Defying Gravity: best TV show for 2009 and why viewers should stick with it

It’s started on BBC 2 now (Thursdays 9pm – though the opener was tonight, Wed.) so it seems safe enough to talk about this. Defying Gravity is a joint venture between the BBC, ABC and a few other stations (BBC press pack here). It’s the story of a group of astronauts on a six-year tour of the solar system, starting off on Venus and then doing the grand tour. The public believes that it’s for little more than a sightseeing mission but in reality, there’s another purpose to it all, involving an alien life form.

The show is told from two perspectives: from that of the mission and from flashbacks of five-years ago as the crew started to train together and the inter-character relationships are all different.

All of the attractive crew* (and Joey from Bread) have their burdens: two of them abandoned fellow astronauts on Mars, another has killed people in their past, one struggles with religion v science and so on.

If it was to be compared to current TV shows, the mix would be of Lost and Grey’s Anatomy with a dash of Sci-fi, but there’s also a heavy dash of science in here (the show is actually based on an old BBC documentary series) and it covers the following themes:

  • Character relationships in a long-term space mission
  • The impact of alien life – and the cover up of said alien life – on Earth
  • The cover-ups that take place on Earth to keep the mission successful
  • Religion v science
  • The autonomy of a space crew versus following orders from the ground
  • The cost of such a space mission and the impact of commercialisation on space travel
  • The strain on relationships when one is in space and one is on the ground
  • A relatively serious look at the tech/travel times 40 years from now that may take us on space travel
  • How spit can save your live in a leaky space suit

What there isn’t:

  • Laser beams
  • FTL travel
  • bumpy-head aliens/stargates/warp drives
  • happy plot resolution and character resets at the end of each episode (see most Star Trek series, Stargates and so on) – stuff has consequence in this show

It’s not a perfect show – some of the contrivances in the opening eps are a bit much – and as a few people have pointed out, this is not the normal crew you would send into space (though given how dull many of the people sent into space have been, I think I’d rather have this lot up there).

One thing that people moaned about when this aired in the USA was that it was a slow show, but having sat through four hours of Stargate Universe where all they have managed is a) find an old space ship, b) fix the air supply and c) head for the sun I don’t think it’s an accusation that sticks.

The problem the show has is that it may not be SF enough for SF fans (most of them like laser beams and lots of aliens) and everyone else will be turned off by it even having a hint of SF (Lost took years to admit that it has quite a few SF elements like time travel). A lot of the things it does seem normal to anyone who watches Grey’s (a show I can’t stand), ER or other mainstream hits, but they aren’t normal for SF shows.

But this is a show with fantastic potential. Having watched the first 11 episodes, this deserves a shot. It’s not perfect, but it is one of the best attempts at producing a mainstream SF show (to me it also pisses over most TV of recent years including – look away Guardian TV readers – The Wire). If you were a fan of the excellent Orbiter by Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran you may want to check this out. And if you like the show you may want to check that graphic novel out.

Anyway, it’s a show that could do with the ratings – in iPlayer (episodes here) (repeat times here) as much as on the channel – to help it survive past the first 13 eps (in the US, ABC moved it about the schedules and also gave it shockingly bad pre-publicity and advance buzz. They should have hired me for the PR ūüôā )

* Crew run-down:

The series’ international ensemble cast is led by Ron Livingston (Sex And The City) as flight engineer Maddux Donner,¬†Laura Harris (24) as ship’s geologist Zoe Barnes,¬†Malik Yoba (New York Undercover) as flight commander Ted Shaw,¬†Christina Cox (Blood Ties) as biologist Jen Crane,Florentine Lahme (Impact) as pilot Nadia Schilling,¬†Paula Garces (The Shield) as pilot, scientist and on-board documentary producer Paula Morales,¬†Eyal Podell (24) as psychiatrist and medical officer Evram Mintz, and¬†Dylan Taylor (House Party) as theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder.

The cast on planet Earth is led by Andrew Airlie (Reaper) as Mission Control Commander Mike Goss, Karen LeBlanc (ReGenesis) as scientist Eve Shaw, Zahf Paroo (Battlestar Gallactica) as grounded flight engineer Ajay Sharma, Maxim Roy (MVP) as flight surgeon Claire Dereux and Ty Olsson as Rollie Crane, once Mission Commander onboard Antares, and now cap comm; episodic director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors; Bread) also plays the role of British journalist, Trevor Williams.

Do UK dads not blog? Do they tweet?

Was skimming through the excellent top 100 UK parent blogs (note to self: try and get on it) earlier and the most obvious thing that struck me was the lack of dads on it. At a glance, I see one – Single Parent Dad.

So what’s the deal. Are we too busy lifting the toilet seat up to blog? Are they worried about what the wife would say? Or are we just more shy about this sort of thing…I’ve listed a few to the side here (though many of them mention their children and other items).

