Brand, Ross pay the price

Comedian Russell Brand and talk show host Jonathan Ross have been suspended by the BBC for their offensive prank call to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs. There have been calls for them to be sacked. Whatever the outcome of this case, I hope broadcasters everywhere take note. There is a line that can be - and in this case has been - crossed in the name of "entertainment". Prank and gotcha calls often come at a cost to somebody's dignity and privacy. In the UK, there's also the mitigating factor that the BBC is funded by licence-fee payers (me included). Ross, who hosts a late-night chat and variety show, is on a 6 million-pounds-a-year contract, and Brand reportedly earns 400,000 pounds and was regarded as a "star signing" for the BBC. The average annual pay packet is about 25,000 pounds. The duo repeatedly rang Sachs's answering machine telling him Brand had slept with the actor's granddaughter. They later suggested that Sachs might kill himself after hearing the news, and they joked about breaking into his house and sexually abusing him. The pre-recorded program went to air after being approved by a senior BBC executive. One can only imagine the personal embarrassment to the woman in question, 23-year-old Georgina Baillie, who has a right to expect such matters to remain private. However, her thoughts are with her grandfather, who has no need nor, I would imagine, any desire to hear about her sex life. "What's funny about humiliating a lovely old man who has never harmed anyone in his life," she says. "My grandfather is really upset and says he wants the whole situation to end. It has been awful for him." Moreover, it's been a dark episode in the history the BBC and broadcasting in general.
Update:Brand has quit his BBC Radio 2 program and taken full responsibility for the incident. Presumably, this will take some heat off the highly paid Ross - who, let's not forget, was the first the make the offensive remark to Sachs.

Not so fancy free

Question: What is the decent minimum interval between an original film and its remake?
Answer: I don't know; but is the world really ready for another version of 1984's Footloose? It will star Zac Efron of High School Musical fame, who will reportedly earn a "close to mid-seven figures" pay packet (eek!), and there's more about it here.

Ratings: Who's on top

The seventh 2008 Australian metro cities radio ratings are out, and it's good news for some and not so good for others - especially with the year coming to the end and some 2009 line-ups yet to be confirmed. In Brisbane, the top five in breakfast are: Nova 106.9's Meshel, Kip, Ash and Luttsy, followed by Triple M's The Cage with Ian Skippen (who must have a smile on his face), 612 ABC's Spencer Howson, B105's Labrat, Camilla and Stav (who are building audience numbers and becoming competitive at last), and 97.3FM's Robin, Bob and Mark. Overall, the order is Nova, B105, Triple M, 97.3 and 612ABC, followed by 4KQ, 4BH and 4BC. There's no escaping that despite the doomsayers - me included - it's a great comeback result for B105, which is clawing back younger listeners from Nova. Special mention ought to go to the Hamish and Andy drive show, which has a 20.5 per cent audience share in its timeslot. It's been a long time since figures like that have been seen in Brisbane. It's a pretty dire result for 4BC, which is at the opposite end of the ratings to commercial talk stations in other capitals and was even beaten overall by its pour-cousin sister station 4BH, vindicating the decision to bring in Jamie Dunn to try to shake things at BC up next year. The Brisbane market is very competitive, which is good news for the listeners. In Sydney, 2GB's Alan Jones still leads the pack in breakfast, a few points ahead of ABC702's Adam Spencer. "King" Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O on 2Day have slipped, but are in third place, just ahead Nova 969's Merrick, Rosso and Kate Ritchie, who are competitive again. At the other end of the scale, Mix 106.5's Todd McKenney may be able to get arrested, but he can't seem to win ratings points in his breakfast double act with Sonya Kruger. They have slipped again - presumably to the amusement of Sammy Power who was axed to make way for them (even though her ratings this time last year were higher) - and, significantly, the station rates better as soon as they go off the air. In Melbourne, 3AW rules the roost in breakfast but not overall, where the resurgent Fox FM is doing well. Fox is also second in breakfast, neck and neck with ABC774.
Usual disclosures apply
Update: A comment from "brw" disputes my reading of the figures. Click on "Comments" for the message, and my response.

Packer quits Nine

James Packer, John Alexander, Chris Anderson and Martin Dalgleish have quit the board of PBL Media, cutting the Packer family's ties with Channel Nine and Australian Consolidated Press. As one former Nine executive said: "I don't think Kerry Packer would have allowed this situation to happen. Kerry actually liked media and James likes gambling, that's the difference." But, as another analyst noted, it may be that James, who has already sold most of his holding in the company to CVC Asia Pacific, did not want to go down with a sinking ship.
PS: Meanwhile, Channel 7 is powering towards a national ratings victory for the year.

Ready, set swear!

It's getting increasingly hard to tell all these TV chefs apart. Swearing, which used to be Gordon Ramsay's forte, is no longer a distinguishing factor. Even Jamie Oliver is doing it now. In fact, Oliver tops a list of the most F-words used after the UK's 9pm TV "watershed", which basically gives the green light to adult content (on the increasingly erroneous assumption that all children are in bed). The Daily Mail notes that his new Ministry of Food program featured 23 F-words among a total of 27 "serious expletives". Other offenders were the shows Traffic Cops, Natural Born Sellers and Friday Nights with Jonathan Ross.

With friends like these ...

"He’s a friend of mine and that’s pretty much it. I’m not going to get into details, but it’s a small world."

So, enigmatically, says 19-year-old American fashion student Andrea Feick, who has been pictured in a bikini cosying up to U2 frontman Bono, 48, but denies having a romantic relationship with him.

No pranks, thanks

Given recent discussion on this blog about radio "gotcha" calls, this news item is timely. UK radio hosts Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross could face prosecution over obscene calls they made to 78-year-old former Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs (pictured, left) for their BBC program. Among other things, they left a series of messages on his answering machine claiming Brand had had sex with Sachs' granddaughter. Amazingly, Ross earns 6 million pounds a year and yet he and Brand can only come up with something so juvenile and hurtful to a now elderly, and apparently deeply religious man. Perhaps we should revise the old saying and replace sarcasm with prank calls when it comes to the lowest form of wit.

October 27 update: The BBC has apologised to Sachs.

Golly, Molly, leave it alone

You can never go back. Unless you're Molly Meldrum and you want to squeeze some more mileage out of the Countdown franchise. The show will return for one night only to launch a new cable music, 111 Hits.

When Romilly met Philip

This may be an oldie - it happened last year and has just been repeated on UK television - but it's still a goodie. The Have I Got News For You clip, at right, records an encounter between TV reporter Romilly Weeks and Prince Philip in Malta, where the Prince and the Queen spent part of their anniversary.

New boss = new broom?

ARN, the Australian Radio Network, has a new boss following a reshuffle at the top of its parent company, APN News and Media. Will the appointment of Richard Herring* have any immediate implications for ARN employees? I don't know, but I bet some people at 4KQ and 97.3FM in Brisbane, and the Classic Hits and Mix stations in other capitals, are having a close look at their contracts as the end of the year looms.
* I wonder if his friends call him "Red"?

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