Saturday, March 29, 2008

Empire Of The Senseless

Early in March of last year, Channel 4 screened The 50 Greatest TV Dramas. Unlike the numerous lists that have cluttered up their schedules, compiled by votes from the great unwashed, in that instance only television professionals were invited to vote.

In case you can’t be arsed to check back on the full list, the Top 10 were:

01. The Sopranos
02. Boys From The Blackstuff
03. Edge of Darkness
04. The Singing Detective
05. Cathy Come Home
06. The West Wing
07. Cracker
08. Our Friends in the North
09. Twin Peaks
10. Heimat

You may not agree with their decisions but it was the opinion of pros. When it’s left to the gormless numpties-at-large and Shitpeas of this world to have their say on what is the absolute very best of anything we normally end up with something like

Now, for some bizarre reason, Empire magazine has unveiled “The 50 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time!”. Why Empire, which continues to style itself as ‘THE WORLD’S BEST MOVIE MAGAZINE’, has decided to stray into the realms of television is anyone’s guess. Whenever the magazine articles lean towards comic books or television, usually in relation to film adaptations, the contributors hopelessly get the facts screwed up beyond belief.

Maybe instigating their list was simply a front for some crass market research by Bauer, looking toward a future magazine launch. Either way the results, based on reader votes, waver between the outright hilarious and the utterly depressing.

01. The Simpsons (1989-present)
02. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
03. The Sopranos (1999-2007)
04. The West Wing (1999-2006)
05. Lost (2004-present)
06. 24 (2001-present)
07. Friends (1994-2004)
08. The Wire (2002-2008)
09. The X-Files (1993-2002)
10. Spaced (1999-2001)
11. Seinfeld (1990-1998)
12. Family Guy (1999-present)
13. Battlestar Galactica (2003-present)
14. Firefly (2002)
15. Heroes (2006-present)
16. Doctor Who (2005-present)
17. South Park (1997-present)
18. Arrested Development (2003-2006)
19. Scrubs (2001-present)
20. Blackadder (1983-1989)
21. Angel (1999-2004)
22. The Shield (2002-present)
23. The Office (2001-2003)
24. Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
25. Futurama (1999-present)
26. Red Dwarf (1988-1999)
27. Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
28. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)
29. ER (1994-present)
30. Dexter (2006-present)
31. Deadwood (2004-2006)
32. Babylon 5 (1994-1998)
33. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-present)
34. Frasier (1993-2004)
35. Alias (2001-2006)
36. Father Ted (1995-1998)
37. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-present)
39. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)
40. Life on Mars (2006-2007)
41. Band of Brothers (2001)
42. Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)
43. Star Trek (1966-1969)
44. Cracker (1993-1996, 2006)
45. Farscape (1999-2003)
46. Sex and the City (1998-2004)
47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
48. Veronica Mars (2004-2007)
49. Prison Break (2005-present)
50. Quantum Leap (1989-1993)

It’s staggering, isn’t it? I suppose the fact that just nine of the shows are pre-1990, and two of those only began the year before, gives a good indication of the age range for the bulk of the voting readership. Either that or every one of them has incredibly lousy memories.

Really it’s endemic of a much younger generation that sadly doesn’t give much of a shit about anything that came before them. Recently I was working with a young girl who resolutely saw no interest in anything from before she was born. The only thing that stopped me braining her with a two by four was she had an absolutely spectacular rack.

In the way that nowadays youngsters simply can’t wait for instant gratification, it’s interesting that almost one third of the series are still running. So, so much for perspective. How can you judge a show before it has run its course, especially one built on an ongoing story like Lost and Heroes?

Surely it’s far too early to tell. A couple of years into its run, back in the mid-1990s, The X-Files looked like it was going to be something rather special. Then, in the following seasons, it went to pieces in the most spectacular fashion.

Of course seriously considering the results gives the list far more credence than it ever deserves. After all, this is from a magazine and readership eager to celebrate the Star Wars trilogies, obsequiously celebrate Spielberg, and fellate Tarantino every chance they get.

That said, at least they acknowledge The Wire. But it's still no excuse.


At 10:30 pm, Blogger Ian said...

I was on a documentary film-making course today where the seasoned pro lecturer went into some detail about the scene in Jaws where Roy Scheider senses the shark attack on the beach (the old zoom out while moving the camera in on rails trick).

