Clint Eastwood Superbowl Ad

The Superbowl commercial which really got people talking this year featured Clint Eastwood …but wasn’t for a movie.

Major studios often pay top dollar for the prestigious half-time spot at the Superbowl.

Independence Day (1996) probably had the most famous one of recent times and the big ones this year included spots for Marvel’s The Avengers, Disney’s John Carter, Paramount’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Universal’s Battleship.

The price average price was $3.5 million per thirty-second ad.

There was even a movie-related advert for Honda featuring Matthew Broderick reprising his role as Ferris Bueller (they released that one early).

But the one that provoked a lot of confused and polarised chat on Twitter featured Eastwood in this spot for Chrysler.

The travails of Detroit and the (successful) auto-industry bailout have been well documented, but it seemed odd to see Eastwood in this setting.

He was probably asked to do this because his film Gran Torino (2008) was set and shot in the city.

CNN report that he wrote the lines himself and donated his fee to charity.

The bleak-but-hopeful tone made it feel like some kind of campaign commercial, but it was actually an advert for Chrysler who are now owned by Italian car giant Fiat.


So all the talk of America and recovery was presumably referring to the jobs the auto-bailout saved.

Eastwood has always been something of an enigma politically.

Eisenhower-era Republicans are rare in Hollywood, but in the past he has donated to candidates across the political spectrum.

He is also one of the most experienced and respected figures in an industry which leans heavily to the Democrats.

So what was really going on here?

> More on the Super Bowl XLVI at Wikipedia
> Other ads that played during the Superbowl

Amusing TV

Movie References in The Simpsons

For over 20 years The Simpsons has been referencing movies from Citizen Kane (1941) to Basic Instinct (1992).

The show has been running for so long that when you do a comprehensive list like this it reads like an index to a history of cinema.

A French website (‘The Simpsons Park’) has collected an incredible gallery of screen shots and animated gifs that lays out the original Simpsons episode alongside the particular film.

The range is astonishing: Kubrick, Bergman, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Lumet, Spielberg, Coppola and Truffaut are just some of the many directors referenced.

Just click on the links below to visit the relevant page – they aren’t in English, but the visuals speak for themselves.

> Matt Groening & Al Jean on The Simpsons Movie
> Find out more about The Simpsons at Wikipedia 

Technology TV

The Magic Box

Could this be the year of a magic box that simplifies the home entertainment experience?

This week saw the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where numerous companies display their wares and issue a blizzard of press releases in the hope of creating awareness for their products.

But there is a missing piece of technology that looms large over this year’s CES, mainly because it hasn’t been released yet.

What if a company could unify the TV and Internet experience for the average user?


Over the past few years the rate of technological change for the consumer has been dizzying.

Not only has there been the introduction of high-definition television but there has also been an explosion in more powerful mobile devices and applications.

However, despite the ability to time-shift and view sharper images the fundamental experience of sitting down in front of your TV and watching a film or show hasn’t actually changed that much.

You still have to juggle at least two remotes, navigate a tricky user interface and occasionally experience your box freezing as it struggles to absorb all the digital information hurled at it.

It can be hard to generalise, but let’s start from the proposition that the vast majority will some form of digital widescreen TV.

If you don’t, then it will be hard to watch anything in the UK from April as that’s when they finally switch off the analogue signal.

Then let us assume most people have some form of digital TV – be it a basic Freeview setup (one off payment for a box or PVR) or premium services like Sky (satellite), Virgin (cable) or BT (digital phone line).

Nearly all of these services have some kind of recording or on-demand capability which allows you to time shift your viewing.


But if you think the current landscape is by any means straightforward, then you should think again.

The acid test is to go to your main TV and describe the services attached to it.

When you have finished, then compare it with family or friends and you’ll not only be swapping tales of multiple remote controls and horrible user interfaces but you’ll find it hard to keep track of what everyone’s setup is.

The Economist recently quoted a Forrester Research report which found that:

…many people didn’t fully understand the devices they had bought, and only a few had recommended them to their friends

But this confusion only reflects the comparative pace of change in recent years.

Most people just want something to watch, be it regular shows, sporting events or a movie.


An added factor over the last decade is the whole business of the Internet coming into our living rooms and merging with our televisions.

This process has been gradual starting with red-button services in the late 1990s and really picking up steam in recent times with services like BBC iPlayer available online and via web-connected TVs.

As it stands, various TV manufacturers such as LG, Samsung and Sony have all tried to offer a TV that can blend the world of broadcast and the web.

So far, they haven’t really got there yet.

Partly because it is early days for truly web enabled TVs but it part of it is also down to modern remotes and user interfaces being designed for another era.

Have you ever tried to access YouTube on an LG TV? It is like learning how to type text messages in the late 1990s.

I’m betting that the same is true to a greater or lesser degree for other TVs and services.

Over the last decade a generation of TV viewers has got increasingly used to the web and since 2007 web enabled smartphones.

This brings us to the one company that could truly unite television and the web.


Over the last decade Apple revolutionised the music industry by creating the iPod and have started to make inroads on the laptop market with the iPad.

In Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs there is this revealing passage:

…he very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

Since 2006 Apple have regarded their current TV efforts as basically an extension of iTunes, with digital downloads of TV shows and movies.

But broadcast TV has proved a much harder proposition.

In June 2010 Jobs gave what was to be his last in-depth interview at the D8 conference.

Right at the end of the session he was asked a fascinating question about reshaping the ‘traditional interface of television’.

Jobs replied:

The problem with innovation in the TV industry is the go-to-market strategy. The TV industry has a subsidized model that gives everyone a set top box for free. So no one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us… ask Google in a few months. The television industry fundamentally has a subsidized business model that gives everyone a set-top box, and that pretty much undermines innovation in the sector.

Then came the key bit:

The only way this is going to change is if you start from scratch, tear up the box, redesign and get it to the consumer in a way that they want to buy it. But right now, there’s no way to do that….The TV is going to lose until there’s a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem with the industry. It’s not a problem with the technology, it’s a problem with the go-to-market strategy….I’m sure smarter people than us will figure this out, but that’s why we say Apple TV is a hobby.

This was a classic Jobs tactic of stating facts and whilst hinting at the future.

Five years previously at the D3 conference in 2005 he talked about the difficulty of getting video displays on iPods just months before Apple unveiled a (yes, you guessed it) video-enabled iPod in October of the year.

When asked at the same session about the possibility of an ‘iPod phone’ he laid out the challenges:

By January 2007 the iPhone was unveiled and effectively reshaped the mobile industry.

If you compare the challenges of Apple producing a phone in 2005 with that of making a TV in 2010 it is easy to feel a sense of deja vu.

Although a secretive company it does leak carefully selected morsels of information to favoured outlets (that was how one editor got in trouble tweeting from his iPad before the official launch).

In recent times the Wall Street Journal has become the place to watch for clues as to where Apple may be headed.

One article in December was of particular note:

Apple Inc. is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple is also working on its own television that relies on wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content, according to people briefed on the project.

In the recent meetings with media companies, the Apple executives, including Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, have outlined new ways Apple’s technology could recognize users across phones, tablets and TVs, people familiar with the talks said. In at least one meeting, Apple described future television technology that would respond to users’ voices and movements, one of the people said. Such technology, which Apple indicated may take longer than some of its other ideas, might allow users to use their voices to search for a show or change channels.

This basically confirms what many technology writers had long suspected, but until Apple unveil a dedicated TV some fascinating questions remain.

What if they can truly turn apps into what are effectively TV channels?

What if iOS devices can become the remotes that don’t suck and seamlessly integrate with the (future) Apple TV?

Part of Apple’s original strategy for the iPod was to create a ‘digital hub‘ around the home computer which Jobs revealed way back in 2001:

By making the computer the hub around which they built iPods, iPhones and iPads Apple tapped right into a huge market as the halo effect of these mobile devices drove Mac sales and vice versa.

This virtuous circle is precisely what has driven Apple’s phenomenal growth over the last decade.

Although iTunes overtook Walmart as the world’s largest music retailer in 2008 (itself an incredible feat), Apple really make money on the hardware, whilst the digital music and apps are kind of the key gateway drug.

Could a TV be the final part of an overall home hub strategy?

In fact, you could argue it is the last frontier in the home just waiting to be conquered.

Imagine getting rid of all those channels you don’t ever watch and throwing away those clunky remotes.

iOS devices are effectively pre-built remotes and with Siri enabled voice commands it opens up a world of possibilities in the long term.

As for premium programming, the main drivers for pay television are movies and sport.

Apple already have plenty of films on the iTunes store and via apps like Netflix and Lovefilm.

When it comes to the major studios Disney have already put their chips firmly with iTunes, whilst their rivals (Sony, Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount) have signed up to UltraViolet, which is essentially a digital locker strategy.

Apple are rumoured to be working on a similar service for films, which will almost certainly involve iCloud.

Sports is potentially a much trickier area – and it is not clear whether Apple would want to even go there – but it could be a possibility if you extended the ‘app as channel’ model a bit further.

Imagine if the MLB, the NFL or even the Premier League wanted to make a deal with Apple for an exclusive deal to broadcast their games.

It would be a great way of driving sales of the new Apple TV.

The WSJ story highlights the difficult dilemmas traditional TV organisations face:

The pace of change puts media companies that make TV shows and program TV channels in a dilemma. On one hand, they hope that they can increase their profits by selling new services on new devices. But they are worried that a proliferation of new services could undermine the existing TV business, which brings in more than $150 billion a year in the U.S. in advertising and consumer spending on monthly TV subscriptions from cable, satellite and telecommunications companies.

