Revel in my vast knowledge of Scandinavian and British television

I’ve been quoted in The Copenhagen Post, no less, on why we love Scandinavian TV in Britain.


Before The Newsroom there was The Newsroom, Drop The Dead Donkey and Dead Danes Don’t Count

Aaron Sorkin isn’t the first person to come up with the idea of a television newsroom as a great way to look at politics. Back in the Channel 4 had Drop The Dead Donkey, a topical sitcom written the same week as it aired, that introduced the world to Haydn Gwynne, Stephen Tompkinson and Neil Pearson. Here’s the pilot episode, with its weirdly different theme tune.

Drop The Dead Donkey ran between 1990 and 1998 (go buy it on DVD), inspiring along the way the Swedish show Döda danskar räknas inte (Dead Danes Don’t Count). But over in Canada, Ken Finkleman, the man behind Good Dog, was developing a show that, like Drop The Dead Donkey, featured a TV producer called George. Called The Newsroom, it crossed Drop The Dead Donkey with The Larry Sanders Show.

The Newsroom was a surprisingly successful show by Canadian standards, running from 1996-97… and 2003-4… and 2004-5, as well as having a two-hour TV movie Escape from the Newsroom air in 2002. It featured cameos from famous Canadians, including David Cronenberg, Noam Chomsky and Atom Egoyan, playing versions of themselves in newscasts. The George character also went on to appear in other shows, More Tears, Foolish Heart and Foreign Objects, as well as Good Dog and Good God.

It’s also considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest show Canada has ever produced. So it’s ironic that Sorkin chose the title The Newsroom for his new show, given the stereotype of how little attention the US pays to Canada and Canadian TV.

So it seems while Sorkin may not have created the first TV show set in a newsroom or even the first TV show called The Newsroom, he is, at least, one of the first to have created a semi-serious drama series about the news.

International TV

On the typography of subtitles

Subtitles are a necessary evil if you

  1. Plan to watch TV programmes from overseas
  2. Don’t plan on becoming entirely fluent with every language in the world

Nevertheless, there are problems with them. You lose a lot in the translation when phrases and words don’t have matching concepts in your own language. Then there are prissy subtitlers who don’t like swearwords or perhaps aren’t as fluent as they should be in your native language, resulting in errors. Subtitles also have to fit on-screen and progress at the same speed as the dialogue, so generally abbrievate the dialogue anyway.

A little considered aspect of them is their typography and positioning. Consider Sebastian Bergman‘s subtitles:

Nothing inherently wrong with the subtitle typeface, and you’ll notice there’s both a keyline and a dropshadow on the text so that it’ll show up well against the mixed black-white background. I tried to watch Kurosawa’s Ran which had purely white text against a bright background so was unreadable.

But have a look at the credits in the mid-left of the screen. They’re in a sort of bold Futura, all in upper case, designed to look sophisticated, discreet and intelligent – as is the show. Except the much bigger, italic Helvetica-esque text at the bottom of the screen now swamps that effect completely. The subtitles convey a rather more ordinary tone to the show, something more generic. Imagine what the screen would look like without them, to see what I mean.

As a result, the viewer can subsconsciously be led into thinking the show is something different from what the creators intended. There’s not a lot that can be done about it, although a lot of Blu-Ray releases now have custom typefaces for subtitles designed to match the feel of the show as much as possible, but it’s something to bear in mind when watching a foregin show.

Ain’t typography fun?

Australian and New Zealand TV

A nifty Almighty Johnsons poster


Okay, it’s for the second season so a bit old now and Battlestar Galactica got there first, but it’s still pretty nifty (click on it to make it bigger). The first season is being repeated on the UK’s SyFy channel from next Tuesday, so give it a try if you haven’t seen it already – Norse gods reincarnated in New Zealand so what’s not to like? – but you’ll need to wait about four or five episodes before it gets really good. No word on a third season yet, I’m afraid.

What did you watch last fortnight? Including Tron:Uprising, Sebastian Bergman and Haywire

It’s “What did you watch last fortnight?”, my chance to tell you what I watched last fortnight that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual recommendations from the first-run shows are (summer has truly arrived): The Daily Show, Mad Men, and Prisoners of War. Hunt them down. I’m also adding Continuum and Playhouse Presents to the recommended list, so hunt them down as well. Royal Pains has returned as well, but it had such a fundamentally lazy, uninspiring first episode that I can’t really recommend it any more.

Here’s a few thoughts on what else I’ve been watching, though:

  • Tron: Uprising – from the people who brought you Tron: Legacy comes pretty much exactly the same, mildly sexist, entirely uninspiring scenario but done as a cartoon that unlike the movie actually has Tron in it and a bunch of dull programs who are basically modern teenagers. Entirely missing the point of Tron, it does at least have an excellent voice cast, including Bruce Boxleitner and Lance Henricksen.
  • Cougar Town: A nice enough season finale that entirely failed to do anything surprising, beyond having well known showbiz reporter Michael Ausiello cameo for 10 seconds as a waiter with one line.
  • Sebastian Bergman: an intelligently written first two-thirds or so, albeit with Bergman being a massive cock, followed by a standard Hollywood ending done badly. Disappointingly average compared to other BBC4 Nordic Noires.

And in movies:

  • Haywire: And I have a new crush – Gina Carano, officially “the woman who should play Wonder Woman if they ever get round to making a movie”. Not necessarily the best actress in the world, but does a great job as the action heroine in this Steven Soderbergh production filled with big names like Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonia Banderas and Bill Paxton. Essentially The Bourne Identity with the look and feel of Ocean’s 11, with Carano taking on the Jason Bourne role, it’s not a brilliant movie, but it has some surprising moments, has a few nods to Carano’s MMA career, is fun enough and hopefully should catapult Carano into bigger and better things.

“What did you watch this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?