Entertainment From Overseas

Remember the days when you could only compare CBS, NBC and ABC on the television set?

The quaint notion of just three channels – not to mention a TV where you actually had to stand up, walk over to the set and turn the dial – seems like it was so long ago.

Now, with the advent of the Internet and being able to watch TV from your desktop or laptop computer, or even your mobile phone, there are many more ways to watch your favorite shows and even shows and entertainment from other countries.
Whether you look across the Pacific to Asia and Japan for entertainment, or you scan the Atlantic and look at what Europe has to offer, there are so many different choices for television networks.

When people think of foreign television networks, the Univision or Telemundo names come to mind from Mexico or even CTV or the CBC in Canada.
With the United States’ growing Hispanic population, Univision has become a popular network in this country, with levels of viewership it did not have even five years ago. Univision’s “telenovelas”, or Spanish-language soap operas, have become so popular they even outrank NBC programming on some nights (or that of the CW, the former Paramount/WB network now owned by Viacom/CBS).

Univision’s prime market for international sales happens to be the United States, thanks in part to a 56 percent growth in the Hispanic population to 50 million residents. Univision’s research indicates the 18-49 market is growing thanks in large part to that Hispanic population. In the most recent upfront figures available, which reflect advertiser purchases for commercial time, Univision booked $1.8 billion in upfront ad sales in 2011.

CBC and CTV offer shows that can be seen here, but both networks offer original content exclusive to Canada but possibly syndicated to the USA later like the crime shows “Rookie Blue” and “Flashpoint”. Program sales internationally for CBC are handled through Content Television, while CTV’s program lineup consists of plenty of American fare like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Big Bang Theory”.

Head overseas to Europe and you may see the familiar logo of Thames Television, which became famous in this country through repeats of “The Benny Hill Show” in the 1970s and 1980s. It went out of business as a British network in 1992, but it still serves as a program producer through Fremantle Media. Or you may even see the true British Broadcasting Corporation on the air or its counterpart in this country, BBC America. BBC America syndicates the current version of “Doctor Who” to this country. BBC spends $3 billion per year on content, some of which is shown on BBC America and the rest can be seen on British TV stations.

With a tap of the computer keys, you can access other channels. Satellite TV services such as Hunan/Qinghai ($200 million in ad revenue in 2012) and Shenzhen in China offer original programming and knock-offs of such popular USA shows as “The Voice”. However, one of China’s shows, “Celebrity Splash”, was such a hit in that country that it was copied to the United States.

The possibilities are endless. Through “rundfunks”, or networks, you could watch German television programs.

Nippon Hoso Kyokai is a Japanese version of America’s Public Broadcasting Service, so you may be able to see serious programming in a nation loaded with satellite technology and escapist programs.

With Khalijia, you could watch Arabic movies or other live TV shows originating from Arab nations. Khalijia is part of the Rotana group of network channels, owned in part by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and mostly by Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. Khalijia was founded in 1987 and operates one of the largest TV networks and ad sales operations in the region and owns the largest Arabic film library. It has also built the leading record label in the Middle East, managing many of the most popular artists in the region and controlling the biggest Arabic music catalog.

A look around the television world shows how much times have changed. We have gone from the Big Three to the Big Four in America (with the addition of Fox in 1986), cable channels have exploded from dozens to hundreds, and numerous worldwide satellite services have proliferated.

This easily means you could watch an Arabic network from your own American home and make yourself comfortable. Or you might tune in to an old movie from another country with subtitles.

The possibilities are endless in this new world of television. See for yourself just how much the global reach has affected us.

  

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Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

Leave it to Steven Moffat to take the annual “Doctor Who” Christmas special tradition and finally get it right. Given how adept the man is at penning this series at this point, this should probably come as no surprise, and yet, for me at least, it did. I’d learned over the years to set my expectations very low for these holiday outings due to Russell T. Davies’ mind-numbingly action-oriented yearly offerings. I do love Davies, but his Christmas stories always ranked pretty low for me, or rather I cut him and his holiday specials an immense amount of slack, as in interviews he was always going on about how most of the audience is drunk anyway, and are basically looking for mindless fare on Christmas night. So that was his approach and it worked well as far as the U.K. viewing figures were concerned it seems.

