The Torchwood experience

It’s been a busy week over at TV Today, where we’ve been running a series of features around Torchwood: Children of Earth, which begins a five-episode run on Monday and continues throughout the week. The stripped scheduling is a tactic BBC1 has been using in increasing amounts, to create a buzz, or “event television”.

And so, we responded with “event blogging” – and for us at least, it seems to have worked.
Continue reading “The Torchwood experience”

It’s nice to be noticed

A pleasant surprise to see this status on Twitter this morning from the BBC Radio 4 blog:

I’ve been doing weekly radio previews for a while now as part of the Turn off the TV section of our TV blog. Infuriatingly, this week’s has been, I think, one of the weakest: not helped by a computer crash yesterday corrupting my original draft of this week’s piece.

Still, if it brings in a few new readers it can only be a good thing. And compliments are rare, so I shall be savouring this one for a while.

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.

2008’s panto reviews

Only three to do this year (four if you count an additional Christmas-themed show). And now they’re all done and available online, so the holiday starts here!

* 09/12/08: [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs](, Elgiva, Chesham
* 17/12/08: [Cinderella](, Civic Centre Aylesbury
* 22/12/08: [Aladdin](,Watersmeet, Rickmansworth

And the additional Christmas show:

* 19/12/08: Christmas with the Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas

NaNoWriMo 2008

I’m working on a new draft for this year’s [National Novel Writing Month]( — but there’s no way I’m ever going to make the 50,000 word target for my first draft by the end of the month.

By virtue of my day job, I have to watch a lot of theatre and television, and then write about it afterwards — hardly a chore, but it does bite in to the amount of spare time I could possibly devote to writing a novel.

So, in addition to the word count I will be maintaining for NaNoWriMo, I will also keep an eye on how many words I write professionally. Hopefully, combined they will beat that notional 50,000 word barrier.

Whatever happens, I think the story I’m working on is strong enough to work as a novel — but more of that anon.

In the meantime, if anyone’s thinking of Doctor Who-related Christmas presents for loved ones, I understand that The Ghosts of Christmas is still available…

Lee Mead

Originally published in the December 20, 2007 issue of [The Stage](

The winner of BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do, Lee Mead, took to the stage as Joseph – of Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fame – in July. He talks to Scott Matthewman about becoming the West End’s leading man

“I was quite naive,” admits Lee Mead of his decision to surrender a West End chorus job in the risky move to participate in the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do. “I knew there was going to be a TV programme, but I thought there would be just a few cameras, maybe like a BBC2 thing. But it ended up being massive.”

Mead was very much the odd one out in the final line-up of 12 hopefuls vying for the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. While auditioning for the series, he was also performing in Phantom of the Opera, covering the role of Raoul.

The Stage, Dcember 20, 2007I was always up front and honest,” says Mead. “They knew from the beginning I was auditioning for the programme. I never expected to get to the last 12, but then I had to make a decision. They said, ‘Okay, but if you choose to be in the last 12, there’s no job for you’, even if I’d got knocked out in the first week.”

The offer of a place in the finals was one Mead discussed with family and his agent before accepting. “Initially, we were all wary, wondering if it would be good for me or not. I think with anything you do in life, whether it’s career related or not, you have to follow your gut.”

Mead left Southend’s Whitehall School of Performing Arts without graduating, and I suggest this may have toughened his resolve. The experience did, he agrees, give him a lot more drive. “I wouldn’t say it worked against me, but I thought I had more to prove and I had to work much harder. I didn’t walk straight into the West End, I started off at the bottom of the industry and worked my way up.”

While some of the less experienced contestants may have gained more experience from the intensive time in the BBC spotlight, Mead believes he still gained much from the project. “I learnt a lot about myself as a person. It was a strong test of character. You’re so exposed with so many people watching live, and in front of Andrew [Lloyd Webber] as well. I don’t think I’d have been strong enough to audition for that kind of process if I was younger. I have so much admiration for the younger guys like Lewis [Bradley] and the others. Initially, I wondered how the public would take somebody who had already been working professionally, but during the audition process there were hundreds of other guys who were working in musicals, in the chorus or covering leads, so I knew that wasn’t going to be an issue.”

