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‘Happy Valley’ to ‘Grantchester’ was quite a change for James Norton

October 21, 2014

James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley

After a recent binge-watching session of Sally Wainwright’s amazing series, Happy Valley, I began to see the inherently evil figure of Tommie Lee Royce on every street corner. Played brilliantly by James Norton, Royce was the stereotypical tormented soul/psychopathic killer (if there is such a thing). Thankfully, to get that image out of my head, all I had to do was quickly fast forward to the premiere of ITV’s Grantchester earlier this month. Norton plays an Anglican priest, Reverend Sidney Chambers, who finds himself involved in solving crimes, assisting the overworked Detective Inspector Keating. Yes, even though Norton’s character in Grantchester chain-smokes, loves women, jazz and booze, it’s still a night and day difference from walking the streets of Happy Valley.
James Norton as Sidney Chambers in Grantchester

Norton recently revealed that he had some difficulties going from sadistic psychopath by day to clergyman-detective by night. “It was quite a gear change,” said Norton. “The two projects were back to back. I did Happy Valley, then I had just a week’s grace before doing Grantchester. So there was a month where I was playing Tommy in the daytime and going home to prepare to play a vicar. I kept desperately trying not to mix the two up. In fact, when I started Grantchester, I was quite tempted to have a few moments where Sidney turns to the camera in a psycho way.”

You inevitably got members of the public watching the filming of Grantchester and occasionally I could see people who were looking at me, thinking, ‘Where have I seen him before?’ Then the penny dropped and they would go, ‘you’re the psychopath!’

While UK viewers have had the good fortune of seeing Norton in both Happy Valley and, now, Grantchester, their American counterparts are a bit late to the James Norton party as of yet. The great news is that American viewers will get a chance to see Norton’s acting range for themselves when Grantchester premieres in early January 2015 on PBS. If you can’t wait until then, Norton can also be seen this coming Sunday in the premiere of Death Comes to Pemberley.

The BBC Genome – 86 years of TV and radio history

October 20, 2014

We’ve all seen those birthday cards that let you know the #1 song on the radio, the price of a gallon of milk or loaf of bread or even the average home price from the year you were born. There are also ways to get the front page of the New York Times for the day you were born. But, how many times have you ever wondered not just what the #1 television show was for the year you were born, but rather what was on telly at the exact moment you were born. Well, thanks to the BBC and Radio Times, you can now easily find out.
BBC Genome Project

The BBC has just launched an unbelievably cool searchable online archive where you can browse the listings from every copy of the Radio Times ever published, from 1923-2009 (in case your wondering, that’s 4,469 separate editions and 350,622 pages covering 4,423,653 individual programs. Imagine, 86 years of TV and radio history at the touch of a button. The BBC Genome Project, which launched on Thursday, takes users to a full plain text TV listing for any given day in the space of just four clicks. There is one qualifier, however. Last minute schedule changes due to sports or breaking news stories are obviously not reflected so what you’ll see is what was ‘scheduled’ for transmission at the time the issue went to print.

Not only will it provide hours of endless ‘I wonder what aired…’ scenarios, it will be a treasure-trove of trivia for that next amaze your friends opportunity at dinner. As this monumental effort is an endless work-in-progress, the BBC Genome welcomes comments from people who worked on the shows or even personal memories from the audience. The project invites also users to contribute their own notes and corrections to the information, which will be added after they are verified.

Isle of Saint Marie to get pretty crowded for ‘Death in Paradise’ 4

October 19, 2014

Returning to the small screen for series 4 in early 2015, Death in Paradise continues to add to and already impressive cast list. Filming has begun with many guest stars already destined for a bit of fun on the crime-ridden island of Saint Marie including Downton Abbey‘s Amy Nuttall, Call the Midwife‘s Leo Staar, Outnumbered‘s Tyger Drew Honey and Broadchurch‘s Will Mellor. Added next to the continually growing cast list were a couple of soap stars, Eastenders‘ Hetti Bywater along with Coronation Street‘s Natalie Gumede. Think that’s it? Not even close. The show’s executive producer Tim Key has just added Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter), Neil Morrissey Men Behaving Badly, Line of Duty, Me & Mrs. Jones), Sally Phillips Miranda, Veep), Jo Absolom (Eastenders, Doc Martin), Nick Moran (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and Downton Abbey‘s James Fox.

The fourth series of Death in Paradise will again follow DI Humphry Goodman (Kris Marshall), Saint Marie’s new detective who arrived following the murder of DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller) at the start of series three. Series 4 will see Goodman begin to struggle with his feelings for Camile (Sara Martins) while Dwayne (Danny John-Jules) is left to hold the fort when Fidel (Gary Carr) gets a job on a neighboring island. Series 4 will transmit on BBC1 in early 2015 with a Spring 2015 broadcast date on public television to follow.

