More TV Memories – The Job Lot.

The Job Lot (ITV, 2013, ITV2, 2014-2015)

This is a sitcom from about a decade ago now that definitely caught my attention at the time, although this wasn’t really because of the comedy. To quickly go over the idea, The Job Lot is a sitcom that was set at a Job Centre in the west Midlands, and the lives of the staff seem to be as bizarre as those of the people who regularly attend and are looking for work.

Among the regular cast members were Jo Enright, Sarah Hadland, Russell Tovey, and Tony Maudsley, who are known for appearing in various other comedy shows, and much more. And among those making guest appearances were Sean Pertwee, Keith Duffy, Meera Syal, Mark Benton, John Thomson, Will Mellor, and Maureen Lipman. Again, plenty of familiar names there.

The first series was shown on ITV, and has been released on DVD. The response from viewers and critics was roughly middling to indifferent though, and the second and third series were moved to ITV2 (although they were subsequently repeated on ITV in a late-night slot), and they have not had a DVD release. There were 18 episodes in three series.

But what really did make me take notice about The Job Lot was the location, as this was made not too far from where I live in London. Now I know that this is supposed to be set in Birmingham, but curiously, it seems that this wasn’t made there at all. When I was much younger, there used to be an electricity shop (in the days of the London Electricity Board), which sold ovens and the like.

But that then closed down, and was empty for many years. And that’s where this was made, for most of the exterior and interior scenes. And indeed, even though this now ended over seven years ago, the “Brownall House” sign is still there, and I wonder how many people who live round here realise when they walk past that this almost successful sitcom was made there.

I have explained before that I am rather overawed by celebrities, and to think of how many people came here to take part is remarkable. Realising that this was all unfolding near me when I watched, now that really is local TV. I can only imagine how the decision was made, but then so many other TV shows have been made around here over the years that I wonder if some viewers think why are they all set at the same places in London.

The Comedy Vault – 3rd Rock From The Sun.

3rd Rock From The Sun (NBC, 1996-2001)

This is one of the few American sitcoms to have caught my interest over the years. 3rd Rock From The Sun had a science-fiction twist, and took the opportunity to go off in some unusual areas that most other sitcoms couldn’t. The idea is that four aliens assume human form and arrive on Earth, a planet and its people that they are keen to learn more about, and they realise how strange things can be.

This consists of Dick, along with Tommy, Harry, and Sally, known as the Solomons. They soon enter regular human life, and Dick decides to become a professor at a university. Of course, none of them must give away that they are aliens, but it is likely that most people wouldn’t believe them anyway, and their superior is always keeping a keen eye on them from their home planet.

But what is clear to people that they meet including Dr Albright who works at the university with Dick is that they soon realise that there is something a little different about how they respond to various situations. Dick was prone to some unexpected outbursts, Harry would often receive incoming transmissions, Tommy struggled to deal with his changing teenage body, and Sally liked to flirt boldly with everyone and everything.

Most episodes would end with the Solomons sat on their roof trying to make sense of the latest things that they have learned about life. 3rd Rock From The Sun was fairly well received in this country, all of the episodes in the six series have been shown on BBC2 (they all contain “Dick” somewhere in the episode title too). I got into this a little later though when there was a repeat run on the Paramount Comedy Channel.

I do remember watching the special episode where some parts were in 3D, which was very ambitious and enjoyable, and little like anything else that I have seen in a sitcom. In the final episode, they finally returned to their home planet. This has gone on to be repeated on even more channels since, including ITV2, and episodes can be seen on Channel 4 to this day. All of the episodes have been released on DVD too.

More TV Memories – Sunset Beach.

Sunset Beach (NBC, 1997-1999)

Let’s take yet another look back at the early days of Channel 5. Another genre that they had to have as part of their launch schedule in 1997, was a soap. Now they had their own Family Affairs in primetime, but they wanted one in a daytime slot too. Up to this point, most of the soaps imported to the UK had been either Australian, or American primetime. But they decided to introduce us to the rather unusual world of the American daytime soap.

