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Monty Python, 1969-2014

July 23, 2014

Dressed in white suit jackets befitting the occasion, the five surviving members of Monty Python, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, closed out their run of reunion shows Sunday evening by bidding farewell with the 1979 song from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life“. Considered by many to be the most influential group of individuals on ‘what we call’ comedy today, this would be the musical equivalent of the Beatles getting back together. Joining them onstage Sunday (and for the entire reunion ‘tour’) was Carol Cleveland, the only woman to have made regular appearances in the 1960s iconic show.

Since announcing the tour, of which the opening night on July 1 sold out in 44 seconds, the troupe has repeatedly said that this would be the final time they would perform together. At 45, (1969-2014), they felt it was time. They would cease to be. They had run down the curtain and would be meeting the choir invisible. They would be no more. Bereft of life, it was time for Python to rest in peace. They are an ex-comedy troupe.

While it has been 45 years since they first appeared on the BBC with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the group’s 40th anniversary of their U.S. television premiere on KERA (PBS/Dallas) is coming up this October. It was Sunday, October 6, 1974 at 10:00pm that Dallas’ public television station and program director, Ron Devillier, changed the television comedy landscape forever. It was March of 1975 that Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman appeared in studio at KERA in Dallas for “Festival ’75″, part of the stations fundraising drive. With no U.S. distributor for their newest venture, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the group seemed a bit oblivious as to the world-wide Python madness that was getting ready to be unleashed. Unfortunately, as you will see, only 15 minutes of a nearly 3-hour night on KERA in 1975 remains.

On behalf of public television in America and fans of Python worldwide, thanks for 45 years of laughter and here’s to 45 more.

Endeavour takes you back to the 60′s

July 22, 2014

Having just spent a week in the 50′s on the set of the filming of series 3 of Father Brown in the Cotswolds, you get a crash course on the complexities of the overall transformation that has to take place to create the reality for both the actors involved and the viewers at home. The incredible attention to detail from the costume designers and the art departments were on display this week as they kicked into high gear to ensure complete accuracy down to the last detail.

As PBS Masterpiece viewers have experienced time and time again, British drama has taken us to virtually every time period from Victorian England through Edwardian England and right up until today. With Endeavour, of which series 2 ended on Sunday on PBS, the task was to re-create the magical time of 60′s. After seeing first hand, I can only sit at home and marvel at the incredible talent that goes to great lengths on both of these series.

The extent to which the actors go to transport themselves into the time period is a complicated one, if not fascinating. With the daunting task of ‘becoming’ an young Morse in front of him, Shaun Evans, who brilliantly plays the young Inspector Morse, looked for inspiration no further than Monty Python. “I listened a lot to Michael Palin, who was from the north, went to Oxford and who was alive in the 60s,” he said. “That’s how I imagine Morse’s voice to be.” He also said that Scandinavian crime dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge had also left their mark on Endeavour.

Asked whether viewers could expect to see the drama move into the 1970s, Evans said: “Listen, never say never. It would be a great life for me, I suppose. But is it something you’d want, creatively? I’m not so sure.” Author Colin Dexter has insisted there can be no remakes of the Inspector Morse episodes starring John Thaw. Evans added: “I know that Colin has it in his will that no one else can play the part, which is as it should be.

No word yet as to the future of Endeavour and whether or not a series 3 is in the works and/or commissioned, but given how series 2 ended on Sunday and the fates of DI Thursday and DC Morse so up in the air, how can there not be?

Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus – And Now for Something Completely Different

July 21, 2014

While getting ready to head back to the States in the AM having spent the last week in the Cotswolds on the set of Father Brown as they continue filming series 3, the combination of last night’s Monty Python finale at the O2 Arena in London and Germany winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when we arrived this past week got me thinking…and you know what happens when THAT happens. Fans of the British comedy troupe that did as much for the future of comedy as the Beatles did for the future of music will immediately know where I’m going. It’s…Monty Python in German, of course. Here’s how it first appeared on German television in 1972.

Produced by WDR for West German television in 1971-72, Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus con sited of two, 45-minutes episodes, shot entirely on film and mostly on location in Bavaria, with the first episode recorded in German and the second recorded in English and then dubbed into German. According to Python member, Eric Idle, the reasoning behind the group’s interest in taping the shows in German was pretty straightforward. “The Germans came to us and said ‘Look, we haven’t got a sense of humour, but we understand you do. Can we use yours?”, said Idle.

As the story goes, only Michael Palin and John Cleese were capable of delivering lines in ‘understandable’ German. Despite extensive language coaching, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman were virtually incomprehensible. For this reason, German television producer, Alfred Biokek, made the decision to make the second programme in English, with German overdub added later. We leave the UK and leave you with the Python’s famous Lumberjack Song and Cheese Shop sketches…in German.

The Lumberjack Song featuring the Austria Border Police Choir.