Thoughts – and links to interesting dad blogs – welcome.

Why I’m not mad on Mad Men

I’ve sat and watched the first season and a half of Mad Men, the show that many a person raves about. And I think I’m done with it.

It’s a show that should appeal to me – it’s about the media and I can’t fault the acting, most of the writing, the sets or anything like that. They are all first class, but it’s a show with absolutely zero cheer to it and not one likeable character or person performing even remotely positive action, which to me is a bit of a failing because no-one is an unlikeable shit all the time – especially in the charismatic even in the cut-throat world of creative advertising.

The characters to me just don’t seem rounded out. With all the selfishness and misery, it’s more like a 60’s advertising version of EastEnders.

Dear Daughter 20/10/2009

Dear Daughter, while your tantrums are starting to be a bit annoying – though the “you’re the world’s worst dad EVER” is good for a chuckle as you constantly backtrack, it was a laugh tonight when you were trying to plead for bedtime treats as you promised to be a good girl “forever, starting tonight. I promise… and that’s a deal and a promise… and… and a promise… and…” as you struggled for another word to go with deal and promise.

When you find one, I’ll let you have a watch of a film in your bedroom. Deal and promise.

Dear Bump 20/10/2009

Dear Bump, when the sperm that made you was part of me you may have heard me think that your mum could do with losing a few pounds. It’s the only way I can rationalise the amount of vomiting you’re putting her through.

Stand down soldier, you don’t have to do anything to impress me. Just turn up in one piece and that will do, so leave off your mum and let her keep some food down please. French toast is hardly a luxury food and she’s got enough to worry about just now, thinking about if she should get the H151 jab or not, worried about what it might do to you.

And besides, on the food front, I’m dying to go out for a decent curry.

Starting to get back into the swing of it…

I’ve posted some free stuff for reading (guess where you can find that) and I think once there’s some images and links in the side columns we’re more or less back up and running.

Someone asked me the other day why I was getting back into this site and the answer’s quite obvious. Contently Managed should really only be for the PR, social media in Scotland and such like. It’s a bit much to go from talking about Battlestar Galactica and Defying Gravity to Brian Solis‘ latest thoughts to the decline of newspapers and mums up on MSBP allegations while also writing notes about your children. So this seems like the easiest way of keeping it all apart.

Revealing your children online

This may seem practically luddite but something I won’t be doing here – well, not deliberately often at any rate – is posting a lot involving my children’s names , schools, pictures and so on. I don’t even do a lot of it on Facebook.

The main reason is that I think online should be their place ¬†to go onto and discover as and when they want and it’s not up to me to put them online: they should have the ability to decide how much (and if) they want to be online. In the meantime I still get to blog about them and the people who know them – grandparents and so on who can’t do Facebook – can still check in here from time to time.

(it reminds me of a chat I had with Warren Ellis around the time Matt Fraction had his kid and we differed on revealing so much online. Warren felt that the sheer quantity of stuff put out by parents and others would swamp anything that prospective employers and so on might find, while I felt data mining would get better and besides, it was the kid’s choice as to how much was online anyway.)

All of which does beg one question: when this generation grows up, how are they going to take parents having posted chunks of details about their lives online? Even worse, there will be intimate details of their parents online…

U2 live broadcast will be battle of radio versus internet and piracy

As every U2 fan knows, tonight sees Bauer Media broadcast a full U2 show live from Sheffield, which is quite an interesting and audacious stunt (and must have cost a bomb).

Where this excites me is it will be interesting to see the figures afterwards. Most people I know aren’t intending to listen to this on the radio – they’re listening to it on their desktops and laptops so that they can record a digital version of the show that they can then put on iPods and so on.

So what’s the lesson from this? Old media can survive in new times – as long as they have the good content.

(What will be really interesting is to see if there’s any provision made for blocking people from outside the UK from listening.)

Tale of an old newspaper shows why paid news websites may be the future after all

(bear with me for a couple of pars, this is all relevant)

Once upon a time, there was a paper in Scotland with 30 staff. They were passionate, they worked hard, they broke a lot of good scoops and – along with some decent sales and marketing promotions – they got their circulation up to 115,000, putting it in the top four papers at the time.

But it was 10p and, as this wasn’t a News International title, that sort of thing can’t be sustained and as the price went up, circulation went down – but the reporters and staff battled on.

Then two weeks before one Xmas, 26 were shown the door. Circulation went down a little but stabilised around the 40,000 mark before slowly declining some more – but the paper was full price so it was way more profitable than it had been at 115,000 at 10p and a staff of 30.

Then three more reporters were sacked and circulation went down to around 33,000 at full price, making it even more profitable.

