The Snow In The Summer or So-So


Tue 01 Aug 2006

I don't want my tv empty

Apparently, the replacement for Star Academy US is going to be an Inside Edition special on the dangers of paper shredders. Yes, if you're trying to shred a load of paper while wearing a tie, there's just a change that you could end up with a shredded tie. It could be a potential death trap! (cheesy grin, whacky thumbs aloft.) On Daily Mail TV CBC Newsworld, Everything You Wanted To Know About Teenage Sexuality But Were Afraid To Ask. On TV5, Dancing Show, which won't need subtitles on p891. And on CLT, Building the St Lawrence Seaway.

Not that we've got much going for us in the UK. How To Look Good Naked, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Sex in the 70s, and that's just from the Channel 4 channels, and Sex Under The Sea (Animal Planet). There's Britain's Next Top Model (UK Living), the not-scaremongering-at-all Killer Rain (Discovery), and coverage of the Reducing Carbon Emissions Conference (The Parliament Channel). You can Build Your Own Campavan (Discovery Home and Leisure), and find the Lost Buildings of England (Discovery Behind the Sofa). And, for those viewers who are sticklers for punishment, Who Framed Kate Moss, all about the low-rent knock-off of Fearne Cotton.


MTV's hit

MTV marks its 25th anniversary to-day. To celebrate, it's closed down the rather successful VH-2 channel, and replaced it with MTV Flux, which - allegedly - is to be entirely controlled by its viewers. Just like M2, the alternative music station, when it launched in autumn 1998. When it launched, that channel was also proudly commercial-free. Now, of course, M2's playlist is a microcosm of the corporate behemoth, and it stops every twenty minutes for the same pointless commercials as the rest of the MTV brand.

There was a time, just a few years ago, when M2 and VH-1 were sufficiently varied to be background music for a whole day. Now, I can't go more than five minutes without shouting those hallowed words, "I'm an intelligent viewer, let me find something decent to watch!" MTV is past it, as exemplified by the way it runs the same adverts on all the channels. Why should the male audience of VH-2 suffer through adverts for ladyshavers? A properly-run channel wouldn't inflict such utterly inappropriate adverts on its viewers.

Just to add insult to injury, the new MTV Flux channel (last seen playing some ponce dancing on his head to a percussive beat while shaking faux-gold jewellery around) is a rather rubbish social networking clone. The registration terms and conditions are reprinted in full below:


That's it. The complete terms and conditions for those who wish to register for MTV Fux is the digit two. Does this, perchance, indicate the number of brain cells possessed by the entire staff and presentation team of MTV networks across the globe? Remember, these people still employ Russell Brand, Zane Lowe, and Richard Blackwood, three of the most talent-free imbeciles never let loose on network television. And for that, we can all give thanks.

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posted 01 Aug 2006, 19.38 +0100

Wed 23 Aug 2006

Bridge the channel

I see that some sense is coming to NTL's cable channels. Previously, it's been all over the shop; now, it's almost - but not quite! - the same as we Telewest subscribers have been using for the past four years. I can spot the differences from memory.

In the Entertainment section, ITV2 appears on 114 (113 for Telewest). UK Drama (N129 T147) has moved a long way up, into the slot vacated a couple of years ago by UK Living. Bravo (N137/8 T138/9) shuffles up one. NTL's exclusives are NTL on demand (109), WokII (121), More 5 (143), Challenge+1 (153), E! (173), FX (179). Telewest exclusives: Trouble+1 (141) and Player (154). Sorry, Brig.

In Factual, UK Horizons moves up (N208 T225), and Adventure One (N228 T231) gets a listing of its own. NTL customers get National Geographic+1 (231) and History+1 (235); Telewest has UK History+1 (204), UK Horizons+1 (226).

In Lifestyle, NTL has Sky Travel (288/9), Telewest UK Food+1 (261).

A subtle but significant difference in Music, where NTL channels are all 10 higher than the Telewest equivalent, from MTV (N311 T301) to Kerrang (N342 T332). NTL viewers get Bliss (345), Scuzz (347), Flaunt (348), and Classic FM TV (350); Telewest has dibs on Performance (312). Whether MTV and TMF should be in music or entertainment is another question entirely.