Fellow finalist Bradley is now covering Mead in Joseph. Aside from scheduled appearances in 2008 while the star goes on holiday, Bradley had his first taste of the West End stage when Mead contracted bronchitis and missed several performances.

“Anyone that knows me knows I don’t like going off,” he says. “But I can’t be foolish. For me, I know that being off wasn’t through not looking after myself or living a mad lifestyle. From my very first audition back in February, through the live shows, the rehearsals, Children in Need, the album and all the pressures of the PR campaign, I’ve been working ten-hour days for pretty much the last six months. Obviously I picked up this bug, but luckily it cleared up quickly. To a degree, of course, I want to be on every show, because the fans are coming to see the show as well as myself.”

As a former understudy himself, can Mead recognise the opportunities that the lead’s illness can bring to the covering actor.

“For a lot of lead people, you can get a bit insecure and think, oh, someone’s playing my role, or playing the part I’ve been cast in. It comes down to yourself and if you’re confident in who you are. How someone else is going to play that role will be completely different to how I play it. It doesn’t worry me, but,” he smiles, “I have missed being on there.”

The role is one that he seemed destined for, it having been his first musical in more ways than one.

“It was the first I saw, when I was ten or 11, and it really touched me. I did the touring production with Bill Kenwright in 2004, and that was my first musical role. I was playing Brother Levi and Pharaoh, but I always wanted to play Joseph even then.” Now, of course, the same show brings him his first West End leading role.

Outside of the theatre, his debut album, which recently went gold, defied expectations in not being a disc of show tunes. “That was for various reasons, really. I love musical theatre, it will always be part of my life and it’s what I’ve always done. But I wanted to show that there’s more to me. Doing a musical theatre album would have been the obvious decision, and I may do one at some point. But it’s nice to show another side.”
There are discussions for TV and film projects – “It’s all meetings and things at the moment” – but a second album, and possible tour after Joseph, seem likely.

One question that has hung around the big TV talent contests, of course, is their value to the West End. Mead is adamant that, while he can see both sides of the argument, he believes the shows have opened up options for people within the industry, allowing trained professionals to rise through the ranks. “It’s worked twice now [with himself and Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music], so they must be doing something right.

“It’s also bringing a whole new audience to theatre, which I believe is a good thing. But what you hope is that they’ll go on to think, oh, I’ll go and see Phantom now, when they didn’t think they liked any musicals before.” He cites friends of his father as an example. “They had never seen a show in their life, but they came to see Joseph and now they’re booking up to see other shows in the West End. That is really good.”

With news of a third BBC/ Lloyd Webber collaboration on the cards, Mead admits he’s as curious as anybody to find out which musical will be featured next. “It’s important that it’s done well again. Touch wood, it’s worked so far. And while parts of the show were commercial, I think it was done in a good way and they were very careful.”

Mead has committed to Joseph until at least October 2008, part of the reason being, he says: “It’s the first time I’ve been working centrally like this. Apart from Phantom, of course, but I left halfway through. I love the role, it’s one I’ve always wanted to play and it felt natural to extend for a bit longer. We’re virtually sold out for a year as well – so many people who wanted to get tickets couldn’t, so I thought it’s nice for the fans to be able to book and see the show.”

Beyond that, Mead is careful to keep his options open. In terms of future West End roles, he says: “I’ve been lucky enough to cover the role of Chris in Miss Saigon, and I’d like to play that one day again and make the role my own. I’ve always wanted to do an original musical, which is something I’ve never had the opportunity to do.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next year and a half to two years. It depends on what role I’m suitable for, and if I’m wanted.”

