Monday, September 23, 2013

Binge Viewing is the New Black

The Binge Viewer is the new couch potato.

Forget the image of the sloth getting fatter on the sofa, the BV is an altogether more glamorous concept. A highly motivated, high energy, enthusiastic viewer, who doesn’t just love and watch TV but needs to share his/her views with others who have enjoyed the same experience. Where the couch potato was a loner, the BV is out to show just how much they are capable of consuming without tiring, and to out-rival all viewer competitors in that consumption. The BV is a greedy creature, but can chew TV up and spit it out at an alarming rate.
Binge viewing is the new black, and the two words that anyone who’s anyone in the TV industry is using now. Although, according to reports, 90% of people still watch TV in real time, increasing numbers of us are taking advantage of entire series being made available in one great feast, and gorging ourselves over hours, days, and even weeks.
The box set has been around for a long time. It was the thing people bought before Catch Up and On Demand, when they wanted a permanent memento of shows that had already been aired. Some bought box sets because they had missed key episodes and wanted to experience the narrative from start to finish.
But the trouble with box sets is that they are what they say on the tin: boxes. Having only just recently dispensed with my video library (what were those bricks all about, eh?) and replaced them with DVDs in boxes, I now find myself consigning them to the scrapheap too, in favour of storing everything online and running it, through a feed on my laptop, to my 50 inch TV screen. The pain in the neck is having to keep getting up if I wish to pause viewing, as my sofa is on the other side of the room from the equipment, but I’m sure there’s a geek working on that even as I write (the magic tool might even already be out there).
Box sets were undoubtedly the first generation of binge products; but now, a new generation of bingers is on the block, and Netflix is leading the way.
Netflix was the word on everyone’s lips at both this year’s Edinburgh Television Festival and the Cambridge Convention. Kevin Spacey, whose House of Cards was an original series made for Netflix, delivered the MacTaggart lecture at the former, while Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, spoke at the latter. Sarandos said that he hopes spending on original programming to rise to 20% in the coming years (it is currently under ten).
I was one of many (Sarandos will not reveal numbers of viewers) who watched Kevin Spacey in Netflix’s first original series House of Cards. Based on Andrew Davies’s original UK 1990 series (based on the Michael Dobbs novel), starring Ian Richardson as ruthless politician Francis Urquhart (changed to Underwood for the US version), it is a feast of massive proportion. I watched the first eight episodes on my laptop from my bed one Saturday and the remainder via the feed to the TV the day after.
Binge viewing is a bizarre experience. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, go anywhere, or do anything else. I couldn’t even be bothered to cook. The production consumed me, not only for its extraordinary quality and Spacey’s breathtakingly brilliant performance (the man can do no wrong in my book), but because I lived within my own little bubble throughout, feeling protected from the the horrid things going on in the real world.
It could be said that the box set can deliver the same, but there is something very different about opening a box, putting on a DVD, and the experience of watching online, which has a greater fluidity. I have just finished watching another Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, set in a women’s prison, and no sooner does one episode finish than a caption comes up saying “Your next episode will start in 10 seconds.” And so you’re hooked. What the heck, you think, now that it’s started, I might as well watch another one. Finally, I got to sleep at 5am, having found it impossible to tear myself away.
It is the sharing experience, however, that makes binge viewing online different from the old box set viewing. I can count on one hand the people I know who bought box sets, but the former has caught something unique: it is obviously not the shared experience as TV in real time, but it is shared in the medium that brings the message: the internet, the web we feel that links us all together, and it is this that creates the sensation of being part of a global viewing audience. Traditional viewers continue to talk about big shows such as The X Factor the morning after the night before; but the discussions about House of Cards are ongoing.
Someone once said at a television festival that we watch television as we die – alone. That, however, is what I love about binge viewing. I love to binge alone and I have a huge appetite. But then I like to meet other people to talk about what I had and how much I enjoyed it. Then, I’m onto the next feast to start the process all over again.
Kevin Spacey said at Edinburgh that we are entering a golden age of television, and he credited the viewers as the people who now hold the real power. We do. Increasingly, we can have what we want, when we want it. And not having to move from the sofa to open a box makes it all the more pleasurable.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shame on You, Emmys - Jack Klugman was a Real Star