I foolishly pointed out that the technique, far from being an innovative Spielbert technique, was a "steal" from a much earlier film: Alfred Hitchock's "Vertigo".

Nobody else seemed to have heard of the film!

I felt very, very old!

At 7:36 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Sorry to butt in on ’Dog’s esteemed organ (oo-err!), but could you bung the details of the course through to either of us (if it was any good, that is)?

Always good to keep learning...

“What is this Vertigo of which you speak?”

Just kidding...

At 8:37 pm, Blogger Ian said...

I'm afraid I wouldn't recommend it. There's a book called "Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide" that was far more informative, structured, and a damned sight cheaper than this.

Some choice quotes:
(as part of spending 5 HOURS going through the menu options on the Sony Z1 camera): "You can switch from PAL to NTSC by changing the mode setting from 1080i to 576i"

"You are now ready for Web 2 which is going to be huge over the next 2 years. Web 2 is video and if you don't know video you can't do Web 2"

"Never use a camera that uses flash drive or solid state for recording. They're completely unreliable" (unlike those silly little tapes that stretch, snap and wrap themselves around video heads wrecking them in the process)

If I'd had £1 for every time I heard "I forgot to tell you something" over the last 2 days I'd have enough cash to pay for the course five times over.

My favourite quote "I've saved you a year's worth of hard work over this weekend. You've now got a year's worth of knowledge". Yeah, right.

The equipment for the practical was farcical. Five teams of three but only two sets of radio mics - one of which was broken and couldn't be used. Missing tripod attachment plate for one group. Another group found none of their batteries had been charged so couldn't complete the practical.

Oh and I was the only one over 25 there (apart from the instructor who was my age) - I don't think I've seen so many wannabe's, so desperate to "climb one more level in the glass house" in my life.

What was most depressing was they came from places like Channel 4, Al Jazeera, etc with onr or two claiming to be film-makers but not knowing what things like "white balance" meant. If you're in the same boat then I'll happily pass on the details (or you could join the excellent which posts deails of this sort of course and others and usually offers a 10% discount); otherwise I'd say forget it.

I thought it was poor value for money unless you know absolutely nothing about video, in which case it's probably not a bad starting point. But I doubt you'd be able to put up with so much name-dropping B.S as I was subject to this weekend. I feel I need to now go and have a bath to get myself clean!

At 8:46 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Holy crap - that sounds like a waste of money! Was just idly wondering if it was a decent course or not, but it sounds like one I could have taught with my head cut off.

Jesus, people that describe themselves a film-makers and not knowing what ‘white-balancing’ is... I don’t mind amateurs if they want to learn, but hate wannabes that think that calling themselves something they’re demonstrably not gives them magical powers.

Kids, you have to actually put the hours in and learn, you lazy little shits.

I can only commend you on your patience, Ian. The quotes alone would have made me reach for the claw-hammer...

By the way, if you’re ever stuck for a Sony PD150 to borrow for small projects, give me a yell, eh?

At 12:14 am, Blogger Ian said...

Thanks for the offer.

I have my own shiny new Sony PMW-EX1 now which, as you can imagine, caused some pretty strong disapproval because it writes to PCI Express cards (ie solid state that no "professional" would touch with a barge pole - that must be why American Cinematographer magazine is full of ads and enthusiasm for them then, eh?!!). I resisted the temptation to name the several owners I know who are using the camera and have had footage produced with it shown on both the BBC and Channel 5 news!

My brother has worked at Goldsmith's college for many years in the video training department and I'd told him that I got the sense that most film-making courses were an expensive rip-off aimed at naive wannabe's who thought by spending a lot of money they'd automatically get a "big break" and "magic contacts" that would help them onto a career in Hollywood (very similar to what I see in my own industry where people think if they spend 2 grand on a 2 week Microsoft certifcation bootcamp they'll walk straignt into an IT consultancy job earning a fortune every week). He agreed that my perception was probably the right one, and this weekend (actually one of the cheaper courses I could find at £300 for the 2 days) proved it as far as I'm concerned.

One point of clarification. It seems that these days the term "film maker" means "fledgling producer" as a couple of the film-makers on the course who had clearly never used a camera or unpacked a tripid before talked about having "a cameraman I use".

At 11:28 am, Blogger Good Dog said...


At 5:39 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Yeah but this is clearly an age thing.

When I'm as old as you I will be saying nothing that's on twenty years from now is as good as Cracker or CSI.

You know it's true.

