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Hugh Bonneville is Top Gear’s Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car

February 11, 2014

The season premiere of Top Gear has come and gone. Airing earlier this month on BBC Two and last night on BBC America, the series opened its 21st season with Lord Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville, as the shows Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car.
Hugh Bonneville as Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car

For those few that have not seen and/or heard of the series for the past twenty years, the ‘Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car’ segment of Top Gear, has presenter Jeremy Clarkson interviewing a celebrity and then showing a clip of their attempt to drive round the Top Gear track, which was filmed earlier. They are then put on the leader board either to their delight or humiliation. Over the years, there have been four ‘reasonably-priced-cars’ – a Suzuki Liana, Chevrolet Lacetti, Kia Cee’d, and the newest member of the team, the Vauxhall Astra.

Seated in his Vauxhall Astra, which was introduced as the newest reasonably priced car in 2013, Bonneville didn’t show much confidence at the possibility of besting the top time of 1:45:1 by Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC”, saying: “I’m fairly cautious, I’m not very adventurous and I’m rubbish at parking. Luckily, there isn’t a parking segment to this program.

Bonneville finished with a time of 1:50:1 for his best lap time. In Lord Grantham’s defense, the track was incredibly wet and when you think about it, if you watch Downton Abbey, he has a driver so it’s pretty impossible to think he could have topped the board given his time behind the wheel is minimal. The current leader board for the Vauxhall Astra looks like this…

  1. 1:45.1 – Brian Johnson
  2. 1:45.6 – Jimmy Carr
  3. 1:46.1 – Hugh Jackman
  4. 1:46.7 – David Haye
  5. 1:46.8 – Warwick Davis
  6. 1.47.8 – Benedict Cumberbatch
  7. 1:48.5 – Rachel Riley
  8. 1:48.8 – Charles Dance
  9. 1:48.9 – Joss Stone
  10. 1:49.9 – Tom Hiddleston (very wet)
  11. 1:49.9 – Ron Howard
  12. 1:50.1 – Hugh Bonneville (wet)
  13. 1:51.0 – Steven Tyler
  14. 1:51.5 – Mike Rutherford

Liverpool, The Beatles and the Night that Changed America

February 9, 2014

Let’s just say that it took something of this magnitude to pry me away from Sunday’s installment of Downton Abbey. All I can say is, thank goodness for the DVR. Even Mrs. Patmore would approve of this new invention.

Watching The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute last night brought back a lot of memories from February 9, 1964. It was 50 years ago to the day, date and time that the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The night turned into one of the most-watched television events in history with over 74 million people tuning in to watch the Fab Four perform five songs during the variety hour.

Besides the memories of 1964, it gave me a greater appreciation of a trip to Liverpool in 2012 for the annual BBC Showcase. First thing on the agenda before the week-long screening of BBC programming began was a mandatory Beatles tour. The Fab Four Beatles Tour lasted just shy of four hours. There is nothing better than taking a black cab tour of Liverpool getting an up close and personal look at where John, Paul, George and Ringo crossed paths, grew up and, ultimately, changed music history. To actually see the likes of Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Eleanor Rigby’s grave, the hall at the St. Peters Church where John and Paul met for the first time in 1957 and the boyhood homes of John, Paul, George and Ringo was nothing short of brilliant.

Penny Lane
Penny Lane

Strawberry Fields gate
Strawberry Fields gate

Eleanor Rigby’s grave site
Eleanor Rigby

John Lennon boyhood home
John Lennon boyhood home

Paul McCartney boyhood home
Paul McCartney home

George Harrison boyhood home
George Harrison house

As we prepare to head to Liverpool in a couple of weeks for the 2014 BBC Showcase, I will definitely remember 1964 and ‘the night that changed America’ and just may take that tour again.

Touring the set of ‘Mr. Selfridge’

February 9, 2014

With PBS set to re-open the doors of Mr. Selfridge in a matter of weeks (March 30 at 9pET/8pCT, to be exact), a lot was made leading up to the 2013 premiere with regards to the set that was constructed for the filming of the interior of Selfridges. For obvious reasons, the real Selfridges couldn’t be used from a production standpoint so a full replica of the Oxford Street store interior was built just north of London. One can only imagine the sheer magnitude of the replica set.

