10 British Shows Worth Watching

When I was growing up, “British TV” meant either Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Good Life, the inexplicable Benny Hill Show or one of those well-acted but painfully dull movies on Masterpiece Theatre. Of course, looking back on it now, American TV wasn’t that exciting in the 1970s either, but Brit TV was well-known as being especially boring – not to mention cheaply put together.

If the last British TV show you watched was The Tomorrow People, you’ve been out of the loop for far too long! Thanks to the magic of DVDs and the Internet, you no longer need a passport and a plane ticket to watch most of the dozens of great British shows out there. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites, listed in no particular order:

SpooksSpooks – If you like 24, there’s a good chance you’ll like Spooks as well. It’s a gritty action\drama set in the anti-terrorism division of MI-5, which is Britain’s version of the FBI (sort of). Because most British shows still lack the big budgets that American shows have, most Brit TV writers rely more on cheaper things like, I dunno… character development. Whereas 24 is populated with a bunch of cartoon characters that we couldn’t care less about (excepting Jack, of course), we get to know each of the characters on Spooks deeply. And this makes us care. And when bad things happen to them, it’s like a kick in the gut. The show is tightly written, so whether the gang is chasing IRA or Muslim terrorists, computer hackers or rouge agents, you’ll almost always be on the edge of your seat. More than once I thought I was gonna have a heart attack before an episode was over. This show pulls no punches. At all. Yes, Spooks sometimes leans heavily on “technobabble” (not to mention technology that simply doesn’t exist in the real world). But still… this show will simply take your breath away!

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Time Warner’s DVR: how I made it to Engadget!

Time Warner Cable updated the firmware on their SA-8300HD DVR boxes on 10/26/05 at around 3:55am. I know because I was watching TV when the box turned off and a bunch of hex numbers ran across the front panel of the DVR. After it rebooted, I was curious, so I looked into the settings menu. Imagine my surprise when I saw this:

TWC DVR funny!

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The Cure or Mr Rogers?

Do you remember MTV’s Remote Control??? It was a game show hosted by Ken Ober (with occasional guest Adam Sandler!) that featured categories like “Dead or Canadian” – where contestants were given a list of celebrities and had to guess whether each was… well, dead or Canadian.

In the spirit of Remote Control, I’m pleased to announce my very own version! Below are several lyrics to songs by either the British band The Cure or from Public Television’s favorite “man in the neighborhood”. See if you can guess which artist wrote which lyrics. The answers are after the jump – NO PEEKING!!



I think you’re a special person
And I like your ins and outsides.
Everybody’s fancy.
Everybody’s fine.
Your body’s fancy and so is mine.


You know those things I said
All those things that made you cry
I didn’t really mean that stuff
I didn’t really mean that stuff
All I ever really mean
When I scream and shout the way I do
Is I don’t know
I really don’t
I’m just the same as you.


I love it all
These games we play
I close my eyes
You run away
I’m sure I asked you to stay
But now you’re gone.


I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.


I can go far away, or dream anything,
Or wear a scary costume or act like a king.
I can change all my names
And find a place to hide.
I can do almost anything, but
I’m still myself,
I’m still myself,
I’m still myself inside.


Nothing ever puts me out
Nothing ever pulls me in
Nothing ever makes me want to jump
And nothing makes me want to begin
Nothing ever gets me down
Nothing ever gets me uptight
And nothing ever makes me run around
And nothing makes me feel I might


It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.


I never felt like this with anyone before
You only have to smile and I’m dizzy
You make the world go round
A thousand times an hour
Just touch my head
And send me spinning.


Let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting
While we’re waiting for something new to do.
Let’s try to think up a song while we’re waiting
That’s liberating and will be true to you.


If you’ve got an hour,
Now’s the time to share it.
If you’ve got a flower,
Wear it.
This is just the day.


Oh you know how it is
Wake up feeling blue
And everything that could be wrong is
Including you.
Black clouds and rain and pain in your head
And all you want to do is stay in bed.


Please don’t think it’s funny
When you want an extra kiss.
There are lots and lots of people
Who sometimes feel like this.

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What You Didn’t Know About… “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”!

