My Midsomer Murders musings

Over on TV Today, I’ve written some thoughts about Midsomer Murders producer Brian True-May’s suspension over comments he made in an interview to promote the series:

The news that Brian True-May, co-creator and producer of ITV1 crime drama Midsomer Murders, has been suspended from his job for commenting to Radio Times about his refusal to cast ethnic minorities on the show, should come as no surprise. The way he chose to justify his stance read like comments from a bygone age that have no place in the modern broadcasting industry.

That said, I grew up not far from Midsomer country – north Buckinghamshire rather than the South Bucks/South Oxon used for the series’ location filming. And the rural villages of this part of the home counties were, in my youth, almost exclusively white. At my local school (which I left a little over 20 years ago), I think the number of non-white pupils out of the entire school roll of 650+ never got above single figures.

My post has been already been picked up by Anglophenia, BBC America’s blog covering UK television and culture.

Unfortunately, it’s also been picked up by a load of new commenters, who seem far too busy defending someone who won’t hire ethnic minorities – in the name, of course, of fighting ‘political correctness’ – to actually stop and think about the issue at hand.

And you can quote me on that

Over the last week or so, my name’s popped up in a couple of places. Firstly, in Sunday’s Observer I was quoted in a feature on television’s propensity to remake old series.

The Observer TV feature

My quote, taken from a much longer conversation, rounded off the article:

Scott Matthewman, assistant editor of the trade paper The Stage, who writes its TV blog, explained the sudden vogue: “A lot of these are the dramas that people commissioning at the moment grew up with, so it appeals to them. Doctor Who transformed from being the butt of so many jokes to become the BBC’s highest-rated drama, so they are trying to match that. Also, with the severe financial pressure broadcasters are under, they are going for productions that will generate the ratings.

“But you wonder if all this means better, newer ideas out there won’t be produced – there’s only so much drama that can be commissioned at any one time.”

There was a lot more I said — stuff about how it’s important to have a strong creative vision (Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica) or things could go seriously wrong (Minder, for example). None of that made it in to the piece, but I would have my opportunity to say it…

Continue reading “And you can quote me on that”

Lessons from The Street: We had a bargain, and we forgot

Cross-posted on TV Today

And so we say goodbye to The Street, Jimmy McGovern’s remarkable series of standalone, but inter-related dramas relating the extraordinary tales of neighbours on the most ordinary of streets. After three years, ITV Studios, which made the BBC-commissioned series, has made so many talented people redundant that McGovern doesn’t want to try and continue.

But while the series drew to a close last night with a moment of sad reflection, it also went out on a dramatic high — one that, in a way, reflects not only the end of The Street, but the end of an era.

Given that many people may have the episode stacked up on their Sky+ or on iPlayer, I’m going to continue this after the jump — so be warned, from hereon in there are spoilers

Continue reading “Lessons from The Street: We had a bargain, and we forgot”

Won’t somebody think of the children – instead of just blaming the broadcasters?

Previously posted on TV Today

Every morning when I get into work, I find an inbox crawling with press releases, most of which are of little to no interest either to me directly or even to The Stage as a whole. This morning, I did see one which deserved additional reading, as it covered children’s television, an area that TV Today readers will know is dear to our hearts.

The release claims that 70% of parents of children under 7 have said that their children have had regular nightmares because of children’s programmes.

Needless to say, both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have pumped out the story onto their respective websites, pausing only to rewrite every other sentence into their house style. Seriously – the Daily Mail version of the story is, sentence for sentence, exactly the same structure as the release (except for omitting a crucial couple of paragraphs at the end – but more of that anon).

But questions of lazy churnalism aside, the line being pushed by the press release does at least deserve some closer analysis.

Except, I’m not sure it really does stand up to such scrutiny.

The debate about whether television affects young people’s behaviour is an age old one – older, indeed, than television itself. For TV, substitute cinema, theatre or (depending on how far back you want to go) poetry and the discussion existed.