The real Selfridges opened in 1909. The steel-framed structure, designed by the architect Daniel Burnham (who also designed the Flatiron Building in New York) was five stories high with three basement levels, a roof terrace (used for everything from fashion shows to an all-girl gun club) – and over 100 departments.

Grant Bridgeman, the sound recordist for Mr. Selfridge described the massiveness of the set by saying, “…the whole of the interior of the Selfridges shop was one massive space that had chameleon-like qualities to change to different floors, or different departments – also the interior of the Selfridges House was a great multilevel build.

The set immediately caught the eye (and attention) of Jeremy Piven who plays Harry Gordon Selfridge. “The attention to detail is beautiful. And yet they also built it for a range of movement with the camera. So it’s genius the way they do it. You can stick a crane in there and get a real sense of the multiple floors. It’s just a real playground.

Mr. Selfridge returns to PBS’ Masterpiece line-up beginning Sunday, March 30. New to the Mr Selfridge team for the second series is production designer, Sonja Klaus. Executive Producer, Kate Lewis, said, ”Sonja was Ridley Scott’s set dresser for many years and her attention to detail and design is phenomenal. In collaboration with our lead director, Anthony Byrne, Sonja has made the store an even more lush and exciting place to be, as it would have been in 1914 because Harry Selfridge himself was developing his business.”

She added, “We also have new exterior locations and will see the back of the building for the first time, giving a broader sense of its scale. It’s as if the shop floor is the stage and then you see behind the scenes and how the show comes together.

Downton Abbey – The Board Game

February 8, 2014

Coming to the realization that, after tomorrow, there will be only 2 weeks left in the current series of Downton Abbey, one must be brave and turn their attention to just how will we cope until the, most likely, September 2014 return in the UK and January 2015 return on PBS. What may soften the blow is a new board game that transports you into the world of Downton Abbey from Destination Games.
Downton Abbey - The Board Game

Looking eerily like Monopoly (or Clue), you start life at Downton as maid or footman (Mr. Molesley would be so upset), with the charge of completing the tasks you are given as quickly and efficiently as possible. Starting in the Servants’ Hall, each player is dealt Destination cards which have varying values indicated by the number of bells on the card. This relates to how important or difficult the task is. The player must then navigate their way around the corridors and stairs of the Abbey, throwing the dice to determine how many moves they can make. Once they reach the destination of a task, they collect their bell tokens, and the next player throws the dice to set off for the next job.
Downton Abbey looking like Monopoly

Along the way, a player can land on a ‘Carson Card’ space and have to take a card, which could either help or hinder them. On other spaces, the players may have to collect a ‘Letter’ which could call them away from the Abbey, slowing them down, or costing them bells! But, which route will you take? A short easy looking one to get a job done earning only one bell, or a longer route with the possibility of collecting a higher reward? The winner is the player who has completed all their jobs and collected the most bells.
Toy Fair 2014, London, Britain - 21 Jan 2014

While you may encounter Thomas along the way, at least you can be assured that Colonel Mustard won’t be in the library holding a candlestick. And, before you know it, it will be time for Downton Abbey 4 and everyone will be a winner…

‘Sherlock 4′ may have a 2016 time stamp on it

February 6, 2014

***Caution: Sherlock 3 spoilers ahead***

It’s been a whirlwind month both in the UK and America. What fans of brilliant telly (im)patiently waited two years for is now over. What took a mere 12 days to play out on BBC One was stretched to a lengthy 14 days on PBS. Sherlock 3 is done. It’s like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch. It’s no more. It has ceased to be. While it will live forever on DVD’s and on peoples DVR’s, it has gone to meet the choir invisible.

Unlike the parrot, however, it’s just resting. There will be a Sherlock 4. When it will awaken, no one knows at this point. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the particulars in front of and behind the camera are not only brilliant at what they do, they are in high demand. One needs to look no further than the names of Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss to understand why it took two years between series 2 and series 3 to produce the telly gold we all witnessed at the beginning of January.

Sherlock and Moriarty together again in Sherlock 4?

Even if the reports are true that both Moffat and Gatiss have begun to not only plan series 4 but to have also plotted out a series 5 storyline, there is an overwhelming amount of pre-production that needs to take place and schedules to work out. With everyone’s endless dedication to quality, we could be looking at early 2016 before we see how Sherlock will handle Moriarty after returning from his 6-month exile to Eastern Europe which actually lasted about 4 minutes.

