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Minnie Driver auditions for ‘Downton Abbey’ on ‘Ellen’

February 27, 2014

Before we take a final look at the 2014 BBC Showcase, we pause for a bit of Downton Abbey fun…

With the help of Ellen Degeneres, Minnie Driver is one step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream (ok, at least a dream that she’s had for the last four years since Downton Abbey began in 2011.

With the help of the writers of Ellen, Driver was able to put together a top-notch audition tape recently with DeGeneres as Lady Gwendymere of West Bedford Applebees and Driver as Countess Penelope of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buttersworth.

One final BBC Showcase update tomorrow before it’s time to head home. Lots more drama, comedy, factual, natural history and documentaries to talk about and, hopefully, bring to public television. Stay tuned!

Drama takes center stage at BBC Showcase 2014

February 26, 2014

After a healthy dose of comedy the last couple of days with Rev, Wrong Mans, Uncle, Inside No. 9 and Mr. Sloane, the focus was on drama as we are at the halfway point of the BBC Showcase screenings in Liverpool.

Already armed with the knowledge that there will be new seasons of Death in Paradise, DCI Banks, Scott and Bailey, Inspector George Gently, Foyle’s War, New Tricks, Call the Midwife, Mr. Selfridge and Father Brown coming public television’s way in 2014 alone, today was more drama heaven from an offer standpoint.

By Any Means, stars Warren Brown (Luther), Shelley Conn (Terra Nova), Andrew Lee Potts (Primeval) and Gina McKee (Secret State) as a clandestine group of individuals who play the criminal elite at their own game. Their job? To bring these criminals that are too clever to get caught to justice. Sound like Hustle or Leverage? It should, for good reason, but that’s not a bad thing given how brilliant both of those series were.

What Remains comes from the writer of Inside Men and stars Russell Tovey (Being Human, Sherlock, Him & Her) and Stephen Mackintosh (Inside Men). Detective Inspector Len Harper, less than a week away from retirement, is called to the scene of the discovery of the body of Melissa Young, a 30-year old single woman, who is found in the loft above her flat two years after her death. Oddly, in two years, no one missed her and noticed she was gone. DI Harper begins to uncover some interesting secrets amongst the other neighbors in the building refusing to let the victim disappear without a trace.

Silk is entering it’s third season on BBC One. Starring Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones (MI5) return in this gripping legal drama from writer, Peter Moffat. The first two series aired in the States as part of PBS’ Masterpiece series. With both Martha Costello (Peake) and Clive Reader (Penry-Jones) both elevated to QC, they often find themselves opposite each other in court. In series 3, there’s an opening for a new head of chambers that both are in the running for. Let the games begin…

As if this wasn’t enough, in addition to the above, other offerings include Prey with John Simm (Mad Dogs, Life on Mars, Doctor Who), Quirke with Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon, The Guilty with Tamsin Greig and Darren Boyd and Castles in the Sky starring Eddie Izzard.

Now do you believe me about drama heaven?

Rev and Mr. Sloane highlight comedy presentation at BBC Showcase 2014

February 25, 2014

It’s like being a kid in a candy store attending the BBC Comedy presentation Monday in Liverpool. Showing a number of clips for shows that are coming up in the not-too-distant future, you get the sense that Shane Allen, Controller for Comedy at the BBC, is keen on maintaining the channel’s dominance in the comedy genre. As head of comedy commissioning, Allen is responsible for the commissioning of all comedy programs to the BBC channels.

Key elements that contribute to each commissioning decision are to ensure that all developing programs appeal to the varied audiences of all BBC channels and attract the best comic writers, producers and performers to the BBC to broadcast their talent. He works closely with the each individual channel controllers to ensure that the content he develops is consistent with the genre strategy and editorial policy.

Also a part of the genre presentation were Rev co-creator/writer, James Wood, and series co-creator/star, Tom Hollander. Both were there to hype the 24 March premiere of series 3 on BBC Two.

It’s been some time since Rev has aired with their being almost two years since series 2. Both Wood and Hollander spoke of the differences between Rev and earlier comedies that centered around the church as an institution in Father Ted and Vicar of Dibley feeling that Rev is steeped more in reality with Father Adam Smallbone being more of an ‘everyman’ with crazy characters surrounding him. Evidently, it’s working as Hollander mentioned how he had recently been mistaken for a real vicar on the street with the individual asking to be blessed. Not wanting to disappoint the man, he went ahead as opposed to trying to explain that he wasn’t a vicar, but just an actor.

Also appearing on behalf of Mr. Sloane, a new comedy series we screened yesterday that will command your attention in May 2014, were creator/writer, Robert Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Nick Frost, who stars as Jeremy Sloane (with an ‘e’, like Sloane Square).

Up tomorrow, more drama and on to factual/non-fiction offerings.

It’s Comedy/Drama time at BBC Showcase 2014

February 24, 2014

It’s always brilliant to enter into screening overload on the first day of the BBC Showcase in Liverpool.