It doesn’t help that so many different research studies often draw different conclusions (examples of such studies, and a basic look at possible reasons for the discrepancies, can be found here).

But one thing that must surely be acknowledged is that, even if children’s programmes were as horrific as this poll of parents suggests, any possible long-term consequence can surely be mitigated by the parents themselves.

I don’t actually believe that children’s programmes are any less scary than they were when I was of that age. I would personally find live action dramas like Into the Labyrinth or Children of the Stones far scarier than any cartoon, violent or otherwise. And I’m not sure I accept that, even at an early age, children are unaware that programmes like Ben 10 and Power Rangers are complete fantasy. But the ability to separate fantasy from reality is something that parents can and should encourage in their children.

The release also targets Saturday evening shows Doctor Who, Primeval and Robin Hood as too scary, suggesting they should be shown post-watershed. Here’s a thought – how about watching them as a family, so that youngsters can enjoy them safely? That is, after all, the type of audience they were commissioned for – and not by children’s departments, but by the grown-ups’ equivalents.

The Mail version of the story continues in a similar vein, but ends with a quote a spokeswoman for the website that did the survey:

“We think that back in the 1950s there was a lot more guidance from broadcasters about the suitability of children’s programmes – they had Watch With Mother banners, and For The Children branded programmes.”

And today we have CBBC, CITV, CBeebies, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. – the list goes on. Whether it’s through dedicated children’s channels on digital networks, or heavily branded strands on the terrestrial channels, it’s never been easier to find programmes specifically commissioned for watching by children.

Indeed, recently the BBC has gone further, and introduced iPlayer for CBBC and iPlayer for CBeebies, which not only include easier layout for young fingers to navigate, but has dedicated links to information for grown-ups.

The whole reasoning behind the press release is fallacious. Is there a link between TV programming and either children’s behaviour or the incidence of nightmares? There may be, there may not be. A guick Google uncovered the aforementioned examination of the possibility of links, looking at various research models. Different research comes up with different conclusions, along with raising more questions. Do naturally aggressive people seek out aggressive programming? What role do peer groups play in establishing children’s understanding of what they watch? And so on.

One thing must be sure, though: when it comes to breaking any possible link between, say, children watching programming they find frightening and having nightmares, parents have an opportunity to provide reassurance and context.

Which brings me to the one section that the Mail doesn’t include in their version of the article: the closing paragraphs of the press release.

[The website spokeswoman says:] “However, parents are left to regulate what their child watches, how much they watch and when.

“This means they would at least need to consult a TV guide to find out which programmes are classed as C band – suitable for all children, and P band – suitable for pre-school children.”

But the poll reveals parents don’t have time to monitor what their children are watching minute by minute, and 70 per cent readily admit they leave their children watching television whilst they make the dinner or get things ready in another room.

How about that – parents being asked to take responsibility for their children’s upbringing, including their TV viewing habits. Er, excuse me, isn’t that your job rather than the broadcasters’?

If you paid a human being to mind your child, you would take the time and effort to ensure that you were leaving your charges in appropriate care. Unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to the box in the corner, not only do some parents want to see it as a free babysitter, they also want to free themselves of any responsibility in ensuring their offspring are left in good hands.

Successful mission

_This article first appeared in the February 19, 2009 issue of [The Stage](

**Jon Cassar, executive producer of hit US series _24_, tells Scott Matthewman about how the writers’ strike affected the show, how it mirrors current affairs and its future**

When it first hit the air in November 2001, Fox Broadcasting’s **24** quickly established itself, becoming known worldwide as much for its adrenaline-fuelled, split-screen real time drama as for its post-9/11 relevance.

With each series spanning a day in the improbable life of counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, it won leading actor Kiefer Sutherland a Golden Globe.