Could 2012 see Apple provide the elusive magic box and disrupt the TV business like they did to the music industry?

> WSJ on Apple’s TV plans
> CNET on the Apple TV
> More on Apple TV at Wikipedia


Films on TV over Christmas 2011

Here are my TV film picks for the festive period if you want to plan ahead and set the DVR or catchup on BBC iPlayer.

A few quick observations:

If you want to discuss any of the films below on Twitter my username is @filmdetail

Thursday 22nd December

Friday 23rd December

  • LOCAL HERO (1983) is on Film4 at 3.20pm
  • EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) is on ITV1 at 10.50pm
  • FIGHT CLUB (1999) is on Film4 at 11pm

Saturday 24th December

Sunday 25th December

  • BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) is on Film4 at 1.10pm
  • SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) is on More4 at 3.05pm
  • MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947) is on Film4 at 3.20pm
  • RATATOUILLE (2007) is on BBC1 at 4.50pm
  • EL CID (1961) is BBC4 at 7pm
  • Monday 26th September

    Tuesday 27th December

    Wednesday 28th December

    Thursday 29th December

    Friday 30th December

    Interesting Technology TV

    The Machine That Changed The World

    Back in 1992 PBS aired a series on the history of computers called The Machine That Changed the World.

    Produced by WGBH Television, it was written and directed by Nancy Linde and was also shown in the UK on the BBC.

    You can watch all the episodes below, courtesy of Waxy.

    Episode 1: Great Brains

    Explores the earliest forms of computing, from Charles Babbage in the 1800s to the first working computers of the 1940s.

    Episode 2: Inventing the Future

    The second part picks up the story of ENIAC and the first commercial computer company, culminates with the moon landing in 1969 and the rise of Silicon Valley.

    Episode 3: The Paperback Computer

    Explores the rise of the modern personal computer, the development of the graphical user interface, the Apple II and Macintosh, along with some early 90s predictions of the future.

    Episode 4: The Thinking Machine

    The history of artificial intelligence and the possibility of teaching computers to think and learn like human beings.

    Episode 5: The World at Your Fingertips

    The final episode explores the rise of information networks including the Internet and the world wide web.

    WGBH Boston
    > IMDb entry


    Luck on HBO

    The new HBO series Luck sees director Michael Mann and writer David Milch combine forces with Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte.

    Based around a group of characters at a horse-racing track, Milch spoke about the premise to Variety last year:

    “The pilot is about a bunch of intersecting lives in the world of horse racing,” Milch told Daily Variety. “It’s a subject which has engaged and some might say has compelled me for 50 years. I’ve joked that if I just can make $25 million on this show, I’ll be even on research expenses. I find it as complicated and engaging a special world as any I’ve ever encountered, not only in what happens in the clubhouse and the grandstand, but also on the backside of the track, where the training is done and where they house the horses.”

    Although it looks like an ensemble piece, it appears Dustin Hoffman will have the biggest role as a man ‘deeply involved in gambling’.

    Both Mann and Milch have a considerable pedigree when it comes to TV shows: the former was showrunner for Miami Vice in the 1980s when Milch was doing the same job with Hill Street Blues.

    With Martin Scorsese directing the pilot of Boardwalk Empire for HBO, it seems like the venerable cable network is fast becoming a refuge for directors who want to flex their creative muscles outside the studio system.

    Luck is scheduled to air sometime in 2012.

    > HBO page for Luck
    > Find out more about Michael Mann and David Milch at Wikipedia
    > New Yorker profile of David Milch from 2005

    Documentaries News TV

    Trailer: George Harrison – Living in the Material World

    The new trailer for the new Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison is now online.

    George Harrison: Living in the Material World features rare footage from Harrison’s childhood, his time in The Beatles, his solo career and his unlikely career as a movie producer through Handmade Films.

    The interviewees include Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono and Olivia and Dhani Harrison.

    Like Scorsese’s previous documentary about Bob Dylan – No Direction Home – this is split into two parts: the first section (94 mins) covers Harrison’s early life in Liverpool and career as a Beatle up until their break up in 1970.

    The second part (114 mins) charts his solo career during the 1970s and 80s, up until the end of his life in November 2001.

    It is being screened at cinemas across the UK and Dublin on October 4th.

    In the US it will air on HBO in two parts on October 5th and 6th and in the UK on the BBC at some point (although details are unclear, it may be on BBC2 in November for the 10th anniversary of his death).

    The DVD and Blu-ray come out soon after on October 10th.

    > For more info and to book tickets visit the Facebook page
    > More on the film at the IMDb
    > Pre-order the DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon UK


    Nicolas Winding Refn on BBC Breakfast

    Director Nicolas Winding Refn was promoting Drive on BBC Breakfast when he used some rather creative language to describe the violence in the film.

    The look on Carey Mulligan’s face at 0.11 is priceless.

    Although some cynics may smell a calculated publicity ploy here, it seems to me like he was tired and after doing rounds of press discussing his latest work just got muddled as to where he was and what kind of language he should be using.

    But what’s interesting to note how quickly parts of the British media – especially the dead tree kind seize on this kind of slip up.

    Haven’t we all seen The Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy, Helen Mirren’s recent use of the s-word or Jane Fonda drop the C-bomb live on US morning television?

    It seems strange that British newspapers act shocked at this when some have supported facism and hacked the phones of murder victims, but maybe I’m just being old fashioned.

    Note the obligatory use of the phrase ‘choked on cereal’ or ‘choked on cornflakes’ in any story covering this world-shattering event.

    Plus, what exactly can the presenters or broadcaster actually do apart from apologise and move swiftly on?

    I know that as we speak there is some poor soul deep within Television Centre filling out a compliance form, which have been enforced on shows since the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand voicemail affair, which is listed in Wikipedia with the hilariously concise title of “Russell Brand Show prank telephone calls row“.

    But let me save them some time and encourage them to fill a blank sheet of paper or empty web form with the following:

    Danish director of cool new film swore live on air. Presenters apologised. Move on.

    By the way Drive is really good, if a little violent in places, and apparently the violence is a little like… [REDACTED].

    > Full review of Drive
    > Very funny Stars Wars vs Drive mashup trailer
    > BBC Breakfast slip up when unedited audio of Christian Bale was aired

    Interesting TV

    Alexander Mackendrick and The Watergate Hearings

    In the early 1970s director Alexander Mackendrick used the Watergate hearings to explore the basics of film grammar.

    After establishing himself as a director with vintage Ealing comedies in the late 1940s, he returned to America where he made the classic Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

    In 1969 he went into teaching at the California Institute of the Arts, where his students included future filmmakers such as Terence Davies, F. X. Feeney and James Mangold.

    As the Watergate scandal heated up with saturation television coverage, Mackendrick noticed that the principles of narrative filmmaking could be applied to real-life television coverage.

    For those not familair with Watergate, it began with a seemingly minor burglary at the Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972, and as Washington Post reporters probed the story, they gradually uncovered widespread criminal behaviour and evidence of a cover-up within the Nixon administration.

    The Senate Watergate Committee began hearings in May 1973 and after several dramatic revelations, Nixon was forced to resign in August 1974.

    Over the course of that year leading to his resignation, various people were called to testify to the committee, which were broadcast live on TV.

    One exchange that caught Mackendrick’s attention was the between Senator Howard Baker and Sally Harmony, who secretary to G. Gordon Liddy, one of the key Nixon operatives later convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.

    You can watch the footage here:

    Mackendrick was struck by the inherent drama of the conversation and the visual language of what unfolded on his television set.

    He even wrote a detailed pamphlet which explored how the principles of a dramatic film apply to documentaries.

    It makes for fascinating reading, but this particular quote stands out:

    “It’s my guess that a movie director, given dailies of exactly the same footage, could hardly have done a better job of editing even if given time to analyse the material. The rapidly intercut closeups may be silent, but their subtext is obvious and eloquent. Seeing these live broadcasts from Washington, I remember being transfixed by what was essentially news reportage.”

    He even sketched out a diagram of where the cameras were in relation to the people:

    The interesting thing is that you can apply Mackendrick’s analysis to any non-fiction footage, be it reality television, YouTube videos or serious current affairs.

    The most seismic news event of the past decade was 9/11, a terrorist attack which many people at the time remarked was ‘like a movie’.

    On NBC’s live coverage, a terrified witness on the phone says these very words at 04.21:

    Presumably part of the terrorist plan was to use the Western media against itself, as they knew these images would be carried around the world.

    The catch 22 for media is that they had to broadcast them as it was a major news story, but they also knew that the terror was being fed into millions of living rooms across the world.

    Although the live coverage was edited in real-time, the way in which the images came together for audiences was like a dreadful disaster movie unfolding live on television. (For more on 9/11 and the movies click here)

    On a very different note, Susan Boyle’s famous appearence on Britain’s Got Talent was massively popular because it was a classic underdog story compressed into 6 minutes.

    Susan Boyle – Singer – Britains Got Talent 2009 by moovieblog

    But notice several key points in the narrative:

    • Simon Cowell’s doubtful look at 1.06
    • Notice the cut to a sceptical audience member at 1.24 right after Boyle talks about her dream of being a professional singer
    • Simon Cowell’s raised eyebrows at 1.59 which indicate the moment where the underdog has come good
    • Amanda Holden’s eyes opening at 2.01 which accentuates that Boyle can really sing

    This wasn’t quite live, but the basic narrative building blocks of what made it resonate were shaped in editing.