To be fair, they got better as they went along, with only the bloated disaster yarn, “Voyage of the Damned,” bucking that trend, although last year’s episode was barely even a Christmas tale, being the first half of “The End of Time” and all. More than anything else, though, what was most disappointing about Davies’ Christmas outings is how none of them ever became holiday traditions for me as a “Doctor Who” fan, which is pretty amazing since there were four to choose from. Indeed, the best Christmas tale the series had unveiled prior to this past Saturday night was Season One’s “The Unquiet Dead,” penned by Mark Gatiss, which of course wasn’t even a holiday special. As you’ll no doubt remember, “The Unquiet Dead” detailed the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) meeting Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) right before Christmas in 1869 Cardiff, and here we are, well over five years later, returning to Dickens once again, and once again we discover that Dickens and “Doctor Who” make for a potent combination.

At its start, “A Christmas Carol” alarmingly resembles a Davies-era holiday adventure, with a giant spaceship plummeting through the atmosphere towards the ground below. Honestly, I was scared at this point – not over the potential fate of Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), but that I was being set up for “Voyage of the Damned II.” But the story quickly shifts gears into far more character driven territory, as we move onto the surface below and meet the cantankerous Kazran Sardick, played by the great Michael Gambon. Most people equate Gambon with Dumbledore these days, and with good reason, because it’s the role he’s been seen in more than any other. Myself? I first became acquainted with the man 20 years ago via Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover,” in which he played the thoroughly despicable Albert Spica alongside Helen Mirren. His performance in that film is so perfect, playing such an awful man, that to this day it’s the role I still associate him with the most, and it was cool to see him return to that shouting, obnoxious type of character. It’s interesting to note the decision to give neither Gambon nor the other high profile guest star, Katherine Jenkins, billing in the opening credits, while Gillan and Darvill – neither of whom have an enormous amount of screen time during the hour – are credited at the top.

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A Chat with Paterson Joseph (“Survivors”)

Paterson Joseph is the sort of actor whose face tends to be familiar more to the Anglophiles who frequent BBC America than to the average Stateside viewer, a fate owed to the fact that the majority of his projects – such as “Casualty,” “William and Mary,” “Peepshow,” and “Hyperdrive,” to name a few – have had highly limited screenings on our shores. They’ll soon see him, however, as one of the stars of BBC America’s latest import, “Survivors,” which premieres on Saturday, Feb. 13th. I was able to catch up with Joseph a few hours after he’d done the TCA panel for the series, but the start of our conversation was delayed momentarily by the fact that he popped into the bar just at the moment that I was saying good night to my daughter on the phone. Thankfully, however, he was quite tolerant of my family matters, and we soon settled in to talk about “Survivors,” though not until after I let him know why I recognized him.

Bullz-Eye: When I first started watching “Survivors,” I saw you and I kept thinking, “I know this guy. I know I know this guy.”

Paterson Joseph: Oh, really? (Laughs)

BE: And then I suddenly realized, “It’s the Marquis!”

PJ: Ah, yes: the Marquis De Carabas! (Smiles) I loved “Neverwhere.” Absolutely loved it. And I wish…see, if the “Doctor Who” we have now had happened that same year, before we did “Neverwhere,” then “Neverwhere” would’ve worked like a dream, because it would’ve had all the money that it needed. Unfortunately, at that point, the only proper sci-fi that we had was “Blake’s 7,” which had not gone down well at all…and I suspect you know exactly what I mean by your expression.

BE: I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Laughs)

PJ: (Laughs) And, so, sci-fi was persona non grata until “Doctor Who,” but then “Doctor Who” happened, and…well, you know all this, but now fantasy drama, sci-fi, has got lots of money. It’s a damned shame. But Neil Gaiman, I think, is still trying to get a movie done here. He’s working on it.

BE: I’m ready for it. I’m ready for “Neverwhere,” “American Gods,” and anything else of his that they want to adapt.

PJ: Yeah, he’s great, man. Great.

BE: So what was your familiarity with the original version of “Survivors”?

PJ: I probably saw the opening sequence when I was about 10…and then was told to go to bed. (Laughs) So I had never really seen it, but I did remember the opening sequence when I saw it on YouTube. It’s quite striking. And then I watched the first three episodes when I got this job, and…I might as well have done in some ways, because it’s so vastly different.

BE: Yeah, Adrian (Hodges) was just saying about how he made a point of changing a key moment in the first episode, just to keep people on their toes.

PJ: That’s right!

BE: So how developed was the character of Greg Preston when you first came aboard? Did he evolve at all once you got into the role?

