Storytelling on TV has litiherto been ; the domain oi .lackanory presenters 5 and Max Bygraves. The common 3 consensus amongst producers seems to have been that the slack-jawed TV goggler needs more visual stimulus than the sight oi a single narrator, however riveting their tale.
Channel 4’s Broadway Stories, with loveable roly-poly Yank Mike McShane the main iocus oi interest, would seem something oi a risky venture then, even with the considerable asset oi having llamon Runyon’s delightfully convoluted tales oi Depression New York low-lite to work with.
‘My biggest iear was that people would say, “why didn’t this stay on the radio?”,’ admits series producer Chris Bould. ‘The important thing in my mind was that I didn’t want to screw around with these stories, and I knew the art oi story-telling is something that hasn’t been handled well on TV. It was a tricky task.’
The problem has always been with the visuals. Bould has taken pains to make the series as visually interesting as possible, paying a lot oi attention
_ The bells, the b
For the average liogmanay hootenanny, the TV tends to be relegated to a minor cameo role, substantially less important than the traditional ilew Year bottle, and occasionally even lower in the order oi precedence than a humble lump oi coal. In iact there’s a suspicion that the only people who watch TV liogmanay specials are bad-tempered TV critics told to dry-out, and people who like to write disgusted letters to newspapers bemoaning the loss oi traditional Scottish iare.
They’ll be stymied this year it they tune into Scottish’s oiiering, A Cuid llew Year, produced by those awiully trad chaps at Crampian. Bells, drains and kilts are all present and correct, with Caledonian crooning oi a contrasting nature being provided by Peter Morrison, Craig McMurdo and ., Rebecca Storm. Comedy is ? unashamedly oi the old school, ; ieaturlng Johnny Beattie and the l Scotland The What? team. It’s a show i that could come irom any year since the 50s, and has. i
BBC1 Scotland iollows tradition a 9 little less slavishly, serving up the 7. usual iestive slice oi Rikki Fulton, in a 40-minute Reverend I.M. .lolly special,
u,‘A " I . ,5»), l,- . v. /
but oiiering a more up-to-date show
through midnight, in llogmanay live, a
strictly music show, with something to everybody’s taste. Wet Wet Wet top
to period detail, shooting on iilm rather than video and employing acclaimed cameraman Ivan Strasberg (recently oi Cracker). There still remained the iact that this was a single voice, mostly talking to camera. ‘ostensibly Mike’s the iirst person narrator who’s never mentioned by name in the Runyon books at all,’ says Bould. ‘We had to paint a picture ior the audience oi the character Mike plays. Even down to his hat, suit whatever, we had to put him in character. So ior each oi the ten
; stories we chose a diiierent persona
5 ior him. One time he plays a barber
: standing in while Joey the real barber 'I is running an illegal crap game in the back. Another story, A Piece 0i Pie, is
about an eating competition, so we stuck Mike in a soup kitchen line, which was in keeping with that period oi New York in the 30s. Sometimes he’s driving with two hoods in the back oi the car, and he’s telling them the story in the rear-view mirror. The important thing is that the device doesn’t get in the way oi the story, but does act as a kind oi visual metaphor.’ The results may come as a slight culture shock ior viewers used to straight drama, but Bould believes the series will please Runyon purists and
casual viewers alike, and is
particularly proud oi the team’s accomplishments in ‘getting that Barton Fink ieel onto TV.’ (Amy Druszewski)
Broadway Stories begins on Channel 4 on New Year’s Day at 11.05pm.
‘ t ., n r. .-’ ‘I .' v, I}. If,
the bill, with American country star Bonnie Raitt, lrish singer Paul Brady and rockin’ philanthropist Midge lire leading the support line-up. ‘This is the third year we have gone ior a mix oi traditional and contemporary music,’ says producer John Smith, ‘and it has proved a successiul
ionnula.’ llow where did I put that ‘, black bun, and what shall i do with it ' when l iind it? (Tom lappin)
A ﬂuid New Year is on Scottish at
' 11.30pm. liogmanay live is on BBCl at j 11.50pm. Both 31 December oi course.
