While we are still in the dog days of Summer and the endless string of 100+ degree weather, it’s never too early to begin planning your Downton Abbey-themed event for this Autumn in the UK or for January 2014 in the States….
Wines That Rock, the company responsible for Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot and Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet, have announced that it will release Downton Abbey-branded wines in partnership with Dulong Grand Vins de Bordeaux.
Dulong Grand Vins de Bordeaux makes red, white and rosé Bordeaux blends on a grand scale, with a production capacity of 25,000 hectolitres. “Dulong has been in the same family for five generations and has over 130 years of experience, so these are wines the Crawley family would have been proud to serve at Downton,” said Bill Zysblat, co-owner of Wines That Rock.
Coincidentally, Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, has just announced that Paul Giamatti, who played the Pinot Noir-loving, Merlot-disparaging character of Miles from Sideways, will be joining the cast for the upcoming 4th series.
The Downton-themed wine selection is nothing new to Wines That Rock, who have produced a number of branded wines aimed at fans, including a Grateful Dead Syrah/Petite Sirah/Zinfandel/Grenache blend, Rolling Stones’ 40 Licks Merlot and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet.
Thankfully, Basil Fawlty won’t be serving at your soiree as it’s quite clear from the ‘Hotel Inspectors’ episode of Fawlty Towers that he doesn’t know a Bordeaux is a Claret.
In the case of CBS’ Elementary series, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, I’m really going to have to get past my BBC/PBS Sherlock blinders and give it another chance this Fall when season 2 premieres on 26 September with a SkyLiving premiere approximately two weeks later. When all is said and done, it may be an all British cast at some point. Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Amazing Spider-Man) is the latest British star to join the cast of the American contemporary version of Sherlock Homes, Elementary. Ifans will make his debut as the detective’s older brother Mycroft in the season premiere episode.
In addition to Ifans, the British take-over of Elementary began during the initial season with Game of Thrones star, Natalie Dormer, taking on the dual role of Holmes’s arch-nemesis Moriarty and his love interest Irene Adler, Vinnie Jones as Moriarty’s henchman Sebastian Moran, John Hannah, who made a guest appearance as the detective’s former drug dealer and, trying not to be ‘obvious-man’, of course, Jonny Lee Miller, who stars as the world’s most famous consulting detective.
In the brilliant BBC Sherlock version, Mycroft, played perfectly by Mark Gatiss, is a shadowy figure at the heart of Whitehall intrigue. Whether that will be the case in Elementary‘s take is yet to be revealed. Gatiss is near perfect in his depiction of Mycroft so it’s really going to be tough for me to like Elementary but I will give it another shot. Anyone else gotten past their bias towards the BBC version and think there is something to the American version?
There are times you definitely don’t want to know how the sausage is made. Going behind-the-scenes with the BBC’s most popular drama series, Call the Midwife, starring Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Cliff Parisi, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris and Judy Parfitt, however, is definitely not one of those times. While hitting on all the right cylinders for series one, which premiered on the BBC and PBS in 2011, series 2 really found its stride with the perfect blend of period drama charm and hard-hitting social commentary. Here’s a great behind-the-scenes clip from series 2, episode 2 that will give you a sense as to how the Call the Midwife ‘sausage’ is made.
St. Joseph’s, the former missionary college used as the primary set for Call the Midwife has been sold and is being redeveloped as a luxury housing estate. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a life-changing event for the series, but it will force a dramatic plot shift in the show’s 2013 Christmas special.
The sale has led the series creator and writer, Heidi Thomas, to base the program’s Christmas special on the sudden need to rehouse the midwives in more modern surroundings, as the show moves from the grim insanitary slums of the 1950s towards the start of the swinging 60s. Rest assured, most of the series’ street scenes will continue to be filmed at the historic Chatham dockyard with the trademark exterior shots of grimy terrace homes, opening directly on to the street, the team use a small area around Theed Street in Waterloo.
Series 3 of Call the Midwife is currently filming now through November with 2014 targeted for transmission on both BBC One and PBS.