Already in 2014, from a drama standpoint, public television viewers have been treated to new seasons of Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Call the Midwife, Mr. Selfridge, Doc Martin, Father Brown and Death in Paradise. The good news is that the drama tank is still full for the foreseeable future. Comedy has been no different with Moone Boy, Spy, Twenty Twelve, Rev, Hebburn and Miranda finding their way to public television. Like drama, comedy is looking good for 2014-2015.

Sunday began with the comedy/drama presentations from the 2014 BBC Showcase. Here are a few of the highlights…

The Fixer

  • This series follows the life of ex-British Special Forces soldier, John Mercer, who is arrested by police for killing his aunt and uncle following his discovery of their abuse of his sister, Jess Mercer. Fairly tense from the outset.

    John Mercer finds himself released early from prison in order to serve in a covert state security squad as a government-backed assassin. His main job? No big deal. He’s just responsible for eliminating criminals and renegade police officers that the law cannot apprehend.

Mr. Sloane

  • This new comedy series stars Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Cuban Fury) as a man in crisis. It’s December 1969 and Jerry Sloane is at the end of his rope. He’s lost his accounting job, his wife has left him to ‘find herself’ and he spends evenings alone in a pub feeling sorry for himself. He life just might be about to change following, not only, a potential job opportunity but securing the phone number of Robin, a free-spirited American girl. The series also stars Olivia Colman (Rev, Broadchurch)

Inside No. 9

  • Written by the brilliant minds of Steve Pemberton and Reece Sheersmith, Inside No. 9 presents an anthology of unexpected and quirky tales that each revolve around No. 9′s. While it’s not as macabre as previous efforts such as League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, the only question remains is ‘do you dare knock on the door’?


  • The comedy genius of Mitchell and Webb come together in this comedy/drama about the British Embassy. The series centers around Keith Davis, the British Ambassador to the fictional Central Asian Republic of Tazbekistan. The country is ruled by The Prez, a dictator with a penchant for vodka fueled hunting parties.

That’s it for now. There’s more to come over the next couple of days. Would love to hear from some UK readers who’ve seen Inside No. 9 and give readers stateside some quick thoughts.

Will Ferrell skates to Olympic Gold with Downton Abbey themed performance

February 23, 2014

An Olympic performance that deserves to be seen…

There are some things that either need no explanation…or defy explanation, depending on the side of the fence you’re on when it comes to Will Ferrell. As most know, Jimmy Fallon and Downton Abbey go way back. We all remember his brilliant Downton Sixby parodies, right? If you do, then it’s no surprise that within the first week of the Jimmy Fallon latenight takeover era, the British drama would, somehow, be featured prominently.

Add in the fact that the world stage is focused on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and that Will Ferrell is involved you have a Downton Abbey parody of Olympic proportion.

Aside from the gut-wrenching effort under some very trying circumstances for Ferrell, many of which we will never understand, and given that he wasn’t even offered a tryout for the current Olympic team, it shows a great deal of skill and grace to be able to put forth the commitment and conditioning effort to make himself ready should he get the call for 2018.

Let’s hope that Downton Abbey will be around in 2018 so that Olympic viewers will remember the theme…

Jason Isaacs returns to American telly

February 22, 2014

Unfortunately, the first bit of news out of Liverpool and the BBC Showcase happened before it has even begun. Like most meetings some of the greatest information can be obtained via hallway conversations and side meetings. On the upside, American fans of Case Histories and Harry Potter soon will be able to get a weekly, albiet short, dose of Jason Isaacs in the forthcoming USA Networks 6-part series, Dig, from Heroes creator Tim Kring and Homeland producer Gideon Raff.

Isaacs, who starred as the haunting Jackson Brodie in Case Histories, will play FBI agent Peter, who is investigating a murder of a young archaeologist in Jerusalem. This will be Isaacs’second effort for the American small screen as he also starred in NBC’s short-lived supernatural series, Awake.

While the unfortunate news is that this, most likely, means no new Case Histories in the foreseeable future, fans should be able to see the second series, which ran in the UK back in Autumn 2013, sometime soon on public television stations in the States, which is the best news of all.

Tellyspotting heads to Liverpool for 2014 BBC Showcase

February 21, 2014

How appropriate given that 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the first Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that, as you read this, Tellyspotting will be somewhere over New York City headed to Liverpool for the 2014 BBC Showcase. You might remember that this is annual gathering of television programming executives from around the world who, armed with their best earbuds, screen the entire past, present and future catalog offerings from the BBC. I know, I’m not getting much sympathy at this point am I….
Liverpool bound for BBC Showcase

Without question, this is the best meeting of the year. For those longtime readers, recent meetings have brought back the likes of MI5, Hustle, Scott & Bailey, New Tricks, Call the Midwife and Death in Paradise to name a few. From a comedy standpoint, it ranges from long-ago discoveries of Keeping Up Appearances and Vicar of Dibley to more recent bits of brilliance and Twenty Twelve and Moone Boy.
BBC Showcase

As always, we will be sending back clips and comments on everything that we screen on a daily basis so check back here throughout the week to see what might be coming to American public television stations in the not-too-distant future. Don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions too if there is something that you’d like to see, either new or returning.

