Strictly Come Dancing: Why the new trailer is so good

People who know me – and many who don’t – know that I’m a big Strictly fan. In the battle of the Saturday night TV voting shows, I’m far more likely to be watching Brucie than Dermot. When we started TV Today at The Stage, the weekly blogs were more to do with encouraging the celebration of dance, which at that time was under-served on television. The notion of celebrity involvement was tolerated rather than embraced, I’d say – but my summaries always tried to look dispassionately at how well the amateur dancers were learning (or not), as a direct response to blogs and message boards which cultivated fandoms around the famous participants.

After a few years, I had to give up the weekly summaries as they just took far too long to put together. But I’ve never stopped loving the show, have been lucky enough to be in the studio once or twice, and have seen many of the live stage shows which have capitalised on the BBC show’s popularity, whether drectly under the Strictly banner or by virtue of the programme’s pro dancers gaining their own celebrity status.

And that’s at the heart of the new teaser trailer’s genius. In previous years, we’ve been shown coy shots of the celebrities – whose head is that the back of? Whose ankle? Whose midriff, improbably squeezed into a sequinned bodice?

This time round, the trailer team have focussed on the dancers. The clever visuals, which render each dancer’s celebrity partner invisible, highlights that we don’t yet know the full roster of amateurs for this year’s series. But the emphasis is on dance – professional dance at that. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of talent. And yet, it’s still a celebrity-laden trail, because one of the strengths of Strictly is that it brings professional dancers into the spotlight and and makes them nationally recognised figures.

Compare that with the X Factor, whose pre-series publicity always tends to emphasise the bitchiness of the judges, the toe-curling awfulness of the preliminary audition rounds.

I know which one I’ll be watching this autumn.

The next Doctor, and how to predict who it’ll be

Everyone seems to be trying to guess who the next actor to play the lead role in Doctor Who will be once Matt Smith regenerates in the 2013 Christmas Special.

Back when David Tennant announced his departure five years ago when the TV Today blog was still running, we ran a few features looking at some potential names:

I’ve seen three of the names above suggested this time round, too. Cumberbatch’s star has exploded since 2008, so we can safely assume that he’ll be out of the running. And similarly with the other three, while they are all interesting performers who would get the “other”-ness of the Doctor, I suspect their respective career trajectories would rule them out. (I do love the PhotoShop job I managed to do of Ayoade, though.)

Rather than settle on a specific name, I want to stick my neck out and come up with a few traits that I suspect the new TARDIS resident will have.

  • A limited TV profile. The actor may have one or two fairly recent, moderately prominent TV roles under his belt, just as Tennant had Blackpool and Casanova, and Matt Smith had Party Animals. But he won’t be one of the actors that you see everywhere. TV budgets, and the need to sign your life away for the best part of five years, dictate that the role will be taken by an actor who is not yet well-known or powerful enough to command a crippling fee.
  • A substantial theatre acting CV. Both Tennant and Smith had extensive acting credits prior to taking on the mantle of the Doctor – predominantly on stage rather than on screen. Expect the new Doctor to have one or two long West End runs under their belt, maybe some RSC or National Theatre work. Expect also that certain tabloid newspapers and TV magazines will brand them an “unknown”, as if nobody knows who actors are unless they’ve been in EastEnders or Coronation Street.
  • An older actor. Steven Moffat was originally looking to cast the Doctor as older when looking for Tennant’s replacement, but Smith convinced him otherwise. In fact, Smith’s onscreen portrayal often feels much older than the actor himself. I’d be surprised if another actor of similar age could pull that off – so expect the lead actor’s age to head upwards again.
  • Male. There are some fantastic actresses out there, many of whom could more than cope with playing one of the most iconic characters on television. And I would love to see a Saturday tea time drama that revolved around a strong, charismatic female lead. I have to be realistic, though, and suggest that the twelfth actor to play this role will be as male as his predecessors.

I have a list in my head of people who I think would be good for the role. Most of them only fit three out of the four points above. But that’s why I’m not a casting director.

Blogged elsewhere: Doctor Who Magazine’s Sarah Jane special

Over on TV Today on The Stage website, I’ve taken the opportunity to write about Doctor Who Magazine’s latest special edition, covering the final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Due to Elisabeth Sladen’s death, production was halted at a critical point in the series’ history: the production team were asking all sort of questions about where the show would go in its following year. Circumstances would mean they would never get round to answering those questions – but that gives TV historians a unique opportunity…

The Stage: When the story has to stop

The legacy of Sarah Jane Smith

Over on TV Today, I’ve previewed the first story in the new, final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures:

First and most importantly, there is the joy. Joy at a children’s drama series that has shown that – in a genre where primary colours and slapstick tend to dominate – imagination, wonder and emotional truth still have their place. Joy at a series which spun off from Doctor Who with such confidence that it hasn’t felt the need to constantly reinvent itself (yes, Torchwood, I’m looking at you). Joy at a show that knows that, while it is squarely aimed at children aged 6 to 12, the audience doesn’t mind that their heroes are older kids led by a woman in her sixties.