(That’s the Scottish Daily Mirror for those wondering)

What does this have to do with online news? Well Stewart Kirkpatrick, Shaun Milne, Iain Bruce have all had their stab at the recent chat over paywalls. They think – like the vast majority of people – that the concept is ultimately flawed.

And they may have a point. In an age of the BBC and where the news in most papers seems identical, why should they pay?

But here’s the thing: if you have 100,000 readers online and 99,500 run away when you bring in a paywall, the other 500 paying mean that your site is suddenly making more money than it did before. Even if they only pay ¬£1 each, that’s ¬£500 you never had before. And I’ll bet that right now, most would take the 500 who pay over the 99,500 freetards.

And it may sound cartel-like but if one of them starts to make even a little money, you’ll see all the other papers have a little tinker with it as well until they learn how to use advertising better for the digital age.

This may well be the one case where less truly is more. Don’t make it right, but I’ll bet it’s the thinking.

Twitter PR advice line set up

The site here will be going back to being a blog about everything-but-PR soon (with the PR and media posts appearing elsewhere) but for the next week or so it’s a bit of an interim period.

Anyway, as part of the changes, I’ve decided that instead of having a PR mailing list, I’ve set up a PR Tips Tweet stream (I may add in something with FriendFeed at some point too) – it makes more sense, especially if you’re meant to or want to learn about social media.

Anyway, you can find it at www.twitter.com/pr_tips and it will be getting updated at least four times daily.

Daily Mirror Shows Even More Contempt for Scotland and Scottish Readers

(usual disclaimer: The Mirror sacked me and 26 other people two weeks before Xmas a few years ago leaving a team of four. They’ve since sacked the rest of the team, leaving one person to cover a country in the UK with 5million people)

Anyway, the Daily Mirror is launching a new football website¬†and there’s a blurb there about what it’s going to have, which is all fine and fair enough. And it’s early days, but what’s there that will grate on a few Scotsmen?

  • Is it the lack of Scottish pictures? (They couldn’t even put one up?)
  • Is the the lack of mention of the first UK team to lift the top European trophy?
  • Or is it a shot from 1966 and the build-up to that game?

Actually, what I think annoys me most is the writing on it – there’s not one mention of Scottish achievements or even¬†a hint that the Scottish clubs will be mentioned and the pictures updated. The text implies that it’s covering one Premiership in one country and it isn’t Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.

Anyone know? I’m sure they are going to have Scottish stuff but would be nice to know…and let’s be honest, the Old Firm fans (and the others) will fork out if there are some nice shots to be bought.

And, will there be  a tidy iPhone app to go along with it?

Herald freelance deal isn’t great – but it could be a lot worse

There ‘s been another stushie kicked off with The Herald revealing the new pay rates for shifters and casuals. AllMediaScotland has the details here.

Now the rates and offers aren’t great, but let’s take a reality check here and consider some of the offers that have come from media companies, it’s not horrifically bad, particularly if you are young and starting out or have a decent redundancy payment already in your back pocket.

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Review: Apple iPhone as a tool for journalism or PR – epic failure

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved the potential of mobile communications for professional communicators including journalists and PR types. I remember in 2000 sitting with glee at getting a Nokia 6210 to work with a Targus folding keyboard and a Handspring Visor. I loved using that kit in the field. Others used the Nokia Communicator for similar results but back then the Communicator was a pricey piece of kit.

Fast forward to 2009 and there’s two real contenders out there for journalists wanting as much of an all in one solution as possible: Nokia’s N97 and Apple’s third stab at the iPhone, the iPhone 3GS.

Last year I had the chance to go up to the music festival T in the Park and put the N95 through a heavy duty field test. Since then I’ve also had a run-through with the Flip and Qik. This year’s T in the Park gave me a chance to test Apple’s latest hyped phone and, as you may have guessed from the headline, boy was I disappointed.

Note: Lots of video and pic links after the jump…

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Is T in the Park PR reporting offer PR genius, #prfail or journalism’s worst nightmare?

I know I’ve blogged in the past about companies buying reporters as a way of guaranteeting coverage, but at last weekend’s T in the Park, I saw an offering by Material PR (who, as always, played a blinder for most of the weekend) that was either out and out genius or the 21st Century Faustian bargain. In short, it was this: “unable to cover all the acts you need/want to cover? Tell us, the T in the Park PR company and we’ll arrange for words and pics for you.”

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Note to Press: I’m not the T in the Park press guy

Last week I had a few calls asking if I could arrange tickets for T in the Park for people. Not an unusual request in itself it has to be said. I’m sure at this time of year most PR types, especially those with music festival and drink brand experience, find themselves being asked that by friends.