After six successful seasons on air, when the writers’ strike hit in 2007, filming was halted. Rather than broadcast the eight episodes already shot and wait until the strike was over before continuing the series, Fox delayed broadcast of
the seventh season for a full year so that all 24 episodes could run in a continuous block. For 24’s executive producer Jon Cassar, this was a mixed blessing for the show.

“The strike was a horrible thing, especially for the business,” he says, “but we are probably the show that benefited the most from the strike, for many different reasons.”

Continue reading “Successful mission”

Top of the class

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of **The Stage**

_Rob Gilby, managing director of Disney Channel UK, reveals how the company is responding to the enthusiastic High School Musical audience in Britain_

Our marketing of the films has been driven by the sense of ownership the kids have. They’re demanding it on their desktop, on their mobile phone, as a CD and T-shirt. The ultimate example in the UK is more than 300 amateur productions that have been licensed to schools and amateur groups, where they can not only own a piece of the fun, they can be in it. I wish something like that was around when I was a kid.

High School Musical has really woken the audience to what the Disney Channel has been doing for a number of years with our live action comedy series and our original movies. The funny thing is that High School Musical was the 61st made for TV movie Disney Channel has done.

Our competitors are only just getting into the TV movie market now, but we’ve been doing it for a long time. And all our live action comedies are rating so well, we’re having the best summer we’ve ever had. British kids relate to the humour, the circumstances the kids on screen are put in, the way it captures their values and their lifestyle.

But kids in the UK do get a fantastic choice. There are 25 children’s channels, and a very strong public service broadcaster in the BBC, and that means there’s an opportunity to ask if we’re providing a diversity of choice. We take our responsibility really seriously.

As well as the fantastic programming we’re making on a global basis, we’re making local shows, including a short form show called As the Bell Rings, which has been rating very well. We’re doing our part to contribute towards that, and other players are doing their bit, too. But there is a perception that the industry is facing a number of challenges. The recent changes on junk food advertising haven’t affected us because we’re a subscription service, carried on Sky, Virgin and Tiscali. And while Freeview is the fastest growing service, once people sample the range of channels available they’re saying, ‘I want a little bit more’, and moving to platforms that give them our kids’ channels. We moved to the basic pay TV packages last spring, and that brought us to a much larger audience too.

High School Musical 3 will be going into cinemas first, which is the biggest compliment we could get. The first TV movie was big, and the second one is even bigger, and now they want to make a motion picture release. I’m really happy. It’s still going to be a Disney movie, we’re still going to act as partners. The schedule it’ll be appearing on the channel won’t be on the same timescale, but it’s fantastic news for the cast, the producers and for Disney as a whole.

Last night I was talking to Lucas Grabeel, and he’s really excited because as well as these movies and the others he’s made with us, he’s got other ideas he wants to pitch to us. He’s actually enjoying the ability to explore several parts of his skill set across different parts of the company. And the company is terribly supportive in asking him, ‘How else can we work with you?’. It’s a throwback to the old Hollywood model, I guess.

High School Musical proves there are opportunities for the audience to engage with our programming through many different media. Last week, we started selling shows through iTunes. It won’t undermine the channel, it complements it. Giving people a choice of where, when and how they access our programming is an important part of our brand. If they want it on their iPod, we’re going to give it to them.

_Rob Gilby was talking to Scott Matthewman_

A less bleak future: high definition television (HDTV)

This article first appeared in the November 17, 2005 issue of **The Stage**

Next year sees the 80th anniversary of John Logie Baird’s first demonstration of his television equipment and the 70th of the BBC’s first transmissions with Marconi’s 405-line system. While we have progressed significantly from both, 2006 will see the first large-scale UK trials of a new format that will take another substantial leap forward.

Recently, the BBC announced that it will start trials to simulcast its peaktime BBC1 programmes in the new high-definition television (HDTV) format in 2006. Offering a much higher resolution than existing broadcast technologies, HDTV allows far greater detail to be shown – meaning that production teams may have to re-examine how they make programmes.