When ITV recently announced that DCI Banks, starring Stephen Tomkinson, would return for a third season in 2014 on both ITV in the UK and on public television stations in the States, my first thought was that with the addition of George Gently, Endeavour, Inspector Lewis, Scott & Bailey, New Tricks and Foyle’s War, I’m not sure my brain (or DVR) can handle any more stellar police prodecurals. Let’s not forget, we still have Sherlock, Death in Paradise and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries still waiting in the wings to premiere. Then I remembered just what good telly DCI Banks is and never gave it second thought.
Series three will see the return of both DS Annie Cabbot, played by Andrea Lowe, and Caroline Catz (Doc Martin) as DI Helen Morton. Adding to DCI Alan Banks’ internal tension for series 3 will be Tracy, Banks’ university dropout daughter. The 6 x 60 third series will see two episodes devoted to each of the three stories based on the internationally successful novels from the pen of author and Banks creator Peter Robinson entitled ‘Wednesday’s Child’, ‘Piece of My Heart’ and ‘Bad Boy’. Having just finished reading ‘Piece of My Heart’, I cannot wait to see how this brilliant story plays out on the small screen. If you haven’t read any of Robinson’s DCI Banks creation, I suggest you make it a point to check them out as part of your Tellyspotting Summer Reading Program List, which is growing by the day now that I’ve added the novels of Kate Atkinson (Case Histories) and Kerry Greenwood (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) to the mix.
‘Wednesday’s Child’, first up in series three, revolves around a strange and sinister child abduction undertaken by a man and a woman claiming to be social workers, will be written by lead writer Robert Murphy (Strike Back, Cape Wrath) and Rob Williams (Eastenders, Holby City). Murphy will also adapt ‘Piece of My Heart’, where the body of a journalist in a remote village connects Banks to a death in the 1980s revolving around the surviving members of a cult band. Finally, in ‘Bad Boy’, which will be written and adapted by Cath Tregenna (Lewis, Law & Order: UK), a terrible chain of events is set in motion by the discovery of a loaded gun in a young girl’s bedroom, that ultimately puts Banks’ daughter in mortal danger.
Set in Yorkshire, series three will begin filming in August and should be on telly in 2014. Looks like it’s time to upgrade that cable package and add a bit of memory to the DVR.
For those telly watchers that spent eight series of House thinking that they’d like to be stranded on a desert island with Hugh Laurie, rather than Dr. Gregory House, probably had a roller coaster ride recently with the actor’s appearance on the BBC Radio 4 program, Desert Island Discs. At long last, the opportunity would present itself to actually find out what Laurie would take with him and then, in an instant, realize that according to the rules of the road from original creator/host, Roy Plomley, you can take another human being with you to the island. Oh, well. Time to live vicariously.
The program, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2012, makes for great radio. Each week a distinguished guest, or ‘castaway’, is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item that they would take if they were to be castaway on a desert island, while discussing their lives and the reasons for their choices.
This past Sunday, the world’s most curmudgeonly Doctor (with Dr. Martin Ellingham running a close second), shared his favorite discs with program host, Kirsty Young. Hugh Laurie, who released his second blues/jazz CD, Didn’t It Rain back in May 2013 following the successful release of his first, Let Them Talk, back in 2011, had some stellar and very varied choices for music. You can listen to Laurie’s reasoning behind the choices on the show’s podcast here.
Hugh Laurie’s Desert Island Disc selection – 23 June 2013
Laurie also let out that he and his former comedy partner, Stephen Fry, “often” talk about a reunion. He did acknowledge that whatever they come up with, it would probably not be a sketch show in the vein of their earlier bit of brilliance, A Bit of Fry and Laurie. “I think probably sketching is a young man’s game because, by and large, it’s about mocking people much older than you,” he said. “We are now not only the age of cabinet ministers, we are actually probably older than half the cabinet.”