Tonight sees the 65th Emmy Awards in Los Angeles and, for the first time, the In Memoriam section will be honouring five people in the industry who died within the past year. Among them is Glee star, Cory Monteith, who died of a drug overdose in Vancouver on July 13th.
The son of the great Jack Klugman (who died aged 90 last December) has spoken publicly about the exclusion of his father in this special tribute. Now, Adam Klugman has said expressed regret at his outburst, stating that he never intended to cause hurt to the Monteith family. However, his hurt is totally understandable.
Klugman – star of The Odd Couple and Quincy (and let’s not forget his great performance as a juror in Twelve Angry Men) - was a truly great actor: a legend. He did not die alone in a hotel room in sordid circumstances and, sad as Monteith’s death undoubtedly is, we are not talking the same ball park when it comes to talent. Klugman, don't forget, won three Emmys, which makes tonight's exclusion even more disgraceful.
The only reason the Emmys are honouring Monteith is because they want to attract a substantial youth section of the audience. When Monteith died, young people were in shock, explaining that he was the first of the new generation of actors to pass, and their grief was palpable. They will, without a shadow of a doubt, be tuning in to see their hero celebrated.
Because, despite his drug use, that’s what Monteith is to them. Along with other young people whose lifestyle has led to their deaths – Amy Winehouse et al – we live in a society that, while condoning drug use, appears to celebrate it and even reward it.
Look at Lindsay Lohan. How many chances has that young woman been given? Supposedly now clean after her latest spell in rehab (although she was reported as being “the worse for wear” after a night out with friends this week), she bounces back after each court case or sentence with offers of more work at even more extortionate levels of pay.
I have every respect for people who mess up – we all do, in different ways – and then get their act together; but I wish we would celebrate and reward the talents of those who kept their act together through many decades and entertained us not with their antics off screen but what they delivered on it.
People like Jack Klugman.
So, Adam Klugman, you have no apology to make. You loved your dad, as did millions of others, and we understand your pain at what is a nonsensical decision on behalf of the Emmy organisers.
Let’s hope that some broadcaster has the foresight to put on a celebratory Jack Klugman weekend.
In my house tonight, we will be raising a glass not to Cory Monteith, but to Mr Klugman and remembering him for the star he undoubtedly was. 

A true star, in every sense of the word.


Friday, September 20, 2013

So Long, Farewell (

This week, I flew back briefly from LA to London to attend the launch of was at the Ritz. This is just one of many things to feature on the site.

My mother knew I was drunk because I was arguing with the Dyson.
It was Boxing Day 1999 and I was clearing up after guests had departed but bemoaning the fact that I would be spending Millennium Eve without my boyfriend of seven months.
On December 10th, it had all ended when I discovered he had been unfaithful.
I had, however, always doubted Ian's commitment, not least because he never unpacked his rucksack. Although we were not living together, he spent a lot of time at my place in central London, and the rucksack took up residence in my wardrobe, stuffed with papers, railway tickets and bills dating back years. When Ian finished his morning wash and shave, the foams and potions would be returned to the rucksack and tied up. That doubt about commitment intensified during what was to be the last month of the relationship, because Ian's behaviour changed dramatically. One night, we were in Hung's, a Chinese restaurant in London’s Wardour Street in Soho, and he said: "I don't think we've got a future."
I hadn't even rolled my first duck pancake. He had said the same thing one morning after our first two months together, too, only on that occasion I didn't have a duck pancake for comfort. He then telephoned me at four in the afternoon, crying and saying he was sorry. This time, in Hung’s, it sounded more sinister. When we left the restaurant and reached Brewer Street, he pushed me against the wall and said “F*** off, you know where you live."
"Ian?" I said, mystified at the transformation. "F*** OFF! YOU KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!"
Something's not quite right here, I thought. I could be perceptive like that. Then he started coming
in later and later until, on the night of 8th December, he didn't come in at all. I waited until
mid-day and rang him at work, an office in Golden Square that he shared with his business partner.
"Where were you last night?"
"I stayed with a friend."
"Which one?"
"My singing friend."
"Your female singing friend?"

