August 18, 2011


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


THE HOUR:  Wednesday 10PM on BBCAmerica:  Potential DVR Alert
Here’s what’s wrong with BBCAmerica.
Don’t get me wrong:  it’s marvelous that BBCA exists to bring us shows like Luther, the original (and superior) Torchwood, the also original (and even more superior) Being Human, and now THE HOUR.  The problem is that a BBC “1-hour” show actually does run for almost a full hour, unlike the 40-45 minutes that US networks (other than pay-cable) call an “hour” once commercials are removed.  If, like BBCA, you’re a network that airs commercials and also wants to rebroadcast these series, you have 3 choices, none of them ideal:  you can edit 10-15 minutes from each episode, put them in awkward 75-minute timeslots, or pad 90-minute slots with “extras” to fill out the surplus of time. 

BBCA’s solution is an odd compromise.  The initial 2 airings of each episode (east coast and west coast on the same night) run 75 minutes and are uncut, but all repeats after that are brutally edited down to fit a 1-hour slot.  So when I tell you that The Hour is the best new show to hit the air since Game of Thrones, and that you should catch up with the first episode on Saturday and get yourself hooked before next Wednesday’s chapter, all you’ll be able to watch is the truncated version.  (You may want to check your cable or satellite system to see if the longer cut is available On Demand.)  This is too bad, because The Hour hardly has lulls that would lend themselves to editing.  One of the show’s pleasures is its crackling pace of Abi Morgan’s script (she has 2 major films upcoming, the Margaret Thatcher biography The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep, and the Michael Fassbinder/Carey Mulligan drama Shame). Still, better to live with a subpar version of the first episode than to miss The Hour entirely.
People seem determined to compare The Hour to Mad Men, but a better way of describing it is Broadcast News as a period murder mystery.  The time is the mid-1950s, and the place is the BBC itself, which is ready to launch itself out of stodgy airings of newsreel footage and start reporting the news seriously.  The vehicle for this new commitment to news is a series called “The Hour,” and our protagonists square up nicely with James L. Brooks’ main characters.  The Albert Brooks figure is Freddie Lyon, a brilliant, passionately committed newsman who unfortunately lacks camera-ready charisma and tact; he has an unrequited love for Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), the equally brilliant but also beautiful and politic producer of “The Hour,” and the show’s stand-in for Holly Hunter.  She, of course, finds herself falling for the piece’s William Hurt, in this case Hector Madden (Dominic West), the endlessly charming, somewhat superficial and very married anchor (“presenter” in BBC parlance) of the new show.    Freddie and Bel have effortless best-friend banter–even when they’re furious with each other, they can’t bear to be apart–but Hector has star quality.
Meanwhile, there’s been a mysterious murder in a London tube station, and MI:6 is all too interested in the corpse; the death has something to do with Freddie’s socialite friend Ruth, who’s torn apart by it even as she’s announcing her engagement.  Freddie, of course, is determined to get to the bottom of the crime even if no one else cares, and much intrigue is clearly on the way.
The Hour is a thriller, a romantic comedy and a drama about politics and the news business, at a time when most TV series would be happy to succeed at any one of those.  The three leads are terrific:  Whishaw is much more grounded and likable than he’s been in indie pictures like I’m Not There, Perfume and Bright Star; Garai (she was the older version of Saoirse Ronan’s character in Atonement) has the air of a Hollywood screwball comedy star; and West, well, West was McNulty on The Wire, and consequently will never have to prove anything ever again.  And naturally there’s an A-level British ensemble cast behind them, with people like Anton Lesser, Juliet Stevenson, Anna Chancellor and Burn Gorman (late of Torchwood) everywhere you look.  The production design is impeccable, and the first episode’s direction by Coky Giedroyc is fleet and tense.

The Hour lasts five more weeks, and it’s a perfect way to see out the summer TV season as we await the networks’ new arrivals.  It’s a burden that if you start watching now, the first hour of The Hour that you’ll see will be missing some of its actual hour; after that, though, the show is well worth 75 minutes of your time.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."