    It currently has over 72 million views on YouTube (the reason I can’t embed from that particular site is a whole other story).

    Mackendrick’s basic observations still resonate because they tap into the way in which human beings process the moving image.

    Keep an eye out for any factual footage, be it on a serious news or the tackiest reality TV and notice how it is constructed.

    You’ll probably find out more than you might initially think.

    > Alexander Mackendrick at the IMDb
    > More on Mackendrick and the Watergate footage at The Sticking Place

    Amusing TV

    Bill Maher and Jane Lynch perform Weinergate

    Bill Maher and Jane Lynch last night staged a dramatic reading of Anthony Weiner‘s now infamous Facebook conversations.

    For those not familiar, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner recently confessed that was involved in lewd online exchanges with random people on the internet.

    On HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the host and Lynch read out one of Weiner’s Facebook exchanges verbatim and the results were predictably funny (although definitely NSFW):

    (Click here to watch the video if the above one is pulled down)

    > HBO Real Time
    > More on the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal

    Documentaries Interesting TV

    Ayrton Senna 1995 BBC Documentary

    UK viewers can now watch the 1995 BBC documentary about Ayrton Senna online.

    With Asif Kapadia’s new documentary about the Brazilian F1 driver at cinemas, it makes for a nice companion piece.

    Presented by Steve Rider, the 50 minute programme features plenty of archive footage from Senna’s life and interviews with Frank Williams, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger, Martin Brundle, Damon Hill, and Nigel Mansell.

    Watch it in full here:

    1995: Ayrton Senna – BBC Documentary. from EffOne Archives on Vimeo.

    > Find out more about Ayrton Senna at Wikipedia
    > Official website for the new Senna documentary

    Amusing TV

    Peter Sellers does A Hard Days Night in the style of Shakespeare

    In 1965 Peter Sellers recited The Beatles song ‘A Hard Day’s Night‘ in the manner of Laurence Olivier.

    Recorded for the 1965 television show ‘The Music of Lennon and McCartney‘, the British actor was channelling Olivier’s famous performance of Richard III from Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

    The mix of Shakespearean delivery and Beatles lyrics makes for a hilarious mashup, decades before the concept became mainstream.

    You can check out some outtakes here.

    [Via Open Culture]

    > Peter Sellers at Wikipedia
    > A Hard Day’s Night lyrics
    > Christopher Walken doing Lady Gaga’s Poker Face and the South Park mashup

    Documentaries TV

    How the 2011 Japan Tsunami Happened

    This recent C4 documentary explores how the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami happened.

    Some of the raw facts about the disaster are mind-boggling:

    • It was the most powerful known earthquake ever to hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful in the world since modern records began in 1900.
    • The amount of energy released by the earthquake was 2 million times that unleashed by the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945
    • The earthquake shifted the Earth on its axis by almost 10 cm (3.9 in).
    • The cost of the disaster could reach $309 billion, making it the world’s most expensive natural disaster.
    • The earthquake triggered tsunami waves of up to 97ft (29.6m)
    • The waves struck inland minutes after the quake and some travelled up to 6 miles (10 km) inland.
    • So far the official death toll is 11,828 and 15,540 people are still missing
    • Over 125,000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
    • Japan suffered extensive structural damage with roads, railways and dams affected
    • Around 4.4 million households in northeastern Japan were left without electricity and 1.5 million without water.
    • Many electrical generators went down, and at least three nuclear reactors suffered explosions due after cooling system failures.
    • Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said: “In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan.”

    You can still donate to relief efforts.

    In the UK The British Red Cross is collecting funds to support the Japanese Red Cross which is playing a leading role in the disaster response.

    Save the Children, World Vision and Oxfam are supporting the work of their colleagues in Japan.

    If you are in the US you can donate via the American Red Cross.

    > Watch the documentary in better quality at Channel 4’s site
    > More on the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami at Wikipedia
    > Coverage of the disaster at BBC News and the New York Times
    > Interactive map of the disaster at the New York Times

    Amusing TV

    More Cowbell

    To celebrate Christopher Walken‘s birthday today, here is the famous ‘More Cowbell‘ sketch from Saturday Night Live in 2000.

    It depicts the (fictionalised) recording of Blue Öyster Cult‘s classic rock song (Don’t Fear) The Reaper and Walken plays a legendary music producer who suggests they include more of a certain instrument.

    Will Ferrell wrote and stars in the sketch, which also features Jimmy Fallon.

    More Cowbell! – watch more funny videos

    > Christopher Walken at the IMDb
    > More Cowbell at Wikipedia

    DVD & Blu-ray TV

    Blu-ray: Mad Men Season Four

    The fourth season of the acclaimed TV show continues its fascinating exploration of the life and times of a New York ad agency.

    By now Mad Men is something of a phenomenon. Even though it doesn’t get huge ratings, it has captured the hearts and minds of critics, cultural tastemakers as well as receiving multiple awards, including thirteen Emmys and four Golden Globes.

    Its influence can be seen in publishing, fashion and even people’s Twitter avatars as the show mines the social anxieties of a past era, which in turn reflect our own.

    The end of Season Three saw the partners at ad agency Sterling Cooper dissolve their copmany to start afresh and the cultural eruptions of the 1960s and the personal dramas of the characters continue.

    Opening in November 1964, this series begins with recently divorced Don Draper (Jon Hamm) still struggling to balance his personal and professional life, as he juggles relationships and deals with revelations about his past rising to the surface.

    Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) continues her rise at the agency despite the sexism of the times; the senior partners have to deal with a tricky major client; the Vietnam War is beginning to rear its head and affect Joan (Christina Hendricks), whilst Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) deals with the personal ties that conflict with his work.

    As with previous seasons the creative standards are very high, with the acting, writing and direction as good as anything you’ll see on television.

    The production values and period setting are as impressive as ever, but Weiner and his creative team go beyond just recreating a past era and skilfully explore the social anxities of the time, which also neatly reflect the current turmoil in Western culture.

    One of the chief pleasures of the show as it progresses is the way in which it conveys the compleys layers of the characters lives. Don still remains enigmatic despite numerous revelations about his life, Pete is a much more sympathetic character than he was in Season One and the painful realities of divorce are explored through Don daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka).

    As for new characters, perhaps the most notable is Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), a market research consultant who represents the data driven approach to advertising that contrasts with Don’s old school approach.

    There are some outstanding episodes this season: the opener “Public Relations” sets the tone for the season; “The Rejected” explores the very real drama of a market research group; “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” depicts the lingering tensions of World War II and what can be learned from Eastern culture; and “The Suitcase” sees Don and Peggy stay up all night to work on a Samsonite ad, in what could be the best single episode in the history of the show.

    If I had a quibble about Season Four it would be a major late development that had my head spinning after the final episode, although how Wiener and his writers develop it will be interesting, to say the least.

    Visually, Mad Men is the most filmic of TV shows. Not only is it shot on 35mm, but the compositions and attention to detail are reminiscent of cinema, whilst the influence of Hitchcock can be felt throughout the series in the opening credits, the blonde females and camera movements.

    It is worth remembering that when it began life what was primarily on a movie channel in the US (AMC) and Matthew Wiener didn’t want it to look out of place.

    The visual craft and attention to detail make it perfect for the Blu-ray format and the show looks gorgeous in high definition – with a AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1 – and the costumes and production design come across in exquisite detail.


    The box sets for the series have been notable for some fine supplementary features, which include documentaries and news footage exploring the historical backdrop to the show. Season Four is no exception.

    • Commentaries: Every episode has at least one commentary and although the most revealing tend to involve show creator Matthew Weiner, often alongside a key crew member, the actors can also be good value, providing another perpective on their characters. The list of commentaries includes:
      • “Public Relations”: 1) Weiner and Hamm; 2) David Carbonara and Jane Bryant
      • “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”: 1) Joel Murray and Alexa Alemann; 2) Weiner and Michael Uppendahl
      • “The Good News”: 1) Melinda Page Hamilton and Jared Harris; 2) Weiner and Jennifer Getzinger
      • “The Rejected”: 1) Vincent Kartheiser, John Slattery and Cara Buono; 2) Weiner and Chris Manley
      • “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”: 1) Weiner and Erin Levy
      • “Waldorf Stories”: 1) Aaron Staton, Jay Ferguson and Danny Strong; 2) Weiner, Brett Johnson and Scott Hornbacher
      • “The Suitcase”: 1) Elisabeth Moss; 2) Weiner, Tim Wilson and Chris Manley
      • “The Summer Man”: 1) Christopher Stanley, Matt Long, and Rick Sommer; 2) Weiner and Leo Trombetta
      • “The Beautiful Girls”: 1) Christina Hendricks, Cara Buono and Kiernan Shipka; 2) Weiner and Dahvi Waller
      • “Hands and Knees”: 1) Vincent Kartheiser and Christina Hendricks; 2) Weiner and David Carbonara
      • “Chinese Wall”: 1) Jessica Paré and Cara Buono; 2) Weiner and Erin Levy
      • “Blowing Smoke”: 1) John Slattery, Andre and Maria Jacquemetton and Robert Morse; 2) Weiner, Bob Levinson and Josh Weltman
      • “Tomorrowland”: 1) Kiernan Shipka, Weiner, and Jessica Paré; 2) Weiner and Jonathan Igla
    • Divorce: Circa 1960’s (HD; 1:19:36) A three-part documentary that explores the issue of divorce during the 1960s, a major theme in Season Four as Don and Betty’s separation begins to affect their children. Various experts give us insights into the subject, such as how people viewed it at the time and the difficulties it posed for people involved, whilst using illustrative clips from the show.
    • How to Succeed in Business Draper Style (HD; 56:29): A two-part featurette which interviews several businessmen and how Don Draper is a role model for today’s business executive. Most of this plays like a Tony Robbins-style seminar and I can only imagine it was included as an ironic comment on how some modern males perceive the central character as a hero (i.e. they love the smoking and drinking, whilst ignoring the emotional turmoil).
    • Marketing the Mustang: An American Icon (HD; 27:07): An excellent featurette on the iconic car that was introduced by Ford in 1964, which Don is seen driving in some of the episodes.
    • 1964 Presidential Campaign (HD; 31:12): A fascinating compilation of campaign ads for the 1964 presidential election between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, which resulted in a landslide for the Democrats. There is the infamous ‘Daisy‘ TV spot of a little girl picking daisies followed by a nuclear explosion, which played on the fear that Goldwater would use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. But there is also the inclusion of several others, which show how much (and how little) political campaigning has changed since.