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is a hilarious comedy on FX. The show is about four friends that own an Irish bar in Philadelphia. It’s similar to Seinfeld in that the characters are vain, selfish, and self-centered. In fact, you might think of it as a low-budget Seinfeld for the Gen X\Gen Y crowd. But although many make comparisons to the megahit of the 1990s, there’s a lot about Philadelphia that’s unique:

  • The pilot episode cost $85 to make! The cast of the show were already good friends, so no money was needed to hire any additional actors. The show was shot in various locations that the friends could use for free, and since one of them owned a video camera, the only cost they had was for video tapes. Although FX has repeatedly stated that the pilot episode cost $200 to make, actual cast members have said that the actual cost was closer to $85.
  • The show has no original music! Although there have been a few scenes in the series where the characters sing popular songs – such as Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” – the show itself uses no original music. According to Wikipedia, the opening theme “is a piece of production music called ‘Temptation Sensation’ by Heinz Kiessling” and the rest of the music comes from stock libraries.
  • Charlie’s unattainable love is… his wife! One of the friends – Charlie Kelly (played by Charlie Day) – is in love with an unnamed barista who works at a coffee shop near the bar. She is completely unattainable to Charlie; she constantly rolls her eyes at him, sighs and asks “what do you want, Charlie?”. What makes this funny is that the waitress is played by Charlie’s real-life wife Mary Elizabeth Ellis.
  • The ending has backwards messages! The ending of each episode has the “RCH Production” logo, which features the friends wearing hoodies. A backwards message is also heard. In season 1, the message said “You are stupid for playing this forward”; in season 2, the message was changed to “Is it brown? Is it brown? Is it brown? Good work. Is it brown? Is it brown? Is it brown? Good work”. No, I have no idea what that means.
  • Frank’s MySpace page exists! In the final episode of season 2, the guys hook Frank (Danny DeVito) up with a MySpace page. Not only does the profile actually exist, he has only one friend (Tom, the guy who’s everyone’s friend!)

What You Didn’t Know About… “All In The Family”!

All In The Family was one of the most popular shows in TV history. While the show was a comedy at its heart, it was also known for taking an unflinching look at American society. The show regularly took on topics considered taboo for any TV show (much less a comedy) like racism, homosexuality, women’s lib, rape, breast cancer and impotence. Although just about everyone has seen the show at least once, there’s a lot you might not know about it:

– It was supposed to be filmed in black and white! Norman Lear, the show’s creator, originally wanted to film All In The Family in black and white to make it more “gritty”. CBS had only recently upgraded to 100% color broadcasts, so they vetoed the idea immediately. Lear opted instead to decorate the set in drab, washed-out colors as a substitute, so that’s why the Bunker’s house looks so “dreary”.

– The furniture cost thousands of dollars. Sort of. Archie’s famous chair (and the rest of the Bunker’s furniture) originally came from a Los Angeles area Goodwill store. Late in the show’s run – after All In The Family had become an American icon – the Smithsonian came calling, wanting Archie’s and Edith’s chairs for their American history museum. Lear donated the items, but then the show had to spend thousands of dollars creating exact duplicates to use in the show.

– The theme sequence was a compromise! The opening sequence of the show, which featured Archie and Edith singing a song together at the Bunker’s living room piano, is one of the most famous (and most parodied) in TV history. But the truth is that after filming the show’s pilot, there was simply not enough money left in the budget to put together a splashy introduction. So Lear came up with the idea of Archie and Edith simply singing at the piano. Several versions of the introduction were used over the years; one version even had an extra verse! But two continuing trends of the updated intros were Stapleton singing her famous line “and you knew who you were THHHHEENNN” in an ever louder and “screechier” voice, and both O’Connor and Stapleton carefully enunciating the last line of the song (“Gee our old LaSalle ran great”) ever more clearly, as viewers complained that they couldn’t understand that line.

– The show was the king of spin-offs. Sort of. “Spin-offs” are new TV shows based on popular characters in existing shows. For example, Kelsey Grammar’s popular doctor Frasier Crane was “spun-off” of Cheers into a new show called Frasier. All In The Family spun-off several shows, and if you include spin-offs of the spin-offs, it reigns supreme as the show with the most spin-offs in TV history. All In The Family itself spun-off Maude, The Jeffersons, 704 Hauser, Gloria and Archie Bunker’s Place. Further spin-offs include Checking In (a spin-off of The Jeffersons) and Good Times (a spin off of Maude).