By now, I’m not too far from touching down in the UK so time to head to where else but Speedys!
Speedys Sandwich Bar and Cafe

As America lines up ‘Mr. Selfridge’ for their post-Downton Abbey viewing, Alfie Boe heads to Selfridges this Sunday in the UK.

February 20, 2014

This just in. America is on high alert. With only one week to go in series 4 of Downton Abbey, telly watchers are already in a quandary as to how to spend Sunday evenings and satisfy their insatiable drama needs. PBS has the answer, as usual.

Beginning Sunday, March 30, not only will the third series of Call the Midwife return to PBS at 8p ET/7p CT, the second series of Mr. Selfridge will follow at 9p ET/8p CT continuing the Sunday night Downton Abbey/Sherlock “must-see-TV” trend on PBS. Both series will run for eight weeks through May 18.

UK Mr. Selfridge alert – Alfie Boe guests this Sunday, 23 February

UK viewers of Mr. Selfridge are a bit ahead of the game as series 2 began on ITV1 back on 19 January. Pay particular attention to episode 6 this coming Sunday as English tenor, Alfie Boe, guest stars as music hall tenor, Richard Chapman. Seems as though Harry Selfridge needs to find a headline act for a patriotic concert to be held at Selfridge’s to raise money for the troops. While Victor (Trystan Gravelle), Agnes (Aisling Loftus), Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington) and Florian (Oliver Farnworth) enjoy the music hall concert, Lady Mae, played by Katherine Kelly, is waiting for him backstage to ask if he will sing.

Not to worry, U.S. fans. This episode will air in May as part of PBS’ Masterpiece series.

Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti head to Downton for Sunday’s finale

February 19, 2014

As the sun gets ready to set on series 4 of Downton Abbey, you’re not going to want to miss the final this coming Sunday. Not having seen this week’s episode yet, one can only assume that we’ll dig deeper into the Bates/Anna drama, Edith’s forthcoming motherhood looking more and more like it will be without Mr. Gregson and wondering how Daisy & Ivy’s life can possibly continue without Alfred.

We do know that this isn’t the half of it. The storyline for the season finale revolves around Lady Rose MacClare’s (Lily James) entry into London high society where the family and servants take up residence at their home in the capital.
Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti head to Downton for series 4 finale

Shirley MacLaine returns as Lady Grantham’s mother Martha, James Fox joins the cast as aristocrat Lord Aysgarth and Paul Giamatti will play Lady Grantham’s brother, Harold. You remember Harold. The ‘crazy’ New Yorker that Lord Grantham almost missed the annual church bazaar for because he had to head to America to testify on Harold’s behalf.

Here’s a first look at Martha’s return and Harold’s arrival in London, which will air this Sunday on PBS’ Masterpiece series. Given Uncle Harold’s lack of interest in leaving America and his disinterest about watching a ‘bunch of debutantes’ in a ballroom, I can’t wait to see where this leads us before next season.

‘Posh Nosh’ provides perfect training for ‘Downton Abbey’

February 18, 2014

With the recent announcement that Richard E. Grant has been added to the cast of Downton Abbey, you might be wondering just how (and why) it took so long for this bit of brilliance to happen. All one has to do is look at the greatness of Posh Nosh and the creation of extraordinary food for ordinary people and it makes perfect sense. Simon Marchmont, would easily feel at home either dining upstairs or gliding through Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen downstairs at Downton Abbey.
Simon and Minty Marchmont in Posh Nosh

Arriving on the scene in 2003 and taking no prisoners, Simon and Minty Marchmont, owners of the Quill and Tassel in Bray, exude Posh Nosh. Like their contemporaries (Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Ainsley Harriott and Delia Smith), they are chefs, not cooks. They don’t settle for anything less than “the Russell Crowe of chocolates” from Belgium, which has two uses, cooking and worshiping. According to Simon, all kids by the age of six should be able to shave their own fennel. Minty could disable a partridge in its own jus. Mrs. Patmore will finally have some dining upstairs that will appreciate her culinary efforts. Maybe Alfred can come back after a stint at The Ritz.

Simon and Minty glide through the kitchen like Torvill and Dean with a hint of Tonya Harding on the back burner. A word to the nervous: The techniques are sometimes complex and can be difficult at first. Always remember this from the “Posh Nosh” Bible: extraordinary food should never be simple and never, ever cheap. That said, you must try this Paella Valenciana at home. Don’t be afraid to:

  • interrogate your mussels;
  • embarrass your vegetables (do not peel them);
  • and always, let the ingredients talk amongst themselves.


Anyone recognize Simon’s tennis coach, Jose Luis?