Friday 20 October 2017

Outside the box

Paul Whitington

The success of shows such as 'The Tudors' and 'Game of Thrones' has resulted in a sudden glut of TV period dramas. The BBC has had modest success with shows such as 'Merlin' and the more recent drama 'Atlantis' and, next year, it will be launching a new big-budget series based on the novels of Alexandre Dumas.

The most successful of the new period shows are camp, glossy affairs with high production values and an obligatory obsession with sex and, by the look of it, 'Musketeers' is likely to fit right in.

It's set in 17th century France and stars Luke Pasqualino as D'Artagnan, a dashing country scamp who goes to Paris to join the elite royal guard of King Louis XIII.

Together with Athos, Aramis and Porthos, he pledges his life to defend his king and gets involved in scuppering everything from court intrigues to latter-day terror plots, while chasing the ladies in his spare time of course.

'Musketeers' co-stars Hugo Speer, Peter Capaldi, Tom Burke and Howard Charles, and will be in ten episodes to be screened next year.

We've had singing, ballroom dancing, baking, cooking and ice-skating contests on television, but are you ready for 'Strictly Come Gymnastics'? That won't be the name of the new competition, but the BBC is working on a new celebrity gymnastics show with the working title, 'Let's Get Ready to Tumble'.

The show is expected to have a similar format to 'Strictly', with judges, celebrity contestants, expert mentors and weekly evictions, and will apparently involve "the nation's best-loved celebrities vaulting, tumbling and flipping head over heels to try and win the public's votes". Which is all very intriguing, but given how difficult some celebs find the dancing, one wonders how they're going to cope with the rigors of Olympic-style gymnastics.

One of the great traditions of 'Strictly' is the hopeless outsider with two left feet who's championed by the public. But can you imagine John Sergeant leaping on to the pommel horse, or Ann Widdecombe flinging herself about on the parallel bars? You cannot, and one suspects a semblance of athleticism will be a prerequisite on the new show, which will kick off in 2014.

Female readers will be well used to the discontented mutterings of men condemned to watch a grim communal diet of female-friendly shows such as 'Strictly', 'Project Runway', 'The Great British Bake Off' and 'America's Next Top Model'.

Entire channels are devoted to this sort of women-orientated stuff, but now the boys have their own version of the Lifetime channel.

The Esquire Network was launched in the US in late September, and is partly a revamp of the old Style Network. Most of its shows can be watched online. It's a joint venture between NBC Universal and 'Esquire' magazine, with shows about travel, cooking, fashion, cars and drinking aimed at a reasonably sophisticated metrosexual audience.

Alcohol looms large in the roster of the Esquire Network, which seems to have a charmingly unreconstructed notion of what it is to be a man. In 'Brew Dogs', Scottish microbrewers James Watt and Martin Dickie travel America looking for unusual and potent artisan beers. They're a jolly pair, with cast-iron stomachs and a winning way with the natives. And when they cook up dangerous-looking brews like their Colonial-era ale, they also have the nerve to drink it.

Cooking shows on Esquire involve a fair amount of boozing too. 'Knife Fight' is hosted by chef and former TV cooking competition winner Ilan Hall, and is every bit as macho as its name implies.

Mr Hall, who wears a military flak jacket on set instead of an apron, describes the series as "a bare-knuckled boxing show of a cooking competition", and while that might be overstating the case a bit, things on 'Knife Fight' do get pretty heated at times.

Each week, two chefs are selected to go head to head in an after-hours contest at Ilan Hall's Los Angeles restaurant, The Gorbals.

They're given such unrefined ingredients as a pig's head, live catfish and a side of goat, and have just one hour to whip up a three-course meal while being merrily heckled by a small crowd of gourmets and critics.

On Esquire's travel show, 'The Getaway', celebrities are jetted to various exotic locations to drink. In the first episode, Joel McHale, host of the E! channel's 'The Soup', flew to Belfast and promptly began knocking into the Bushmills. The only female celebrity on the show so far, actress Aisha Tyler, announced she was going to Paris to "eat beautiful food and drink myself silly".

This month, Esquire will introduce more original shows, but with similarly salty themes. 'Best Bars in America's' function is self-evident, and in 'White Collar Brawler', sissy white-collar types will be taught how to box like real men. Take that, Lifetime!

Last month, Mia Farrow dropped a bombshell when she suggested her son Ronan's father might be Frank Sinatra rather than Woody Allen. She and Allen were a couple when Ronan (originally called Satchel, believe it or not) was born, but there have always been rumours about his parentage and, in October, Ms Farrow told 'Vanity Fair' that Sinatra might "possibly" be his dad.

Ronan Farrow has had no relationship whatsoever with Woody Allen since the Soon-Yi Previn scandal erupted in the early 1990s, but excelled in school and college and has become a leading human-rights lawyer.

He certainly looks more like Frank than Woody, but has called the whole debate about his paternity "an annoyance". And now he's to host a new daytime current affairs show on the MSNBC channel, which will start in January.

The new show will apparently take a less formal approach to the news, and offer viewers a chance to comment directly on stories.

It's no secret that 'The X Factor' has been steadily losing ground in the Saturday-night ratings war with 'Strictly Come Dancing'. But Simon Cowell is said to be particularly unhappy with his show's poor showing so far this season. 'The X Factor' is currently attracting an average of two million fewer viewers to its Saturday show than 'Strictly', which is pulling in 10m viewers an episode.

Cowell is apparently looking hard at shaking up the 'X Factor format', which is two hours long and, according to some fans, littered with too many annoying ad breaks. One way Simon would be guaranteed a ratings boost would be to return to the show himself, because 'X Factor UK' has missed his well-honed pantomime villain routine.

Irish Independent

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