Monday, May 18, 2015

Dr Who Celebrations with Steven Moffat - watch the live interview here

Dr Who. New York. Cardiff. 

They are not words I ever imagined I would be uttering in the same sentence. But on Thursday night, on Broadway in New York, I found myself on stage saying those very words.
I wasn’t in a show. I was actually in the Institute of Technology’s Auditorium on Broadway and, despite having a microphone in my hand, I was managing to resist bursting into song.
I was in New York interviewing Steven Moffat: showrunner, executive producer and chief writer of Dr Who, which, in March this year, celebrated its 10 year revival. In 2010, Moffat took over from Russell T Davies, who had resurrected the series in 2005. And on 21st May, it will be 10 years since Moffat’s first Dr Who script, The Empty Child, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, hit the screen (to many, it remains the scariest episode of all time). Courtesy of the Cardiff Business Council and Bafta Cymru, the auditorium was packed with an eclectic mix of die-hard fans, both US and UK.
‘Before Dr Who, I had never been to Wales,’ Moffat confessed, but declared passion for the revitalisation of the TV and film industries, particularly among young people. ‘It used to be the case that if you wanted to do something in either, you had to go to London. But now, there is whole generation who don’t have to do that. And the future is always more interesting than the past – because we don’t know how it ends.’
Moffat is one of the easiest interviewees one could have – and yet, ironically, one of the toughest. He speaks so easily and with such fluidity, it would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. He cares passionately about the Doctor and is fiercely protective about the show; he is also very, very focused about what really matters.
We are talking about criticism he has received about his female characters who, to some, are perceived as weak, and needing a macho man to “rescue” them. ‘These are strong women,’ he argues. ‘If anyone needs rescuing, it’s the Doctor. As for “macho” - Matt Baker, David Tennant? Really?’ (At this, he does a really hilarious, rather camp Dr Who action that is all 12 Doctors rolled into one).
Moffat’s background in comedy has, he feels, given him a good grounding in writing drama. ‘In comedy, you have to be doing something all the time. Have we done anything is always the question. Everything is about the next laugh. And the change in comedy has been that the audience now knows how it works. In the kind of comedy we do in Dr Who, you need to surprise the audience: do something you didn’t tell them you were going to do.’
It was a childhood dream of Moffat to work on Dr Who, and he still emanates an innocent glow when he talks about working on the show – a show that has come a long way from the one that, back in 1963, was conceived as an educational programme to explore scientific ideas and famous moments in history – ‘Well that lasted all of five minutes,’ he says.   
His latest episode, Listen, is an extraordinary piece of work, with no monsters and just three characters. It’s a beautiful, lyrical piece that focuses on childhood fears – what’s under the bed. The truth is, like the Doctor’s “demons”, as Moffat calls them (oh yes, and ‘The Doctor’s also mad’), those things still lurk within all our lives. It’s a brilliant metaphor in the writing of someone whose subtlety often escapes people seeking an agenda.
Having just signed up for another year of Dr Who, and with the ongoing success of Sherlock, Moffat’s place in the Tardis of broadcasting in Wales looks secure. And for that, we really can be very grateful.

You can check out the interview at


Saturday, May 9, 2015

It Would Never Happen in LA - How to Avoid Becoming a New York Corpse

Every so often, I go into shutdown mode.

