Catherine's back story." The other shows she talked about included a new six-part series about the Metropolitan Police called The Met and Inside KFC which as the title suggests is a three-part observational documentary series set inside KFC restaurants. Boomers she reveals was a show that she commissioned on day five of entering her new job and looking back now she asks herself - "What was I thinking?" but revealed that the reason she did was because she wanted to "...keep hold of the cast because they are like gold dust."
And finally, the session ended with a look at David Attenborough's new series for the channel called Life Story and if the clips we saw were anything to go by the series is going to be incredible. There were lots of gasps from the audience as we saw a chick fall down a cliff side and hit rocks on its way down. It's the programme Charlotte said she's most excited about because "It's light and dark. On the one hand it's very chilling, on the other it's very funny."
INSIDE THE MINDS OFSTEVE PEMBERTON AND
REECE SHEARSMITHNext up it was time to get ‘Inside the minds’ of two British comedy legends. I know that word is used a lot but when it comes to Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith the word legend almost isn’t enough. Together they’ve brought us the fantastic The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville and most recently the brilliant Inside No. 9. I was also very excited by the chair for this talk as it was none other than Jeremy Dyson who of course worked with Reece and Steve a lot in their earlier days on The League of Gentlemen. Can you believe that it’s been 15 years since Royston Vasey first appeared onto our screens? I can’t, as the series still feels as relevant and fresh today as it did back then. Discussion began with, of course, The League of Gentlemen and where it all came from. Steve revealed how – “The genesis of League was doing three nights as a live show”, to which Reece added – “What was good about League as a stage show was that it was slick.” Asked whether they enjoyed writing or acting more, it was interesting to hear that they each felt differently about each discipline. Reece said “I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. I see it as a means to an end. I like the thought that I’ll end up being in it and doing it. I have no interestnin handing someone else a script” whereas Steve said he’s “…come to love the writing more. By the time you act in it, the buzz has gone.” So where did the character of Papa Lazarou come from? Was it a real person? Well actually yes, sort of. Steve revealed how when he and Reece were sharing a flat together their landlord, Peter Papalazarou, would often often call up and go “Hello Steve” which fans of the show will know turned into “Hello Dave” for the series. Reece then revealed that for the first series of The League Of Gentlemen, they shot the first episode two or three months before the rest as they wanted to learn from it, seeing as they weren’t given a pilot, which is normally made for that same reason. Discussion then turned to Psychoville, how it came about and why? Steve told us how – “The year after The League had finished was a bit tough. For 10 years that is all we did. I felt very bereft when it finished. We talked about doing a new show, we didn’t know what it would be, but we liked the idea of doing something that had a very strong narrative to it. A little bit like the boxset culture, but doing it from a comic book point of view.” Reece added that what came first was the thought that “…they all got a letter that said ‘I know what you did’, and then it was ‘Who are these people?’” The episode between David and Maureen, known as the ‘rope episode’ came about because each of the other characters had their own episode except for them, and Reece told us how they were told – “We can do a seventh episode, but it has to be cheap. Could it just be you and Steve in a room?” so the natural thought after that he revealed was to think of Hitchcock and the way he show 10/25 minute scenes. Rather excitingly, and something I never knew before Reece let slip that the episode was actually at one point going to be a live episode. Now THAT would have been amazing. And most recently the two of them made Inside No. 9, a huge hit for BBC Two with lots of critical acclaim – “There was something exciting about not leaving a room. Going back to those plays for today. Coming back to theatricality. With a ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ element to it as well. They had a sort of twist in the tale. We’ve always wanted to do stuff that wasn’t in vogue at the time. In such a fast-paced world, we wanted to slow it down a bit.” – Steve told us. Reece said – “We wrote three scripts before it was green lit. The thought was you’re not growing an audience. You’re starting again each week. Ultimately we didn’t care. If the stories are good, you’ll watch it.” …and that’s exactly what happened. And finally, for me the standout episode of the series was Quiet Night In, also known as the silent episode. Writing that must’ve been difficult but the reward was so huge and I wasn’t surprised when we were told that that episode was “28 pages of stage direction.” Reece added – “We didn’t think we could do all 28 minutes without speaking. We thought we could do ten and then have to speak.” Talking about how they kept