– It was a show of firsts. All In The Family has a long line of “firsts” under its belt: the show was the first to be videotaped before a live audience (as opposed to filmed), it was the first sitcom to rank #1 in the ratings for five consecutive seasons (only The Cosby Show has matched that feat), it was the first show to feature the sound of a flushing toilet, the first show to use words like “spade” and “nigger” on a regular basis, and was also the first show in which all of the cast – Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner – won Emmy awards for their work.

What You Didn’t Know About… “Friends”!

Friends was one of the most popular sitcoms in American TV history. Even people that claim to hate the show can get a chuckle or two out of it if they’re stuck on an airplane or in a Jiffy Lube waiting room. And there’s a lot of interesting trivia about the show you might not know:

  • The first cast member to get a movie role after the show went big was… Marcel the Monkey! Actually, Marcel was played by two female monkeys named “Monkey” and “Katie”. Katie played a central role in 1995’s Outbreak, a film which starred Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo. One wonders what that says about the rest of the cast’s acting ability!
  • The fridges actually worked! The refrigerators in Monica\Rachel’s and Joey\Chandler’s apartments actually worked; the cast and crew kept their lunches and drinks in Monica’s fridge, which explains why it was always so full. Joey and Chandler’s fridge was usually kept empty – unless a scene required something in the fridge, in which case the crew would fill it up. Since the crew didn’t want to do that very often, a camera angle was chosen such that you almost never see the inside of their fridge.
  • The episodes had similar titles! When people talk about a television show, they often refer to episodes with the phrase “The one where…”, as in “the one where Hawkeye glues Frank’s boots to the floor”. The writers of Friends noticed this phenomenon, and most of the show’s titles begin with “The One…”. Contrary to both popular belief and barroom trivia, however, not every episode was titled as such. The pilot was named “The Pilot”, the 100th episode was titled “The One Hundredth” and the finale was named “The Last One”.
  • The picture frame around the peephole was an accident! One of the most distinctive features of the show’s decor was the empty picture frame that surrounded the peephole on the back of Monica’s door. In the very early days of the show, there was a mirror in the frame, but a clumsy crew member accidentally broke it! The cast and crew decided that they liked the look of the frame, so it was left where it was.
  • Their apartment numbers changed! In the first episodes, the apartment numbers of Chandler\Joey’s and Monica\Rachel’s apartments were #4 and #5, respectively. The show’s producers quickly realized that those numbers didn’t match the view from Monica’s balcony, so the numbers were quietly changed to #19 and #20.
  • The show wasn’t always filmed in front of a live audience! Friends was almost always filmed in front of a live audience. However, there were no audiences during the filming of “cliffhanger episodes” (which is common in the industry, so that audience members can’t sell spoilers to Entertainment Weekly magazine). What’s not so common was that Tom Selleck always received a boisterous standing ovation from the crowd any time he walked on the set, so the scenes where Selleck walks on camera for the first time almost always had to be re-shot without an audience!

What You Didn’t Know About… Jerry Springer!

Just about everyone in the English-speaking world has heard of talk show host Jerry Springer. But there’s a lot about Mr. Springer that you might not know:

He was born in a Tube station! Jerry’s parents were German Jews that fled to London to escape the Nazi regime. During WWII, many London Underground stations were used as bomb shelters for civilians. Jerry’s parents were no exception, and it therefore wasn’t all that remarkable that Jerry Springer was born in an east London Tube station on February 13, 1944.

He once paid a hooker with a check! After being an aide for Robert Kennedy and unsuccessfully running for Congress, Jerry was elected to the Cincinnati city council in 1971. He had to resign in 1974 after police raided a massage parlor in Fort Wright, Kentucky and found a check Springer had written for “services rendered”. He admitted the faux pas, and was re-elected in 1975.

He was routinely mentioned on a 1970s TV sitcom! Jerry became mayor of Cincinnati in 1977. “Mayor Springer” was mentioned in several episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati, but never actually appeared on the show.