Don't think there are any differences in Film, and we don't care for Adult. Sport moves WokSportsX (N516 T514), WokSocNews (N517 T515), and RacingUK (N536 T537). Telewest viewers have Setanta2 (539); NTL gets Motors (545)

No change to the News section - the numbering here is cock-eyed on Telewest as well. 617 was the ITN News Channel. The only difference on Childrens' is Baby TV (703) on NTL.

Wasting Money: NTL has dibs on Thane (748/9), Iplay (770), and Quiz Call (772). Don't think we're missing much. International has a few differences - NTL gets CNE (833), Telewest has South Asia World (820), Deutsche Welle (830), and Italian channel Leonardo (832). We don't get the additional BBC variations (861-5).

Radio, and Telewest has exclusives Galaxy (913), RTE FM (917), World Radio Network (920), and Choice (969). NTL gets The Mix (926), Magic (928), Q (929), BBC Scotland (930), Wales (931) Ulster (932) nan Gaidheal (934) and Cymru (936), Hits (962), Kiss (963), Kerrang (964), Smash Hits (966), Oneword (967), and Premier (968). Excluding regional variations, no Telewest radio station is in a different place on the NTL network.

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posted 23 Aug 2006, 20.59 +0100

Mon 28 Aug 2006

Elle sank

Team L5 on «Fort Boyard» this week-end. Gawks, they're a bunch of shriekers. Couldn't be louder if they hollered at the top of their lungs. But something else stood out. That Marjorie (left) looks rather familiar, with a dyed-purple fringe and a piercing below her lower lip. Could it be that Melle. Parascandola is, in fact, someone exceptionally cool? Indeed, could Team L5's very moderate success on the programme be Olivier Minne getting his own back? If Dermot Murnaghan has succeeded Angus Deayton as Television's Mr. Six, then Olivier Minne is surely Monsieur Tele Six.

On the BBC, there's been a new comedy sketch show, Little Miss Jocelyn. It stars Jocelyn Jee Esien, and is probably the best one-shot sketch show the Beeb's done in a long time. The businesswoman, a brilliant idea. The traffic warden, excellent. The surgery nurse, there's growth in that character. Some of the skits - the marriage guidance one in particular - went on too long, but the show was funny throughout. Regrettably, it looks like the programme is going to turn into one long stream of catchphrases - This will take a loooooong time and Save yourself! Save yourself! were obvious from the first episode. You can't do much with catchphrases, and ITV's The Sketch Show was right to avoid them in favour of more difficult comedy. That remains the mark by which I'm judging the modern sketch, and Little Miss Jocelyn doesn't quite measure up. Good start, though.

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posted 28 Aug 2006, 16.10 +0100

Wed 04 Oct 2006

The amazing curate's egg

The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (BBC Northern Ireland for BBC-1, last night) tells of a supermarket manager who stumbles into politics by suggesting "there must be a better way" left me laughing at it, not with it.

The eponymous Mrs. P breaks up a fight between two candidates who both want to campaign outside her supermarket, shouts at them both, and puts herself forward. Somehow, we're supposed to believe that this one event, and a couple of interviews on the telly, is enough to tap into a groundswell of public opinion, attracts converts from all parties, including shadow cabinet ministers, and culminates in her becoming the prime minister.

We're meant to believe that conviction politicians can be swayed by the possibility of a job with a here-to-day-gone-to-morrow flavour of the month.

Very much like the difficulty that Mr. Pritchard has in coming to terms with his wife's sudden rocketing to stardom. Far less convinced by the store's packing clerk, who leaves his bride standing at the altar in favour of Mrs. Pritchard's daughter (who, if truth be told, we would.) Who would get married on a Thursday, though?

Some of the little details were spot on - blossom on the trees for 10 May. Some were a little off - Mrs. P lives and works in Eatanswill, which as any Pickwickian will know, is somewhere in Essex or Suffolk. The supermarket was owned by Mrs. Porter, first name probably not Shirley. Some of the little details were complete and utter election illiteracy - Peter Snow would never give a projection on the afternoon of polling day (not unless he wanted to be in the Tower by 10pm), and candidates always appear on the ballot paper in strict alphabetical order, by surname, with their party logo for the hard-of-thinking. Somewhere in the list of credits that ran past in microscopic print, I think I saw a political advisor. Hope I was mistaken.

