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MI5 vs 24 – Smackdown!

October 8, 2009

I have to open this debate to everyone since three people, TODAY alone, described MI5 (Spooks in the UK) as the British 24. I couldn’t form words fast enough to verbalize a laundry list of reasons as to why there is no comparison between the two. MI5 is, without question IMHO, one of the best shows on television, if not the best. MI5 out-distances 24 in writing, acting, storyline, believability, editing, use of music and more.

Jack Bauer won’t  (or can’t) die

The fact that you watch every episode of 24 knowing full well that Jack Bauer won’t die no matter what happens is enough to place it well below the realistic nature of MI5. 24‘s only “bit” is that each season takes place in 24 hours. Having seen through season 7 of MI5, I’ve often wondered why the writers have never shied away from killing off characters or banishing them to Siberia, both major and minor, during a season. I finally came to the conclusion that as frustrating and as mind-numbing as it is to invest emotional effort into the characters only to have them “disappear” or actually die by an assassin’s bullet or explosion adds the realism that is lacking in 24.

It’s tough enough for any series to last 8 seasons (as both MI5 and 24 have). With MI5, it has to be a brain rush to write a series of this nature that gives you the freedom to be real, to be fresh and also keep the audience as tense as humanly possible with every explosion or every bullet leaving the chamber because we truly don’t know who is coming back each week. On 24, Jack Bauer always heals by the next week (or next hour since it all takes place in 24 hours).

Talk me down from the ledge

Tell me there are others out there that can’t wait for the next episode of MI5. Or, if you’re a 24 fan, it’s your turn. I’m willing to listen. Well, sort of. You have 23:59:45.

Pythons reunite for BAFTA award

October 7, 2009


As we continue to pay tribute to the true beginning of television comedy as we know it (or think we know it), the Pythons will reunite in New York on October 15 to receive a BAFTA award. Let’s hope that Graham Chapman gets a little bit better treatment this time than he did during the last reunion in Aspen.

Basil Fawlty earns an "A" in the Science of Great Comedy

October 6, 2009

Fawlty Towers has to be the greatest 12 episodes of comedy ever. The UK version of The Office is a close second (much better, I think, than the American version, but that’s a debate for another day). This is a re-write of an article I did several years ago, but bears repeating as we begin to dissect and talk about British television in the coming months. This is a long one folks so prepare to think about what you laugh about.

In 2000, the British Film Institute selected Fawlty Towers as the best British television show. After a year-long poll looking for Britain’s Best Sitcom, the BBC announced in mid-2005 that Fawlty Towers ranked as the fifth best sitcom of all time by British viewers. A huge feat considering there were only 12 episodes.

Fawlty Towers hotel

Even Fawlty Towers, the hotel itself, was voted #1 in a poll conducted by Hotels.com to determine the all-time most memorable screen hotel. It outdistanced other such “hotels from hell” as the Bates Motel from Psycho and The Overlook Hotel which provided a winter home for Jack Nicholson and family in The Shining.

Such polls are a measure of the enduring popularity of a show, but how does one measure what makes a great comedy, well, great?

The perfect formula for classic comedy: [(R x D + V) x F + S]/A

Perhaps you’ve heard it before that sitcoms are too formulaic. But, have you ever taken the time to actually consider what is the perfect formula for a classic comedy? What makes some Britcoms fail to make the grade and never get passed the first season, while others are timeless treasures that make us laugh year after year? Is there actually a science to all the laughter?

Dr. Helen Pilcher, a British molecular neurobiologist by day and stand-up comic by night, set out several years ago to answer all of the above in a study commissioned by UKTV Gold, the satellite channel in the UK known as the home for classic Britcoms. Pilcher and her team of research scientists analyzed almost two decades’ worth of British comedies and actually came up with a mathematical expression for success – and failure.

It’s quite simple. A Britcom is a success if it scores high marks when applied to the following formula: [(R x D + V) x F + S]/A

Where’s the simple part, your asking?  Pilcher explains:

“Comedic value is determined by multiplying the recognizability of the main character (R) by their delusions of grandeur (D). This is added to the verbal wit of the script (V), and the total is multiplied by the amount someone falls over or suffers a physical injury (F). The difference in social status between the highest – and lowest – ranking characters (S) is added. Finally, the total is divided by the success of any scheme or stratagem in the show (A). Each term in the formula is assigned a value up to a maximum of 10 people to give an overall scientific score.”