It’s usually because someone has upset me, and my first reaction is to come off Twitter and Facebook and go into hibernation. Although I don’t mind drama in my own life and even thrive on it, I don’t like it in other people’s and, when they involve me in things that don’t concern me and cause trouble, I clam up. I stay indoors, watch wall to wall Law and Order: SVU on the telly, and sit pondering why people have to be so horrible.
I keep forgetting how much this upsets people. They worry. When you spend a ridiculous amount of time on social networking, as I do, disappearing from it altogether makes people fear the worst; it’s all they can do to stop themselves sending out search parties when they see your locked down Facebook page.
But I don’t like confrontation. People might find that odd for someone who has spent over 30 years of their life in journalism and broadcasting. But I’m lucky enough, in that world, to have had very little confrontation. Coming from the UK, where satire dissipates aggression in many areas of the media, I’ve been lucky enough not to become involved in huge arguments. We discuss, debate, laugh; we take what we call “the piss” out of each other. I know people who do thrive on more heated confrontation; I just never have. A raised voice can reduce me to tears.
Following the latest upset, my friends have been trying to coax me from my apartment for a week, to no avail. Last night, one said that he was going out with a great group of people, one of whom was very keen to meet me (I have reviewed her on TV). They were at a bar I didn’t want to go to and so I arranged to meet them at an Irish bar close to Times Square.
When you’ve been hiding from humanity for a week, people can seem very scary. Especially very large sports fans watching an ice hockey game sitting on the stool next to you. Let’s call him Gerald, to try to bring the tension down a bit.
Gosh, was Gerald a fan. An ex ice hockey player himself, he filled me in on the gruesome details of the joy of feeling ice shards on his face, and blades and whatnot . . . He told me who he was supporting, but I had to ask whether it was the men in white or the men in blue. It was the blue ones. 

“Who are the others?” I asked. “Fucking ISIS! Bunch of beheading bastards.” To be honest, “Washington” would have sufficed.
The men in white scored. “PUSSIES, PUSSIES! THE WHOLE FUCKING LOT OF YOU!” yelled Gerald.
I find the linguistic retardation difficult to take in New York. I don’t mind swearing and, indeed, have been known to partake of the odd expletive myself. But in LA, it just doesn’t happen on the same scale. I have been years without hearing so much as a “Damn”. But in New York, everything goes, and usually when a lump like Gerald is sitting in front of a TV screen.
So, back to Gerald and his blood pressure. The next great event was when the men in blue scored. I kid you not: Gerald picked up his chair and threw it. He also shouted a lot of things about cosmonauts that I didn’t understand. To me, it was just a few men on ice waving sticks. I had to move when Gerald’s next chair threatened to knock me out.
When my friends arrived, we moved on to Rudy’s, a dive bar in Hell’s Kitchen where the drinks are cheap and they give away hot dogs. We had a lovely time and it was good to meet some UK journalists who were in town. It was like finding my own kind on Mars. When they said goodbye to me on the corner of 43rd and 9th, there was a guy in front of me on the sidewalk of 43rd who I thought started to walk more slowly. I slowed my pace, too. Then he slipped behind a truck where I saw him lurking. I turned quickly to go back to 9th

“You fucking bitch! Whore! Fuck you, bitch!” I heard, as even more expletives followed me up the street.
Having lived in a lot of major cities, I consider myself pretty streetwise and I am used to being out late at night by myself. But call it gut instinct, this just didn’t feel right. I returned to Rudy’s, where one of the security staff walked me halfway down 44th until I felt I was safe.
Then, I nearly got killed. There were still double figures left on the lights on the crossing, but a yellow cab came speeding up at such a pace, I froze. There was a screech of brakes and a yell of “Fuck you!” (That one was from me, though). I was an inch of being wiped out – and I am not exaggerating.
I hate the car versus pedestrian laws in LA and NY (I have no idea about the other states). It’s very easy for cars in the UK: red, you stop, green you go. No “If I fancy turning left I’m allowed to even if the light is red” kind of nonsense.

So, I’ve decided never to go out again (again); it’s much simpler that way, even though I have to deal with the stresses of being indoors. Today, some organ sounding thing 27 floors down in the street was playing Oh Come All Ye Faithful, shortly followed by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. 

Maybe that taxi did run me down and I’ve been in a coma for seven months. 

If that’s the case, Happy Christmas, everyone. 

Excuse me for not sending you a card.

May Day May Day - US TV's Seasonal Cull

Would Amanda/Emily (Emily VanCamp) ever get to smile for longer than five seconds without resorting to jaw reconstructive surgery? 

Would Nolan (Gabriel Mann) ever meet a man who knew how to take his underpants off? 

Would Margaux (Karine Vanasse) ever meet more than one journalist in her media empire? 