What was unusual was that these requests were coming from press down south and abroad, not from friends and family (either that or my friends and family are now impersonating press. Hope they aren’t phone tapping too…)

One quick look at Google showed why: I’m ranking number one under the phrase ‘T in the Park PR‘¬†which is nice, mostly on the back of my post about using the Nokia N95 as a PR/reporting tool. (for those interested in that sort of comparison review, here’s one with the N95 and Flip camera.)

Now I’m heading up again this year, staying at Airth Castle, and instead of the N95 it’s going to be the first real tryout for the new white 32GB iPhone 3GS that turned up here thank to Carphone Warehouse last week. Should be interesting to see how they compare, especially as the iPhone has the weaker battery and camera.

And in the meantime, anyone looking for the real T in the Park PR for this year should get in touch with these fine fellows.

Now I know there’s money in social media: Gordon Beattie’s hiring

Since setting out solo to specialise in digital/social media PR (but still offering traditional PR to those who aren’t convinced of digital), there’s been many of those 5am moments where I’ve wondered if I made the right move. After all it can be a scary thing, especially in a country which has been slow to embrace a lot of the positives of digital communications for reaching out to customers.

But now I know there’s money to be made in social media – Gordon Beattie’s looking for people in that area.

Now lots of people have opinions about Gordon, but one undeniable fact is this: he’s a damn canny businessman with one of the most successful traditional PR companies in the UK at Beattie Communications (you could also argue that he was behind the success of The Big Partnership as well because it was his seniors from Beattie who started that after working with Gordon) and he doesn’t throw money into schemes that he doesn’t think won’t make money back. And he now has a house in Monaco to prove how successful he’s been, which by any benchmark is a job well done.

(interesting sidenote: I see on the Beattie homepage, it now says ‘London PR Agency’ – has the company moved away from its Scottish roots?)

It’s also good to see the larger PR companies accept and realise that social media and digital comms have a role to play. I know I was banging on that drum more than two years ago when I worked at Beattie, so it’s good to see Gordon taking a lead amongst the agencies in Scotland. He already has the very talented Chris Marritt on his books so the person coming in will need to know their stuff and I’m sure they’ll be able to create some good work worth talking about.

The knock-on effect is that others will also have to keep up and start hiring/training which in turns means more people out there showcasing the benefits of digital and social media communications in Scotland.

Gordon Beattie: still trailblazing. Heh. That gives me a chuckle over my cornflakes.

(Anyway, for those interested in the positions: the programmer job is based in Falkirk but the social media post can be in any of the Beattie offices.) (And if you need to ask how to apply then you haven’t grasped enough of social media yet.)

PR sex scandal shows why you should always keep your desk clean

(Sex scandal might be a bit much, but let’s be honest the gossip scene has been a tad quiet recently. The recession’s got everywhere!)

Anyway, word – and evidence – reaches me of the following scenario involving a junior PR person. The man had been taken on for a three-month trial period, it hadn’t worked out, so he was let go. Now unfortunately the guy was a tad egomaniacal so the non-renewal of contract didn’t end well and he was told that his desk items would be sent out to him.

So the MD of the company decides to get his hands a little dirty by clearing the desk and send the stuff away in a box. At first it’s all the usual stuff – letters from home, pictures of wife and kids, bank statements, notepads, business cards and so on – until he finds (in the second drawer) a page ripped from a popular, evening mass-market Scottish newspaper.

He’s in PR, a newspaper cutting isn’t unusual right?

Except for one fact: this was the page from said newspaper that advertised saunas (or rather “saunas”) and other services that some know to be fronts for sexual services and prostitution.

Now, hang on, you might say, it was the other side of the page he was interested in. And I might agree if it wasn’t for one thing: each of the “services” had been circled, some had comments next to them and most had handwritten notes on how much they charged for an hour and a half-hour of services.

A quick check of the company’s phone logs revealed that, yup, the member of staff had called each of these establishments, leading to cries of “dirty git” (and some word that sounded like banker)¬†from the MD. Said MD was also more than a tad peeved that his ex-member of staff hadn’t got any of the sex companies signed up for PR services (what? There’s a recession going on.). A further check also revealed said member of staff had been calling premium rate phone number services.

Now said MD is peeved as this guy had been given latitude to be a PR superstar and this was how he was rewarded. But he’s not going to take it any further. All he’s done is post all his items back to the guy, newspaper page at the top of the box. What the MD can’t remember is if he addressed the box just to the ex-employee or to the ex-employee and his wife…

So the motto of the tale is this kiddies: keep your desk tidy , keep on the good side of your MD and try to never leave an employer under a bad cloud.

And for those wondering: yes I’ve seen the page in question (I doubted this tale until a scan was sent over to me) and no I’m not naming the bloke (but he lives and works in Edinburgh) (in Scotland) (or used to work there) but if anyone hires me to help with social media/digital media recruitment and this guy’s name comes up. Well…