In visual quality, HDTV is far closer to a cinema experience than even the best current ‘home cinema’ systems can provide. And while that can mean a more sumptuous treat for the consumer, the costs of that quality will ripple throughout all areas of production. When you can see every ripple and fold in an actor’s costume, every pore and line on a performer’s face, the demands upon costume and make-up designers can only increase. In an industry where budgets are already tight, the extra costs involved in such attention to detail must surely be an area of concern.

For now, the BBC is using co-production money to finance its showcase HD productions. Several American cable and satellite services already broadcast in HD, enabling co-productions to lead the way in the new format. Most notably, the BBC’s acclaimed adaptation of Dickens’ Bleak House (a co-production with WGBH Boston) has been recorded in HD. The extra attention to detail is evident, even when viewed on standard TV equipment — it is little wonder the production team chose not to shroud their hard work in the smog that pervades through the original book. When broadcast over HDTV, the improvements promise to be remarkable. Other programmes and genres will follow, with the BBC aiming to master all its peaktime programmes in HD format by 2010.

The biggest barrier to adopting HDTV in the nation’s living rooms is going to be monetary. Most televisions sold today are simply incapable of displaying HD-quality pictures – only a third of current sets are ‘HD-ready’, although that number is expected to increase once HD services become available. Digital satellite and cable viewers will require new set-top boxes and there is some doubt about whether digital terrestrial (DTT or Freeview) will ever have the capacity for HD broadcasting. The BBC has asked Ofcom for permission to conduct a DTT trial in the London area, using a currently unused area of the spectrum. Any permanent, full-scale HD broadcasts on terrestrial would most likely have to wait until digital switchover in 2012 — but that would mean allocating some, or all, of the spectrum that switching off the analogue system is intended to free up.

Still, the technology is on its way. British Sky Broadcasting has announced plans for an HD-capable version of its Sky+ receiver next year and cable companies NTL and Telewest, who are in the process of merging, will be rolling out HDTV by the end of 2006 and into 2007. In terms of content, the BBC’s trial simulcast will be joined by a selection of channels from BSkyB. Artsworld, the former subscription arts channel purchased by Sky and now available as part of the company’s standard packages, promises high-definition broadcasts of theatre, opera and ballet, with other channels offering HD broadcasts of sports, cinema, documentaries and US imports. Currently, though, there are no signs that other UK broadcasters yet intend to move to the new format.

Because of the extra costs that consumers will have to make to be able to receive the new, high-quality transmissions, it’s more than likely that HDTV may take longer to achieve full market penetration than other recent innovations such as widescreen, stereo sound or even colour. But with the worldwide market for high-quality broadcast video ever on the increase, it will undoubtedly arrive.

And the BAFTA for Best Supporting Programme goes to…

I can’t believe that [Strictly Come Dancing]( hasn’t been setting the blogging world alight. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it shows that denies people the opportunity of ambivalence. I have to admit that, in the last couple of weeks, it’s promoted itself to “unmissable” in our household.

Whether it’s the public’s unfailing saving of Chris Parker despite his being by far the weakest dancer, or the rumoured (and occasionally hinted at on screen) rivalry between some of the female celebrity contestants, there’s always been something worth tuning in for. And recently, the quality of the dancing has jumped to new levels — just brilliant. Even Parker, normally content to play the fool and ride on public sympathy, actually put in the effort this week and produced two competent, if not particularly professional, dances. If only he’d given that commitment at the start of the series, he’d have deserved his place in the final.

And as for Strictly Come Dancing on THREE – if BAFTA decided to create an award for Best Supporting Programme on a Digital Channel, SCDOT has taken the BBLB format and kicked it up a gear. I hated Justin Lee Collins when I first heard him on [Xfm]( — mainly because he had four hours on a Saturday afternoon talking about women’s “norks” when Kevin Greening only had two (with, thankfully, norks not being the subject of his shows). Now, though, I love him. He may be the bastard child of Silent Bob and Jennifer Aniston, but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most watchable presenters on British television at the moment. Tonight’s samba with Paul ‘Killer’ Killick had me in sheer hysterics, topped only by JLC’s attempt to conduct an interview immediately afterwards while still hyperventilating.