PJ: He was always…I mean, I described it in my interview when I read it as…he seems a bit like a guy who’s basically walking on water. Everything seems fine, he’s walking away, everything’s very serene. But underneath is a sea of shit. That’s how I described it to them in the interview, and I think that’s right. I think Adrian always had that in mind, that there was a world of pain under Greg’s easygoing persona. Even in his sort of dismissive “I don’t need people” persona, there was a world of pain and desperation, and you see that in…well, for you guys, it’s in Episode 7. It all comes out. Literally. You see everything.

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A Chat with Adrian Hodges (“Survivors,” “Primeval”)

Adrian Hodges has been beloved by fans of BBC America’s ever-growing sci-fi lineup ever since presenting them with “Primeval,” which he created along with Tim Haines, but they’ll soon have a new reason to give him a hug when they seem him on the street. Americans may not be familiar with the 1970s British TV series known as “Survivors,” but, hey, that’s okay: it just means that they’ll be able to dig into Hodges’ new take on the series – which premieres this Saturday night on BBC America – without any preconceptions. Plus, as you’ll soon read in my chat with Mr. Hodges, which took place a few hours after the TCA panel for “Survivors,” he’s taken great pains to make sure even those who are familiar with the original series will, by the end of the first episode of this new version, realize that he’s got plenty of surprises in store for them, too. Oh, and listen up, “Primeval” fans: you’d well to read beyond the bits about “Survivors,” as we chatted about the status of the third series of “Primeval” as well as the oft-discussed feature film based on the show. There’s also some stuff about other items on Hodges’ C.V., and…well, you’d just better go ahead and read it for yourself, hadn’t you?

Adrian Hodges: Wow, look at your recorder. I used to do a bit of journalism when I first started out, but my tape recorder was… (Holds his hands several inches apart, then laughs) That’s technology for you!

Bullz-Eye: Hey, mine’s shrunk by two or three times in size just in the past few years! (Laughs) Well, first off, I just want to say that I’m a big “Primeval” fan.

AH: Thank you! Cool!

BE: I was not familiar with the original 1970s version of “Survivors,” but I take it that you were at least somewhat of a fan of it.

AH: Yeah, I was, in that kind of general way we are when we’re kids and we watch TV. I was maybe 15 or 16, something like that, and I remember very clearly the impact of the first episode. If I’m honest, I’m hazy about some of the other, later episodes, but I do remember the extraordinary shock of the imagery of a husband dying, of things that were stand-out images in my head, and you carry that through the years. It was something I remembered very well, so it was really kind of great to be asked to have another look at it, you know?

BE: So they pitched it to you, then?

AH: They did. What happened was that I’d done “Primeval,” as you know, and I was very actively looking for a genre show that I could do in a slightly…well, in Britain, it’s in a later timeslot. Something that was a bit more…I don’t want to say more adult, because I think that “Primeval” is adult, but not a family show in the same way. However you define “family.” (Laughs) So “Survivors” was perfect. BBC had had this great success with reviving “Doctor Who,” so they were looking at some of their old shows and saying, “Well, that one wouldn’t work, but maybe this one would.” And “Survivors” was one they thought might work again, so they basically came to me and said, “What do you think?” And I thought it was great, not so much because of the set-up, not just because of the post-apocalyptic thing, which is fascinating, but it’s kind of not the point. The point is what happens afterwards, and that’s the fun of it for me as a writer, ‘cause you don’t often get a chance to write about people in the most extreme situation. So that’s why I wanted to do it.

BE: What was the profile of the original show? Was it semi-high? I ask because I’m a kind of an Anglophile, so I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it.

AH: I don’t think it was, really. In terms of being a success at the time, it was, but it wasn’t, like, a thing like with “Doctor Who,” where you carry that memory with you, and so that when it was revived, there was this huge desire to like it. It was one of those shows where…people didn’t want to not like “Doctor Who.” They wanted to like it. It was a nice thing to happen, and it doesn’t often happen. There aren’t many shows that people are so fond of that they can go with that attitude to them. Usually, as you know, when you remake or re-imagine a show, you get the opposite reaction, which is that people don’t really want you to do it, because they liked it the first time. And, now, there’s been such an acceleration of remaking of formats. It’s a very dangerous area. I thought “Survivors” was a good one because it was a success at the time, which proved that it was a strong idea, but it wasn’t so well known that it would be something that everybody would be saying, “Oh, but you didn’t do that scene, you didn’t do it like this, you didn’t do that.” The truth is, it was the best part of 40 years ago, and it’s not a classic. It’s a very good show. The first episode of the original is a model of brilliant series set-up writing, and, indeed, much of the rest of it. But it is fundamentally a show which was well-liked but probably not as well-remembered as some. Not everything can be a classic, you know. That’s the way it is. I couldn’t believe that “Edge of Darkness” was being remade. It’s amazing, after all these years, to suddenly see it. So stuff comes around.