    Mad Men Season Four is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Lionsgate on Monday 28th March 2011

    > Buy Mad Men Season Four on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
    > Official Mad Men site
    > Find out more about Mad Men at Wikipedia

    Interesting TV

    A Clockwork Orange Discussion

    In 1972 film writer William K. Everson, novelist Anthony Burgess and actor Malcolm McDowell sat down for a TV discussion about Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971).

    Among the things they talk about are:

    Notice how Everson seems to be talking to camera without the aid of an autocue and how abruptly the thing ends.

    > Find out more about William K. Everson, Anthony Burgess and Malcolm McDowell at Wikipedia
    > A Clockwork Orange at the IMDb

    Amusing TV

    Spanish TV Hotel Prank

    The Spanish TV station Cuatro recently pranked hotel guests by dressing a young girl up as a spooky character and secretly filming their reactions.

    The reactions are great – like a cross between The Shining (1980) and Ring (1998)

    Keep an eye out for housekeeping at 1.35 and the final guest at 1.58.

    > The Shining and Ring at the IMDb
    > More on Cuatro at Wikipedia

    Interesting TV

    Civil Rights Roundtable 1963

    The Documentary Channel has posted a fascinating round table discussion of the Civil Rights movement from 1963.

    Hosted by David Schoenbrun of CBS, it took place on that day of March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28th 1963. and features James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, Charlton Heston, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Sidney Poitier.

    Brando talks about his awakening and how it will affect other dispossessed minorities, saying the march is:

    “one step closer to understanding the human heart”

    Heston talks about picketing restaurants in Oklahoma and how he could no longer pay lip service to:

    “a cause that is so urgently right in a time that is so urgently now”

    When the discussion broadens out to the wider subject of human freedoms around the world, the parallels with recent protests in the Middle East are hard to ignore.

    > The Documentary Channel
    > Find out more about African-American Civil Rights Movement at Wikipedia

    Amusing TV

    SNL British Gangster Movie Sketch

    This Saturday Night Live spoof of British gangster movies starring Bill Hader, Russell Brand and Fred Armisen hits all the right notes.

    A fake trailer for a film called Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro it nails the gloomy cliches, thick dialects and general air of naffness that surrounds the genre.

    Compare it to the actual trailers of recent crap like Bonded by Blood (2010) and Rise of the Footsoldier (2007) and you’ll get an idea of how spot on it is: warehouse shootings, cockney aggression and overblown acting are all par for the course.

    > Saturday Night Live
    > Possibly the worst British gangster film ever

    Amusing TV

    Acting Masterclass with Kevin Spacey by Peter Serafinowicz

    Kevin Spacey is a master of impressions but it turns out Peter Serafinowicz does a pretty good impersonation of the US actor.

    In this acting masterclass it seems like he’s doing a version of Spacey’s character from Swimming with Sharks (1996).

    > Peter Serafinowicz at Wikipedia
    > Kevin Spacey impersonations on Inside The Actor’s Studio

    Amusing TV

    Mark Zuckerberg appears with Jesse Eisenberg on SNL

    Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Saturday Night Live last night with Jesse Eisenberg and Andy Samberg.

    Eisenberg played the tech billionaire in The Social Network and Samberg regularly plays him on the weekly TV show.

    Here it is, in case you missed it:

    If SNL get the clip pulled, you can watch it here.

    > Mark Zuckerberg at Wikipedia
    > My review of The Social Network
    > Saturday Night Live at Wikipedia

    Amusing TV

    Michael Scott meets David Brent

    On a recent episode of the US version of The Office, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) met his British counterpart David Brent (Ricky Gervais).

    > More on the US and UK versions of The Office
    > Video of Ricky Gervais at this year’s Golden Globes

    Amusing TV

    Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse play 1970s footballers

    Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse did this sketch about sexist ex-footballers refusing to talk to a female reporter.

    In the light of the recent Richard Keys and Andy Gray controversy, it strikes a chord doesn’t it?

    > Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse at Wikipedia
    > BBC News on the Sky Sports sexism row

    Interesting TV

    The Dude Abides

    A new PBS documentary about Jeff Bridges takes its title from The Big Lebowski.

    Is it just me or has the character of the Dude stayed with Bridges after all these years?

    Watch the full episode. See more American Masters.

    I remember seeing the Coen Brothers film at a press preview back in 1998 and it went down a storm with the audience.

    It was soon apparent that it wasn’t going to be a box office smash, but over time its reputation has grown to such an extent that it is now one of the major cult films of the 1990s.

    The film not only spawned a loyal following, but also led to a book (I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski), a festival, a Shakespearean version, an online newspaper (or ‘Dudespaper’) and even an adult version.

    This clip from “Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides” shows Bridges visiting a shop in New York’s Greenwich Village called The Little Lebowski, which is dedicated to items inspired by the film.

    My favourite line is when Bridges says: “Cool shop man!”

    Watch the full episode. See more American Masters.

    > American Masters at PBS
    > The Big Lebowski at Wikipedia
    > Jeff Bridges official site (which almost entirely consists of hand drawings by the man himself)

    Amusing Interesting TV

    Terry Gilliam on Letterman in 1982

    Back in February 1982 Terry Gilliam appeared on Late Night with David Letterman to talk about Time Bandits as it opened at US cinemas.

    It’s an interesting appearance as it was only the third episode of ‘Late Night’ and the banter is a little more irreverent than you might expect from the talk show host these days.

    > Late Night with David Letterman at Wikipedia
    > Terry Gilliam and Time Bandits at the IMDb


    Films on TV over Christmas 2010

    Here are my TV film picks for the festive season if you want to plan ahead and programme the DVR.







    • Suspicion (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1941) 11.30am, BBC2
    • Stand By Me (Dir. Rob Reiner, 1986) 1.30pm, Fiver
    • Cars (Dir. John Lasseter, 2006) 3.05pm, BBC1
    • Hero (Dir. Zhang Yimou, 2004) 12.55am, C4
    • Dead Calm (Dir. Philip Noyce, 1989) 1.40am, ITV1




    • The Incredibles (Dir. Brad Bird, 2004) 3.25pm, BBC1
    • Big (Dir. Penny Marshall, 1988) 7pm, Film4
    • Volver (Dir. Pedro Almodovar, 2006) 11.35pm, More4


    • E.T. (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1982) 2.40pm, ITV1
    • Juno (Dir. Jason Reitman, 2007) 9pm, Film4


    • Gomorrah (Dir. Matteo Garrone, 2008) 10pm, BBC4



    • Casablanca (Dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942) 4.50pm, Film4
    Amusing Animation TV

    The Simpsons Avatar intro

    Last night The Simpsons spoofed James Cameron’s Avatar in the opening sequence of an episode called The Fool Monty.

    Check it out here.

    Amusing TV

    Jay Pharoah: The new SNL star?

    Jay Pharoah is a US comedian who recently joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.

    He does pitch perfect impressions of Denzel Washington and Will Smith, as the following video shows:

    He also does a pretty good President Obama:

    And his Eddie Murphy isn’t bad either:

    > Washington Post article on Jay Pharoah getting the SNL job
    > Jay Pharoah on Twitter

    Interesting TV

    Matthew Weiner talks Mad Men on KCRW

    Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner recently sat down for a lengthy interview about the show with Elvis Mitchell for KCRW and NPR.

    The discussion is nearly an hour long and touches on various aspects of the show, including: his work on The Sopranos and how it connected to Mad Men; how he cast Jon Hamm as Don Draper; the fact that a lot of the cast are from the Midwest; his background growing up in California; and the influence of Carnal Knowledge (1971).

    You can listen below:

    > Mad Men at AMC
    > More about Mad Men at Wikipedia

    Interesting TV

    Mad Men Office Floor Plan

    To mark the end of the fourth season of Mad Men in the US, someone has created a floor plan for the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices.

    Made with an online tool called Floor Planner, it was apparently done by freeze-framing a lot of episodes.

    It was created by Tadej Štrok and you can follow him on Twitter here

    (For the enlarged version click here)

    > Original post on Kratkocasnik
    > Floor Planner

    News TV

    The Banksy Simpsons Intro

    Last night’s episode of The Simpsons (entitled ‘MoneyBART‘) aired with a surprisingly political intro directed by British street artist Banksy.