viewers gripped, Steve said – “We knew there had to be something at stake that would propel you through the half hour.” MEET THE CONTROLLER:PETER FINCHAM 📷One of the final Meet the Controller’ sessions at the Edinburgh TV Festival was the the top dog at ITV, Peter Fincham, who was actually taking part in his tenth consecutive ‘Meet The Controller’ session. Peter kicked off the session with a bit of a cliché – “Television is still a land of opportunity” and revealed that Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway was his channel-defining programme. When confronted by chair Kirsty Wark about the channel not taking enough risks, Fincham replied by saying – “The audience aren’t sitting there thinking, “Has the controller taken a risk?” They’re asking “Is this entertaining.”” Which received a very positive response from the audience at the festival. Talking about new talent show format Rising Star which arrives on ITV in the first half of 2015, Fincham described it as – “A format in an area of talent shows that has a genuine unique selling point.” – The selling point being real-time voting by viewers via an app which is fully integrated via an app. (The Singer Takes It All anyone?) He also admitted that perhaps Stepping Out “…in hindsight wasn’t distinctive enough.” – basically the show was another version of BBC One hit Strictly Come Dancing. When asked to pick his riskiest moment, he chose the three-part drama series Prey. He said it was risky because “...it was written by a writer who had never written anything for television before, and it didn’t feel like an ITV drama.” – Thankfully that risk paid off as Prey is one of my favourite dramas of 2014 so far. He went on to say that – “ITV is a stage, and it’s a big stage. If you’ve got the ambition, it can be about anything, as long as it’s a brilliant idea.” Then talk turned to something the channel, have been struggling with for several year, breakfast television. Whilst Peter Fincham admitted “We never quite got Daybreak right.” he defended their recent breakfast offering Good Morning Britain - "We tried to break the mould with Good Morning Britain. I think it has a good team on screen and working behind the scenes. We expect audiences at breakfast to move slowly. We would like it to be the most popular offering it can be at breakfast. I am not expecting an overnight transformation in the ratings." Comedy. Something the channel has had a few successes in, but very few and far between – “Benidorm has been wonderful. It continues to grow its appeal and we love it. Bird Of A Feather was the fastest decision ever. The writers came to us and told us that the BBC only wanted to do a Christmas special and if we were to offer them a series they’d do it with us. So we just said yes! But then I kept thinking, have we made a mistake?” Well luckily no because – “…audiences loved it and I don’t think the fact it came from the BBC mattered at all.” And finally the show he’s most excited about that’s coming up is Grantchester, a drama set in 1953 that’s adapted by the novel Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie. The series focuses upon the life of Sidney Chambers who turns investigative vicar when one of his parishioners dies in suspiscious circumstances. Grantchester will be on ITV in the autumn.EDINBURGH TV AWARDS 2014
Rounding off day two of the Edinburgh International Festival was the yearly Edinburgh TV Awards, which this year was hosted by John Bishop.
Bishop was a great host, and I guess to be expected the majority of his opening skit was about Scottish independence.
First up was the 'Programme Innovation Award', and the nominees were Him & Her: The Wedding, Live From Space, The Murder Trial, Our Gay Wedding: The Musical and finally Peaky Blinders (although how that's innovated, I'm not quote sure!) The winner was... The Murder Trial.
Secondly, the 'Producer/Director Debut Award' was presented by Gaby Logan and awarded to Marcel Mettelsiefen for the very hard hitting and moving documentary Children on the Fronline.
Next was 'Production Company of the Year', and the short list included Big Talk (Him & Her), Kudos (Broadvhurch) , Love Productions (The Great British Bake Off'), So Television (The Graham Norton Show) and TwoFour (Educating Yorkshire). I was really pleased to see Big Talk win the award
The next award was a brand new one for 2014, 'Commissioner of the Year' and this year the winner was Richard Klein who now commissions programmes for ITV having previously worked for BBC4.
'The Network and Ones to Watch Programme Choice Award' was between Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Gogglebox, Happy Valley and Orange Is The New Black. Whilst it would've been great for Breaking Bad or Gogglebox to win the one show on the list I haven't seen, Game of Thrones walked away victorious.
Another new award now, 'TV Moment of the Year' and the winner was between Hayley's assisted suicide in Coronation Street, Musharaf's speech in Educating Yorkshire, Conchita Wurst winning the Eurovision, the end of episode four of Happy Valley, Benji singing on his wedding day in Our Gay Wedding: The Musical and the most recent time that Jeremy Paxman interviewed Russell Brand. The winner of 'TV Moment of the Year' was of course Musharaf's speech in Educating Yorkshire, which is easily one of the best TV moments of the past 12 months, so a very deserving winner.