Hugh Laurie’s Desert Island Disc selection – May 1996
Interestingly, Laurie was also stranded on the fictional desert island back in May of 1996 where he shared a bit of a different playlist but with the same ‘castaway favorite’.
You may not be able to be on the island with Laurie, but at least now you know what you would be listening to if you could.
Last year it was the announcement that Shirley MacLaine was joining the cast of Downton Abbey as Martha Levinson, Lady Cora’s outspoken mother. While her role was very limited for series 3, the interchange between her and the Dowager Countess was small-screen greatness. As has already been revealed, MacLaine will return for series 4 to continue her verbal sparring with Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley character along with series regulars, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery and Jim Carter.
With series 4 looming ever so near on the horizon, news of another cast addition from the ‘American side of the family’ has been confirmed. Carnival Films, ITV and PBS’ Masterpiece announced Monday that Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG award winner Paul Giamatti (John Adams, Sideways, Barney’s Version, Cinderella Man, Amazing Spider-Man 2) has joined the cast of the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning drama, Downton Abbey.
Joining other new cast members Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Tom Cullen, Julian Ovenden, Nigel Harman, Joanna David and Gary Carr, Giamatti will play Cora’s maverick, playboy brother Harold who, no doubt, will wreak havoc on the Grantham household in this years’ Christmas episode. The feature-length episode will air as the series 4 finale on PBS in late February 2014.
Don’t know about you, but with an increasingly naughty Lady Rose moving into the Abbey, Mary getting a new love interest and, now, adding a free-spirited playboy uncle to Downton, series four is starting to look pretty can’t miss.
What do you think?
The Prime Minister, the scheming Cabinet Secretary and the morally confused Principal Private Secretary have taken over the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles now through July 14. Following an acclaimed West End run in London, Yes Prime Minister tackles the collapsing Euro, tries to resolve the energy crisis and attempts to solve the debt crisis…all in just over two hours! Michael McKean (Family Tree, Batman: The Dark Knight, This is Spinal Tap) stars as Jim Hacker with Dakin Matthews (Lincoln, True Grit, Desperate Housewives) as Sir Humphrey Appleby and Jefferson Mays as Bernard Woolley.
It was February of 1980 that Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay sat down and created one of the most brilliant British situation comedy that has ever been produced. One that is still eerily timely some 30+ years later. Tellyspotting had the opportunity recently to sit down with Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister co-creator, Jonathan Lynn in conjunction with the release of his book, Comedy Rules: From the Cambridge Footlights to Yes Prime Minister. What a treat.
Tellyspotting: When it came to the original Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister series and now, 30+ years later, the ‘updated’ Yes Prime Minister, can you briefly describe your personal writing style as these series were developed. How did the collaboration between you and writing partner, Antony Jay, play out? What is your best writing ‘environment’?
Jonathan Lynn: Personal writing style? That is a question for critics, I think. Our collaboration remains exactly the same as it was. When we sat down to write the play Yes Prime Minister, 23 years had elapsed since we last worked together but it felt like 23 days. My best writing environment varies according to the stage the work is at: the the start I need peace and quiet and long periods without interruption. As it get s closer to finishing, it makes no difference where I am. I like listening to classical music while I write – I play it loud and it envelopes me, shutting out distractions.
Tellyspotting: A key British comedy theme seems to be social entrapment. What is it about an audience that can warm up to a Basil Fawlty or Edmund Blackadder character and feel empathy for them even though they are fairly difficult to ‘like’?
Jonathan Lynn: Recognition. I write about it a lot in my book. That’s why people laugh. I don’t know that people do feel empathy for Blackadder or Basil Fawlty, though some may. Empathy is not essential for comedy, it is essential for tragedy. Comedy is criticism. As for social entrapment, almost all situation comedies take place within some institution, some place where certain understood rules apply.
Tellyspotting: On the surface, British comedy, more so than many of their American counterparts seem to play out like Woody Allen movie from a casting standpoint. Within the context of both YM and YPM, you had a brilliant lead in Paul Eddington, but one of the obvious strengths was the ensemble cast with Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds. Can you comment briefly on what each brought to the table to contribute to the success of both series.
