TV Weekly: It’s all gone a bit Alastair Stewart

Weekly Telly news highlights and this week Sky add further channels to their portfolio, The Crystal Maze goes stateside, BBC News gets a budget cut, ITV News gets a presenter cut and we said goodbye to Neville Buswell.

Sky has added crime and comedy to its network with documentary and nature on their way.

Sky boost channels

Peugeot, was revealed as the channel sponsor of Sky’s titter network Sky Comedy. The partnership is part of the car company’s wider 2020 campaign which aims to ‘banish the boring’ by engaging with its target audience of affluent families and couples with a liberal mindset, every day.

Sky Comedy, launching on January 27th, has become the home of premium scripted US comedies from HBO, NBC and Showtime. Available in all Sky Homes, customers will have direct access to critically acclaimed Talk Shows, award-winning Scripted Comedies and binge-worthy hit Sitcoms.

The channel screens programming such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Additionally brand new comedies including The Righteous Gemstones, A.P.Bio and Miracle Workers, can also be watched first on Sky Comedy in the UK. There will be an extensive library of popular programmes, a combination of those on Sky for the first time or returning favourites. These shows include 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation, Modern Family, Ballers and Insecure.

Sky also announced this week the forthcoming launch of two further channels, Sky Documentaries and Sky Nature. These new additions are the latest to Sky’s entertainment portfolio. The latest channels follow the launch of Sky Crime in October 2019.

In Brief

We covered this last week somewhat but since then the BBC revealed the scale of their ‘cost cutting’ an effort to make the corporation appear to be the hard done to, poorly funded public service provider it certainly is not. The well-funded Aunty Beeb is attempting to save £80 million and this will see 450 jobs go in BBC News – some of which actually make sense. Why have two reporters at the same location? One national and one regional? No that is a waste and that ending is only a good thing.

Why has no one within the Beeb questioned why so much money is being spent on pointless services such as BBC Scotland Channel? If that was switched off it certainly would be enough to save Victoria Derbyshire’s award-winning, good rating, worthy daily show.

Coronation Street revealed that they were killing off original character Dennis Tanner – and it all will happen off-screen. How very Crossroads circa 1973. A very sad end for such a legendary character that was lured back in the 2010s, only to be pointlessly written out. Actor Philip Lowrie deserved better. Dennis was first seen from 1960 for eight years with a further four years on the cobbles from 2011. Dennis was the son of one of soap’s biggest icons, Elsie Tanner played by the late, great, sultry Patricia Phoenix.

Actress Jessie Wallace, who played Elsie Tanner in The Road To Coronation Street has been, according to tabloid reports, temporarily written out of BBC One soap EastEnders following suggestions the performer behind Kat Moon has been disciplined by Beeb execs due to her boozing. I’m surprised more ain’t on the plonk over at BBC Elstree, the endless misery is enough to send anyone to the vodka. Thank goodness for River City; one of the few serials to still use the ‘traditional soap format’ of light and shade each episode.

The Masked Singer saw controversy last weekend when Jonathan Ross guessed that one of the disguised singers, Daisy, could be Natalie Cole following a performance of Unforgettable – originally a hit for Natalie’s father Nat King Cole. The pre-recorded production left the comment in, also used a photo of Natalie to reaffirm the guess, and no one at any point noted that Cole had passed away in 2015.

Former cricketer, and current Top Gear host, Andrew Flintoff MBE will seek to understand the causes and impact of bulimia on his life, and why eating disorders in general are so hidden in men in a BBC documentary. He will meet experts and male sufferers and aim to return home with a new understanding of what it means to be a man with an eating disorder in the hour-long programme which will broadcast later this year on BBC One.

Peppa Pig loses her, longest running, voice as actress Harley Bird departs the role. While some critics of the programme have welcomed the departure as ‘the pig makes children little brats’ others are mourning the departure of the unique sounding porker. Bird has been the pig since she was five. The 18-year-old is bacon on some new roles.

Sadly for some the show will go on with nine-year-old Amelie Bea Smith taking over the voice. Smith is the fourth voice to play Peppa Pig.

Shakespeare & Hathaway is to return to BBC One for a third series with guest stars Jim Moir, Sally Lindsay and Tamzin Outhwaite the corporation this week announced. Jo Joyner and Mark Benton reprise their lead roles with the Beeb promising that this series will feature more comical mysteries and dodgy dealings, as Frank and Lu find themselves hunting down clues, solving crimes and fending off ruthless killers!

Coleen Nolan reminded us all again, via Loose Women, that The Nolans were ‘big in Japan’ which is a lovely memory to have, of course blow up sex dolls are also big in Japan, so make of that what you will.

Peppa Pig is a hit with kids, its even spawned live stage shows.

Liverpool to host BBC Studios Showcase

In its 44th year, BBC Studios Showcase is the world’s largest international content market hosted by a single distributor. Representing British creativity, BBC Studios spans content financing, development, production and sales for both its own productions and programmes and formats made by UK independent producers.