84 The List l7 December l‘)‘)3— l 3 January l994
Cathy MacDonald and Phil Cunningham reiuel ior some irantic jigging in liogmanay live
Ben Elton is a versatile sort of bloke. Say the word and he can hang out a play, a novel, a two-hour pithy stand-up act. no problem. I‘d be prepared to bet he'd even make a decent stab at flogging slightly shop-soiled veg off a market stall or shifting double-glazing in a suburban residential area. What he can‘t do is act.
This becomes readily apparent a few minutes into Stark (BBC2) an otherwise impressively-made adaptation of his novel of the same name. Elton plays nerdish Englishman CD, a no-hope slacker attempting to wisecrack his way through Western Australia. Somewhat against what passes for his will. he finds himself embroiled with a bunch of eco-freaks.
The trouble is. Elton‘s portrayal of Cl)‘s unrequited lust is strictly in the pantomime league. all heaving grimaces at the camera. cheeky leers and exaggerated pants (both kinds). It's the big gesture stuff you need when you're playing to 3000 punters at Edinburgh Playhouse. but it goes way over the mp on the small-screen.
A kinder director might have had a word in Ben‘s car, because otherwise Stark has plenty going for it. Expensively shot and pacin plotted it manages to strike an efficient balance between comedy and tension. The janing moments are caused by Elton‘s habit of bringing aspects of his live act into the drama. We can forgive him irritating mock-coy words like ‘farty' or ‘sauciness‘ when he‘s ranting away on The Man From Auntie. but don‘t expect us to believe that real people actually use them.
According to Hollywood Women (Scottish) celibacy is an alien concept in Beverly Hills. Everybody‘s at it from call girls to ‘erotic‘ actresses to major stars. The approach of this unashamedly tacky documentary series is to give the interviewee twelve seconds to say something salacious. and then cut away to somebody more interesting. sometimes in mid-sentence. It‘s a strangely appropriate technique for capturing the shallow impatience of Hollywood, with the responses ranging from the cheery vacuousness of youthful aspirants to the beaten-down cynicism of the established (middle- aged) names. The voice of sad reason was supplied by the gloriously-named Detective Fred Clapp of the LA Vice Squad.
The show kept the best for last with Catya Sassoon for whom the phrase ‘crazy name crazy lady‘ could have been invented. We were invited to ride in the passenger seat of her convertible as Vidal‘s daughter reminisced fondly about her childhood. when she was
the hackneyed police procedural with f wit and intelligence, Homicide for ' ditto, and Wild Palms for countless
raped at the age of nine by her mother’s Spanish matador lover. This trauma over. she moved on to her early teens when her father would accompany her to parties and leave her behind. and she inevitably ended up in bed with her host. All this was delivered in a giggly drunken drawl as she weaved in and out of traffic and exchanged ribald badinage with pedestrians on Rodeo Drive. It‘s a helluva town. (Tom Lappin)
1993 IN REVERSE I list writers'oiier their personal highlights
oi the year.
tantra i. '4 «(Md-H“ Vlli'\ 1 4‘ TOM LAPPII I Film Reservoir Dogs for the zippy little one-liners and thc stylised machismo. Tme Romance for. er. much the same.
I LP From England, Kate Bush’s loony tunes and melancholy on The ned Shoes. from the USA, Grant Lee Buffalo’s wordy world-weariness on Fuzzy. but way out in front, from Australia. The Blackeycd Susans’ gothic cabaret-country cocktail on Welcome Stranger.
lll TV llrama Cracker for rethinking
reasons, not least of them Jim Belushi's anguished cries of ‘what is happening to me'?’ What indeed? I “I Soap The Street for Reg of worse, and Des and Raquel, Britain’s dream couple, surely? I TV Comedy Seinfeld for being embarrassingly familiar (and for Kramer) plus The Smell OfReeves And Mortimer for this year's stmncht comeback. I Book A dull year for new novels of a non-wanky sort. but honourable paperback mentions should go to Douglas Coupland’s Shampoo Planer from the States, and DJ. Taylor's Real Life from Norwich (yup Norwich). I Sporting IIlgIlIIgItt Graham Taylor ﬁnally going, and a lucrative treble coming up at Cheltenham this spring.