Monday, February 13, 2006

A thousand minutes of Inspector Morse

I spent the weekend watching ten episodes of Inspector Morse back to back. Since each instalment of the TV series ran to at least 100 minutes [not counting commercial breaks], that means I spent more than 1000 minutes watching Morse over the last two days, or close to 17 hours with the Oxford detective. I'm on the final thrash of revisions for the new, hardback edition of my Morse reference book and have been gradually re-viewing all 33 of the TV tales. But now push is coming to shove, hence the weekend's Morse marathon. The ten episodes I watched were made over an eight year period, so the key cast members were aging in front of my eyes, a somewhat perturbing experience. Now all I've got left to watch is the heart-breakingly sad finale, The Remorseful Day, and the recent Lewis spin-off.

Lewis got ITV's highest ratings for a drama [excluding soaps] in 18 months, all but guaranteeing the spin-off would be re-commissioned. According to Britain's TV industry trade paper, ITV wants four more Lewis stories to be shot this summer for broadcast early in 2007. That'll be the 20th anniversary of Morse's first TV appearance in The Dead of Jericho. Apparently the only sticking point is persuading Kevin Whately to sign up for more of Lewis. If I was his agent, I'd be turning the screws on ITV's negotiators. Whately declined to appear in the penultimate Morse TV tale, The Wench is Dead, in a dispute over how much he was being paid. Now's his chance to extract a little payback - and a large cheque. To my mind, Whately's a stunning actor whose contribution to the success of Morse on TV was consistently overlooked. That's not surprising, when you're appearing alongside a heavyweight thesp like John Thaw, but Whately deserves a big part of the acclaim too.

Once the programme makers have secured Whately for Lewis, they must make sure Laurence Fox returns as Hathaway. By the end of 'Lewis' I was developing a lot of affection for the failed priest; his partnership with the detective inspector was fast becoming a favourite. But please, please, please, can somebody persuade Morse's greatest TV scribe Julian Mitchell to get back behind a keyboard? If there's one thing watching a thousand minutes of Morse in two days teaches you, it's that Mitchell wrote the best scripts for the series. Get him involved with Lewis and quality will result. Few could doubt the production values or quality of the filmwork on Lewis. If there were any quibbles from critics, they most stemmed from the script - and the fact the hacks felt obliged to pick holes in the programme, to prove their credentials at critics.

Today's tasks? Some tweaks on my third Fiends of the Eastern Front novel, Twilight of the Dead; re-viewing The Remorseful Day; and making a start on my moment-by-moment analysis of Lewis. I've got until Wednesday to finish my work on The Complete Inspector Morse: From Page to Screen, because on Thursday I'm off to LA - hurrah! California, here I come...

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