And finally, it's the big one, 'Channel of the Year'. The channels nominated this year were BBC Two, BBC Three, Channel 4, ITV and Sky Atlantic. Whilst I thougt BBC Three would win this, even just to make a point, the award actually went to Channel 4. So congratulations to Jay Hunt and co for a very deserving award.
QUESTION TIME:AN EDINBURGH SPECIAL The first session of the final day of the festival was a special edition of Question Time fronted by Kirsty Wark, who described the session as the one that "Spews up, digests, and then spits out the most controversial issues from the festival." On the panel were Conor Burns, a British Conservative Party politician, broadcaster Steve Hewlett who presents The Media Show on BBC Radio 4, Dan Brooke from Channel 4, Ben Stephenson who's the controller for drama at the BBC and finally actress and comedy entertainer Elaine C Smith. Rather unsurprisingly, the first question was about perhaps the biggest controversy of the entire festival, Krishnan Guru-Murthy's grilling of BBC One controller Charlotte Moore and the reaction that got from Danny Cohen and Ben Stephenson. It was only right that Ben had the chance to speak about what actually happened and why he reacted the way he did. But before he did, he couldn't help but take yet another swipe at the Channel 4 News presenter saying - "It would've probably helped if he had watched some of the shows." So what did Ben say to Krishnan after the session? - "What I actually said was "Krishnan I don't understand why you didn't ask Charlotte what she's looking for? This is not Newsnight, the audience want questions answered about future shows." Ben also made it very clear that the accusation against Krishnan for bringing up the John Simpson quote didn't come from him, it came from someone in the audience.
Responding to John Simpson's comments, Steve Hewlett said - "Is the BBC grotesquely managed? Yes. Is to because of women? Absolutely not!"
Conversation then moved on to diversity, a word that's been banded about left right and centre at this year's festival, and probably in every festival leading up to it and every festival here on in. Conor Burns made his point and said - "There shouldn't be quotas. It should be about talent."
Ben Stephenson defended the BBC by saying "EastEnders is the most diverse show on television. I don't think it's diverse enough. I think everything should be more diverse. The big thing for me is disability and mental health which is not represented on television. The problem is that at the moment it feels like we've got to do it, rather than want to do it.
He later went on to tell us that - "The BBC is under threat. There's no doubt about that." and said he noticed an anti-BBC feeling across this year's TV Festival (possibly talking about yesterday's controller session with Charlotte Moor) and said - "I do feel the industry is at some point going to have to start saying, ‘The BBC is not perfect but my God there’s actually a lot they do brilliantly’. And the reality of a smaller BBC is a really worrying thing for the creative world.”
Steve Hewlett agreed with fellow BBC employee Ben and said - "With EastEnders I do think that's right. You can accuse the BBC of vein child abusers, fraudsters, burglars and dare I say it rapists. But nothing gets to them more than calling them racist."
Steve then question Dan Brooke about Channel 4 and why they're yet to provide a figure of how many people from BAME backgrounds they're going to have working on their programmes - "Sky say 20% by 2015, BBC 15% by 2017... what are Channel 4 going to do?" - to which Dom couldn't give an answer, with Kirsty Wark backing Steve by saying that it was ridiculous for "...Channel 4 not to mention anything." What Dan did say though is - "Channel 4 will release it in the autumn. It's complicated." - Only time will tell but it does seem odd that they're unable to give a number, when like Steve Hewlwett says, 40% of 16-34s, the group who watch the most Channel 4 are 40% non-white.
Elaine C Smith said - "I'd like to see TV reflect real people. I also feel it's about class and gender. As a woman, I don't see myself back on the screen, and culturally I don't see myself back." Ben agreed with Elaine that "...class is a major issue. I think acting has become a very middle class profession." And one final point on diversity came from Steve Hewlett who accused people in television for being - "Deeply uncomfortable by non-whites."
And finally, another issue discussed was the Scottish Referendum and the effect that will have on the BBC. Will Scotland lose it? Will Scotland want their own national broadcaster? I won't bore you with the politics of it that was discussed but I will leave you with what Steve Hewlett had to say, which was - "I know if I lived in Scotland after a yes vote, I would expect my own national broadcaster."