In reality, each Sherlock episode is like a mini-movie. This isn’t your average bit of television even though it’s on the small screen. These are feature quality. Imagine trying to do three James Bond films in two years. Will never happen. That’s why, as hard as it will be to admit, I understand that it may be early 2016 before we see the next installment of Sherlock. Besides the logistical issues that exist, the schedules of both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are just north of crazy. Freeman is set to star in FX’s forthcoming series, Fargo and Cumberbatch is rumored to be a possibility for a part in a very time-intensive Star Wars: Episode 7 production. As great as that would be, it would only drive a nail in any possibility of a 2015 return of Sherlock.

Moffat is now knee-deep in the first season of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and, thankfully, has always said they would never sacrifice quality to get the show out quicker. In lieu of new episodes, fans will just have to be satisfied with periodic events such as the recent Meet the Filmmakers event at the London Apple Store on Regent Street. Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington did not disappoint. I think I’m ok with this. How about you?


To listen to the podcast of the Meet the Filmmakers event in London, click here.

Sir Ian McKellen’s Downton Abbey audition is ‘Vicious’

February 5, 2014

As we reported this past Fall, Vicious, a.k.a. Vicious Old Queens, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi, is making its way to PBS beginning June 15 (following the return of Endeavour on Masterpiece Mystery). The British comedy, which premiered on ITV this past Spring in the UK, tells the story of Freddie and Stuart, a constantly bickering couple who have lived together in a small Covent Garden flat for nearly 50 years.

Jacobi stars as Stuart Bixby, a former bar manager with an aged mother named Mildred who has been clueless as to her son’s relationship with Freddie for almost a half-century. McKellen stars as Freddy Thornhill, an over-the-hill actor whose career consisted mainly of bit parts. Royal Shakespeare Company alumnae, Frances de la Tour (Rising Damp, Harry Potter) stars as Violet, a close friend of both Freddie and Stuart and wannabe closer-friend of upstairs neighbor, Ash Weston, played by Ewan Rheon.

Freddie’s most current ‘bit part’ that he, along with the rest of the planet would kill for, is for that as ‘Cook Number 4′ in Downton Abbey. Here, Freddie practices with Ash for a role that just might supplant his minor iconic role in Doctor Who some years ago as his career defining moment.

A second series of Vicious was commissioned not long after the series one broadcast in the UK. A new Christmas special aired this past December with series 2 tentatively set of transmission this Fall on ITV1.

Q&A with Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby from ‘Inspector George Gently’

February 5, 2014

The excruciatingly lengthy wait since we last saw Inspector George Gently in the Durham Cathedral shootings is over. Inspector George Gently returns tomorrow (Thursday, 6 February) on BBC One. For those viewers is the U.S., you can see the return of Inspector George Gently and Detective Sergeant John Bacchus beginning in April on public television stations.

It’s now 1969 and Gently, played brilliantly by Martin Shaw, and Bacchus, played equally as brilliantly by Lee Ingleby, are both suffering from their own physical and mental scars several months after the horrific shootings that nearly claimed their lives in Durham Cathedral. In this new series both Gently and Bacchus discover that they have quite different approaches to a world that is changing very fast as they investigate a death in police custody.

We caught up with Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby on the set while they were filming series 6 earlier this summer.

Tellyspotting: The relationship between George and John Bacchus has evolved since the very beginning. Is there a point in the series where Gently sees a bit as to where John is coming from and he becomes more of a teacher at that point?
Martin Shaw: I think his impulse is to be a teacher right from the beginning. Having lost his wife early on and never having had children, I think he has sort of twin impulses with John Bacchus of wanting to train another policeman but also to have a son. I think Bacchus fulfills both roles. With the end of series 6 where we’re both shot. At the end of it, it’s not sure we’re going to survive. When we pick up with the next series, it’s about rehabilitation, especially for George given that he’s been through the war. Being shot and at shooting people is fairly commonplace. For Bacchus, it’s something deeply unusual and traumatic which begins Gently ‘teaching’ John, in a very subtle way, to carry on with life. There’s also the warmth of the father/son relationship but wouldn’t dare articulate it in case John said “…what are you talking about, I don’t need another father”.
Inspector George Gently

TS: The series is set in the 60′s. Having lived through that time personally, do you see a bit of a parallel between the issues that people were dealing with at that time with the challenges being faced in the 21st century?
Martin: I think the parallels are always there. I don’t think human nature changes very much over time. I think there is always a parallel, just a different context.