Confidential canned

In today’s column on The Stage, I give my opinions on the departure of BBC3’s documentary series Doctor Who Confidential.

What Confidential has done, and for which will always get full credit from TV Today, has been to pull back the curtain and show a new generation of enthusiastic, imaginative youngsters that there are careers in the creative arts that don’t revolve around being on camera, that for an actor to look good on set takes a huge amount of effort from a large number of people.

But after six years, there’s only so much “look how we blew things up this week” we can take.

Education by X Factor

Watching this year’s revamped version of The X Factor was an experience. For those who missed it, the “audition room” section of the show has been opened out into a Britain’s Got Talent-style show, complete with highly vocal audience.

BBC News reporter Genevieve Hassan detailed her experience of the initial audition stages — the ones we don’t see, as the production team select the acts that will get onto the televised stages. It really lays bare how the show takes the notion of the cattle call to real extremes.

Continue reading “Education by X Factor”

Torchwood, Ianto and fandom’s big heart

Spoiler warning: Don’t read further if you have not yet seen episode 4 of Torchwood: Children of Earth. Of course, if you want to watch it, chances are you already have, but still…

Fans of any persuasion can be an odd bunch. I know, I am that person. There are so many huge benefits to be had from bonding with other people over your love of something, whether it’s football (a passion I must admit I don’t share) or **Doctor Who** (which I do).

I get it. And I’ve come into contact with the best of fandom in recent years. From reviewing the BBC’s **Any Dream Will Do** every week, I came into contact with many subgroups: fans of Daniel Boys (his ‘[kittens](http://www.danielskittens.co.uk/)’), who took my good-natured comments [about them being “quite mad”](http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/tvtoday/2007/06/any-dream-will-do-week-11-the-final/) in the spirit it was intended. And of course there are the Loppies — fans of that series’ eventual winner, Lee Mead, who started talking to each other in the comments section of our blog and have stayed with us ever since.

There are negative associations, of course. If you incur the wrath of the hardcore supporter, then you know about it sharpish. On [TV Today](http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/tvtoday/) we’ve been on the receiving end from fans of Rupert Grint and Jonas Armstrong. In neither case were the attacks particularly justified, but there comes a point where, to the hardcore fans, that hardly matters.

Something similar happened over the last few weeks, following **Torchwood: Children of Earth**’s fourth episode, in which regular character Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) came to a sticky end. A lot of anger was directed at Torchwood writer James Moran, on [his blog](http://jamesmoran.blogspot.com) and on Twitter, not because he wrote the episode (he didn’t) but because he had an open door policy with his web communications.

Thankfully, that particular method of attacking individuals died down pretty quickly, although it has led to James [taking a step back from his blog](http://jamesmoran.blogspot.com/2009/07/stepping-back.html) — and please read that link, it expresses his feelings and reasons far better than I could.

But the hardcore Ianto fans are not giving up. They have set up a website, [SaveIantoJones.com](http://www.SaveIantoJones.com), in order to coordinate various forms of peaceful, polite protest.

And one way they’ve decided to show their support for their favourite character is unusual — by raising money for the BBC’s resident charity, [Children in Need](http://www.saveiantojones.com/children-in-need.php). As I write, the total they have raised to date is just under £3,000. And that’s an impressive amount of money whatever the reason for its collection.

Again, it shows that within fandom, there is the potential for much goodness. Although I do believe that the organisers are mistaken when they say:

> While the BBC have remained polite and well-mannered, in response to a very peaceful campaign, Mr. Davies has made it clear in recent interviews that he views his fans with contempt, and as disposable, which saddens us.

I don’t think anybody could be more wrong; I truly believe Russell gets it. Watch [Love & Monsters](http://matthewman.net/2006/06/18/love-monsters-mister-blue-sky-thinking/), part of Series 2 of **Doctor Who** written by Russell T Davies, and you’ll see a group called L.I.N.D.A., a group of people who start meeting for one reason and gradually become people who meet up because they are friends. It’s one of the most perfect representations of fandom you’re ever likely to see. And anybody who writes like that really, truly, does not consider fans to be worthy of contempt. That doesn’t mean that fans are bigger than the subject of their support, though.

The SaveIantoJones fans are doing some great work and their fundraising efforts will do enormous good — even though their ultimate aim, of bringing a dead fictional character back to life, is doomed to fail. If their work brings them together as friends too, then that will be a further upside.

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.