Showpeople: Daniel Boys

_This interview first appeared in **The Stage**, September 27, 2007, as promotion for **I Love You Because** at the Landor Theatre. [Read my review](

Daniel Boys, who came sixth in the BBC’s talent hunt Any Dream Will Do? will be playing the role of Austin Bennet in the musical I Love You Because, a genderswapped version of Pride and Prejudice

**How would you describe the musical to those who don’t know it?**

To me, it’s a bit like Sex and the City and Friends in musical form. It’s a modern day tale about love and finding the one. I’m really enjoying the rehearsals. It’s a very good show, and I think it’s going to be a great production.

**The Landor itself is an intimate venue – does that make it easier or harder for you as a musical theatre performer?**

I’m really looking forward to the challenge, because I think it’s going to be harder. Any slight facial expression or any small movement that you do is something the whole audience can pick up on. That’s much harder, but like I said, I’m looking forward to it.

**You’re known to a wider audience for your participation in the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do? What lessons have you learned from the experience?**

Personally, I learned that it’s good to be who you are and not try to be someone you’re not. I was penalised for being too nice, but that’s who I am. As a performer, it taught me a lot. I can look back now I’m out of it and think, ‘Oh gosh, I shouldn’t have done that’. Like the way I put my hands out when I’m singing, without realising I’m doing it. So for me, it was a lesson in learning to watch myself and critique myself.

**Do you still keep in touch with your fellow finalists?**

Yes I do. Not all of them, but Lee Mead, Lewis Bradley, Johndeep More and Ben Ellis. They’re the four I’m in regular contact with.

**You’ve acquired quite a large fan base from your time on TV which has stayed loyal to you in the months since. Is that translating into ticket sales?**

Apparently it is. I have a fan group that call themselves the Kittens, and apparently lots of them are coming to the theatre. They ring the box office a lot, and lots of them are coming from all over the UK to come and see me. It’s just so nice. It’s all very surreal, and I still can’t quite get my head around that. But it’s very nice to have that level of support from the public.

All about All About My Mother

So last night I was at the press night for All About My Mother, the Old Vic’s new adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s classic [film]( My review’s [online now](, and will be in print in next week’s issue of _The Stage_. In the meantime, the condensed version:

> Oh. Dear. God.

It got [three stars in the Guardian](,,2162704,00.html). I’m thankful, really, that I don’t have to allocate stars to productions. Heaven knows what I’d have given last night’s show.

The tragic thing is that in so many ways it was _nearly_ right. I remember hearing when the adaptation was first announced, it made perfect sense: here was a film with many theatrical allusions that could easily work as a small, tightly-contained piece. But what happened instead was an opening out, using every inch of the Old Vic’s stage so that actors ended up having to project to be heard by one another, let alone the audience.

The car crash scene, in which Manuela’s son is hit by a car while running to get an autograph from his favourite actress, was technically a great piece of stagecraft. But, like so many scenes which tried to ape the visual look of the original film, it needed a little tough love to prune it away.

**Update:** My review is [now online](
**Update 2:** My review made it into [The Guardian’s review of reviews](

A new chapter

This interview originally appeared in the April 5, 2007 issue of The Stage

Executive producer of Doctor Who Julie Gardner tells Scott Matthewman about the changes being made to the show, in front of and behind the camera, including a welcome move to larger production studios

Julie Gardner spends a lot of time on Doctor Who in her role as executive producer. “It’s pretty much a full, one-year job just to get each series to air. I look at rushes when we’re filming every day, I’ll read every single draft of every script and do a lot of meetings with the writers.”

Although that may be enough for most people, Gardner has other roles to fill, too. As well as executive producing Doctor Who spin-offs Torchwood and CBBC’s Sarah Jane Adventures, she is controller of drama for BBC Wales and, since last year, controller of drama commissioning at the BBC. “It’s quite a big workload,” she admits wryly, “but I think everyone working in the industry who really loves their job, as I completely do, works incredibly hard.

“What I no longer do is personally executive produce indie shows. I was the executive producer of Life on Mars, alongside John Yorke. I don’t do that in such a hands-on way for individual projects. So that’s what gives me the time. But I’m a bit obsessive – I mean, what else would I do?”

Continue reading “A new chapter”