    Along with references to himself it culminated in an extended sequence referencing reports that the show outsources much of its animation to a company in South Korea.

    Although the show has mocked Fox in the past, according to Time magazine, Banksy admitted that the segment resulted in:

    ‘delays, disputes over broadcasting and even threats of a walk-out from the animation department’

    I once asked Simpsons creator Matt Groening how the show got away with taking so many sly digs at their parent network and he said:

    If you think of Fox as an Octupus, The Simpsons would be like one suction cup on one of the tentacles, …so it doesn’t really bother the rest of the octopus.

    The fact that it’s one of the most successful shows in television history has also given them a degree of protection.

    But even by their own standards, this intro was unusually punchy and also marked the first time an outside artist has contributed to the actual storyboard.

    > More about Banksy at Wikipedia
    > The Simpsons at the IMDb


    Joaquin Phoenix returns to Letterman

    Joaquin Phoenix returned to the David Letterman show last night to explain his bizarre appearance 18 months ago.

    Phoenix explained it was all part of his recent mockumentary I’m Still Here and they indulged in some banter.

    Letterman claims that he wasn’t part of the joke, although others have suggested he was.

    Official site
    Interesting Wikipedia entry on the film
    > Review of I’m Still Here

    DVD & Blu-ray Thoughts TV

    The Special Relationship

    The third film to explore the career of Tony Blair is a well staged drama about his political relationship with Bill Clinton.

    Screenwriter Peter Morgan previously dramatised key periods in the career of the former British Prime Minister in The Deal (2003) and The Queen (2006), both of which were directed by Stephen Frears.

    The latest film charts Blair’s relations with Clinton in the 1990s as he sought to form an alliance with a political soul mate who could package ‘third-way’ liberal politics to an electorate that had fallen for Thatcher and Regan.

    The bulk of it deals with Blair (Michael Sheen) and Clinton (Dennis Quaid) debating  various issues in the late 1990s, whilst Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory) and Hilary Clinton (Hope Davis) look on and provide commentary on this transatlantic relationship.

    The two major issues at this time were the Monica Lewinsky scandal which engulfed Clinton’s presidency and the Kosovo conflict in which Blair pressed his politically weakened US ally into military intervention.

    Sheen can now do Blair blindfolded, so it is no surprise that he gives a convincing portrayal of the period when the former PM began to become enamoured with power and military intervention.

    Quaid offers an impressive take on Clinton, which goes beyond surface mannerisms to suggest that, for all his flaws, he was a shrewd observer of political minefields.

    Davis also manages to convey the cadences and mannerisms of Hilary Clinton with enough skill and class to suggest that she could have her own biopic.

    But aside from offering accurate depictions of famous politicians, what is this film actually saying?

    Essentially, it is a cautionary tale written from a post-Iraq perspective.

    The energetic Blair, in his rush to war, is meant to mirror the later version that joined forces with George W Bush for the war which would ultimately wreck his legacy.

    Although this means there is plenty of dramatic irony, often it feels a bit too cute. Clinton’s soothsaying speeches imbue him with an improbable amount of foresight and the script’s episodic nature means it occasionally feels like a current affairs checklist.

    Technically, director Richard Loncraine handles everything with a good deal of assurance and the performances, production design, costumes and visuals all give it an authentic feel.

    Compared to the previous films in which Sheen has played Blair, it comfortably fits into the trajectory Morgan has scripted. But as to how these films will age is another point.

    This year has seen Blair loom large again after standing down in 2007. Just last month he released his unapologetic political memoirs and back in the spring Roman Polanski directed The Ghost, which offered a fictionalised version of Blair played by Pierce Brosnan.

    This vision is perhaps the darkest Morgan has yet painted, offering a political figure convinced of his own righteousness and the need to see the world in black and white.

    As such it foreshadows his determination to invade Iraq after 9/11. But whether this film fully sells this idea is open to question.

    Would Blair have done it had 9/11 not happened? Morgan seems to suggest that is the case but it is certainly debatable issue right at the heart of the drama.

    The end result is polished, but it seems to suggest ideas and conclusions which are shaky and speculative, to say the least.

    One scene towards the end stretches credibility in terms of dialogue, as though everything is being tailored to fit a preconceived framework.

    Whether you buy some of the notions in the film depends how how planned political power actually is – I tend to opt for the view that it may be more fluid and messy than The Special Relationship suggests.

    However, this is still a film that contains much to enjoy. Although this political sub-genre Morgan helped to kick-start has lost some of its novelty, it is still a pleasure to see recent history examined on screen in an era of big-budget tentpoles and teen dramas about vampires.

    Given the theatrical success and Oscar recognition of The Queen, you might wonder why has this film hasn’t opened in cinemas.

    It looks to all intents and purposes like a proper theatrical production, shot in widescreen with expensive production values, so why no cinema release?

    As an HBO and BBC co-production, it premièred on HBO back in May and was initially scheduled for a UK theatrical opening that month, which was then cancelled.

    Presumably, the distributors weren’t confident that a theatrical run was worth the cost and that a TV premiere was a better platform on which to launch the film.

    It says a lot about the present commercial climate that the makers weren’t confident of opening a more serious political drama like this at cinemas, despite all the talent involved.

    The Special Relationship the UK will screen on BBC Two tonight (Saturday 18th) and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 20th September.

    > Official BBC page / HBO site
    > Buy The Special Relationship on DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon UK

    News TV

    Michael Douglas on Letterman

    Michael Douglas appeared on the David Letterman show last night and revealed that he is already undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

    In a fairly dramatic and moving interview he said that although it was at an intense stage, the cancer hadn’t spread and he had something like an “eighty per cent” chance of eventual recovery:

    “It’s a stage four [cancer], which is intense. You want to be at stage one. The big thing you’re worried about is it spreading. I am head and neck, …nothing’s gone down. The expectations are good.”

    Watch an edited version of the interview here:

    > Michael Douglas at Wikipedia
    > The David Letterman Show

    Amusing Interesting TV

    Jerry Stiller visits the Seinfeld house


    Actor Jerry Stiller recently paid a visit to the house that his character in Seinfeld once ‘lived’ in.

    Stiller played George Costanza‘s dad Frank on the classic sitcom and the New York Daily News recently took him to the real life location in Queens, New York that was used for exterior shots (interiors were filmed in Hollywood).

    The following video shows what happened when Stiller decided to ring the doorbell and meet the current residents of what once doubled as the Costanza house.

    > Read the full story at the NYDN
    > More on Seinfeld at Wikipedia

    Interesting Random TV

    John Ford BBC interview from 1968

    By the late 1960s John Ford was firmly established as one of the great directors of his era, for films such as Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

    The following BBC interview from 1968 is a fascinating snapshot of Ford in his later years (he would die in 1973).

    Years of heavy drinking had clearly taken their toll and the opening question sets the tone:

    Interviewer: What sort of childhood did you have? Where you interested in movies way back?

    Ford: Not really. Not interested in them now, actually.

    Also note the heavy smoking, Ford’s belligerent attitude, awkward zooms, random transitions to black and white and the obligatory posh English interviewer.

    It is almost a short film itself.

    > John Ford at the IMDb
    > Essay on John Ford at Senses of Cinema

    Amusing Interesting TV

    The Orson Welles Show


    I want you to imagine that Orson Welles once had a TV chatshow in the late 1970s.

    Then I want to you to get a little bit more creative and imagine that the guests on this show include Burt ReynoldsThe Muppets and Angie Dickinson.

    But wait. This actually happened.

    This is the intro for an unaired pilot Welles did for a chat show back in 1979.

    Note how he talks about the possibilities of television like someone evangelising about the Internet circa 1997.

    But the really good stuff is yet to come.

    Welles introduces Burt Reynolds (“I like him. I like him very much.”) and for some reason they are wearing matching red shirts and jackets (“simple, lousy coincidence!”).

    Also note the unconventional format where they ditch the ‘what are you plugging’ banter and dive straight into questions from the audience, some of which prompt interesting answers.

    After that we get some contributions from Fozzie Bear, Kermit the Frog and Sam The Eagle, followed by more pontificating from Welles about the nature of television:

    To finish off, Welles indulges in some magic with Angie Dickinson, which may remind viewers of his film F For Fake (1973):

    > Find out more about Orson Welles at Wikipedia
    > The infamous frozen peas commercial featuring Welles

    Thoughts TV

    The Curse of ITV


    For most football fans their collective memory of a World Cup comes from the television coverage, but after two mysteriously poor displays in South Africa, some fans are asking whether ITV are cursed when it comes to screening England games.

    The channel attracted criticism after two high profile blunders in the current tournament. The network inexplicably missed England’s opening goal of the tournament against the USA on their HD channel.

    This was followed by the dismissal of their pundit Robbie Earle after a bizarre episode in which tickets in his name somehow ended up in the hands of Dutch women engaging in an ambush marketing stunt.

    These gaffes come after a series of highly embarrassing and costly mistakes over the past 2 years: Everton’s winning goal against Liverpool in a live FA Cup replay in 2009 was ruined by a rogue Tic-Tac advert; a high profile Nike World Cup advert was cut short during the Champions League final last month and an expensive Adidas advert was also the victim of technical problems.

    A quick online search on Google or Twitter (try entering ‘ITV England curse’) reveals a superstition amongst some England fans that ITV are a jinx on the national side during a World Cup.