SCDOT’s weekday shows, which I normally miss due to my commuting tendencies, will be hitting the Sky+ box in this, its final week. Next week’s final on BBC1 should prove unmissable…

Ta-ra Tara, hello homophobia?

After the producers of cult TV hit Buffy The Vampire Slayer killed off a recurring character who was also an out lesbian, this article examined the accusations of homophobia aimed at a show which was historically regarded as being gay-friendly. Written for UK.

In the US (and, in a few weeks’ time, on Sky One here in the UK), Buffy: The Vampire Slayer will be hanging up the stakes and garlic for the last time, as the series reaches the end of its seven-year run. It’s generally perceived as going out on a high, with its final season garnering much critical acclaim. US site described it as “the gayest show on television”, and is picking out a fetching funeral outfit for the final episode later this month.

For UK terrestrial viewers, though, who are one year behind, the series is coming to the end of a much more difficult batch of episodes.

The sixth season of Buffy was a tortuous period in the series’ history. On screen, Buffy Summers was brought back from the dead by her friends, who later discovered they’d not rescued her from hell, but wrenched her from heaven. Rupert Giles gave up sunny California for his native rain-drenched West Country England. Xander and Anya bored everyone with their marriage plans for most of the season, before it all ended in tears at the altar with not a single vow exchanged. But most heinous of all, Tara Maclay – beautiful, shy, funny, bewitching, lesbian Tara – was killed.

It was that last action that many fans found hard to take. Amber Benson’s character, introduced a season and a half earlier, had become an instant favourite since her first appearance in the near-silent episode, _Hush_. Not initially conceived as a lesbian character, the chemistry between Benson and Alyson Hannigan as Willow was so electric from their very first scene together that the characters were soon an on-screen item. Willow’s growing discovery of her own sexuality, her coming out to both ex-boyfriend Oz and her larger group of friends, was handled deftly and sensitively in a manner that earned production company Mutant Enemy much praise.

As Willow and Tara’s relationship blossomed throughout the series’ fifth season, Amber and Alyson became the American darlings of the gay press. Any criticism of the series’ handling of the relationship was mild, and aimed at the sometimes comedic presentation of Willow’s coming out (in _Triangle_, she herself describes her orientation as “gay now”, while a robot replica of Buffy summarised the character’s sexuality in an on-screen caption as `GAY: 1999-PRESENT`). Generally, most people were simply happy that two regular characters in the same show could not only both be gay, but be shown having a loving, intimate and sexually charged relationship. In American television, Willow and Tara were unique.

Even in the troubled season six, the couple were still setting the screen alight, despite fractures in the relationship based on Willow’s over-reliance on magic. In the much-vaunted musical episode _Once More, With Feeling_ (available on [DVD](, (, [script book]( and probably tea-towel by the time you read this), Tara sings the standout song of the episode, I’m Under Your Spell, about how bewitched she is by her girlfriend (ironically, unaware that she really _is_ bewitched, as Willow has cast a spell to ensure her girlfriend does not remember an argument they had the previous episode). The song ends with Tara floating over the couple’s double bed in what seems to be orgasmic delight. The top of Willow’s head can be seen doing something further down Tara’s body – it doesn’t take much to guess what.

As Willow’s deception is uncovered, the couple break up, and stay apart for the rest of the season. In the episode _Seeing Red_ (to be broadcast today, 8 May, on BBC2 at 6:45pm), the couple finally reconcile and spend pretty much all of the episode making up for lost time in bed. In the last few minutes, though, a stray bullet aimed at someone else fells Tara at her girlfriend’s feet.