Tellyspotting: Lee, how is it on your end going back to the 60′s to an era that you did not grow up in? Seems like you’re having a lot of fun with the 60′s.
Lee Ingleby: Absolutely, it was such a great time. It was a time of change whether it be musically, fashion or attitude. Everything was coming in to its own. For me, it was great. It’s almost like a look at where we’ve come from.
Martin: From an observation standpoint, on a visual level, the 60′s seem to suit me very well with the hair, etc. Lee looks like a refuge from a 60′s album cover. Having lived through the 60′s, walking on the set, I see an incarnation of a 60′s rock star. It suits Lee very well, I think.

TS: I was originally wondering if there was a bit of a young George Gently in John Bacchus, but now, Lee, I’m wondering if there a bit of a young Martin Shaw in you?
Lee: You know, I don’t know, maybe. When I first took the role, and we were trying to decide who our characters were, I always thought that John Bacchus was the kind of guy that went to see Dr. No at the cinema and thought ‘I want to be Sean Connery’. You know, wearing those suits and having the women go ‘Hello, Mr. Bacchus’. That was his romantic idea of what the job is.
Inspector George Gently

TS: The subject matter in George Gently is incredibly dark and you’re dealing with all the issue of the times. One scene in particular in the midst of all that you deal with in the most recent season, you were learning to dance and going to Northwood Soul. There are periodic light moments which allow the audience to breathe a bit that are drop-dead funny.
Martin: I think that’s a quality that Lee’s got. A quality that he brings to the show in that he’s sort of naturally funny.

TS: For the both of you, is it important for you, when getting the roles in George Gently, to understand the back story of your character that’s not in the script. Is it important as you prepare for the role to understand how each character would react in a certain situation?
Lee: I think we both found it very important, really.
Martin: Absolutely. It’s really vital. I think that it’s possibly one of the successes to the relationship is that we can both be bothered. A lot of actors today wouldn’t be bothered to know. But we pretty much always know what the back story is. It helps you to be instinctive in your responses because you know who the character is and where he’s been.

TS: Over the course of the entire series, do you interact with the writers and directors of the series to shape the direction of the character?
Martin: We certainly do so now, but it’s been a slow process over the life of the series. By nature, I think actors, as a genre, have a reputation for being difficult, but I think it’s taken awhile for people to understand that we’re not being difficult but that we just want to get it right and get it better.
Lee: I think it’s important that we put in our own input as well. Not that we have a say as to how it should be written, but more of offering input because we’ve played the characters for so long. We kind of feel that we know how they would think, what they would do. Especially, over time, if there are new writers that come in who haven’t been there from the beginning like we have. There’s the crime story, obviously, that’s written but without these two characters and the detail, it’s just a crime story. We think the stuff that is golden is these two and how they deal with it. What they do and don’t do. It’s not just about the solving of the crime that makes this series but the situation that they both find themselves in at the time. The conversations that they have that’s more often not related to the crime but what they are thinking.

TS: The ‘crime’ almost takes a back seat to the personal lives of the two characters and the interaction that follows.
Martin: That’s good to hear you say that because that is exactly what both Lee and I aim for. There’s any number of whodunit’s on TV, but we just wanted to be a slightly different one and I think it must be character led and not plot led.
Lee: We weren’t afraid for these characters to not agree with each other. The more we’re not ‘happy clappy’ the better and the more we want to push the characters. They are there for each other.

TS: Without giving too much away, what can George Gently fans look forward to in the series being filmed now?
Martin: Well, it starts with our having to recover, the trauma that ensues from the events that took place in the final episode of the last series. Through that, we are investigating another police force because there has been a death in custody. Along with that, Gently is trying to bring John Bacchus back into the police force really. John has been so traumatized by what’s happened that he doesn’t know if he wants to carry on or not.

TS:  Lee, the relationship between the two characters of Bacchus and Gently. Early on, you were excited to work with ‘the legend’ that is George Gently and but seem to have some difficulty dealing with the old-school copper. Is there a point in time you begin to understand where George Gently is coming from and that he’s there to help you?
Lee: Yeah, I think so, definitely. Bacchus has always been aware of Gently’s standing and his reputation as a copper. As things move on, they have the utmost respect for one another. It is that sort of relationship where Bacchus isn’t a ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’ character. He can say ‘I think you’re wrong’ and Gently will go ‘Well, I think you’re wrong’ but both can admit when the other is right. I think the relationship between the two keeps evolving. Over time, their loyalties and their trust is tested but that’s what makes it interesting.