    On paper this is ridiculous. I’m sure Fabio Capello and previous England managers didn’t structure their team talks around which channel was showing the match.

    It would seem tactics, fitness and players hitting form at the right time would play a much more important role in a team’s success at a major international football tournament.

    However, given the role that chance undoubtedly plays in football, it can be a game that inspires some remarkably superstitious behaviour:

    • As a striker Gary Lineker never shot at goal during the warm up, whilst as a presenter he has to say “Is this for real?” before every Match of the Day.
    • French defender Lauren Blanc regularly kissed the bald head of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez before games at France 1998
    • Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea allegedly urinated before facing penalty shootouts (“It was my lucky charm …I was very subtle, nobody complained”)
    • England defender John Terry has confessed to having ‘around 50’ superstitions, one of which involves an Usher CD (and no, I’m not going to make any cheap Wayne Bridge gags)

    At the 2006 World Cup, Noel Gallagher became a lucky mascot for Allessandro Del Piero. After the Oasis star witnessed Italy’s semi-final victory over Germany, the Italian forward forced his friend to wear exactly the same clothes for the final in Berlin. They not only won, but did so in a penalty shoot-out, which is rare for Italy.

    It seems understandable that players like to relieve pre-game tension with a ritual or charm.

    For fans watching on TV, who have no control over the game, superstition arguably performs a similar function in reducing stress and creating an illusion of optimism that things will somehow turn out for the best.

    But how does the idea of a particular TV channel being a jinx on the England team actually stack up to the evidence?

    Do England perform better at a World Cup when the game is live on the BBC? Or is this just an urban myth that has arisen around which coverage we prefer?

    Looking at the historical data of which channel covered England games doesn’t really reveal any scientific truths, after all an ‘ITV jinx’ isn’t really Newtonian physics.

    But it does uncover some interesting factors which may explain why such an idea has taken root.

    If you look closely at every World Cup where the BBC and ITV have covered England games, certain patterns and motifs do emerge.

    Below is an analysis of every tournament where the the two broadcasters have covered England, with the following ground rules:

    • Each broadcaster gets 3 points for an England win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss.
    • Games decided on penalties are treated as straight victories or defeats.
    • ITV didn’t exist until 1955 so the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland is not counted.
    • The 1962 World Cup in Chile poses a particular dilemma because satellite transmission was still in its infancy, meaning there was no live TV coverage in the UK. However, the BBC did broadcast the games on a two day delay, which in theory ITV could also have done. Therefore, the tournament is counted towards the overall score.
    • The current World Cup isn’t counted until it is over (which if things don’t go as planned, could be Wednesday night)

    So, are ITV really cursed when it comes to England?

    SWEDEN 1958

    When it comes to live international football, the BBC had already established itself as a World Cup broadcaster at the 1954 tournament in Switzerland.

    So when ITV was launched in 1955 it was already playing catch up when they covered their first tournament in Sweden during 1958.

    Despite being in its infancy, the newly formed commercial network covered the same number of games as the BBC, which were the 0-0 draw with Brazil and the 1-0 defeat to the USSR.

    This was also the beginning of a long trend which saw the rival broadcasters cover the same matches, something that became more common in years to come.

    But perhaps at this early stage of World Cup coverage, the BBC was deemed the more authoritative voice due to the fact that they were the older broadcaster who had formed a special niche in British cultural life since their birth in the 1920s.

    England’s Results
    • Brazil 0 England 0 / Wednesday 11 June 1958 / Nya Ullevi Stadion, Göteborg / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Peter Lloyd and Gerry Loftus
    • U.S.S.R. 1 England 0 / Tuesday 17 June 1958 / Nya Ullevi Stadion, Göteborg / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Peter Lloyd and Gerry Loftus
    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 1 / ITV 1

    CHILE 1962

    1962 in Chile presented major logistical problems for TV channels in the UK, as satellite coverage was still in its infancy and pictures couldn’t be beamed back live from South America.

    BBC Radio covered England’s matches whilst the filmed footage had to be shipped back to the UK and edited before being broadcast in delay two days later.

    England’s group games included a 2-1 defeat to Hungary, a 3-1 win over Argentina and 0-0 draw with Bulgaria, before ending with a 3-1 quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Brazil.

    But ITV’s decision to not to cover the tournament at all gave the BBC a valuable opportunity to establish itself as the broadcaster to turn to when England were playing in a foreign tournament.

    David Coleman’s spirited rant whilst introducing the infamous ‘Battle of Santiago’ between Chile and Italy was also a classic World Cup moment cementing him as a voice we forever associate with this era.

    England’s Results

    • Hungary 2 England 1 / Thursday 31 May 1962 / Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua / BBC Delayed Coverage – Kenneth Wolstenholme
    • England 3 Argentina 1 / Saturday 2 June 1962 / Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua / BBC Highlights – Kenneth Wolstenholme
    • England 0 Bulgaria 0 / Thursday 7 June 1962 / Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua / BBC Delayed Coverage – Kenneth Wolstenholme
    • Brazil 3 England 1 / Sunday 10th June 1962 / Estadio Sausalito, Viña del Mar / BBC Highlights – Kenneth Wolstenholme

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 4 / ITV 0

    ENGLAND 1966

    England’s most successful tournament was in 1966 when the nation triumphed on home soil.

    From a broadcasting perspective BBC and ITV covered all the England matches live, so logic would dictate that their coverage would judged equally. But football and logic don’t always make for natural bedfellows.

    Ask any England fan what they remember about the final against Germany and one famous phrase sticks out.

    As Geoff Hurst blasted in England’s fourth goal in a 4-2 win, the words of BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme became legendary:

    They think it’s all over …it is now!

    If you ask fans who was commentating for ITV that day you are probably likely to get a puzzled look (it was Hugh Johns).

    England’s most famous sporting triumph was indelibly associated with a BBC voice.

    England’s Results

    • England 0 Uruguay 0 / Monday 11 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • England 2 Mexico 0 / Saturday 16 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • France 0 England 2 / Wednesday 20 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen (all except first half-hour)
    • England 1 Argentina 0 / Saturday 23 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme and Jimmy Hill / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • England 2 Portugal 0 / Tuesday 26 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme and Walley Barnes / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • England 4 West Germany 2 / Saturday 30 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme and Walley Barnes / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 16 / ITV 16

    MEXICO 1970

    1970 in Mexico saw the first World Cup in colour television and both broadcasters covered an equal number of matches, although they decided to split some games for the group phase.

    The BBC opted to show the 1-0 win over Romania, both channels showed the 1-0 defeat against Brazil and ITV went with the final group game against Czechoslovakia, which England won 1-0.

    The fateful 3-2 defeat against West Germany in the quarter-finals was on the BBC, but two interesting trends had now emerged.

    It was the beginning of both channels opting to show some games exclusively and others ‘together’. But it was also a further reminder of how culturally resonant BBC commentators had become.

    Ask any armchair England fans which TV voices they remember from this World Cup and they’ll probably think of David Coleman (“Pele! Jairzinho! There it is!”) and Kenneth Wolstenholme (“That was sheer, delightful football!”) waxing lyrical about the Brazilians on the BBC.


    • England 1 Romania 0 / Tuesday 2 June 1970 / Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara / BBC – David Coleman and Don Revie
    • Brazil 1 England 0 / Sunday 7 June 1970 / Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara / BBC – David Coleman and Don Revie / ITV – Hugh Johns and Billy Wright
    • Czechoslovakia 0 England 1 / Thursday 11 June 1970 / Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara / ITV – Hugh Johns and Billy Wright
    • West Germany 3 England 2 / Sunday 14 June 1970 / Estado de Guanajuato, León / BBC – David Coleman, Don Revie and Joe Mercer

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 3 / ITV 3


    That era of England winning and reaching the latter stages of a World Cup would take on an extra nostalgic glow as they failed to qualify for the tournaments in 1974 and 1978.

    But in the absence of reaching those finals in Germany and Argentina, some infamous qualifying games took on a new significance.

    In particular, the clash with Poland at Wembley in 1973 was a horror show.

    England needed a win to qualify but a major goalkeeping error from Peter Shilton and an inspirational performance from his Polish counterpart Jan Tomaszewski (who Brian Clough dubbed a “clown”) meant that a 1-1 draw was not good enough.

    It was an iconic defeat marking the end of an era.

    Alf Ramsay resigned and England were not to reach another World Cup until 1982. How could we win a World Cup if would couldn’t even reach one? England’s self image was forever tarnished.

    But significantly for ITV, they covered the game exclusively live. Was the channel tainted by this disastrous result? Did England fans subconsciously link them with a painful defeat?

    In the qualifiers for 1978, ITV repeated the same ‘trick’ by covering a crucial qualifier.

    This time it was with group rivals Italy and although England actually won 2-0 at Wembley, they eventually failed to qualify on goal difference. Again, were ITV unfairly linked with the dark days of England’s football in the 1970s?

    SPAIN 1982

    When England finally did return to World Cup action in the 1982 tournament in Spain, the template for modern TV coverage was set.

    The opening qualifiers alternated between the two channels, with the BBC covering England’s 3-1 over France, whilst ITV opted for the 2-0 win over Czechoslovakia and the 1-0 win over Kuwait.

    The second group stage (which would see the winners progress to the semi-finals) saw the BBC cover the 0-0 draw with West Germany whilst ITV chose the 0-0 draw with Spain, which ultimately wasn’t good enough for England to progress.