See how simple it is?

From theory to practice, ‘Orrible was horrible

To actually put this formula into play, Dr. Pilcher established a baseline which, hopefully, no comedy would score lower than. One BBC show from 2001, ‘Orrible, came dreadfully close to achieving the lowest score among those tested. The bottom score was a pitiful 6.5.

After lengthy research, the long-running classic, Only Fools and Horses was voted No. 1 with a score of 696. At No. 2, a relative newcomer to the British comedy scene at that time was The Office, which finished with a 678 score.

Not to be outdone after 30 years of making people laugh in more than 60 countries, everyone’s favorite irascible hotelier, Basil Fawlty, and Fawlty Towers came in at No. 3. Another perennial favorite amongst Britcom fans, Blackadder, came in at No. 4.

So…next time you sit down and watch a new entry into the Britcom line-up, try thinking of [(R x D + V) x F + S]/A and be your very own network television Head of Light Entertainment and give it a thumbs up or down.

When you watch Fawlty Towers, make note of just how much “D” Basil has to go along with his perceived “S” and then marvel at all of the “F” and “V”!

Gervais, Top Gear host recall favorite Python bits…

October 5, 2009

Celebrate Monty Python Day (October 5, 1969) with the BBC as Ricky Gervais, Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, Stephen Merchant (co-writer, The Office) and Justin Lee Collins share their favorite bits.  Check it out here…BBC.  Ok, it’s self-declared as Monty Python Day, but I can do that, I think.  Dare you to Silly Walk down Main Street wherever you are.

It was 20 years ago today…actually, 2×20 years ago tomorrow

October 3, 2009

October 5, 1969.  Not as momentous an occasion as, say, July 20, 1969 or August 15-17, 1969 but it is a date that will live in not only television comedy history, but comedy history.  40 years ago Monday, Monty Python’s Flying Circus hit the airwaves on the BBC.   Maybe you remember, maybe you don’t.  If you don’t, check this out from the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section.  If you do, what a great kick-off to a great week on KERA celebrating these six young lads from Oxford and Cambridge.  Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Britcoms before you go as we begin our week-long celebration.  Python remembrances?  Share.

Select your all-time Britcoms…now!

October 2, 2009

Thanks to everyone who voted and, more importantly, thanks for doing my job the last several days. FYI, results are being tabulated as we speak, picking specific episodes from the series you voted in to the marathon. Don’t forget to tune in to KERA Channel 13, Saturday, October 10, 2009 from 7:00p-5:00a, for the 35th Anniversary British Comedy Celebration and Marathon. Programs that you voted in will air from 12mid until 5:00a, late Saturday night. Stop by earlier that evening from 7p-12mid for the world premiere of Monty Python Before and After, all made possible by your continued support.

Pick your favorite Britcoms:

Who would you like to see as the next Doctor?

View Results

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Time for Tellyspotting!

September 30, 2009

Welcome to Tellyspotting – Your Brit TV Pub!

From Peter Cook to Ricky Gervais and from Upstairs/Downstairs to MI5 (Spooks), the Brits produce some of the best shows on television.

Bill Young

Bill Young

As Vice President of Television Programming at KERA (Dallas/Ft. Worth), I have a job that affords me the opportunity to screen and evaluate much of the available British television catalogue for possible broadcast to American PBS audiences like you. And I think that makes it one of the best jobs in the world.  Well, that job just got even better because I can now share All Things British Television with you on a daily basis!

Why now, you ask?  Well, several factors caused the stars to align perfectly:

  • The  Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was established 42 years ago.
  • British comedy made its U.S. debut on your very own KERA-TV 35 years ago this month with the premiere of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That very daring decision was made by then Program Director, Ron Devillier, and CEO Bob Wilson.
  • The Brits caught on and, today, KERA runs more British comedy than the BBC, thanks, in part, to member support.
  • And, of course, there was the invention/ongoing evolution of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Every day is a new day on the Web, so when blogs came along, it didn’t take long for them to evolve into the rich, dynamic, interactive, fan/fanatic get-together meet-up they are today.

Given the above, I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that because PBS, KERA-TV (with your continued support!), the Internet, the WWW and blogs (of some form) are here to stay, it definitely is time for Tellyspotting – Your Brit TV Pub.