MEET THE CONTROLLER:PHIL EDGAR-JONES The man who brought us Big Brother is now four months into a job where he's running two arts channels, Sky Arts 1 and Sky Arts 2. Krishnan Guru-Murthy spoke to Phil at the festival about to expect from Sky Arts over the coming months. One of the first points Edgar-Jones made was that - "Anyone can like the arts no matter what their background is." and assured us that despite his background in entertainment, he's "...not suddenly going to bring a show like TOWIE to Sky Arts." and he also wouldn't - "...put Bake Off on Sky Arts." He also mentioned that his appointment means "evolution" for the channel, not "revolution", and he admitted that whilst he may not be the obvious choice for the role, Sky Arts is the channel he most watched on television before getting the job. He made it very clear that he didn't want "...anything to be a barrier for people coming to the channel. It's all going to still be arts, but we're going to try and make it more popular." He announced a new show for the channel called Sky Arts Sessions, which is a chance to bring live music to the channel. Phil is very aware that music doesn't rate well on TV, but as he reminded us, Sky don't measure success on ratings. "We don't have a music policy. We've created a show to get as many new band in through the channel. We wanted to create a home on Sky Arts for live music."
And finally, he assured us that the Playhouse Presents series will continue as that's the strand that continues to pull in great talent and big names. Next time around he revealed that he'd want it to feel more like a compendium, meaning a group of single dramas that all have the same running theme. He gave us an example of what that could be - "Classic stories reimagined, a series of horror stories or sex stories."
The State of the TV Nation
What better way to round off the 2014 Edinburgh International Television Festival than with Frankie Boyle? That's right. The controversial comic closed the festival by talking to Pointless presenter and Creative Director of Endemol Richard Osman about his controversial career, the talking points of this year's TV festival, TV as a whole and of course, Scottish Independence.
"You used to be on TV a lot, and now you're on it a lot less. Why?" - that was the first question Osman put to Boyle, to which he responded - "Controversy has scared off commissioners, who are generally scared of content."
Perhaps the biggest controversy Frankie was involved in was the time he made a joke about Katie Price and her disabled son Harvey on his Channel 4 show Tramadol Nights. Did he "It got signed off by everybody. I don't think in context there's anything wrong with that joke. I don't regret that joke."
As well as diversity, risks and the risks channels think they are taking has been a big talking point of the festival and Frankie's take on it is that - "They don't take any risks. They would rather not take risks than have falling ratings or lose money. My TV guide looks like the entertainment on a cruise ship. There's probably a show about knitting somewhere! If 20% less people watched TV next year I wouldn't be surprised."
Speaking about diversity, Frankie said - "I like quotas because they put the responsibility on the people making the shows, not the comedians." He then went on to tell the story of the few times he'd presented Never Mind The Buzzcocks and kept asking producers to have Sarah Millican and other female comedians on the panel, which they point blankly refused to do because she is a woman, "...after three or four times of asking it was implied that if I carried on asking I'd get the sack."
He thinks the quota for women on panel shows is "...the wrong quota. Make it 50/50/ It's not that difficult!" He also revealed that throughout the years he had heard producers refer to female comedians as "Cunty make no jokes" which is just an appalling thing to say and I'd like to think those sort of remarks aren't still being made today.
He also compared Channel 4's output to Take A Break or Chat magazine, most notable the show about the man with the massive testicle and admitted to watching very little of it. He watches some stuff on 4oD, he watched Benefits Street and that's about it. He described the channel as "creatively dead" and said - "Channel 4 talk about Channel 5 copying them but actually they're copying Channel 5." Richard Osman was shocked by this and asked him whether he enjoyed Utopia to which Frankie replied - "Utopia was fucking terrible." - that's a no then.
Talking about the closure of BBC Three, Boyle called it a "...disaster. It's the worst fucking decision they could've ever made. I would make the cuts to a lot of their senior management and pensions. I would get rid of the hopeless people there."
Another controversial TV figure is Jeremy Clarkson - "If I was Clarkson's boss I'd sack him. He's a cultural tumour. He's in there like a fucking growth and should be removed. He's horrible."
As for what's next for Frankie Boyle, he revealed that he'll be on Live From The Apollo next month and is currently working with the BBC on an iPlayer pilot about Scottish Independence which he described as "...a bit like Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, but we haven't really got into it yet."
I just wanted to add how much I've enjoyed my first experience of the Edinburgh International Television Festival. I've had the opportunity to hear the people right at the top of the industry talk about their channels, I've heard discussions about ways to make TV younger, more diverse and riskier. Those discussions were great and whether over the next 12 months we'll see any change remains to be seen. So thanks for reading this piece and checking my live commentary on Twitter. I'm going to make sure that my first experience of the TV Festival isn't my last. Until next year...