The drama's fundamental canard, though, is that women would make a better job of running the country than men. In my experience, this is not so; women would make as much of a hash of the job as men. In fairness, there's already the hint of some back-stabbing going on amongst the Pritchardites. Such nuance is drowned out by the implicit war of the sexes nonsense, as exemplified by Mr. Pritchard preferring to vote Lib Dem.

As a one-off comedy drama, this would work. As a satire, it's a promising first draft. As a serious attempt to critique the current political system, it's a failure, and I can't see it ever working.

More: Richard Huzzey at Lib Dem Voice goes for the jugular, what the programme prescribed was a 1950s ideal of a perfect mother. James Graham at The Liberati is not hopeful, Mrs Pritchard herself will remain a sympathetic character. Conservative Home's Peter Franklin goes for the jugular: The mainstream media have infantilised political discourse and privileged personality over policy.. And UNIT News has a simple plot review.

This post has been edited to correct the author at Lib Dem Review - the original attribution was to Rob Fenwick. We regret the error.

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posted 04 Oct 2006, 19.29 +0100

Tue 10 Oct 2006

Unreality television

Gabriel Range's and Simon Finch's third futurementary (a fake documentary set in an alternative future) went out on More 4 last night. It's by far the least credible of the duo's work, and not just because it was interrupted by commercials.

The standard was set by Daniel Percival's and Simon Chinn's Smallpox 2002 (BBC News / Wall to Wall for BBC-2, February 2002), which posited an outbreak of smallpox caused by a lone religious nut. Shown in the climate of fear during early 2002, when a government-sponsored nut was sending packets of anthrax through the post, this was an all-to realistic and disturbing production. (Full plot summary.)

Spotting a gap in the market, Range and Finch developed ideas further. The Day Britain Stopped (Wall to Wall for BBC-2, May 2003) shows the fragility of the transport network around London, culminating in a mid-air plane collision. There are some jarring points in the production - almost all the action took place in the London area, with only a train crash and a football match outside the M25 environs. The football match - a proposed international on the penultimate Friday in December - showed a distinct lack of attention to detail, not only do international matches almost never take place on Fridays, but there is no longer a December international date. In spite of these little criticisms, and ignoring the presence of many BBC brands in the narrative, it's a perfectly credible programme, pointing out the weaknesses in the UK's lack of capacity, though the impact is dulled by not proposing any solutions. (Extended plot summary | Off The Telly review)

At this point, I must divert the flow and mention - albeit in passing - the game show that grew from this idea. The Bunker: Crisis Command - Could You Ruin The Country? has no finer review than Chris's.

Next off the production line was The Man Who Broke Britain (Wall to Wall for BBC-2, December 2004), telling of a single trader who is taken by surprise when the price of oil doubles overnight. The programme's central point - that personal gain can cause social ruin - remained completely unsupported. It claimed, repeatedly, that derivatives were "weapons of financial destruction" yet proposed its economic ruin from a simple contractual clause. It posited a crash in the economy, but utterly failed to explain how this had come about. Even the inclusion of CNBC's resident eccentric, Bill Hubard, couldn't save the programme from collapsing under its own hubris. (Plot summary from Het Grauniad | Criticism from Bloomberg)

Which brings us to last night's Death of a President (Wall to Wall / Filmfour for More 4, October 2006). Unlike previous Range and Finch work, we have to step into an alternate present, one where Candidate X somehow persuaded people that he, and not John Kerry, had won the 2004 election. Indeed, the programme's counterfactuality appears to date back to 2000, when the same candidate's loss to Al Gore also appears to have been reversed.

For the hard of thinking, the following paragraph contains big, hulking, SPOILERS! Oh.

The drama's plot is thin to the point of being a crochet. In the opening part, the motorcade carrying President X (no, that's never going to sound sensible) comes to a halt when protesters start to stage a sit-down protest. Rather than wait for security to drag the protesters away, surely the first instinct would be to throw the cars into reverse and seek one of the many alternative routes. Back in real life, the Republican shadow government exploits the convenience of not being the real president, preferring to confine protestors many blocks away from its minions. Would the police force of Chicagou, where the drama is set, really act in such an incompetent manner?