And actually for the record I think the American TV everyone raves about is gloriously overrated. Especially Heroes. Good lord, how much does that exposition clang?? I tried, for the love of the baby Jesus I tried.

At 6:05 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Twenty years on... You cheeky mare!

The thing is, kiddo, I tend to refer to not only shows from "my day", but also shows from the years before. Stuff that I missed first time around, I would actively seek out.

Little fuckers nowadays have the attitude that nothing before they became aware of the world around them is worth knowing about. Useless cocks!

At 6:30 pm, Blogger Sal said...

I've pretty much given up on Empire because it's mostly written for little geek boys, it seems.

At 6:34 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Ah, I love the smell of a generalisation in the morning. Or early evening.

The thing is, these "little fuckers" are now in charge of the BBC. I went to a meeting in October and the effing Dev Exec was younger than I was by miles. That was scary.

Having said that, one of the first things she said was how much she loved CRACKER, EDGE OF DARKNESS and that thing with John Hurt in where he was a politician.

So snarf.

At 6:35 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Oooh Sal, that wasn't for you. U were commenting whilst I was commenting!

I've given up on Empire too.

At 6:45 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

You mean a generalisation like “this is clearly an age thing”? ;-)

At 7:11 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Okay, one more time...

It's not just an age thing, it's a knowledge thing!!!!

That development exec might have been young but she could reference shows from the 1970s to this decade. Hopefully it doesn't make her unique.

At 7:35 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Clearly not, for I have seen all those shows too! And I'm consderably younger than you lot, have I mentioned that??

And Ridders: generalisation is only generalisation when someone else says it, not me.

At 10:16 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

I’d noticed... ;-)

At 10:17 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...


While US post-watershed science fiction, like Heroes (or Terminator, or Battlestar) may have its limitations, look at what the UK broadcasters offer in the same category.

Basically the only point of comparison is Torchwood, which, imho, is the worst show on TV.

(GD, I know in the past you've singled out Doctor Who for the harshest criticism - all of it richly deserved, specially the 'volcanic jism' stuff - but DW is primarily a show for kids. So if the bright lights, frantic running down corridors and loud music combine to have an hypnotic effect on a significant percentage of eight-year-olds, then the show has served its purpose. That's not a defence Torchwood can hide behind.)

Torchwood is a programme supposedly about a secret organisation, yet it features a lead character who conceals his identity by walking around Cardiff city centre dressed like a soldier from World War II.

The first alien we saw this series was a giant rubber fish driving an open-top sports car.

And RTD's idea of sexual chemistry is to have two 45-year-old men dressed in period military costumes snogging each other on the dance floor of an empty nightclub somewhere in Wales.

No wonder one US critic recently described it as 'Blade Runner meets Benny Hill.'

So my point is not that US shows are perfect. Clearly they're not. But the best American sci-fi is in a whole different league to what the UK broadcasters are hacking out right now.

At 1:48 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Good old Ken Tucker, writing for Entertainment Weekly:

Torchwood, now in its second season, is the Benny Hill version of Blade Runner. Jack's character is spun off from Doctor Who, the long-running British-TV equivalent of Star Wars, Star Trek, and H.R. Pufnstuf all rolled into one.

A couple of years back - probably when I first started foaming at the mouth about Doctor Who on this blog - I was pretty much bellowing at friends who would scamper home to watch it: "It's a show for kids and you're in your forties!"

I've avoided Torchwood this year, apart from two episodes that people said were really good.

They were actually shit. So I didn't bother with any others.

At 4:27 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

What I like about Torchwood is the fact that it DOESN'T strive to take itself as seriously as its US counterparts. A certain tongue-in-cheek nature being applied to the utterly fantastic (even ridiculous) seems entirely appropriate to me.

At 10:31 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


I'm not sure how to respond to that...

Other than to send you my deepest sympathies.

At 1:45 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Five mis-quoted words, and that's enough for you to pinpoint the reference!?

Jeez, Derren Brown has built a career on less than that.

At 8:42 am, Blogger Lucy said...

Oh babes, ta but I need no one's sympathy: it's not actually a matter of life and death is it??

Have you thought aout channelling your passion into something more constructive than hating TV? Like house demolition? Or writing for The Guardian??

; )

At 8:09 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


It's a freakish ability I have.

Although in this instance, Entertainment Weekly is the only magazine I regularly read now so I had already read the article.


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