U.S. networks to adapt ‘Moone Boy’, ‘IT Crowd’

October 18, 2014

You might remember NBC’s fatal 2003 attempt at adapting the Steven Moffat/Sue Vertue situation comedy, Coupling. I say fatal because even though there were 11 episodes produced (which is still a miniscule number of episodes for an American sitcom), it was cancelled after only 4 episodes with 7 of them having never seen the light of day to this day. 180 degrees in the other direction, however, was NBC’s re-make of Ricky Gervais’ brilliant series, The Office, which ran for 9 seasons largely due to the talents of Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and Ed Helms.

In yet another ‘bold’ move by U.S. commercial broadcast networks this past week, two series which starred the great Chris O’Dowd, IT Crowd and Moone Boy, will be getting American treatments in the not-too-distant future. The real question is, will this be another Coupling or The Office? Currently airing on a number of public television stations in the U.S., O’Dowd’s semi-autobiographical sitcom, Moone Boy, focuses on 12 year-old Martin Moone and the sarcastic, imaginary friend (O’Dowd) who helps him navigate the challenges of his eccentric childhood. According to Deadline.com, ABC has given the green light for a pilot American version of Moone Boy, which won the International Emmy for best comedy last year. O’Dowd will write the single-camera remake and will executive produce with 3 Arts’ Dave Becky & Nick Frenkel, Sprout Pictures Limited, Baby Cow Productions & Hot Cod Productions Limited for Sony Pictures TV.

Not to be outdone in the endlessly ongoing ‘let’s do an American version of a brilliant British situation comedy sweepstakes‘, NBC has targeted an earlier Chris O’Dowd vehicle to bring to U.S. television, The IT Crowd. While this won’t be the network’s first attempt to bring this series to America, this one at least has a bit of potential given those associated with the upcoming project. Bill Lawrence, Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, of Community fame, are no strangers to ‘workplace’ comedies such as IT Crowd. In addition to Community, all three were involved with Scrubs from the beginning as well as Spin City. That said, the jury will forever be out as to if this is a good idea to keep trying to ‘American-ize’ brilliant British telly or if it’s officially time for American television to come up with their own ideas. It can be done, you know. Think recent examples of The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock. Not thinking there are any British predecessors to these ideas. Unfortunately, given the greatness of The IT Crowd, they are already starting with two strikes against them…


Illusionist Derren Brown enters Sherlock stars’ mind palace

October 17, 2014

Derren Brown, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington Stand Up 2 Cancer

I’m afraid that one segment in tonight’s Stand Up to Cancer 2014 fundraising marathon to be broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK won’t go very far in satisfying those that are impatiently awaiting the next installment of Sherlock that is headed our way during Christmas 2015, but it is a bit of fun. Mentalist/Illusionist Derren Brown, who should be quite familiar to Sherlock devotees, plays havoc with Martin Freeman’s mind palace as his Sherlock co-star and off-screen partner, Amanda Abbington, looks on, obviously enjoying watching a totally perplexed Freeman. “Martin has quite a skeptical, very rational approach to those sorts of things,” Brown told the Radio Times. “Immediately afterwards he was trying to work it out, really trying to pull it all apart. I could hear him discussing it in their little entourage. Amanda has a less cool minded approach, she was just enjoying it. It’s great because they’re very funny together, talking it through.

Brown, you might remember, appeared in episode one of series three, “The Empty Hearse”, as a fake-out explanation for how Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock survived his apparent death at the end of the series two episode, “The Reichenbach Fall”. After Sherlock executed a beautiful swan dive off the roof of St Bart’s Hospital (that the Russian Olympic judge would have certainly given him a 10.0), Brown rushed up to hypnotize John Watson.

Stand Up 2 Cancer airs tonight on Channel 4 in the UK with Sherlock, unfortunately, still not returning to the small screen for another 14 months!

Foyle’s War creator/writer sets sights on Moriarty and James Bond

October 16, 2014

If David Tennant is the hardest working man in show business, then writer Anthony Horowitz has to be considered the hardest working man in the literary world. Aside from his countless novels written over the years, many will, no doubt, associate Horowitz with his screenwriting telly work on Robin of Sherwood, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Murder Most Horrid, many of the early episodes of Midsomer Murders, a very well-crafted small-screen mini-series, Collision and, obviously, the creator/writer of Foyle’s War, starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks. In January of this year, Horowitz was awarded the OBE for his services to literature, joined the board of the Old Vic and continues to contribute to numerous national newspapers and magazines.