Along with leading on and off-screen talent, the event plays host to creatives, commissioners, producers and the hundreds of buyers who come to Liverpool to screen content and hear first-hand about the TV shows of the future. The specially curated events and co-production forums will take place at ACC Liverpool where buyers will be able to screen thousands of hours of British TV content.

Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Will Arnett, Stephen Merchant, Freddie Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness, Chris Harris and Bollywood stars Ishaan Khatter and Tabu are just some of the A-list talent that will be heading to Liverpool from the 9th – 12th February to launch a wide range of television formats.

“This is my favourite time of the year, when the BBC Group, our indie partners and now our colleagues at UKTV come together to present the best British creativity to international TV buyers who fly in from all over the world to be with us. We’ll be joined in Liverpool by some of the biggest on and off screen names in the business and will be teasing a range of exciting new programmes and projects.” – Paul Dempsey, President Global Distribution for BBC Studios

Jodie Whittaker is heading to Liverpool.

Our Girl number three

Former EastEnders actress Jacqueline Jossa in reported to be in talks with BBC Drama bosses to replace departing Michelle Keegan in military series Our Girl.

Jossa, fresh from her success in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity is being lined up to take on the lead role in the Beeb drama. BBC One viewers are familiar with Jacqueline following her stint as Lauren Branning in ‘Enders. Former Coronation Street regular Michelle Keegan quit Our Girl last year after four years with the programme. Keegan had taken over from Lacey Turner who launched the series in 2013 following her departure from EastEnders as Stacey.

“Jacque­line is keen to replace Michelle on Our Girl and has been encouraged to go for it by her former colleague and pal Lacey. And bosses at the Beeb want a mainstream signing and feel the Queen Of The Jungle fits the bill perfectly.  The series hasn’t yet been greenlit, nor any contracts sign­ed, but she’s in a good position to bag it if it all goes ahead.” – a source speaking to The Sun

The final series starring Michelle Keegan will air on BBC One later this year.

No reprimand for Jo Brand

Comedian Jo Brand won’t face any action by television and radio regulator Ofcom following complains over a battery acid joke last year.

Brand, a regular on television and radio for thirty years, found herself the focus of complaints following a controversial joke on BBC Radio 4 concerning throwing battery acid at a politician. It followed a series of ‘milk shake’ incidents; notably Nigel Farage getting splattered in Newcastle with an expensive Five Guys strawberry offering.

Ofcom reviewed the joke and the context noting, the remarks on satirical show Heresy had a “clear potential to offend listeners”, however added the joke was “unlikely to encourage or incite the commission of a crime”. A little common sense at last, I mean just because Mrs Brown jumps on a plastic Christmas Tree annually it doesn’t mean festive decoration abuse is on the rise or being copied.

BBC News reported that ‘Ofcom had also took into account that Ms Brand immediately qualified her comments, making it clear they should not be taken seriously’ and that the broadcasting watchdog had considered that the majority of the audience would be aware of Jo Brand’s style of comedy and that they would also be well aware of the programme’s format which sets out to challenge accepted views in society through provocative comedy.

Brand made the comments in June 2019 and as well as complaints to Ofcom police had also been contacted by listeners to report it as provoking hate crime. The police said at the time no action would be taken.

Actor Neville Buswell death announced

Neville Buswell passed away on Christmas Day 2019 it was revealed this week. The 77-year-old actor became best known to television viewers as Coronation Street’s Ray Langton in the 1970s, with a brief reprisal in the 2000s.

The death of the performer was confirmed by undertakers following the discovery by social media users of a tribute page to Neville who joined Corrie in 1966 remaining originally for twelve years before a short six-week return in 2005. He had also appeared in the VHS special Vivia Las Vegas in 1997 that also starred late actors Liz Dawn as Vera Duckworth and Bill Tarmy as hubby Jack. The special also featured a cameo by Joan Collins.

Las Vegas was more than just a return to Corrie for Buswell, when he quit the cobbles he relocated to the states to settle in the home of American showbiz glamour with his American wife and worked as a croupier in a casino.

Prior to joining Granada Television’s Weatherfield based saga as womaniser Ray, Neville had made several small appearances on television including in ATV’s medical saga Emergency Ward 10, Granada Television sitcom Turn Out The Lights, and ATV’s drama series Love Story.

It will be however his role as Ray Langton, husband to Deidre and father of Tracy that he will be best remembered. The character died on-screen in 2005 at the wedding party of Deidre and Ken Barlow, who were wed for the second time. BBC News note that ‘Buswell was born in 1943 in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbys where he was a keen rower and rugby player.’

Ray in his 1970s splendor.

‘Ender the story for Jasmine Armfield

Jasmine Armfield has decided to quit BBC One’s EastEnders after five years at the Elstree based production.