Would Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) totally morph into The Addams Family’s Morticia?
These, and many other questions, occupied me throughout the four seasons of Revenge, which has finally succumbed to the cruel world of broadcasting euthanasia.
The writing was on the cards for the ABC show halfway through season three, when the actors started to appear as confused as viewers were as to what the hell was going on. One could only imagine the horror they felt when their eyes first alighted upon each new script, wondering how many more expressions of staring into the middle distance they could muster, while their brains tried to compute the machinations of the plot.
The last episode airs tomorrow night in the US (the UK has five weeks to go), and I have to confess that, for all its silliness, I’ll miss it.
ABC has also cancelled Forever, starring my fellow Welshman Ioan Gruffudd. I’ll miss that, too, but it’s not hard to see where it went wrong as viewing figures tumbled.
The basis premise was that Dr Henry Morgan solves crimes using medical knowledge he has gleaned over 200 years. Each time he dies, for some never quite explained reason he turns up in water, only to start life all over again – hence his living forever.
The series fell apart when they dropped the explanation from the start of each episode. If you didn’t know the basic premise, you would have been baffled as to why Abe (Judd Hirsch) was calling Henry “Dad” (Henry was his father in another life), or, even, what the flashbacks were to a young Henry. Revenge always set out its stall at the start of each episode, whereas Forever ignored a really important piece of dramatic advice – Don’t hide the ball.
May is a difficult time for US shows as they wait to hear whether the axe is going to fall. I’m sorry to see NBC’s Bad Judge go, because I found Kate Walsh in the lead very funny. It was a neat script, but I suspect caved in to complaints from the legal profession that it portrayed judges in a bad light. Hey, it’s a comedy, guys!
The Mysteries of Laura, another NBC show and an adaptation of the Spanish drama Los misterios de Laura, has survived. After a brief shaky start, when it didn’t seem to know quite what it was, it quickly settled into a very funny, quirky, feel-good, must-see show, in no small part down to the always compelling Debra Messing as Detective Laura Diamond.
NBC has also saved The Blacklist. I have no idea what is going on anymore, but I could watch James Spader turning up in a hat with no explanation whatsoever for the rest of my life. He is one of my favourite actors of all time.
Raymond “Red” Reddington is a fine creation, and viewers root for him no matter whose brains, or how many brains, he blows out (again, for seemingly no reason whatsoever). All you need to know is that there are a lot of bad people in the world who are afraid of Mr Spader in a hat and he wipes them out in order to help the FBI. 

Oh, yes. And he has some connection to the only officer he will work with, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), whose job it is to stare quizzically at Mr Spader in a hat and save him from the bad people as well. Maybe all we’ll ultimately discover is that she is his milliner and has just been trying to pin him down for a fitting for new head attire.
The Americans will be returning to FX for a fourth season – another must-see show starring Matthew Rhys (fellow Welshman, also – we are coming, people, and are already among you!) and Keri Russell as two Soviet Intelligence agents seemingly living a normal suburban life in the USA as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.
It’s an extraordinary show (created and produced by former CIA officer Joe Weisberg), with even more twists and turns than Revenge, but all of them totally believable. The wigs bother me a little because, in a dim light, you could be forgiven for thinking you had alighted upon a canine rescue centre. 

It’s hard to concentrate on the sex scenes when Philip is required to sleep with other women when under cover, as I just fear for the poor pooch falling from his head into the woman’s foo foo. How either of them would emerge looking half decent without engaging the help of a topiarist is anybody’s guess.
The jury’s still out on CBS’s The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies as lawyer Alicia Florrick, but with slipping viewing figures, I am a little nervous. It’s still a great show, but it hasn’t been the same since the death of Will Gardner (Josh Charles). The Will they/Won’t they get together? that was so central to the plot, was removed in an instant and left a hole they still haven’t quite been able to fill. A bit like . . . No, no jokes, please.
But it still has the extraordinary Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart) and, at its heart, a moral core that, every week (as well as overall), delivers a valuable message without being patronising or preachy.
If, with Revenge, it’s axed, Sunday nights as I know them will be over. I might have to start going to church. Or the pub. 

Funnily enough, the jury’s not out on that score.