Jonathan Lynn: Good acting.
Tellyspotting: When writing series such as YM and YPM, is it important for you as the creator/writer to develop or understand somewhat of a back story as to the characters to be able to give the actors either a sociological or psychological understanding of their character beyond what is physically written in the script?
Jonathan Lynn: Yes, although that may be more intuitive than actual. But they must be placed in a context that is believable for the audience. On the other hand, in writing a series it is important not to create too much of a back story, or you limit future story possibilities. Always keep options open.
Tellyspotting: The on-going thought regarding both YM and YPM has always been that both series were just as relevant today as they were when written, which is a wonderful tribute to the writing. With the newest incarnation of Yes Prime Minister, you actually get the chance to have this play out in the 21st century world of British politics. In developing the current series, did it virtually write itself with how things have been playing out in the papers every day? Can you talk briefly about the newest incarnation of Yes Prime Minister?
Jonathan Lynn: I’d really rather you watched it. No, nothing virtually writes itself. You always start with the famous blank sheet of paper and the literally infinite number of decisions and hoices that you can make for stories and for each character. This new series is, in fact, a serial: it takes place in one weekend (most of it in one day and night. W wanted to show that the Prime Minister doesn’t handle each crisis in a vacuum but in the midst of five or six other crises, some of which look trivial at first but all of which can turn unexpectedly ugly. We wrote about the financial crisis in the Eurozone, coalition government, Scottish independence, the revolving door, the huge debt crisis, the influence of oil-rich countries,the BBC, global warming and questioned if there is a difference between personal and public morality. But our real subject, as always, was hypocrisy. And the difference between what the public thinks is going on and what is being kept from them.
Tellyspotting: In your book, Comedy Rules: From the Cambridge Footlights to Yes Prime Minister, the audience plays an very important role in the success ratio of a comedy. How involved were you (and are you) with your work once it is written and gets to the rehearsal stage leading up to taping? Was there give and take with actors, producers, etc. with respect to lines here and there?
Jonathan Lynn: I was the co-director and producer. I was 100% involved with everything. Tony, who is somewhat older than me and has health issues, came to the read-through and first rehearsal every week, and the dress rehearsal and performance. There was some give and take with regard to lines: essentially the actors would sometimes point out that something they were saying could be clarified in a particular way and I would sometimes agree to change it. It was a fairly collaborative atmosphere, I think.
Tellyspotting: Given your career has included being a producer, director and actor, did that help you in any way when writing having been in virtually all other aspects of the production process?
Jonathan Lynn: I think it helps a lot. Many playwrights started out as actors: Pinter, Osborne, Peter Nicholls, Alan Ayckbourne (sp?). Not to mention Shakespeare. Being an actor teaches you useful theatrical tricks: a good entrance, a good exit, how to write speakable dialogue and so forth. So you learn playwriting techniques by osmosis. being an actor helped me to direct: I find that I seldom suggest a move to an actor that can’t be easily accomplished.
Tellyspotting: How has comedy changed (or has it) over the years since Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister?
Jonathan Lynn: Another question for critics. Comedy is what makes an audience laugh. If they laugh, it’s funny. If they don’t laugh, it’s not funny. They may laugh at something that I, or you, personally may not find funny, but objectively that is the only test. We had 300 hundred members of the public in the audience every week, and they laughed as much as they ever did. So, from my point of view, I would say that nothing has changed. But your question addresses only the last 30 years: how has comedy changed since the time of Plautus? Or Shakespeare? Apparently not much. Audiences laugh when the recognize the truth of what they are shown. Comedy is a collective act of owning up.
Tellyspotting: What a feeling it must be to know that you’ve been a part of something such as YM and YPM that has made millions laugh (AND THINK) over the years. Can you put that feeling into words?
Jonathan Lynn: Only with what you might think of as British understatement: I’m pleased.