BE: So did you revisit that first episode of “Survivors” before you made this new version, or did you just kind of go from memory and dive into the new version?

AH: I watched the whole of the first series before I started writing, and I don’t usually do that with things where there’s existing material. I mean, in a completely different genre, I’ve just done a new version of a film called “The Go Between.” I’ve adapted the L.P. Hartley novel, and I didn’t look at the film of that, because I deliberately didn’t want to be influenced by it. I’ve only looked at it relatively recently, and it’s interesting to see what they did and what I did, and that’s fine. But with “Survivors,” I thought that it was…well, because I was basing some of my material on that original material, it seemed respectful and sensible to look at the way they’d done it, and also to remind myself what they’d done well and maybe what they hadn’t done quite so well, just to see how it would go. I always knew I was going to move away from that version quite quickly, but I wanted to make sure that whatever was good…I mean, I’m not crazy: if it’s good, I’m going to do it again. (Laughs)

BE: How did you go about selecting your cast? Was it a case of finding folks you’d worked with in the past, or was it more of a standard audition process?

AH: There’s a little bit of that. I mean, because of the way television works, as you know, there’s a certain pressure to use a certain profile of actor in certain roles. We knew we needed a leading lady that meant something to the British audience, and that’s, in truth, not that big a pool of people. It’s tough to find exactly the right person, particularly a woman who’s grown up, a woman with children who’s believable as an ordinary woman. So Julie (Graham) was actually pretty straightforward, because she was one of only one or two who really fit the bill…and, luckily, she wanted to do it! So at that point, we closed that. That was done. The other guys…it’s an interest process. Paterson (Joseph), funnily enough, was a very early choice, and then we went ‘round the houses looking at other people and then came all the way back to Paterson. And that sometimes happens, ‘cause it’s a bit like when you get something right first time, and you think, “Have I really got it right?” And you go and try prove it sixteen other different ways, but you still come back to the right answer, so that was Paterson. The others…it’s just a question of trying to find the right faces for the roles, the right talent and the right look, and that’s hopefully what we did.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched the first episode of “Survivors” yet, then you’ll want to head off for a bit and pop back ‘round after you’ve had a chance to see it.)

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Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars

When it was first announced that “Doctor Who” was taking a break from normal seasons in 2009, I thought, “I can handle that – not a big deal.” After all, aside from the Fox TV movie with Paul McGann in 1996, I’d lived without new televised “Who” for 16 years before the show came back in ’05. Each new season since then has been like a little gift. Surely one year with “only” four specials would be a breeze? As 2009 droned on, however, it seemed an interminably long wait for new outings of the series, and it didn’t help matters that the one outing we did get – “Planet of the Dead” – was a subpar piece of storytelling at best. The other three specials are all finally being unveiled on BBC America in the last weeks of the year (actually, the big finale will play on the second day of 2010!). Anyway, this was my roundabout way of illustrating how much I’ve come to take the new series for granted, and thankfully “The Waters of Mars” is as strong a slice of “Who” as just about anything the series has done up to this point. It is, in fact, everything “Planet of the Dead” wasn’t, which may very well have been the point.

The Doctor (David Tennant), still traveling alone, lands on Mars in the year 2059. He trudges across the desolate, red landscape and bumps into a robot, called Gadget, that takes him to its leader on Bowie Base One, which is a clever enough joke – although one that’s a bit old hat for anyone who’s basked in the wonder that is “Life on Mars,” which coincidentally (or not) starred John Simm, who we’ll be seeing more of next week. Inside the base, the Time Lord meets the crew, led by Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan), and quickly realizes who they are, and is as awestruck as any fanboy we’ve ever seen. Bowie Base One holds humanity’s first group of colonists on Mars, only the Doctor knows they all mysteriously died on the 21st of November, 2059. Guess what the date is? He quickly realizes that he should go, as this is an instance where he shouldn’t meddle with time. He sees it as a fixed point in the universe, and, as he explains later in the episode, “What happens here must always happen.” But events conspire to prevent his exit, and before long the crew begins succumbing to what ends up being a virus – it transforms them into hideous, zombie-type creatures, with cracked faces and the ability to use water as a deadly weapon. Only “Doctor Who” can find an inventive, frightening way to use water as a killer, and its ideas such as this that make the show the unique concept it is.

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