The Dead Parrot sketch


Final chapter of Hercule Poirot begins July 27 on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery

July 20, 2014

Not wanting to put the cart before the horse given that PBS Masterpiece Mystery fans still have the final episode of series 2 of “Endeavour” starring Shaun Evans to look forward to tonight, but this warrants more than a week’s notice. Next Sunday on PBS marks the beginning of the final chapter in David Suchet’s brilliant portrayal of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot with the first of the final 5 episodes, “The Big Four”.

Adapted for television by Sherlock‘s Mark Gatiss, “The Big Four” plunges Poirot into a world he has never been before seen, a world of global espionage set against the backdrop of an impending World War. It seems as though the public is in a panic after the shocking death of a Russian chess grandmaster at the climax of a high-profile international Peace Party reception. Reunited with old friends Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) and Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), the legendary Belgian detective must make a dramatic move that only a chess champion could love, while navigating international figures and intrigues in order to identify the culprit.

Next up after “The Big Four” will be “Dead Man’s Folly” which features a splendidly complicated murder mystery weekend prepared by famous mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker) at a country retreat that takes a tragic turn when an actual murder occurs. An interesting side note, this episodes was filmed partly on location at the legendary crime writer Agatha Christie’s beloved holiday home, Greenway. The final three episodes in David Suchet’s priceless 25+ year portrayal of Hercule Poirot will air on public television stations in November.

Yes, it’s over a week away, but…Set. DVR. Now. Sunday, July 27 at 8:00p CT / 9:00p ET on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery.

Passing the time until ‘Downton Abbey’ 5 with Hugh Bonneville

July 19, 2014

Like more everyone on the planet, the world awaits he arrival of Downton Abby. While a number of the inhabitants of Downton, both upstairs and downstairs have found other work in-between series filming, Hugh Bonneville, known on this planet to everyone with a TV as Lord Grantham, recreates his role as Ian Fletcher, the Head of Values for the BBC in the British comedy, W1A. His task is no small one. Put simply, it’s to clarify, define, or re-define the core purpose of the BBC across all its functions and to position it confidently for the future.

Technically, W1A is the follow-up to the BAFTA award-winning comedy series, Twenty Twelve. Along with Bonneville, comes Jessica Hynes, Jason Watkins and the voice of David Tennant as the narrator for their newest efforts. With only four episodes, it won’t pass the time completely until Downton Abbey 5 but you might have missed W1A but it is more than worth your time.

The final episode of the short series sees brand consultant Siobhan Sharpe and her team unveil their barnstorming idea for a new BBC logo. One can only hope there will be more next year so we can pass the time again before Downton Abbey 6. Yes, the sky is blue in my world…

On the set with ‘Father Brown’ in the Cotswolds

July 18, 2014

Today is our last day in Moreton-in-Marsh on the set of principle production filming for the forthcoming series 3 of Father Brown. Having spent a week on set with the production team behind the camera whose faces you never see but who bring Father Brown and the drop-dead brilliant visual settings of the Cotswolds to life has been nothing short of magical. The end result of our journey will be seen in the States in early 2015 with a 60-minute ‘behind-the-scenes’ special on public television that, hopefully, will be a visual feast for fans of the series.

Our endless thanks go out to the entire production team who have given us unprecedented access to the set from the former Moreton-in-Marsh Hospital to the new home to the Kembleford Police Station and Inspector Sullivan to the Stanway Cricket Club, which is where one of the episodes in series 3 was partly filmed yesterday (and today), to the church in Blockley that is the home to St. Mary’s and all points in-between. While I will never understand cricket, cast and crew has done their best to explain this gentleman’s game which dates back to the 16th century. The fact of the day I learned yesterday was that, originally, overhand bowling was illegal with the ‘bowler’ pitching the ball to the batter underhanded. As the story goes, overhand bowling came to evolve when Christina Willes, sister of Kent cricketer John Willes, was bowling at him in their garden, and unable to bowl underarm because of the voluminous skirts that were the fashion of the time. She raised her arm in a more overhand fashion and the rest is history.

In addition to the entire crew, the regular Father Brown cast of Mark Williams, Nancy Carroll, Sorcha Cusack, Tom Chambers and Alex Price have been priceless in sharing their thoughts and insights as to the characters that they bring to life on the BBC and public television each year for the past two seasons. While the show that will air in 2015 will give fans a look at ‘how the sausage is made’, it will also give you a sense as to the beauty of the English countryside, we’ll hear from writers of the series and learn where the ideas come from for each script and also the endless efforts of the costume department who spend countless hours making sure everything is spot on 1950′s.

Principle filming ends in October with the series set to transmit on the BBC tentatively in January 2015. U.S. broadcast on public television is not far behind with, most likely, a Spring 2015 broadcast. While we’ll be leaving the Cotswolds tomorrow, all of us look forward to getting back and putting a show together that will, if nothing else, show you the incredible passion that every person has whose name is listed on the credits of each <em>Father Brown</em> episode to make brilliant telly. More to come on Tellyspotting on our trip back in time with Father Brown in the coming months so stay with us as we put the show together.

Doctor Who 50th – Lego style!