After X's assassination, there's a backlash against convenient targets - Syria takes the early rap, then prejudicial remarks from an establishment spokey ensures that a man is convicted of nothing more than fitting a stereotype. Oh, and there's a further restriction of civil liberties passed as a temporary measure, later made permanent - surely this has to rely on a Republican majority in both houses, and that depends on a Democrat president. As in Smallpox 2002, the drama attributes responsibility to a single lone nut - in this case, a Gulf War II: Kuwait soldier, who loses a son in the occupation of Iraq and blames the putatively-ruling Republican junta.

Range and Finch have learned from their previous mistakes - the news channels presented in this piece are clearly fictional, and used only briefly. The pressure on the investigative authorities to deliver a result, even if it's the wrong result, is both credible and familiar from previous botched jobs (another link to the anthrax scare there.)

However, these details can't overcome the sheer implausibility of the plot. It is, I suppose, possible that a government could be so Macchiavelian as to organise the assassination of its own head. But by positing a Republican victory - and appointing Richard Chainey as president would posit the Reps winning in the last two presidential elections - we're asked to take at face value the assumption that the United Stations would allow themselves to be governed by a bunch of despots who would exploit the death of one of their own for political ends.

Most glaringly, there's no mention on how this event affects the 2008 presidential election. Would Mr. Chainey have retained his country's highest office? Would other factors have conspired to see him removed from office? Had the Republicans assumed office by 2004, we can assume that they would actually have implemented their ludicrous don't-tax-but-spend policy, one they propounded from the opposition benches, safe in the knowledge that they would never have to deliver such a recession-inducing disaster. Oh, sorry, basic economics is beyond Range and Finch, as much as it's beyond the Reps. Indeed, would we have seen the usual attempts by defeated Republicans to ignore the popular vote and install their man instead?

Ultimately, this drama takes counterfactualism just one step too far. Replacing Mr. Kerry with the Connecticut drunkard is one leap of faith. Implying that the Republican-written bill against United Stations (the PAT ROT bill, if I remember correctly) managed to get through the legal process is a further leap into the implausible. That fundamental freedoms could be removed by a completely unelected cabal would surely cause riots on the streets that made the fictionalised Chicagou protests look like a cream tea party. The world portrayed here is scary, and scarcely more credible than the clearly-fictionalised universe of 17, where Jim Robinson from Neighbours can (briefly) become the most powerful person on the planet.

That's the level Range and Finch are operating on - internally consistent, superficially plausible, yet just too far removed from reality to make sense.

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posted 10 Oct 2006, 19.58 +0100

Fri 27 Oct 2006


Telly at the moment, then. No, I'm not bothering with The John Barrowman Show, because I still remember the days of Ratz on Live And/or Kicking. It does provide an excuse for a re-run of Look Around You I, so it's not utterly without merit.

After being a steaming pile of unwatchable tripe for the past five years - not helped by its then-owner Vivendi going out of business in 2001 - the Sci-Fi Channel has finally found a bit of budget and is showing some decent programmes. Firefly is, in fairness, on about its fifth repeat cycle, but this is the first time it doesn't go up against something more telling. Though anything going out at 7pm Sunday doesn't have much in the way of opposition. At five episodes in, I'm not getting tremendously much out of the programme - it's perfectly entertaining, but it's not anything like as brilliant as the hype makes out.

Dead Like Me is Sci-Fi's other pickup, and it's a test to the lazy (but often true) assumption that All Pilots Are Rubbish. This one had me drawn in within the half-hour, and it was with a little regret that I turned off half-way through to complete my set of Broken News (the hi-jack episode - utter comedy genius). Surprising that it's taken three years for this one to reach the UK.

Rather interested in Tripping Over, a Channel 5 original drama (yes, a Channel Five Original Drama, live with us on this), about a group of people who meet up in the far-east and everything that happens after. Worth running a tape under, I hope.

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posted 27 Oct 2006, 19.25 +0100

Thu 02 Nov 2006

Two Songs a Week 42 - Platinum Day

On this day in 1936, the British Broadcasting Corporation began an experimental television service from its studios in the Alexandra Palace. This service became permanent, and over the years has given us such fine fare as The Ascent of Man, Casanova, The Goodies, The Onedin Line, Look Around You, Z-Cars, and Waspan Bee. The BBC television service has also broadcast live events, including the coronation of Queen Brenda, the first and last flights of Concorde, the FA Cup Final, and that moment when Paddy O'Connell dropped his pen on air.