    Due to the nature of the group system that year (which was replaced to the present format in 1986) England somehow managed to exit the tournament despite not losing a game and only conceding 1 goal.

    ITV covered more England wins in the tournament than the BBC, but had the misfortune to cover the frustrating final game, the 0-0 draw with Spain they had to win in order to progress.

    Kevin Keegan missed an easy header in the dying minutes and it was symbolic of modern English frustrations at a World Cup. Good, but not good enough.

    Was ITV becoming associated with England’s failure? Were they now becoming the ‘England’ of football channels?

    England’s Results

    • England 3 France 1 / Wednesday 16 June 1982 / Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao / BBC – John Motson and Jimmy Hill
    • England 2 Czechoslovakia 0 / Sunday 20 June 1982 / Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao / ITV – Martin Tyler and Jack Charlton
    • England 1 Kuwait 0 / Friday 25 June 1982 / Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao / ITV – Martin Tyler and Jack Charlton
    • England 0 West Germany 0 / Tuesday 29 June 1982 / El Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid / BBC – Barry Davies and Jimmy Hill
    • England 0 Spain 0 / Monday 5 July 1982 / El Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid / ITV – Martin Tyler and Jack Charlton

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC  4 / ITV  7

    MEXICO 1986

    Mexico in 1986 was a tournament that started off disastrously in the group stages. The BBC covered the opening 1-0 defeat to Portugal, ITV broadcast the dismal 0-0 draw with Morocco and the action returned to the BBC for a crucial 3-0 win over Poland.

    As the tournament entered the knockout phase, both channels covered the key England games.

    This was a trend that continued up until the 1998 World Cup and the logic was fairly simple: England could go out and both channels (this being an era when there was literally only four to watch) wanted as bigger a slice of the audience as possible.

    The 3-0 win over Paraguay in the Second Round was followed by the 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Argentina, in which Maradona’s infamous hand of God goal was followed by one of sublime genius.

    But for this tournament, it seemed pretty even as far as the broadcasters were concerned and it seems hard to recall anyone at the time referring to ITV bringing bad luck to England.

    However, there still persists a strange theory that ITV somehow jinx those games also covered by the BBC.

    England’s Results

    • Portugal 1 England 0 / Tuesday 3 June 1986 / Estadio Tecnológico, Monterrey / BBC – John Motson and Jimmy Hill
    • England 0 Morocco 0 / Friday 6 June 1986 / Estadio Tecnológico, Monterrey / ITV – Martin Tyler and David Pleat
    • England 3 Poland 0 / Wednesday 11 June 1986 / Estadio Universitário de Nuevo León, Monterrey / BBC – Barry Davies and Jimmy Hill
    • England 3 Paraguay 0 / Wednesday 18 June 1986 / Estadio Azteca, Santa Úrsula, ciudad de México / BBC – John Motson and Jimmy Hill / ITV – Martin Tyler and David Pleat
    • Argentina 2 England 1 / Sunday 22 June 1986 / Estadio Azteca, Santa Úrsula, ciudad de México / BBC – Barry Davies and Jimmy Hill / ITV – Martin Tyler and David Pleat

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 6 / ITV 4

    ITALY 1990

    With the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the two rivals fell in to the familiar pattern of alternating the group matches and simultaneously covering the knockout phase.

    This tournament lives long in the memory for a generation of English football fans.

    Reaching the semi-final was the best England had achieved since 1966 (and still is). The popularity of Paul Gascoigne foreshadowed the rise of the celebrity footballer.

    Most significantly, a much needed optimism driven by success in the tournament helped English clubs back into European competitions after the ban following the Heysel disaster.

    But after only just qualifying for the tournament with a 1-1 draw away to Poland, it is easy to forget the uproar that greeted England’s opening group game against Ireland in Cagliari.

    The 1-1 draw was a dire match made worse by the long ball football favoured by the Irish under Jack Charlton. The channel that showed this infamous game? Step forward, ITV.

    In contrast the BBC showed the next group clash with Holland, a much improved performance despite being a 0-0 draw, and the following 1-0 victory with Egypt.

    For the knockout stages both channels opted to show England live, which covered the clashes with Belgium, Cameroon, West Germany and the 3/4th place playoff with Italy.

    Most importantly, football hit a wider cultural nerve and a new generation of fans were hooked. These included the people who would pay monthly to see football on Sky and help kick start a boom which saw the creation of Premier League in 1992.

    An unprecedented amount of money and overseas talent poured into the top-flight of the English game, although the long term effect on the national side was debatable.

    England’s Results

    • England 1 Republic of Ireland 1 / Monday 11 June 1990 / Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia, Cagliari, Sardinia / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • Netherlands 0 England 0 / Saturday 16 June 1990 / Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia, Cagliari, Sardinia / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • England 1 Egypt 0 / Thursday 21 June 1990 / Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia, Cagliari, Sardinia / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking
    • England 1 Belgium 0 / Tuesday 26 June 1990 / Stadio Renato Dall’ Ara, Bologna / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • Cameroon 2 England 3 / Sunday 1 July 1990 / Stadio San Paolo, Fuorigrotta, Napoli / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • West Germany 1 England 1 [4-3 on pens] / Wednesday 4 July 1990 / Stadio delle Alpi, Torino / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • Italy 2 England 1 / Saturday 7 July 1990 Stadio San Nicola, Bari / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 10 / ITV 7


    DO I NOT LIKE USA 1994

    Interestingly, the domestic success of the Premier League in the 1990s was not reflected at international level.

    After a woeful European Championships in 1992 (which saw manager Graham Taylor depicted as a turnip after losing to the Swedes) England somehow failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

    After a stuttering qualifying campaign that saw them lose to Norway, they faced Holland in a crucial deciding qualifier in Rotterdam in October 1993.

    A 2-0 defeat effectively saw them miss out on qualification. It was the most infamous England game since 1973 and, just like that Poland match, ITV showed it exclusively live.

    A behind-the-scenes Channel 4 documentary (originally commissioned to show England’s glorious route to the World Cup) captured Taylor in full meltdown and gave birth to his famous catchphrase “Do I not like that!“.

    Although the BBC would show some poor England performances, it seemed ITV were developing an unfortunate habit for capturing the high profile stinkers.

    The 1996 European championships in England, which saw the host nation nearly reach the final, was a further boost to the popularity of the game and expectation was sky high for the next World Cup.

    FRANCE 1998

    When England arrived in France for the 1998 tournament the modern media template was in full swing.

    Pre-tournament crisis (manager Glen Hoddle dropping Paul Gascoigne from the final squad) was followed by ridiculously high expectations and massive media coverage.

    Since Euro 96, each successive tournament featuring the national side seems to grow exponentially in terms of hype and it is easy to forget now (post-2002 and 2006) what a frenzy there was surrounding England’s first World Cup since Italia 90.

    As far as TV coverage was concerned, there was now a regular pattern as to how the broadcasters divided up the games.

    They would alternate until England reached the quarter or semi-final stage and from then on both would show the games live (how optimistic that sounds now!).

    The BBC opted for the opening group game against Tunisia. Anchor Des Lynam slyly greeted the afternoon weekday audience with the line “shouldn’t you be at work?”, before England won 2-0.

    ITV had opted for the second group game against Romania, presumably because the evening kick off time meant a prime time audience. Bad choice as it turned out, as England not only lost 2-1 but did so with a particularly painful stoppage time goal which came minutes after a dramatic equaliser from newcomer Michael Owen.

    Needing a win against Columbia in their final group game to go through, it seemed inevitable that the BBC would cover the 2-0 win over Columbia. Failure to win the group pitted them in the tough half of the draw and they lost on penalties to Argentina after drawing 2-2 in extra time.

    The game was on ITV and was for several years the largest audience in the channel’s history. But despite being a ratings success with around 25 million viewers tuning in, it is my theory that this tournament was where the notion of an ITV curse began to form.

    Quite simply, there were four England games in total. When they played on the BBC, they won. When they played on ITV, they lost. As the first World Cup since Italia 90, directly following the success of Euro 96, this was a tournament firmly in the glare of modern media overload.

    A consequence of these was that key defeats became associated with ITV. Unfair? Irrational? Yes, clearly it is both unless someone uncovers evidence that sinister ITV operatives somehow bribed referees and drugged England players before games.

    England’s exit in this World Cup was only the second time they went out on penalties. Unfortunately for ITV, commentator Brian Moore provided a bizarre flourish to their exit.

    As David Batty ran up to take the fateful penalty in the shootout Moore inexplicably asked co-commentator Kevin Keegan if he was going to score. Keegan was in an impossible situation.

    If he had said no then he would be ‘blamed’ for the miss, but if Batty missed he would look stupid. Within a second it was the latter, but this bizarre ITV moment seemed to sum up England’s recent World Cup adventures: excitement, expectation and disappointment.

    Another factor that may have given rise to superstitions during this period was when manager Glen Hoddle recruited a faith healer as part of the England coaching staff. Whether it had an effect on ITV’s luck is unproven.

    England’s Results

    • England 2 Tunisia 0 / Monday 15 June 1998 / Le Stade Vélodrome, Marseille / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking
    • Romania 2 England 1 / Monday 22 June 1998 / Stade Municipal, Toulouse / ITV – Brian Moore and Kevin Keegan
    • England 2 Colombia 0 / Friday 26 June 1998 / Stade Félix-Bollaert, Lens BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • Argentina 2 England 2 [4-3 on pens] / Tuesday 30 June 1998 / Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne / ITV – Brian Moore and Kevin Keegan /

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 6 / ITV 0

    KOREA/JAPAN 2002

    But by the 2002 tournament in Korea and Japan, there was a sense of déjà vu.