That fans of the show, of the character and of the actress were upset at Tara’s death comes as no surprise. That the upset spilled over into anger and fury aimed at the show’s makers, though, took producers Mutant Enemy completely by surprise. But was it justified?

Tara’s death can certainly be justified dramatically. It propels Willow down a very dark path in her grief that shapes the concluding episodes of the season, and sends her character on an arc that continues until the series’ end a year later. In terms of character development, it can also be argued that Tara didn’t have anywhere else to go. Apart from one spell gone awry in season five, she was practically perfect in every way – acting as a surrogate mother not only for Buffy’s sister, Dawn, when she was left without anyone else to look after her, but also for the rest of the gang. And while that sort of emotional stability is something that most of us hope for in real life, in terms of television drama it becomes stale very easily.

While the series’ previous big death, that of Buffy’s mother Joyce, had been far more emotionally charged a year previously, the fact that Tara was gay threw the situation into a much more complex light. As author Keith Topping, writer of the critically acclaimed Slayer series of episode guides, noted, “the amount of Internet bandwidth used to discuss the possible subtexts surrounding Tara’s death… could have filled Wembley Stadium.”

In a series of blunt and frank essays, the first of which is entitled [It’s Not Homophobia, But That Doesn’t Make It Right](, former television writer Robert A Black argued that to kill off one of the only lesbian characters on television, only for the surviving partner to go on a homicidal rampage, conjured “images of the many dead and evil lesbian characters that have appeared on American TV and movie screens before. For Mutant Enemy to have placed these images on the screen and not expected viewers to hearken back to the homophobic stories of the past is as naïve as if they had placed a swastika on the screen and expected the viewers to think it signified good luck.”

Even critics such as Black acknowledge that the course of Tara and Willow’s relationship had, up until that point, been incredibly positive for the gay community as a whole. “Today, there are several gay and lesbian characters on American TV, but none of them are in a steady long-running relationship,” he wrote. “The fact that Willow and Tara were together was what made them unique. The relationship was greater than the two characters individually, because together they gave the gay community something it could find nowhere else.”

Topping agrees. “Willow and Tara, whether by accident or design, have been positive role models to gay people everywhere,” he writes in [Slayer: The Next Generation](, which covers Season Six and the fallout over the character’s death in some detail. “They’ve shown that you don’t have to hide your sexuality or to be an outsider, that ridicule and homophobia are products of ignorance.”

But, as Black notes, when you can count regular gay or lesbian couples on television not on one hand but on one _finger_, killing one half of that relationship carries a far greater impact than any death of a straight character could ever do. “It can be difficult for the heterosexual community to understand how important it is to see one’s self reflected onscreen. It’s so common for heterosexuals that we take it for granted, often to the point where we don’t even think it matters at all. But to a marginalized segment of the population, where there is a constant feeling that one’s very existence is being denied, that onscreen reflection can be priceless.”

The most eloquent critics of the decision to kill Tara are at pains not to label the show’s producers as homophobic. “A group of homophobic writers and producers could never have given the world the Willow/Tara relationship in the first place, and there’s no reason to assume that they have all suddenly turned homophobic now,” says Black. “On the other hand, even if Mutant Enemy didn’t intend to tell a homophobic story, they were still capable of placing a homophobic image on the screen.”

The argument gains strength given the juxtaposition of Tara and Willow’s make-up shagging with the death straight afterwards. Buffy has always portrayed sex and death as being metaphors for one another: the ‘siring’ of a new vampire has always carried strong sexual overtones, and when Buffy herself lost her virginity to Angel (a vampire whose soul had been returned to him) he reverted to the ultra-evil serial killer he had been in centuries past. But in a series where death is generally no hindrance to continued appearance in the series, redemption has generally always been on offer — at least, as long as you’re straight.