Sunset Beach was set in California, where the sun always seemed to shine whatever time of day it was, and featured the lives of a young and rather attractive cast. Every episode was about an hour long, but the stories were rather far-fetched and ridiculous. Not much had been seen like it on British TV before, and most critics were initially baffled. Even Night And Day was modest compared to this. This was a place where people coming back to life was almost an everyday occurrence really. vlcsnap-00463

There were a wide range of characters, along with some guest appearances by celebrities including Jerry Springer, and to put it politely, the standard of the acting was rather varied most of the time. I must admit that I didn’t see that many episodes of Sunset Beach at the time, what I remember most about the show is the rather long credit sequence, where the continuity announcer would try to make sense of what happened in the episode. vlcsnap-00464

I also remember that they seemed to comment a lot on a character called Meg, who was one of the protagonists. Don’t forget Annie, either, who was great. This was then expanded to feature comments from viewers as well, plus interviews with cast members, and it was rather unusual to hear an announcer being so sarcastic and mocking about a show that had just featured on their channel. None of this was taken rather seriously. vlcsnap-00465

And there was also a fanpage on Channel 5’s Teletext service which featured further information about stories, and comments from viewers. Don’t forget the omnibus on Saturday afternoon either, that was about three hours long. There were 755 episodes of Sunset Beach packed into barely three years, so plenty happened. And all this attracted a cult following, who were very sorry when this came to an end.vlcsnap-00466

Channel 5 then imported Days Of Our Lives which was another American daytime soap for a short while, but this didn’t do as well, so viewers had to do with only Family Affairs, until it was decided to poach Home And Away and Neighbours. There was then a brief repeat run on ITV2 in 2000, followed by another short run on Five (as it was by then) in 2004. I’m sure that most viewers who saw this still wonder if it was all a dream.

More TV Memories – Bedrock.

Bedrock (ITV2, 1998-1999)

This is a show that I briefly touched on in a piece that I did a while ago, but as some editions have now to my surprise turned up online, I thought that I might as well do a full review, because I was very pleased to see it again. Even though it can’t be a show that is familiar to most people, it is actually rather a important moment in my development of watching TV over the years.

Although it had been around for many years by the late-90s, we never had satellite or cable in our house. Like many other people it seems, the only way we saw anything from these channels then was when people sent us some tapes that had some early episodes of The Simpsons recorded off Sky One on them that we’d wanted to see out of curiosity, long before that show came to BBC1. But we never had anything beyond the four (later five) main channels.

Then we decided to get an OnDigital box after falling for the hype of that one, and that venture went on to become a financial disaster. Just like they had done with BSB about a decade earlier, Sky would again see off their biggest rival in the marketplace at the start of the digital era. When we put the box on for the first time, hoping that it wouldn’t blow up, the first thing that we saw was ITV2, and this show was on, meaning that Bedrock has the honour of being the first ever show that I saw on a non-terrestrial channel for myself. vlcsnap-00004

Now this really did open up a world of previously unknown possibilities. You mean to say that we have a channel 6 now? And even beyond that? All without that fuzziness on the picture? It’s difficult to describe just how blown away I was by it all. And when we used the EPG for the first time, we were informed “it’s got a bed, and it rocks!”, which didn’t reveal anything about what the show was really. vlcsnap-00005

Bedrock was an hour-long live show (usually around 6pm) that was aimed at teenagers, and at this time I happened to be in that age range, so it definitely caught my interest. There were a quartet of hosts, and these included Heather Suttie, who went on to co-host the final series of Live & Kicking, and also Ben Shephard, many years before he went on to host the revival of The Krypton Factor, and squeal at coins rolling around on Tipping Point. vlcsnap-00006

There were also plenty of features, including interviews with pop stars, competitions, plus reviews of computer games, fashion, films, sport, TV, and I remember Scott Mills (who had recently joined BBC Radio 1, and is still there to this day) reviewing some singles. You could also email or fax the hosts if you wanted. On an average day, you could expect to see guests like Adam Rickitt and Julia Bradbury. They were famous at the time, honest. vlcsnap-00001

Although Bedrock can’t have had very high ratings, I’m pleased that the effort was put in to make this show, when BBC Choice and UK Play were also making plenty of cheap but creative shows that I really enjoyed. I don’t watch ITV2 much nowadays, but I’m grateful for the influence that it had on me back then. And I must conclude by saying it proves that you’ll never know what will turn up online, seeing this one again was a real flashback!

More TV Memories – The Late Show.

The Late Show With David Letterman (CBS, 1993-2015)

American TV has had a tradition of having a late show five nights a week that combined comedy and chat which goes back many years, and a few of these have also been shown in this country. I remember watching this one in the early-2000s when it was imported by ITV2. By this point, The Late Show was hosted by David Letterman (having joined CBS in 1993), who even in those days had long been established as one of the leading figures on TV, and was already an institution.