FYI, Lynn’s #1 rule from Comedy Rules from the Cambridge Footlights to Yes Prime Minister, his must-read book for any budding comedy writer? There are exceptions to every rule in this book….except this one, of course.
British born actor, Babou Ceesay, is more than ready to take his seat in the Oxfordshire police car alongside Inspector Lewis, played by Kevin Whately. As DC Alex Gray, Ceesay picks up his police notebook beginning tonight in the second installment of the 6th series of Lewis.
Ceesay, who grew up in Gambia, has taken a bit of a non-traditional road to the world of acting as he started out studying micro-biology. Following University, he worked in the London financial district as an internal auditor for Deloitte. Personally, having taken only one semester of accounting myself at the University of Texas, I can completely understand his career-changing decision to abandon the straight and narrow for a life of acting by studying drama at the Oxford School of Drama where he graduated in 2004. In 2009, Ceesay came to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, traveling the world performing Shakespeare (you need to get him to tell you what his favorite role was in The Merchant of Venice) and, as they say, the rest is history.
We caught up with Ceesay back in January prior to his UK introduction as Lewis’ new sidekick, where he takes over for DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox has played DS James Hathaway since the series began in 2006) while he’s ‘on sabbatical’. “Ramblin’ Boy”, the new two-part episode of Lewis airs tonight on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery series.
Tellyspotting: Having been formally trained in the theatre and, subsequently, having considerable stage experience, including work at the RSC, what’s the takeaway from this formal stage experience as you approach a role on the small screen?
Babou Ceesay: The thing with the stage is that it is continuous action with the story going chronologically. You start to learn how to tell story on a journey arc. You learn how to take a character from A to B to C to D right down to the climax to the end of their journey. When you go to TV, it’s all broken up so that its filmed back to front. You could be filming your climax scene on day 1 and your introduction scene on day 10. Because you have the grounding of knowing what it feels like to run through a character from beginning to end, you know how to prepare and learn how to do the jumps. The biggest thing I learned was confidence, being on stage in front of people. Confidence and concentration. Concentration to do your job amidst all the distractions on set with an ‘audience’ in a sense of the endless production personnel doing their jobs, not to mention the camera.
TS: What do you look for in a script?
BC: Whether it is comedy or drama, you look for a story. A story that you would like to be involved in the telling of it. A story that flows from beginning to end. From the very first read, if the story speaks to you, you get a good sense as to how you are going to feel about it. I look for a good character journey.
TS: With respect to your character of DC Alex Gray in Lewis, did you try to understand a ‘back-story’ to get a better grasp on your character?
BC: Absolutely. One thing I always try and do is figure out what this person compulsively thinks about. I think all have something that lurks in our mindset that if, given half a chance, we would compulsively think about it. It was important to research what it was like to become a policeman, how long it takes to become a Detective Constable, what kind of work to they do, what kind of crimes would I have solved and what’s the worst thing I would have encountered. It’s also important to look through the script to see what people say about you.
TS: Were you familiar with the Inspector Morse series growing up?
BC: Definitely. When I was growing up, there would be re-runs on TV or people would be in England and record a day of TV and bring back home and Morse was a part of it so I was quite familiar with the series.
TS: Even though you were the ‘new kid on the set’ of Lewis, filming in Oxford must have been a bit like ‘coming home’ given your knowledge of the Morse series and having attended school there.
BC: It was nice. The principal of my old drama school came and saw me. We had a nice afternoon tea and a chat. I owe that school a lot. They took me from being an auditor who hadn’t really performed as an actor and during the time I was there, they pushed and stretched and forced us to mold ourselves and become much more intelligent as an actor. It felt like I had come back to somewhere that I knew. It felt like the risk I had taken jumping in to this was the right one.
TS: Speaking of your previous life as an auditor, I wonder what experiences you might have been able to draw upon as you prepared for your role in Lewis?
BC: Well, auditing is very forensic. It’s financial forensics, really. As an auditor, the need to always know the detail, asking what does this mean and having the ability to pin people down to an absolute statement translates to the world of crime forensics where you always have to ask the question of ‘…what did you mean by that?’.