His show mirrored Morton Downey Jr.’s show! In 1982, Springer left politics and was hired as a political reporter for Cincinnati’s WLWT-TV, an NBC affiliate. This led to his own talk show, The Jerry Springer Show, which debuted on September 20th, 1991. Much like Morton Downey’s Jr.’s show in the 1980s, Jerry’s first TV show was mostly about serious topics like gun control, homelessness and abortion; the show’s guests included Oliver North and Jessie Jackson. Also like Morton Downey Jr.’s show, as time passed the show’s ratings started to fall, and more and more “outrageous” subjects were brought on.

There’s an opera based on his show! In August of 2001, Jerry Springer: The Opera debuted at the Battersea Arts Centre in the UK. The show was an instant success and was frequently moved to larger and larger venues, eventually settling at the Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End. The libretto of the opera is a bit complex to get into here, but it suffices to say that it contains a lot of foul language and content that would offend churchgoers. It’s so offensive, in fact, that the BBC received over 47,000 complaints when it aired a version of the show in 2005 – the most complaints about any show in British history!

What You Didn’t Know About… “Match Game”

Match Game was one of the most popular game shows of the 1970s. It originally aired on NBC in a different format, but was resurrected for CBS in 1973 into the format we all know and love.

Ratings for the show weren’t that good initially, so CBS sent the show a “cancellation notice”. Back then, networks didn’t yank shows off the air like they do today, and Match Game had several episodes remaining before it was due to leave the air. So the writers decided to have fun with it: they took the show’s hitherto pedestrian “fill in the blank” questions and crammed them with lots of innuendo and double entendres. The new “spicy” version of the show became an instant hit and ran for several years.

Many folks noticed the distinctive microphone that host Gene Rayburn used on the show; few know that Rayburn designed and patented the microphone himself. It was built especially for him by Sony and was given model number ECM-51.

In his earlier days, Rayburn was a radio DJ on a show called Rayburn and Fitch. Rayburn once knitted a pair of socks as a publicity stunt for the show, and as a result he became interested in working with needles, especially needlepoint. He was frequently spotted in airports and restaurants and on airplanes doing needlepoint to pass the time. Match Game creator Mark Goodson even surprised Rayburn onstage during the taping of an episode to give him a needlepoint bag as a token gift for making Match Game the #1 daytime television show.

A 1974 incident where Rayburn told contestant Karen Lesko that she had “pretty nipples” has gone down in history as one of the worst bloopers in game show history (or best bloopers, depending on your point-of-view). Rayburn meant to say that she had “pretty dimples”.

RANT: “Technobabble” In Movies and TV

You might know that I have a problem with the tons of technobabble that appears on TV and the movies these days. You might even have read the page that I dedicated to the subject on this site. But the thing is, all the gobbledygook on 24 is really starting to get on my nerves. So much so that whenever someone on the show talks about “opening a socket” or “telnetting into the BIOS”, Lisa automatically looks over to see if I’m rolling my eyes… and I usually am. Sometimes I even try to translate the technobabble to her literally or try to explain why some technological feature won’t work – such as why parabolic microphones (especially ones without the parabolic part) won’t work through a combined 6 feet of concrete.

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RANT: “Replacement Music” on TV Shows on DVD

This week’s rant may sound silly, but bear with me while I try to justify my anger. You see, the people that produce television shows are required to obtain a license for most of the “pop music” you hear on a TV show’s soundtrack. I’m not talking about the instrumental “classical-type” music you hear in the background; that music was probably created specifically for the show or is part of the studio’s ‘stock library’ that it can use in any production. No, I’m talking about the sort of music you’d hear on the radio. Many shows that appeal to younger audiences like The OC, Veronica Mars and Popular – shows that often have the “this show featured music by…” ad just before the end credits start rolling – use this type of music. The problem – and this rant – comes when the shows get transferred to DVD. Many times it’s simply too expensive for the studio to license the music that appeared on the original show. Other times it’s just too confusing; for example, if a song has three songwriters, each might have his or her own publisher for the song’s rights. So instead of dealing with one company, the studio in this example has to deal with three – not to mention the actual songwriters and\or their estates. Needless to say, it can get quite confusing.

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