The show would come from a theatre in New York City, and usually follow the same format. Letterman would come on stage, accompanied by plenty of music from the regular band, fronted by Paul Shaffer. There would then be an opening monologue featuring lots of jokes about the latest news that would often be a success (although this was because seemingly hundreds of writers contributed). vlcsnap-00886

Then Letterman would take his seat and there would be a few features and sketches. These included a look at viewers’ fascinating comments in the Mailbag, which also featured contributions from various members of the production team. And there would be the excitement of Will It Float and Is This Anything. Well if they worked the first time, why not do it again, viewers loved it. vlcsnap-00890

And of course, there would also be the Top Ten list, one of the most famous features which got everyone laughing. And there would be plenty of guests interviewed, usually film stars aiming to promote their latest work, although this was never really the highlight of the show myself, partly because I’m not hugely interested in films and the tone was slightly more serious, I always preferred the daftness that you’d get at the beginning. vlcsnap-00889

Shows would then often end with a performance from a pop group, or a stand-up comedian’s routine, and our very own Harry Hill appeared a few times, trying to see if his rather odd style of humour would appeal Stateside. Unfortunately, because Letterman often spent so much time fidgeting with pencils and rambling on, they’d usually run out of time for this, and they’d all have to return another night to try again. vlcsnap-00887

The Late Show has been shown on various channels in the UK, including ITV2, where it was briefly shown in the evening, usually only a day or two after it was shown in America. It was then moved to a much later slot, before being bumped to ITV4, and then disappearing altogether. Letterman remained on top until his retirement in 2015, and it is remarkable to think that the UK has never produced a successful equivalent of this show.

More TV Memories – The Cleveland Show.

The Cleveland Show (Fox, 2009-2013)

By the late-2000s, Family Guy become one of the most successful animated sitcoms for older viewers. Despite being cancelled twice, it constantly came back and eventually established itself. By this point, the show had been running for a decade, and the characters had become very familiar, so why not launch a spin-off series? Along with this and American Dad, Seth Macfarlane would now have three comedy cartoons on the go. Which cast member would it feature though?

Would it be Glen “Giggity” Quagmire? Or maybe it could be Joe Swanson? Well actually it was neither of them. Cleveland Brown was probably not the first choice viewers would pick for a spin-off series. He was in Peter Griffin’s circle of friends, and originally he was a delicatessen owner, who was married to Loretta, and had one son who was Cleveland Jr. tcs1

He was rather dour though, and he would say things in a rather boring voice (although he didn’t have the most boring voice that I’ve ever heard in a sitcom) including “ooh, that’s nasty”, seemingly an early attempt at a catchphrase. Apart from a running gag where he fell out of the bath in every other episode, it was clear that he would need to have a little more excitement in his life to make it work.

So by the time The Cleveland Show launched, things had changed a little. He had divorced Loretta, and then he moved away to live with his new family in the small town of Stoolbend (how amusing!), meaning that he would no longer appear regularly in Family Guy. By this point he had married his old High School sweetheart Donna, and he still had Cleveland Jr (although he didn’t seem to be the original Cleveland Jr, and he now looked a lot like Peter).

There were also Donna’s children from a previous marriage, the teenage daughter Roberta, and the son Rallo, who was about five-years-old but had something of an attitude. Cleveland also makes a new group of friends, including Terry, Lester, and Holt, and for some reason his next-door neighbours are a family of talking bears. We also meet Cleveland’s parents for the first time, the joke seeming to be that he looks more like his mother than his father.

Episodes featured things such as Cleveland at work in his new job at a cable installation company, and what the children got up to at school. Cleveland would also meet lots of people including the rapper Kenny West. The Cleveland Show was first shown in this country on E4, and then it moved to ITV2 when Family Guy and American Dad did, where is it still repeated rather frequently in a late-night slot.

There were four series of The Cleveland Show, and when it came to an end after 88 episodes in 2013, Cleveland had little option but to move back with his family to Quahog, which led to several in-jokes about his show flopping by comparison to the long-running original, and you can imagine how well he took that. Rather frustratingly, only the first two series have been released on DVD, but they do contain lots of extras including deleted scenes. I would definitely buy the other two if they were ever released.

More TV Memories – American Dad.

American Dad (Fox 2005-2014, TBS, 2014-present)

This is another animated sitcom that is aimed at the older viewer. A while ago, I reviewed Family Guy, and this piece has been rather successful, with about 500 views. That show was created by Seth Macfarlane, and after a short while it became a big success, so in 2005 Macfarlane went to co-create a new series that was in a similar outrageous style.