With another series of Foyle’s War under his belt and set for a 2015 transmission, Horowitz’s second book delving into the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Moriarty, is set to be released on Thursday, 23 October in the UK. The book begins days after Sherlock Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty fall to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls. Unfortunately, the death of Moriarty has created a poisonous vacuum which has been swiftly filled by a shadowy figure who has risen to take his place, a criminal mastermind determined to engulf London in a tide of murder and menace.

The #IsawMoriarty carriage tour – yet another reason to live in the UK….

In celebration of next Thursday’s UK release of Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz will be touring London by horse and carriage, traveling past some of London’s most famous landmarks. Horowitz will be stopping at seven branches of Waterstones, ending at Waterstones Piccadilly for his launch event, Murder, Mayhem and Moriarty. Check it out if you are in the area next Thursday!

With Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty already in the horse and carriage’s rear-view mirror, Horowitz is already moving on to tackle another classic hero, James Bond, adapting an unpublished short story by Bond creator Ian Fleming into a full novel, due to be released September 2015 by Orion Books. Said Horowitz, “It’s no secret that Ian Fleming’s extraordinary character has had a profound influence on my life, so when the [Fleming] estate approached me to write a new James Bond novel how could I possibly refuse? It’s a huge challenge – more difficult even than Sherlock Holmes in some ways – but having original, unpublished material by Fleming has been an inspiration. This is a book I had to write.” Personally, sounds like a book I definitely have to read then….right after I finish Moriarty, of course.

Father Ted’s Ardal O’Hanlon heads to BBC Radio 4 for new sitcom

October 15, 2014

bbc-radio-4In addition to the abundance of regional theater readily available throughout the UK, the other bit of brilliance that makes me want to hop on the next Boeing 777 and head east is the very civilized process of continuing to develop of good comedy via BBC Radio 4, which is also home to one of my all-time favorites, Desert Island Discs! Over the years, much of what we have seen on the telly has come by way of first being recorded for radio in front of a live studio audience. Mega-hit comedies such as Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Little Britain, League of Gentlemen, Alan Partridge and Miranda all had their early beginnings in radio. Just around the corner could be the next telly hit as former Father Ted and My Hero star, Ardal O’Hanlon, heads the cast of Best Laid Plans. Producer/writer Mark Daydy (Shaun the Sheep), describes his upcoming project…”In 1885, God nodded off. In 2014, he awoke to discover that his idiot servant, the angel Smallbone (played by O’Hanlon), had accidentally handed out God’s plans for the next millennium when he was only meant to hand out plans for the next century. A thousand years of leisurely human progression (we weren’t even meant to have pocket calculators until 2550) has been crammed into the last 129. No wonder we’re all so stressed. Not only that, but God’s blueprints should have run out in the mid-eighties – but we kept going. Humans are now inventing things God never even dreamt of: mobile phones, wireless internet and Made in Chelsea.”

Daydy goes on to say, “Smallbone is cast down to Earth in human form by God, tasked with the dauntingly vague mission of ‘reversing the last thirteen decades of human progression.’ The problem is, Smallbone doesn’t have a clue how to even begin such a task, and even if he did, he probably wouldn’t want to finish it – Smallbone loves the modern world, and is becoming distracted by everything that he’s meant to destroy (especially escalators).” Once on Earth, Smallbone meets an activist called Tanya. The producers add: “Tanya always has a cause to protest against, and Smallbone always tags along and inevitably gets roped in. And sometimes, through small victories, they change the world for the better. At least, they do if Smallbone doesn’t get distracted by playing Angry Birds on Tanya’s iPhone.”

In addition to O’Hanlon, Esther Smith (Uncle) will play Tanya. No word yet from the producers as to who will play God.

If you happen to find yourself in the vicinity of RADA Studios 16 Chenies Street, London WC1E 7EX next week, I would suggest grabbing a couple of tickets for the BBC Radio 4 taping on Oct 22-23. If you’re not in the immediate area, hop on the Tube and head to the Russell Square station on the Piccadilly line where it’s approximately a 5-10 minute walk to the theater.

FYI, if you are a budding comedy writer, Jane Berthoud, head of BBC Radio Comedy, has a bit of advice to comedy writers and producers looking to pitch and win commissions across her slate. Doesn’t sound all that different from writing for TV, to be honest. Good comedy is good comedy. It all starts with ‘the character’. For a perfect example of a comedy character that had its’ beginnings in radio, all you have to do is look in the vicinity of Steve Coogan and the greatness that is Alan Partridge.