So tell your friends and strangers too. Because, in any British pub, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. If you like the idea of Tellyspotting – Your Brit TV Pub then email, text, IM, digg, facebook, myspace, Twitter, FriendFeed, Skype, post to delicious, Tumblr, Posterous, etc. to share it with your favorite mates. Or, go old school and ring them up.

Also, follow Tellyspotting – Your Brit TV Pub on Twitter @tellyspotting.  Sign up for the RSS feed to be among the first to get latest post.  And keep an eye out for our YouTube channel and flickr stream.

Tellyspotting – Your Brit TV Pub really encourages and welcomes your ideas, input, suggestions, questions and ever-so-clever critiques. It’s up to you. Thanks for popping in. Come back often and hang a bit.

Finally, a quick shout out to Stephen Becker and the folks over at Art&Seek for their mention and welcome to the blogosphere. That said, I will leave you with a classic scene from Fawlty Towers. And a question:  What’s your favorite bit from Fawlty Towers?



A Nod to Monty Python's Flying Circus – Must-See Video!

March 7, 2006

This post was archived from the original website for Fawlty Towers Revisited, which premiered on public television in 2005.

With PBS broadcasting the three-part “Monty Python’s Personal Best” series, we thought you might enjoy seeing some exclusive video footage of the Pythons on their first promtional tour of the U.S. more than 30 years ago.

The video was made possible by intrepid reporter and commentator of All Things Awesome, Jesse Thorn of the popular The Soung of Young America podcast/public radio show (salon.com calls TSOYA and Jesse a refreshing cross between Terry Gross of NPR and Conan O’Brien). The footage is of the Pythons’ visit to KERA-TV, the PBS affiliate in Dallas that “saved” Monty Python in the U.S. by being the first to broadcast it.

The Pythons were in the KERA studios the day after the LA premiere of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and you will hear Terry Jones note that they didn’t even have a U.S. distributor yet for the film!  John Cleese didn’t make this stop, but the rest of troupe carry on in fine form.

Click on the TSOYA graphic below and Enjoy! Thanks, Jesse!

Do you agree?

December 31, 2005

This post was archived from the original website for Fawlty Towers Revisited, which premiered on public television in 2005.

Two recent British polls added to the long list of accolades Fawlty Towers has garnered during the past 30 years.

In September, Radio Times released the results of a survey that named Fawlty Towers as the show TV viewers would most like to see remade.

And in late December, a poll commissioned by UK interactive firm Home Media Networks ranked Fawlty Towers as the 4th most missed TV series.

What do you think?

A Big Thank You!

December 31, 2005

This post was archived from the original website for Fawlty Towers Revisited, which premiered on public television in 2005.

In the interest of full disclosure, the following is a thank you note and a support message for PBS. You tell us repeatedly that you enjoy, appreciate and benefit from what we do, and we just want to remind you that we can’t do it without you, and wouldn’t want to!

Okay, here goes:

Thank you very much for joining PBS stations across the country in celebrating the 30th anniversary of Fawlty Towers. The anniversary special, Fawlty Towers Revisited, was well received by old and new fans, alike. Spot on!

And for those of you who supported your local PBS station’s efforts to continue to bring you the best British Comedies, as well as the most entertaining, engaging, informative and enlightening programming that you can use daily to enrich your life, thank you very, very much! And we hope you enjoyed your collectible thank-you gifts.

By the way, if you enjoyed Fawlty Towers Revisited — or any of the British Comedies you’ve watched on PBS stations for more than 30 years — then we think you might like to know that each program airs only because people in your town or city invested in their local PBS station. We’re not kidding when we say shows are made possible by “Viewers Like You.”

There is only one Fawlty Towers, and there is only one PBS. Yep, we’re blowing our horn a bit, but there’s zero spin, 100 percent fact here. Why? Because we hear it directly from people across the United States who tell us every day how PBS makes a positive contribution to their lives in so many different ways. You tell us that it’s much more than television, that it’s your window to the world around you — at Fawlty Towers, down your street or galaxies away.

We want to continue to provide that front-row ticket to the constantly changing, ever-amazing world around you, and with your partnership, we will.  Thank you very much!

The Fawlty Towers Revisited Crew