American Dad centred around the Smith family who lived in Virginia. The main character (also voiced by Macfarlane) was Stan Smith, who is a CIA agent who is rather patriotic. He would always make sure that no-one was a threat to America, and he seemed to be suspicious of everyone. If there isn’t trouble happening, he’ll cause it. Somehow his wife Francine puts up with all of this. The original opening sequence always featured a different headline on Stan’s newspaper. ad1

Stan also has two children. Daughter Hayley is at the different end of the political spectrum to her dad, and they often argue about the government’s policies. There is also son Steve, who is in his early-teens, and he is an example of being at that age where he is rather confused to put it mildly, as he is beginning to discover girls at school and is rather excited about it, although none of them are interested in him, and he often says things like “I almost touched a girl’s boobie!”.

There is also Roger the alien. Stan discovered him one day after he escaped from the CIA and decided to keep him in the house rather than send him back to his distant home planet. He has a rather flamboyant personality and likes to wear different outfits, and he also likes to enjoy wine and opens a bar in the attic. Klaus the goldfish has the brain of a German athlete, and often watches on rather bemused by all the rather unusual antics.

As the episodes go by, Steve befriends Roger and they form their own detective agency as Wheels And The Leg Man, Hayley meets and then gets married to the layout Jeff, and Stan’s long-lost one-eyed dad turns up. There weren’t that many other regular characters, but they included the two local news presenters who are also a couple, Stan’s boss Deputy Director Bullock, and Steve’s circle of rather nerdy friends included Snot (I was very disappointed when I discovered that wasn’t his real name), Toshi, and the rather rotund Barry.

Having enjoyed Family Guy over the years, I thought that I would give this one a go, and there have been many memorable moments and a lot of ambitious ideas, including alien abductions and film parodies. The show was originally shown in this country rather late at night on BBC2 and BBC3, usually in a double with Family Guy, and that continued when both shows moved to ITV2.

Lots of episodes of also been released on DVD, and there are plenty of extras including deleted scenes. There have now been 17 series of American Dad, with not far short of 300 episodes, and there seems to be no plans for it to end currently. I do wonder sometimes if the show’s only still going so they can think of more peculiar looks for Roger, but all these years on it still has plenty of energy.

More TV Memories – Football First/The Goal Rush.

Football First (ITV2, 1998-2001)/The Goal Rush (ITV1/ITV2, 2001-2003)

You will know if you a regular visitor to this blog that although I’ve never had any talent for playing sport, I have watched a lot of sports shows on TV over the years, and this is one with an interesting story. In 1998 digital channel ITV2 launched, and on Saturday afternoons there would be a fast-moving show that featured all the latest football results in England and Scotland. Well they had to find something to fill their schedules with when they were still working out what the channel should be about.

It was called Football First and was originally hosted by Graham Beacroft, who has also been a commentator on the radio for many years at various stations including TalkSport. The screen would be split into several parts, with the equivalent of Grandstand‘s Vidiprinter along the bottom with all the latest goals (and red cards!). Along with reporters at a few grounds, there would also be pundits in the studio to offer their views on the action. I suppose you could say it was an attempt to bring the ITV Results Service into the new millennium. vlcsnap-00403

This show was the first time that I had been able to watch such coverage for the whole of the match, and not just as the full-time results came in. As ITV didn’t have the rights to Premiership highlights at this point, there was more emphasis on the lower league games. Now, if you are beginning to think that this is all rather similar to Sky Sports’s Soccer Saturday with Jeff Stelling… well, it was really. vlcsnap-00411

But I didn’t have access to that show at this point and I didn’t see it until Sky Sports News launched on Freeview in the early-2000s. After a few seasons of Football First, something significant then happened. In 2001 ITV did acquire the rights to Premiership highlights for three seasons, and they wanted to make a big deal out of it, including the return of On The Ball (a format that had been around since the World Of Sport days), and the ill-fated idea of having the main show on Saturdays at 7pm that backfired very quickly (but how that all played out is another story). vlcsnap-00416

The decision was made to relaunch Football First as The Goal Rush, and it would now be hosted by Angus Scott. Although the whole of the show remained on ITV2, at around 4:30pm coverage would also be on ITV1 for the climax of the top-flight matches (and there would also be plenty of promotion for the ITV Sport Channel, another bold idea that went awry). vlcsnap-00408

However, The Goal Rush didn’t return for the third and final season of Premiership coverage in 2003, and in 2004 the rights returned to the BBC, where Match Of The Day continues to this day. Since then, the BBC have also expanded their Final Score show to last all afternoon, where it remains an intriguing watch. And I have managed to do a whole piece looking back at ITV’s Premiership coverage without making a sarcastic reference to The Tactics Truck. Oh no!