Don’t insult the audience’s intelligence says ‘Wolf Hall’ author, Hilary Mantel

October 14, 2014

As soon as you decide it’s too complicated for the viewer or history is an inconvenient shape, you fall into a cascade of errors which ends in nonsense“, author Hilary Mantel said to the audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Referring to her novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and their upcoming BBC adaptations, Mantel stressed the importance of not under-estimating the intelligence of her readers and audience, reports Radio Times. “As soon as you decide this is too complicated for the viewer or history is an inconvenient shape – ‘I’ll just tidy it up’ – you fall into a cascade of errors which ends in nonsense“, citing Showtime’s The Tudors as the perfect example of how simply combining history and drama does not always make for good telly.

Historical accuracy in fiction is crucial, Mantel also told the audience. Referring to what she called the “…big, all-singing, all-dancing American TV series The Tudors“, the Showtime drama starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers which aired between 2007 and 2011 on HBO and BBC2, Mantel said: “There was a great puzzle there because it was like good angels and bad angels. Someone had done the most terrific amount of research – it showed in small details – but the bigger picture… At some point, for instance, someone had decided it was too complex for Henry VIII to have two sisters so they rolled them into one. Then they had to find a fictitious King for her to marry so I think they invented a King of Portugal unbeknown to history. It all stems from not trusting the intelligence of the viewer. I think the problem was they thought there were too many Marys in the story.

Wolf Hall, the lavish six-part series set for broadcast in 2015 on BBC2 and on PBS as part of the Masterpiece series, was adapted from both of Mantel’s books and filmed in the UK in May and June with the author involved in the scripting process. Featured alongside Damien Lewis are Mark Rylance (playing Thomas Cromwell), David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Pryce, Jessica Raine, Joanne Whalley and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

Final ‘Wallander’ series begins principle filming

October 13, 2014

BBC 1 announced last week that the final three-part series of the hauntingly brilliant detective drama, Wallander, has begun principle production filming. Starring Sir Kenneth Branagh, the final trilogy of 90-minute episodes will adapt the two remaining works by Swedish author Henning Mankell that features the character. The first will be based on the 1993 novel “The White Lioness” while the final two episodes will be a two-part adaptation of Mankell’s final novel “The Troubled Man”. Principal photography will encompass a number of locations including Skane, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark and Cape Town, South Africa.

On the thought of bringing Mankell’s creation to the small screen one last time, Branagh said: “I always approach each series of Wallander with anticipation and excitement, but this last series of films contain some of the greatest challenges the character has ever faced. It’s a privilege to try to meet them, and I look forward to a great Swedish Autumn working on Henning Mankell’s masterly creation.

The story of “The White Lioness” takes place in South Africa and will be filmed on location in Cape Town. In “The Troubled Man”, Wallander, haunted by his past, faces a deeply personal case while looking towards the future with profound uncertainty. He will have no choice but to come face-to-face with his most intractable adversary – himself. “The Troubled Man” will be filmed on location in Skane in Sweden and Copenhagen in Denmark.

Wallander is about as good as it gets. The multi award-winning series has won seven BAFTAs, including Best Drama Series and Best Actor for Kenneth Branagh in the titular role in 2010, following his Best Actor award at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards in 2009. Wallander has also been nominated for two Emmy awards and one Golden Globe. Along with Branagh, the returning cast will include Jeany Spark as Linda Wallander, Richard McCabe as Nyberg, Barnaby Kay as Lennart Mattson, and Ingeborga Dapkunaite as Baiba Liepa.

The chance meeting that brought Foxes to ‘Doctor Who’

October 12, 2014

Remember, once you see the mummy, you only have 66 seconds to live…

Back in May 2014, Foxes (a.k.a. Louisa Rose Allen) added her name to an already extensive list of top-notch guest stars that were set to appear on the upcoming series 8 of Doctor Who including Keeley Hawes, Hermione Norris, Ben Miller, Frank Skinner and Tom Riley. Needless to say, the Grammy-award winning British singer was decidedly over-the-top at the thought of making her acting debut opposite Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. “I can’t believe I’m actually going to be in an episode of Doctor Who!”, said the singer. “Especially as it all came about from a chance meeting. I was playing a gig and got chatting to the show’s production team who’d been watching my performance. I was telling them how much I loved Doctor Who and next thing they invited me to be on it. I couldn’t think of a better place to make my acting debut than on one of the UK’s most iconic shows!

In last night’s “Mummy on the Orient Express” she made the Queen classic, “Don’t Stop Me Now” her own with a sultry ’20s jazz take onboard a train hurtling through space. “I really love the song and I loved the idea of a stripping it back and doing a jazz version,” said Foxes. Late last night, the Beeb released this brilliant music video of the entire song. Looks like its time to get out the iTunes gift card and add this to my playlist.