I had first heard of the singing friend when we were on a luxury holiday in Aix en Provence (paid for by me), shortly after I had extended my overdraft to put money into Ian’s French bank account to keep it in credit. She rang him on his mobile, shortly before I walked in the square, failed to notice the pavement rising in the middle, and fell flat on my face on the other side. Three Frenchmen had rushed to my aid, followed a long way behind by Ian, who put an arm round me and said: "Aah. I've never seen you hurt before."

He sounded disappointed and smiled, as if in the hope of more, possibly life-threatening injuries to come. Now, he was non-committal. "Umm."
"I think we need to talk."

I said that we needed to talk, because that was what they always said in EastEnders and, being a
television critic and writing a soap column, I learned about the language of relationships mostly second hand. I continued our conversation in soap language of the "We need to talk right now, so will you come to a totally inappropriate public place where you can humiliate me and everyone will be able to see me cry" variety, and, within half an hour he was at the Groucho Club.
"So, your singing friend. Did you sleep with her?"
"No, of course not."
"You've been totally faithful to me since I met your parents at Cambridge?" - the time we had always said our relationship started "properly".
   Ian looked me straight in the eye and did not blink: "Yes."
I knew he had something to hide because he wasn't blinking. Months previous, I had told him that I knew he was lying because he was blinking; but now his trying not to blink in order not to give himself away was even more of a giveaway than his blinking had been.
"I think you're lying. Can you look me straight in the eye and tell me that you have not been unfaithful to me?"
   He didn't blink. "All right, I tried to sleep with her but she said no and I slept the night on the
"What colour was it?"
I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to feel better, and when he left, I rang my mother, sobbing,
and related the story.
She was, as ever, where her children's feelings are concerned, fair: "Get him out of the flat now."
And so it was, two days later, I sat with Ian in Soho Pizzeria in Beak Street, having ignored my
mother's advice, still believing that there was hope for the relationship.
 I had a vegetarian pizza with chillies; Ian had something with a runny egg on top. Whatever pizza he chose, he always asked for a runny egg on top. Suddenly, I hated his rusk mentality. I half expected him to ask for the pizza to be cut into soldiers. Neither of us spoke. Then:
"I know there's something wrong," I said. "Have you met someone else?"
"No." Several blinks, followed by a sustained period of unblinking.
"I think you have."
   Blinking that fanned the air and nearly lifted the hair from my scalp.
"You have, haven't you?"
   He nodded. "She's a nurse . . . She's in Boston at the moment."
"I don't give a damn (well, it was a bit stronger than that) where she is. Where did you meet her?" "In a pub."
"How old is she?"
"She's older than you," he said, as if this would, with my having just completed my 40th year, been of some comfort.  
"Have you slept with her?"
Yes. There it was. The admittance. The evidence. The confirmation. I took one look at his ginger hair, stood up and, taking my coat from the back of the chair, said: "I'm not going to cry. I'm going to Bath (where I was living) tomorrow and I want your stuff out of the flat over the weekend." And I left. Dignified. Assured. In some part of me, relieved: that I was not mad, even though the unfaithful creep had made me feel I was.
I walked along Beak Street, the pain in my chest strong, my breathing short, but holding back the
tears. I started to make my way back to the flat, but after five minutes turned around and walked back an into the restaurant.
"HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME, YOU B******?" I cried. Ian was still sitting there; so were both pizzas.
"Is she funny?"
"Is she intelligent?"
"Yes, Bonnie's very intelligent."
"Bonnie? Bonnie the nurse from Boston?" I started to laugh hysterically. "Bonnie the unfunny nurse from Boston, who you sleep with after one meeting in a pub?"