But there's more. The BBC has never been above a little self-promotional effort, particularly since the arrival of The Other Side in 1955. There are channel identifiers, there are live events up and down the country. And there are shamelessly self-indulgent celebrations of everything the BBC can do. The most famous is 1997's Perfect Day clip, featuring many of the world's greatest music stars performing a line from the Lou Reed song. (This is a Real Media file.)

All this is made possible by the unique way in which the BBC is funded, solely through a tax on households owning a television. This ensures that the corporation is free of political interference, and can do the things that commercially-funded broadcasters can't.

It would be nice if the BBC were marking the anniversary in some meaningful way - maybe not the week-long archive-fest on BBC-2 that marked the 50th anniversary, but something more meaningful than the Most Popular awards for the 60th. I hope the Beeb is keeping its powder dry for the 75th anniversary...

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posted 02 Nov 2006, 18.44 +0000

Tripping over yourself

For those who can't bear spoilers for programmes, here's how The Stage reported television's first broadcast.

So, Tripping Over, Channel 5's new drama. It's a Mike Bullen script, readers might remember him from turn-of-the-century comedy-drama Cold Feet, from the days when "hit ITV series" wasn't a synonym for "starring Antan Dec". We suffered a slow and moderately confusing opening, introducing the characters. Some - spoiled Tamsin, Aussies Nic and Ned - were well-drawn. Others were less cogent at this stage - I had to check the reviews to remember lead characters Callum and Lizzie.

Spoiler! Oh.

The central plot, such as it is, involves half-a-dozen people transiting through Bangkok, where a tourist boat suffers catastrophic engine failure. Fans of BBC-2's This Life will no doubt be pleased to learn that Ramon Brother-of-Tanita Tikaram was killed off half-an-hour in. The travellers continue their journey, the Aussies to London, the rich girl to Down Under, and the backpackers to wherever it is that their plot takes them, because they completely passed me by. What? The bloke has suddenly decided that, actually, after many years of dating a woman, he's actually gay? That never happens in real life.

Hit, Miss, or Maybe? I'm firmly in the Maybe camp; it's not an obvious hit, but I'm sure that it took Cold Feet a couple of episodes to really get going. "Maybe" for the moment, but I'm leaning slightly more towards Hit than Miss. After one episode, we've an awful lot of plots, but I've faith that it'll sort itself out later on, and the first episode will make more sense on re-viewing in the inevitable repeat.

Add some more Emily Corrie (Sooz from the much-missed As If, who got a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the opening minutes) and I'll be happy.

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posted 02 Nov 2006, 19.26 +0000

Sat 02 Dec 2006

Like father, like son

British Sky Broadcasting's current chief executive has raised his objections to the concept of broadcasting regulation. James Murdoch, son of Rupert, launched a remarkable tirade against the concept of broadcasting regulation.

Mr. Murdoch said, From the very start UK broadcasting regulation was skewed. Not to protect people against real harm, but to ensure that broadcasting was a sort of moral and educative crusade... It was and is authoritarian.

Two points arise from this passage. First, Mr. Murdoch really is casting the net a very long way back. The view of broadcasting as, first and foremost, a moral and educative crusade went out with the advent of the second world war. During that conflict, the B.B.C. successfully unified the nation. Mr. Murdoch's operation will never, ever, manage such a feat, unless it's in revulsion at the vapidity of its output.

The second point relates to real harm, which Mr. Murdoch tosses about as though it were a concrete object. It's not, and he must define his terms before using them. It is generally accepted that sex, drugs, violence, and bad language should not be seen on screen. But is there not a case to take care against moral harm? It is far more difficult to define moral harm, as it is not the subject of a consensus. I would argue that the untrammelled pursuit of profit before any social objective is a direct cause of real harm.

This is, of course, part of the tension between capitalism and liberalism that Mr. Murdoch does his best to ignore. He goes on, The reality of the explosion of broadcasting choice... is that there is something for everyone.