TS: Your character is introduced tonight in part one of “The Ramblin’ Boy” on Lewis“. Tell us a little bit about who DC Alex Gray is.
BC: He’s a Detective Constable, which isn’t very high up. The Detective Inspector is definitely high up so he would always call him ‘sir’. The other fact is that he volunteered for this job. Hathaway is away on work leave and Lewis is left without a sidekick and he volunteers to work with Lewis. There’s a bit of background because he has an emotional attachment to Lewis from something that happened in the past that he knows about and Lewis doesn’t remember. He looks up to Lewis a lot, wants to impress him, but with his being inexperienced at bit, Lewis is irritated with him at times because he’s squeamish, doesn’t like seeing dead bodies, doesn’t like blood and, he’s trying to quit smoking. Lewis finds it difficult that he’s not as quick as Hathaway is in helping him solve the crime. Over time, he becomes more confident, Lewis is more nurturing in terms of trying to get him to see that he doesn’t just need to follow the rulebook to solve crimes.
TS: And, maybe, Lewis should think back a bit as to how he was with Inspector Morse.
BC: There’s actually a sentence in the show something like “…was Morse easy on me so why should I be easy on him”. It’s intrinsically hierarchical in that way. There’s a respect as you go up the ladder. The DCI is basically unleashed. They can put the rulebook down and really try and figure out cases. They don’t have to be nice to anyone or explain themselves to anybody.
TS: Finally, having intruded on your weekend far enough, what do you watch in your spare time?
BC: I love American series. Right now, it’s Oscar time so I’m catching up on all the Oscar films. Also, I watch Homeland. I love Homeland. And, I recently got a boxed set of Breaking Bad but haven’t had time to watch it yet. Something I’m very much looking forward to.
Later in 2013, look for Babou Ceesay in the feature film, Half of a Yellow Sun, which is based on a book about the Biafra war in Nigeria. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out Lewis’ new sidekick, DC Alex Gray, beginning tonight on “Ramblin’ Boy”, the second episode of the final series of Inspector Lewis episodes on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series.
Space travel takes just so darn long sometimes….
It will have taken 274 days since the tenth series premiered on Dave in the UK on 4 October 2012, but the inhabitants of Red Dwarf, the mining spaceship owned by the Jupiter Mining Corporation, will finally make their way to the the States for the premiere of Red Dwarf X on KERA Channel 13, the PBS affiliate in North Texas beginning Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 10:00pm. A huge debt of gratitude goes to Doug Naylor, co-creator of Red Dwarf (with Rob Grant) for making this happen. We have been working with Doug for what seems like 275 days to bring RDX to the States and it will finally happen on July 6, 2013. If you are outside the North Texas KERA viewing area, you can look for RDX on a public television station near you beginning in 2014.
***FREE preview screening of episode one of Red Dwarf X. Yes, I said FREE***
I know 274 days is a long time so if you’re like me and can only wait 269 days, then have we got a deal for you. KERA has teamed up with the Studio Movie Grill (Spring Valley and Central Expressway) for a special FREE Tellyspotting preview screening of the first episode of RDX on Monday, July 1 at 7:00pm. The only catch is that you need to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can get a count of all smegheads that will attend. Unfortunately, Rimmer, Lister, Kryten (full name Kryten 2X4B-523P) and Cat won’t be in attendance but they have provided us with some great giveaways and will all definitely be there in spirit.
Given that KERA was also the first station in the U.S. to broadcast Monty Python’s Flying Circus back in 1974 that kind of started this whole British comedy in the U.S. thing, makes being the first television station in the U.S. to air Red Dwarf X really special and really, really cool. I hope you agree. And, I hope to see you at Studio Movie Grill, 13933 N. Central Expressway, on Monday, July 1 at 7:00pm to help celebrate 25 years of Red Dwarf brilliance. Don’t forget to RSVP at email@example.com. All the cool kids are coming.