The only other recurring gay character in the series at this point had been Larry, a high school student who was one of two killed during the climax to the series’ third season. The other victim, high school bitch princess Harmony, became a vampire herself and popped up on numerous occasions. For the gay characters to be the only ones denied any chance of redemption, it can be argued, sends a terrible message to the audience — a message that may be unintentional, but is no less damaging for it: sex is bad, but gay sex is worse. Producer David Fury admitted in an interview in May 2002 that “in retrospect, I can see the cliché. That was not our intent. We wanted to show them together and happy. It created the impression in a lot of people’s minds that [Tara’s] death was linked to them having sex.”

The show’s producers, especially series creator Joss Whedon, say that the negative reaction to the loss of Tara from the show took them by surprise. “It was an episode that was clearly about male violence and dominance,” Whedon told _E! Online_, “and suddenly I’m a gay basher.”

In America (and for satellite viewers in the UK), a year’s worth of episodes have gone by since the events of Seeing Red. Willow’s still gay — and making the faltering steps back into coupledom with new girlfriend Kennedy. While played almost completely played for laughs, Tom Lenk’s Andrew Wells brings the total of recurring gay characters by the series’ end to three — which is three more than most TV series have ever achieved.

Amber Benson will be missed from television screens both sides of the Atlantic. Not only because there’s one less positive gay character, but also because she’s of normal build, with a curvaceous beauty that is so rare in an industry where most actresses can only succeed if they’re genetically cross-bred with a stick insect. Still, her own career now has some great opportunities ahead. She has written and directed an acclaimed film, _Chance_, and is co-author (with Christopher Golden) of the remarkable animated series [The Ghosts of Albion]( for BBCi’s website. And thanks to DVD and video, Tara and Willow can remain together for as long as we need them to be.

* Originally published on [ UK]( _(original article no longer available)_

The Savage tongue of Paul O’Grady

It’s a funny old world where an over-the-hill prostitute and former stripper lands a lucrative deal with ITV Light Entertainment. That’s exactly what happened to Lily Savage, the blond bombsite from Birkenhead, though. Now the man who plays the Blankety Blank-ing drag act, Paul O’Grady, is making a further bid to be known in his own right with his latest travelogue series, Paul O’Grady’s America.

Following on from last year’s series set in the Orient, the opening episode of the US-based sequel is set in New York City. The formula remains much the same: O’Grady takes an occasional tour of the city before meeting up with interesting people. Oh, and he has a row with the hotel staff. One of the highlights of the last series was watching O’Grady get increasingly riled by some perceived discourtesy foisted upon him. While his tirades were diverting first time round, here the abuse meted out to the staff of the New York Plaza comes out of the blue and disappears as quickly. It’s as if he’s performing to quota, with ITV Network Centre demanding at least one bust-up per city.

Busts of a different nature come under the spotlight when O’Grady meet Sherry, a former burlesque dancer who could shimmy across the stage balancing a glass of water on each breast. Even here, though, the ego takes over, as Sherry’s wonderful reminiscences are cut short, reducing her to spectating as a fifty-something man gyrates his hips on stage. It’s a shame, as when O’Grady lets other people get a word in edgeways he shows every sign of having the potential to be a great interviewer, showing real interest and sparking off fondly-remembered anecdotes. Which makes it all the more bizarre that in a show that’s supposed to be about the Big Apple, most of the people he meets are C-list Brits. Why go all the way to America to interview Julian Clary and Cilla Black, for goodness’ sake? You may just as well stick a camera crew in the LWT cafeteria for much the same effect.

It’s all summed up rather neatly when O’Grady meets Miss Revere, a choreographer at the American School of Ballet. After Paul professes a long-held desire to be a Broadway starlet, Miss Revere quickly establishes that O’Grady can neither sing, dance nor act. He sums up his abilities as, “I dress up as a middle-aged prostitute and do a game show.” The look on his tutor’s face says it all.

Originally written for UK. Original link no longer available