    The rollercoaster qualifying campaign saw the resignation of Kevin Keegan, the recruitment of the first ever foreign manager (Sven Goran Eriksson), a 5-1 win away to Germany and a last-minute qualification goal against Greece.

    Unluckily for ITV, the early kick off times (due to the Asian time zone) meant there was no prime time clashes, with games coming on at breakfast or lunchtime.

    A particularly strange ITV moment happened when they covered the opening game of the tournament between France and Senegal. Anchor Des Lynam (a high-profile defector from the BBC) asked pundit Paul Gascoigne what he knew about the African side. Gazza simply answered: “Nothing”.

    Their bad luck continued as they covered the disappointing opening 1-1 draw with Sweden, whilst the BBC broadcast the victorious 1-0 win over tournament favourites Argentina and the decisive 0-0 clash with Nigeria that saw them progress.

    Possibly because the kick off times in this tournament were much earlier than ITV would have liked, they opted to screen the England’s knockout games with Denmark (3-0 win) and Brazil (a 2-1 defeat) alongside the BBC.

    But when they go head to head with the BBC in these matches, ITV always get a smaller share of the audience.

    Is this because audiences want uninterrupted coverage with no adverts? Better commentary? Or do some people really believe in that curse?

    England’s Results

    • England 1 Sweden 1 / Sunday 2 June 2002 / Saitama Sutajiamu Niimarumarunii, Saitama-shi / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson
    • Argentina 0 England 1 / Friday 7 June 2002 / Sapporo Dōmu, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo-shi / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • Nigeria 0 England 0 / Wednesday 12 June 2002 / Ōsaka-shi Nagai Rikujō Kyōgijō, Ōsaka-shi / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • Denmark 0 England 3 / Saturday 15 June 2002 / Niigata Sutajiamu, Niigata-shi / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson
    • England 1 Brazil 2 / Friday 21 June 2002 / Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Fukuroi city / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 7 / ITV 4

    GERMANY 2006

    By 2006, the tournament in Germany reached new levels of hype.

    ITV were salivating at the prospect of European kick off times and huge-ratings in an era when multi-channel TV has eaten away at large single audience shares for major channels.

    With the England squad featuring its supposed ‘golden generation’, the hype for the tournament was so great that one news channel even provided live coverage of England’s coach driving off to the airport.

    The BBC had the uninspiring opening match with Paraguay, which saw England win 1-0.

    ITV then had the misfortune to cover another World Cup clash where England were truly dire as they laboured to a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

    Things improved slightly for their coverage of the 2-2 draw with Sweden and a massive audience of 21 million tuned in.

    For the knockout phase the BBC covered the tedious 1-0 win over Ecuador, whilst both channels covered the exit on penalties to Portugal after a 0-0 draw.

    I find it odd to think that this was a particularly ‘cursed’ World Cup for ITV as England played just as badly on the BBC.

    However, the superstitious may point out that Michael Owen’s tournament-ending knee injury occurred within 30 seconds of the kick off against Sweden on ITV.

    With Rooney coming back from injury, the two strikers only played alongside each other for 30 seconds during the entire competition.

    England’s Results

    • England 1 Paraguay 0 / Saturday 10 June 2006 / Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt am Main, Hessen / BBC – John Motson and Mark Lawrenson
    • England 2 Trinidad and Tobago 0 / Thursday 15 June 2006 / easyCredit-Stadion, Nürnberg, Bayern / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Gareth Southgate
    • Sweden 2 England 2 / Tuesday 20 June 2006 / Rhein-Energie-Stadion, Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Gareth Southgate /
    • England 1 Ecuador 0 / Sunday 25 June 2006 / Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion, Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg / BBC – John Motson and Mark Lawrenson
    • England 0 Portugal 0 [1-3 on pens] / Saturday 1 July 2006 / Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Nordrhein-Westfalen / BBC – John Motson and Mark Lawrenson / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Gareth Southgate

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 6 / ITV 4


    [Click here for a larger version of the above image]

    So, it would seem that England have done better at World Cups when the BBC cover the games.

    Even if you discount the 1962 tournament which ITV didn’t cover, the Beeb still comes out on top.

    Does this mean ITV are cursed?

    I think the notion is a fairly recent one and any kind of conclusion as to why this superstition has grown needs to be placed in some kind of context.


    The modern World Cup for England works like this. First there is the hype. Then there is some bad luck. And finally there is elimination due to a bogeyman or scapegoat, sometimes both.

    The massive hype across all media usually features references to 1966 and the assertion that England are going to win the tournament, despite history and statistics suggesting otherwise.

    The bad luck often features injuries to key players before or during the tournament, such as David Beckham in 2002, Wayne Rooney in 2006 and Rio Ferdinand in 2010.

    There is also a likely clash with a former wartime enemy. Germany (1966, 1979, 1982 and 1990) or Argentina (1986, 1998 and 2002) often fit the bill and this year we have already had USA playing the role.

    For good measure, the eventual elimination on penalties is usually blamed on a scapegoat. This can be a dodgy referee, a hapless player or a cheat.

    ITV have been caught up in this modern madness that surrounds England at World Cups.

    Although it represents the rare commercial opportunity of guaranteed ratings (especially if England do well), we also shouldn’t underestimate one of the main reasons the British public love the BBC: the lack of adverts.

    The commercial nature of ITV also means its coverage of a tournament is filled with hype and over-optimism, which possibly feels worse when England go out.

    Added to this are some truly infamous qualifying defeats (Poland in 1973 and Holland in 1993) broadcast exclusively live on ITV.

    Most people probably have forgotten this, but it may linger in the collective subconscious of England fans and provides ammunition for irrational thinking.

    The years when they covered the Premier League (2001-2004) also loom large when a failed 7pm timeslot and ill-advised touches such as the ‘tactics truck’ made BBC’s Match of the Day seem the proper home for football highlights. Ron Atkinson’s racist outburst against Marcel Desailly after a Champions League tie in 2003 further tarnished the channel’s image.

    On top of this, there is the logic that our national broadcaster should cover our national team. The fact that BBC always beat ITV by a large margin in the ratings when they both show England games would seem to suggest this, as there isn’t much to separate them on a purely technical level.

    Even England’s greatest victory of recent years was a perceived blunder for ITV. The 4-1 qualifier win away to Croatia was live on Setanta and haggling over the highlights package meant that ITV didn’t screen them until the following night, which in the year 2008 meant everybody had already seen them on YouTube.

    The BBC are in an interesting position: if England go through after playing Slovenia on Wednesday (the full permutations are here), then the myth will grow that they are England’s lucky channel, even though England haven’t yet lost on ITV in this World Cup.

    Is this all fair? No, clearly it isn’t. Like certain aspects of football, the perception that ITV’s coverage is a jinx on the England team is riddled with illogical thinking and superstition. But football is a superstitious game.

    Why blame our grass roots infrastructure, our delusions of grandeur, our short-term strategies for the national team and our underperforming players when we can simply say that ITV brings us bad luck?

    * UPDATE 20/06/10*


    Since originally posting this, England’s campaign in South Africa has ended after a disastrous 4-1 defeat to Germany in the Second Round.

    On reflection, the tournament fitted the usual pattern of excessive hype followed by massive deflation.

    The old cliché of losing to a wartime enemy was fulfilled by Germany and references to the past were abundant as Frank Lampard had a perfectly good goal disallowed at 2-1, in what seemed to be some kind of cosmic revenge for the decisive goal in the 1966 final.

    But what made the end of this campaign interesting was that there was no easy scapegoat, as the manner and scale of the defeat was so crushing.

    Obviously the main villain would appear to be Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistants Mauricio Espinosa and Pablo Fandino, as even FIFA have since apologised for the now infamous decision.

    However, this was England’s worst ever defeat at a World Cup and the woeful manner in which England were outfought and outclassed has seen blame spread amongst various scapegoats: manager Fabio Capello, the squad, the FA, the Premier League and even the footballing culture in England.

    But how did ITV fare against the BBC? Like 1998, England only played four games and they were split evenly amongst the two broadcasters.

    The first two games were on ITV and they were unlucky enough to capture two poor performances (the Algeria one was a particular stinker), whilst the BBC screened the crucial win against Slovenia.

    Although both channels will be disappointed at England’s exit, ITV may be secretly relieved that the German defeat was screened exclusively on BBC.

    The ‘curse of ITV’ would have gone into overdrive if the commercial channel had screened the match.

    But my guess is that this superstition will still be around the next time England play in an international tournament.

    Why? A superstition is easier to understand than the very deep problems that afflict England at international level.

    England’s Results

    • England 1 USA 1 / Saturday 12 June 2010 / Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend
    • England 0 Algeria 0 / Friday 18 June 2010 / Green Point Stadium, Cape Town ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend
    • Slovenia 0 England 1 / Wednesday 23 June 2010 / Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth / BBC – Guy Mowbray and Mark Lawrenson
    • Germany 4 England 1 / Sunday 27 June 2010 – / Free State Stadium, Manguang/Bloemfontein / BBC – Guy Mowbray and Mark Lawrenson

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 4 / ITV 2

    * UPDATED OVERALL SCORE 1958-2010: BBC 67 / ITV 48 *


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