Cuts: TV drama about TV drama



Making a draw of the making of a television drama smacks of over- indulgence, but then it is Christmas. Based on a novella by Malcolm Bradbury, Cuts entertainineg satirises the clichés of television’s reliance on familiar formats and star vehicles. But you just need to watch Heartbeat to realise that television can satirise itself very adequately.

Set at the headquarters of Eldorado Television - the name which manages a dig at the BBC’s Spanish soap fiasco,

while the company is nearer to the brash commercialism of Carlton - where the drama department is ordered to come up with a Bafta-

i winning hit. ‘I want it epic and I want 1 it cheap,’ bawls the chairman, lord

I Mellow (Timothy West).

In a plot twist which adapts Evelyn Waugh’s journalistic satire Scoop, the scriptwriter played by Peter Gavison is an unknown hayseed who is plucked from obscurity to create this televisual event of the year. Just like in real television, everything he writes is rewritten, though the rewrites start before he has even typed a word. Essentially, this is Bradbury’s variation on the joke about the Hollywood actress who was so dumb she slept with the writer. (Eddie Gibb)

Cuts is on Tue 31 Dec on Scottish.

Mystery train

Billed as ‘an erotic thriller about passion.jealousy and murder‘. the BBC2 adaptation of Zola's novel [11 Béte Hunuu'ne is pretty rrruch as advertised. Cruel Train is a stylised and carefully crafted film tloil‘ which translates the original setting of l9th century France to Brighton dtrring the Blitz.

A railway line links the characters. and the massive steam engines act as a kind of metaphor for emotions so poweful that once unleashed, become unstoppable. ‘lt steams forward with

MGM: musicals maestro Arthur Freed. .

Hot line

After playing a computemerd in the last James Bond movie. Alan Cumming switches to a slightly lower-tech job for

' his next role telephone exchange operator in Burn The Phone. Cumming also directs this quirky short drama which started life as a Radio 4 play written by Andrew Wallace, who based the story on his own experiences as an operator.

Though surrounded by other operators, Andy (Cumming) is isolated at his workstation. wired up to a computer terminal answering a

the relentless thrust of the characters‘ sex drive.’ says writer and director Malcolm McKay. ‘It is the very image ofthe beast in man it‘s a hot. passionate piece of machinery.‘

When railway guard Ruben Roberts

(David Such

wife Selena (Saskia Reeves) has been granting sexual favours to the chairman

ofthe railwa can keep his

the man who has iii-jacked his life. As the police become suspicious. Ruben encourages his wife to seduce a witness

to the rnurde

The couple embark on an affair which destroys Ruben and each other. as the war engulfs them all. (Eddie Gibb) Cruel Train is on Sun 22 Dec ul 9. 50pm on BBC2.

et) discovers his vampish

y company so her husband job. he sets out to murder

r to discover what he saw.

unam— Make’em laugh

Christmas means Hollywood musicals, and the BBC is obliging with a season of classics featuring an opener in the form of Musicals Great Musicals, a duff title for an interesting profile of MGM’s greatest musicals producer, Arthur Freed. llis credits include some of the best llollywood musicals from The Wizard 0! 01 to Singin’ In The Rain.

Working with directors like Stanley Conan and Vincente Minnelli, and

succession o

to downright abusive. Structured like a short story with a sting in its tail. the

real pleasure

Cumming keeps up a stream of banter with the disembodied voices. The visual possibilities are severely restricted and Cumming has to hold the

whole thing

When Andy starts to receive threats from a caller who appears to know too many personal details for comfort. he begins to lose his cool. advising one irate caller with a faulty line to ‘burn the phone’. The conclusion arrives as a bit of a sucker punch. but this is a

simple and s

play nonetheless. (Eddie Gibb) Burn The Phone is on Tue 3/ Dec at 9.30pm on BBC2.

maior stars including Gene Kelly and

fcalls ranging from bizarre

of this film is the way


urprisingly effective TV

Burn The Phone: Alan Cumming gets connected

Cruel Train: ‘steams forward like the characters’ sex drive’

Judy Garland, Freed was a creative force who updated the musical from the traditional Busby Berkeley-style showstoppers. Freed’s big idea was that the song and dance numbers should progress the plot, not interrupt it. The fact that there was even a decent plot at all was something of a departure.

Musicals Great Musicals features the usual parade of showbiz old timers paying tribute to Freed, but slowly a picture emerges of a man of few words who somehow managed to get the best out of people. The ballerina leslie Caron, from An American In Paris, said he had four words: yeah, nah, great and terrific. He wouldn’t stop until he could use the last one on the list. (Eddie Gibb)

Musicals Great Musicals is on Sat 21 Dec at 9pm on 8802, and is followed by On The Town

t W MEDICS ' uunss,rne scneeus

ltlinik: spoof medical

_ drama ‘Man; woman; birth;

death: infinity.‘ Not the beginning of a particularly surreal lit-[light Zone btrt

, the opening dialogue from l960s American hospital drama lien (use): One critic ptrt its success down to the fact that ‘so many people like to hear others talk about their operations'. Judging by the rash of doctors and nurses who have been beamed into our homes. peering otrt over their surgical masks. then don‘t we just.

As [5R scrubs up for a rrew series. Channel 4 is welcoming in [997 with a short season celebrating these TV heroes. And there have been scores of the blighters hitting our

small screens over the years. Some have been classic TV. ()thers haven‘t. Tire Americans concocted such landmarks as Dr Kilt/ore and General Hospital while the early British contributions included [finance/rev Wonl l() and Dr Fin/(tr 's' Casebook. along with doc documentaries like the cunnineg titled Hospital.

As the proliferation of doctors and nurses on TV rose to epidemic proportions. the difference between the US and UK productions became stark. The former have been dead good. the latter mainly dead wood. Check into St lflsi'wlu'rt' and ER; I go private when faced

with Angels and Met/it‘s.

' Even (‘osuultv has lost . its way. Initially it aimed ? its guns at the government's NHS policy. btrt recently has resorted to that old soap opera ratings booster. the siege. While the US can entice Quentin Tarantino to spray some blood around the operating theatre in ER. all we get is an ex-Dr Who (Tom Baker) to gently anaesthetise us in Mei/it's. (Brian Donaldson)

Doctors and Nurses runs from Tue 3/ Dec on

C hunnel 4.

Radio highlights back in the I New Year

72 The List [3 Dec l996-9 Jan I997