July 17, 2014

There was a time, back when the Earth was cooling, that an entity had arrived when you were parodied on a Saturday Night Live sketch. Once they lost their way, your stamp of approval came at the hands of Jimmy Fallon with parodies or spoof sketches on Latenight with Jimmy Fallon. Now, it seems the most important benchmark as to if you have achieved pop culture greatness is when you are immortalized in Lego.

Such is the case with Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor”, which has been transformed into a Lego special by Bookshelf Productions along with Stupendous Films. While it won’t take the sting out of the fact that there is still just over a month until the 23 August worldwide premiere Doctor Who S8, it does pass the time rather well. Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s Doctors are given miniature Lego makeovers, complete with top-notch outfits and set pieces, including the TARDIS. The dialogue from the original episode is played on top of the action, which builds up to the epic moment where all the Doctors team up, including a look at the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi!

Just think, after you watch, you’ll be 5 and 1/2 minutes closer to the beginning of the Peter Capaldi era.

Giant Dead Parrot invades London!

July 16, 2014

The dreaded giant Norwegian Blue has descended on London’s Potters Fields yesterday. The 50 foot fiberglass bird was hung upside down by a crane to mark the forthcoming final time the Monty Python band will get back together, Sunday 20 July at London’s O2 Arena and the subsequent UKTV Gold live simulcast. “We are all Monty Python fans so we were delighted to receive the brief from Gold to recreate the mythical Norwegian Blue on a giant scale,” explained lead sculptor Iain Prendergast, who helped build the enormous model bird, which took more than two months to make. “The key challenge for us was capturing the comedy value of the dead parrot, keeping the realism of the bird whilst also adding touches like the bloodshot, stunned eyes,” he explained.

The huge bird will be delivered to the O2 Arena for Sunday’s final performance of Monty Python Live (mostly). Given the history of the sketch, let’s hope British Rail isn’t involved in getting the prize ex-parrot to the arena on Sunday for the finale. Chances are you won’t be in the audience on Sunday where the Cleese/Palin sketch is scheduled to be performed one last time. For those that can’t make it, I’m not sure it’s the next best thing to being there, but it is classic.


‘Death in Paradise’ lines up all-star guest list for S4

July 15, 2014

Seems as though we are in the middle of everyone’s favorite British drama production season. As many know, Tellyspotting is currently on the production set for Father Brown in the Costwolds as they continue filming series 3, Doctor Who S8 is still filming with Kumars at No 42 star, Sanjeev Bhaskar, added to the series finale and Rupert Graves (Sherlock, Scott & Bailey) has been added to series 3 of Last Tango in Halifax. Speaking of Scott & Bailey, the brilliant police procedural is currently in production with series 4, set to finish principle filming in August.

Now comes more news than the law allows that every British drama fan simply cannot live without with regards to one of their favorite telly drama, Death in Paradise. Downton Abbey‘s Amy Nuttall, Call the Midwife‘s Leo Staar, Outnumbered‘s Tyger Drew Honey, The Fast Show‘s Simon Day and Broadchurch‘s Will Mellor will join DI Humphrey Goodman on the gorgeous but crime-ridden island of Saint Marie for series 4 of Death in Paradise. You may not recognize the names, but you’ll definitely remember their breakthrough iconic roles with Nuttall portraying housemaid Ethel Parks in Downton Abbey and Leo Staar last seen in series three of Call the Midwife as Jenny Lee’s boyfriend Alec.

Kris Marshall and Sara Martins star in Death in ParadiseThe new line-up of guest stars will join an already stellar series regular cast, headed by Kris Marshall (DI Goodman) alongside Sara Martins and Danny John-Jules. In addition, Hetti Bywater of Eastenders fame and Natalie Gumede (Coronation Street) will also guest star.

The new series of Death in Paradise will see DI Goodman struggle to contain his feelings for Detective Superintendent Camille Bordey (Martins), while officer Dwayne Myers (John-Jules) will attempt to run the police station by himself following the departure of Sergeant Fidel Best, played by Gary Carr. Look for S4 of Death in Paradise to make its way to BBC1 in early 2015 with a U.S. broadcast on public television to follow not too long after.

New ‘Doctor Who’ trailer introduced during World Cup finale

July 14, 2014

Short of premiering an overpriced spot during the Super Bowl, the next best thing, bar none, is to premiere an overdue, long-awaited trailer for the longest running science-fiction series in the history of television during the finale of the Fifa World Cup telecast. This year’s finale between Germany and Argentina didn’t escape notice with the first, long-form trailer for series 8 of Doctor Who airing during halftime on BBC1.

The most chilling moment? Definitely when The Doctor’s companion Clara asking him where they are going and the Time Lord’s answer of, “Into darkness” has to be at the top of the list. While previous all-too-short trailers have had more explosions and rampant electrical currents running through the TARDIS than the law allows, the newest trailer ramped up the anticipation quotient ten-fold. While we already have reports that S8 will feature Daleks and Cybermen, last night’s full-length trailer shows a T-Rex which appears to be rampaging past a blazing Houses of Parliament.

Who else can’t wait for 23 August?