I left again. I came back once again. "BONNIE!" Then I left and never saw him again. Back at home, I piled all his stuff into the middle of the room and left a note. I told him I didn't deserve this
treatment and that I expected repayment of the money (now well in excess of £3,000) that he owed me. When I returned to London on Monday morning, the flat was empty of his stuff. The only memory was an egg-cup in the shape of a sheep I bought him in Aix en Provence. I sat on the floor and used my fists to try to beat the pain in my stomach that was the absence of him.
The truth is, he was never right for me, and I knew it. Shortly after I met him, I told a friend: “He’s not that attractive, he’s overweight, short, he has ginger hair, he’s boring, he doesn’t make me laugh and the sex is crap.”
“Then dump him,” said my friend, Simon.
“But he’s 37 and single.”
“But it doesn’t mean he’s the right 37 and single.”
It didn’t. And he wasn’t. But that still didn’t stop it hurting.
I never made the same mistake again. I made different mistakes.

Because that’s what we do.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Love's Labor (Day) Lost


1.      Labor Day. Yes, the whole day. A holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers by giving them a day off that actually means they think they can play their music at disco level and ruin the lives of those of us who have to work 365 days a year.

2.      Waking after just three hours’ sleep but feeling okay because I know it’s Tuesday and Suits on the telly tonight. Then getting very annoyed when I realise it’s Monday and Harvey Speccter doesn’t want to marry me anyway.

3.      Deciding not to try to get back to sleep but to get up and go to the bank to pay in some money so that I avoid overdraft fees. Then discovering it’s Labour Day. Bank not open.

4.      No one wished me a Happy Labor Day (you see what I mean? This day is really bugging me in so many ways).

5.      I am turning into a cross between Godzilla and the Elephant Man in the 10x magnifying mirror I foolishly bought to check on the blackheads – or should I say mine shafts – in my nose.

6.      Just like Bank Holidays in the UK, no one has invited me to a barbecue. Apparently, they are all in Palm Springs for the Labor Day weekend.

7.      My cinnamon and raisin toast burned.

8.      The Barolo I bought in Trader Joe’s is corked – the fourth one of its kind that has been. Now I have to walk all the way up the hill to take it back.

9.      The bedding I washed and dried yesterday is already wet again after another sweat-soaked night in this LA humidity.

10.    Thoughts of death. But then they’re always irritating.


1.      Opening my friend Bradley’s gift of fresh produce from his garden and eating tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, unlike the ones from the supermarket that taste of congealed eyeballs (well, how I imagine a congealed eyeball to taste).

2.      Getting on the scale and discovering I have lost 2 lb in this heat, as I am eating less.

3.      Catching up on Mistresses and Body of Proof – and watching last week’s Suits for the second time.

4.      Working all day – geddit? Labor Day, people!

5.      Squeezing my blackheads in the 10x magnifying mirror. Always very satisfying, and also plucking out the black hair that was a veritable Loch Ness Monster in the depths of my chin.

6.      Looking at my photos of the Paramount Studios’ New York lot from last night’s LA Taste festival and thinking fun thoughts of believing I was in the movies.

7.      Looking at a photo me aged about six with my dad (who died in 1990), and thinking how lucky I was to have had such a great one, who was kind, loving and good. I still miss the cup of tea he brought every one of us in bed each morning our entire lives.

8.      A tiny dachshund that wagged its tail at me.

9.      Finally remembering to buy a TAP card to use on the bus so I do not spend half my life scrabbling around for quarters to put in the driver’s machine.

10.    Waking up. When you get to my age, trust me, that’s the biggest blessing of all.