TS: Finally, Lee, I have to say I re-watched Spaced the other night and that was a brilliant fight scene.
Lee: It was a great fight scene with a much, much younger Lee Ingleby.

Inspector George Gently “Gently Between the Lines” premieres tonight on BBC One. The incredibly tense opening sequence and the 90-minutes of back and forth testing of the relationship between Gently and Bacchus makes the wait well worth it.

With Sherlock over, Benedict Cumberbatch leaves Baker Street for Sesame Street

February 4, 2014

While this won’t soften the blow in anyone’s personal mind palace that Sherlock is, most likely, done for what could be another 1-2 years, this will bring a smile to Benedict Cumberbatch fans across the land. The brilliant ‘Benedict Sherlock’ or ‘Benedict Counterbatch’ headed over to the second most famous address in the world, Sesame Street, after locking up 221b Baker Street for the Winter.

Even Sherlock needs a bit of help to defeat his arch nemesis, ‘Murray-arty’. Enter The Count to help Benedict with this case to determine if there are more apples or more oranges.

Blending the greatness of Sesame Street and the brilliance of Benedict Cumberbatch is nothing short of genius. Enjoy.

PBS’ Downton Abbey the clear winner against Super Bowl

February 4, 2014

The Seahawks may have drubbed the Broncos on Sunday and won Super Bowl XLVIII but the clear winner in Sunday’s line-up was Downton Abbey on PBS. For the third straight year, the #DramaBowlPBS entry was the second-highest-rated program on all of television after the Super Bowl. Ok, maybe it did finish second by a margin of over 100 million, but it was still second with an overall audience of 6.8 million viewers across the U.S., an 11% jump over last year’s title game. In the key 18-49 advertiser driven market, Downton scored a 4.9 overnight rating.
Downton Abbey and Sherlock or The Big Game

With numbers like this, coupled with the recent report that showed the January 5 premiere had a live viewing audience of 10.2 million with an additional 5.3 million watching via DVR viewing plus an additional 1+ million viewing via video streaming, one could guess that we can now pretty much go ahead and mark our calendars for January 4, 2015 for the premiere of Downton Abbey 5. At this point, nothing is set in stone, but there’s no reason not to…

Finally, just one more Downton Abbey item from the ‘Department of You Know You’ve Arrived If…‘, we present the Sunday comics edition of Foxtrot by Bill Amend which, given the ratings from yesterday, probably played out pretty true to form in many households across the U.S. on Sunday. In this case, life really does imitate art…or vice versa.
Foxtrot comic Sunday, February 2, 2014 with Downton Abbey reference

The ultimate ‘Downton Abbey’ parody song

February 3, 2014

As we head into the homestretch for the American broadcast of Downton Abbey (you know, that little show that runs before Sherlock) on PBS, here’s something to ease the pain a bit during the moment you stop to realize there are only 4 more episodes in the 4th series. This bit of greatness from Nick L’Mao who has a cabaret act in the UK. For those that haven’t begun to watch series 4 as of yet, this will also serve as the ultimate catch up guide for the first three series set to the tune of Petula Clarke’s “Downtown”.

Jessica Fellowes in Dallas

The niece of Downton Abbey creator/writer Lord Julian Fellowes, Jessica Fellowes, was in Dallas Friday evening as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s ongoing Arts & Letters Live series. As the author of The World of Downton Abbey and the follow-up, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, Jessica talked in front of a packed house about a lot of the behind the scenes happenings during filming of Downton in addition to sharing some amazing insights as to how the some of the characters were created with inspiration from the Fellowes family.

She also talked about the difficult logistics involved in the filming process in that all the upstairs scenes were shot at Highclere Castle while the downstairs kitchen scenes were shot miles away on a set at Ealing Studios. The thought of Mr. Carson ascending the stairs from the kitchen only to emerge upstairs some three weeks later into the dining room was almost too much for the audience to fathom. At Tellyspotting, however, we were immediately reminded of a brilliant parody from the genius minds of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley done for Red Nose Day in 2011 that plays out exactly as Jessica described.

Uptown Downstairs Abbey, part 2

If you want to check out part 1 of Uptown Downstairs Abbey, click here.