Armfield, who plays Bex Fowler, has already reportedly recorded her departure scenes for the soap and the farewell plot will play out on screen later in February as the show marks its 35th anniversary.

Joining the cast in 2014 Jasmine has been involved with some key plots over the years with the peak in the characters story taking place last year when Bex attempted to commit suicide over worries about letting her family down when she felt unable to go to university. Her character, the daughter of Sonia and Martin Fowler, could meet a watery end, although Beeb bosses are keeping quiet about who will perish in the saga’s anniversary episode that is to be set on a party boat on the river Thames.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Jasmine. She’s brought something incredibly special to the role of Bex and we will all miss her – both as a friend and colleague. We wish her the best of luck for the future” – Jon Sen, Executive Producer

Barbara Knox not secure in her Kabin

The serial legend that is ‘Soap Dame’ Barbara Knox is taking centre stage once more in Coronation Street as the show hurtles towards its 10,000th episode. Barbara has been seen regularly as showgirl-singer-turned-newsagent Rita since 1972.

Knox first appeared briefly in 1964 as Rita, with an association with Dennis Tanner. It’s that friendship, and in more recent years marriage that is the focus of the landmark episode when the news Dennis has died reaches his estranged wife, and she’s tasked with saying goodbye to his ashes in Blackpool.

Despite her longevity Barbara feels she could be ‘Noele Gordon’d’ at any moment. The nation were horrified in 1981 when Noele was suddenly sacked from her soap role after nearly 20 years, just because producers fancied a change. And Knox is fully aware that producers and characters can go their separate ways at a whim.

Actress Sally Ann Matthews, who plays Jenny Bradley in the show, revealed Barbara’s insecurities in a recent interview. “Every year she thinks she isn’t going to get another contract” she told the Daily Star, adding “and if she forgets a line [while recording], she won’t sleep that night”

However its unlikely the second longest running performer on the serial would be written out by ITV Granada, that would be like ITN getting rid of their longest running ITV News newsreader… oh…

ITV News drop Alastair Stewart after forty years

Alastair Stewart was forced to resign from ITN, who produce ITV News, after forty years following a spat on Twitter with a controversial tweeter. The social media fall out came after 67-year-old Alastair – who has hosted all of ITN’s main news programmes for ITV including the Evening News and News at Ten, as well as local offering London Tonight – quoted a verse of Shakespeare which included a line about apes. The line means humans in general – white, black, brown pink, yellow – however it didn’t stop the user who had posted provocative comments previously concerning ‘white people’ from going straight for the racist red card.

ITN said he had breached editorial guidelines, but has not gone into any detail. “Alastair has been a long-standing, familiar figure to viewers of ITV News, both reporting and presenting with distinction. We wish him the very best for the future.” noted Michael Jermey, ITV director of news and current affairs

The Daily Mail reported that Stewart however had been ditched following ‘a number of twitter posts’ that ITV News bosses deemed inappropriate. Fans of the broadcaster have noted that it seems to be double standards when Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan can say what he likes on social media without a rebuke.

Alastair began broadcasting on ITV at Southern Television in 1976 before moving to national news with ITN four years later. He has also hosted network programming including crime series Police, Camera, Action! and was the presenter for the first political leaders debate in 2010. He was ITV’s longest serving network newsreader.

Alastair Stewart will not be back on ITV News, ITN confirmed this week.

Quote of the Week

There has been many comments this past week over the disgraceful axing of Alastair Stewart by ITN, from big names in ITV News as well as a number of other broadcasters showing their support for the dropped anchor, but I’ll leave it to BBC journalist John Simpson who summed it up briefly, but perfectly;

“Appalled by what has happened to Alastair Stewart, one of the finest professionals in news. Surely there must be another way to mediate the situation? This is no way to treat a consummate professional” – John Simpson on social media

The Crystal Maze gets stateside make-over in Bristol

The all new American version of The Crystal Maze, which is made by Fizz, part of Bristol-based RDF Television, recently burst onto screens stateside hosted by Adam Conover as Maze Master on Nickelodeon USA.

Comedian Adam is charged with guiding one family team through physical and mental challenges set within an elaborate labyrinth of four giant and immersive themed zones – Aztec, Eastern, Futuristic and Industrial. Each zone is housed in the show’s original purpose built set at The Bottle Yard Studios, which spans over 30,000 square feet.

Ten families travelled to Bristol for the making of the show. Episode one features a family from Houston, Texas, tackling a range of challenges in the maze for the first time ever for American audiences.  In each episode, the youngest family member takes on the role of team Captain. The successful completion of escape-room style challenges are rewarded with a “time crystal” granting the family five seconds in the centerpiece final zone called the Crystal Dome. The more crystals gathered throughout the game, the more time each family has for a dramatic clock countdown challenge inside the iconic Dome for a chance to win up to $25,000.

The Crystal Dome has made its stateside debut.

The views in this opinion piece is those of Mike Watkins and are not endorsed by ATV Today.


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