Where, then, is the channel discussing difficult philosophical matters? Where is the primer on the works of Primo Levy or Bertrand Russell? Where is the discussion on the future of the English language? Indeed, where is the channel providing pawn-to-pawn coverage of the world chess championships, or a feature documentary on the sudoku masterclass?

Where is the channel broadcasting the best entertainment from across Europe? Where is the channel showing the best bits of Star Academy in France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden? Where is the channel flitting from German to Italian to Hungarian, showing us the best of Europe's broadcasters without regard to language?

Where is the channel broadcasting the Junior Eurovision Song Contest?

Mr. Murdoch is talking out of his hat again. His service offers something for everyone, so long as they want mindless entertainment and in the English language. It's worth noting that the only intelligent entertainment comes from the public service broadcasters, BBC, Channel 4, and the TV5 consortium.

Mr. Murdoch continued with the amazing claim, People are not forced to watch what the elite think is good for them. Yes they are. People are, if not forced, then nagged ceaselessly into watching what the elite thinks is good for them. The elite here is the advertising elite, and the constant drumming about the brilliance of shoddy programmes comes for shows that are good for the advertiser, and good for the broadcaster, not necessarily good for the viewer. Witness British Sky Broadcasting's remorseless over-hyping of the mediocre Lost! and 17.

He also attacked the BBC's fantasy of creating a British alternative to Google as this is not public service, it's megalomania.

Mr. Murdoch has started by being wrong, has continued by being wrong, so why stop being wrong now? Its internet presence continues the B.B.C.'s mission to push forward the best of British values, including honesty, fair play. Values of accessibility to all, not just those who will pay £500 per year. Not values that Mr. Murdoch or his family have ever encountered before.

Mr. Murdoch concluded his speech by saying, The best approach for a regulator is to watch the market carefully, deal with real harm when it occurs, and make sure that the public interest really means what it says.

Guess what. He's wrong. The best approach for a regulator is to ensure the optimal allocation of a finite broadcasting space. Twenty million channels selling shit that no-one wants to buy, or fleecing the public through call-and-lose scams, is a complete waste of space. This accounts for an awful lot of the drivel thrown into the ether by British Sky Broadcasting.

The company can churn out as much gubbins as it wants through the Astra satellite, for space on there is almost infinite; I am far from convinced that it should do so. Terrestrial space is severely limited, and for the British Sky Broadcasting to have 1/12 of the bandwidth is about right, particularly given their very questionable contribution to society, and laughably low-quality programmes.

Give me content, or give me hell. British Sky Broadcasting: one-third more hell for your money.

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posted 02 Dec 2006, 14.06 +0000

Tue 12 Dec 2006

Watching brief

What's been decent viewing and listening lately, then?

I'm probably the only person who watched it all the way through, but I watched Tripping Over (C5) from start to finish. (Well, apart from the first 30 seconds or so of episode 4, these channels that start early...) A decently-constructed little drama, though I'm still far from convinced about the way the Scouser suddenly turned gay, and then wasn't gay. In the final analysis, the whole Bangkok sub-plot was a complete red herring - it provided a framework for the first episode, and made exponentially-decreasing waves through the rest of the series. Not enough Emily Corrie for my liking, but any Sooz is good Sooz.

Haven't been able to get into Howard Goodall's Theory of Music (C4) one little bit; too much visual nonsense for too little content. This would make a fantastic series of Channel 4 Radio podcasts.

Nor have I been particularly inspired by BBC-4's Sci-Fi Britannia season; it's all been a bit of a B.B.C. cross-promotional opportunity. I'm interested to see their documentary on The Tripods (to air 19 December), and the Beeb's excuse for never bothering to complete the serialisation of the trilogy. To-night's programme on the Abdication Crisis looks interesting, too.

I see that Eurosport is starting to show International Backgammon tournaments. Would anyone - anyone at all - care to show the next World Chess Championship, even in highlight form?

Finally, a nod to Australia's Radio National, which last week broadcast the RTE documentary Millionaire, the story of Roger Dowds's run to £250,000 on Ireland's big quiz show. Showpage is here, and you'll be able to download the show as a podcast until 5 January.

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posted 12 Dec 2006, 19.11 +0000

older writing... write to