Director Tristram Shapeero apologises to Lukas Gage after unmuted comments

Director Tristram Shapeero has apologised after unwittingly commenting on an actor’s “tiny apartment” without realising he could be heard.

Euphoria actor Lukas Gage was auditioning for a role via Zoom earlier this year when an unmuted Shapeero began making comments about his home.

Gage uploaded the video of the encounter to Twitter this week.

Shapeero apologised to Gage at the time and has now written an open letter to him about his “unacceptable” remarks.

In the video, which includes bad language and was posted on Twitter by Gage on Saturday, the actor can be seen in his apartment about to audition on Zoom for a screen role.

An unseen Shapeero can then be heard saying: “These poor people live in these tiny apartments. Like I’m looking at his, you know, background and he’s got his TV…”

But Shapeero doesn’t get any further before Gage interjects: “I know it’s a [rubbish] apartment that’s why [you should] give me this job so I can get a better one.”

Realising his previous comment was audible, Shapeero immediately apologises, telling Gage: “Oh my god, I am so, so sorry… I am absolutely mortified.”

With a smile, Gage responds: “It’s totally… Listen, I’m living in a four-by-four box, just give me the job and we’ll be fine.”

When he posted the video on Twitter, Gage captioned it: “Public service announcement: If you’re a [trash] talking director, make sure to mute [yourself] on Zoom meetings.”

The audition took place in August 2020, so it is not clear why Gage has only now decided to share the footage on social media.

But after posting it on Twitter on Saturday, the video went viral – it was viewed more than 9 million times and has now received nearly 300,000 likes and more than 30,000 retweets.

Gage received support from major figures in the film and TV industry, including Judd Apatow, Seth MacFarlane and Billy Eichner.

Fans immediately began speculating as to who the director could be – as Gage’s tweet did not identify him by name.

Shapeero is a well-known producer and director in Hollywood and has worked on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Never Have I Ever.

On Tuesday morning, Tristram Shapeero came forward to confirm he was the unseen director and apologise to Gage again, this time via an open letter published in Deadline.

“First and foremost I offer Mr Gage a sincere and unvarnished apology for my offensive words, my unprofessional behaviour during the audition and for not giving him the focus and attention he deserved,” he wrote.

“My job is to evaluate performers against the part I am trying to cast. Lukas deserved better.”

Shapeero also clarified his meaning particularly around the use of the word “poor”.

“I was using the word ‘poor’ in the sense of deserving sympathy, as opposed to any economic judgment,” he explained.

“My words were being spoken from a genuine place of appreciation for what the actors were having to endure, stuck in confined spaces, finding it within themselves to give a role-winning performance under these conditions.”

He concludes: “As I say on the video, I’m mortified about what happened. While I can’t put the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube, I move forward from this incident a more empathetic man; a more focused director and I promise, an even better partner to actors from the audition process to the final cut.”

The Indian bride who wore a pantsuit to her wedding

Sanjana Rishi says she wore a vintage, powder-blue pantsuit to her traditional Indian wedding recently “simply because I love suits”.

But, with her choice of wedding outfit, she also delivered a bold fashion statement – that made many wonder whether more brides would ditch traditional clothing in favour of the power suit.

In the West, bridal pantsuits have caught on in the past few years. Designers are promoting trousers in their wedding collections, and they’ve received celebrity endorsement too. Last year, Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner wore a pair of white trousers when she married musician Joe Jonas in Las Vegas.

But, Ms Rishi’s outfit was highly unusual for India – where brides usually dress up in silk saris or elaborate lehengas (long skirt-blouse-scarf combos). The preferred colour is red and many are embroidered with expensive gold or silver thread.

“I’ve never come across an Indian bride dressed like this,” says Nupur Mehta, former editor of a bridal magazine. “Brides usually like to wear Indian attire along with the traditional jewellery from their mothers and grandmothers.

“This was something very new. And she really stood out.”

An Indian-American entrepreneur, Ms Rishi, 29, married Delhi businessman Dhruv Mahajan, 33, on 20 September in the capital, Delhi.

She had worked as a corporate lawyer in the US before returning to India last year and the couple were living together for close to a year.

They had planned a wedding in September in the US – where the bride’s brother and most of her friends live – and a second traditional Indian wedding in Delhi in November.

But then Covid happened and their plans “got completely derailed”.

Unlike America, there is little acceptance of live-in relationships in India and Ms Rishi says that, although her parents are “incredibly progressive, there was a lot of external pressure from friends, neighbours and extended family to formalise the relationship.

So, in late August, “one fine morning I woke up and said, ‘let’s just get married'”.

Ms Rishi says the moment she thought of getting married, she knew exactly what her outfit was going to be.

“I knew I was going to wear a pantsuit, and I knew exactly which one,” she told me.

Ms Rishi, who “believes in environmentally sustainable fashion” and generally buys a lot of second-hand clothes, says she had seen the suit in a boutique in Italy a long time ago.

“It was a pre-loved vintage suit, made in the 1990s by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré. I was surprised and delighted to know that it was still available when I decided to get married.”

While working as a corporate lawyer in the US, suits were her choice of clothing because all the “strong modern women I idolised” wore them too.

“I have always thought that there is something very powerful about a woman in a pantsuit. I loved them and I wore them all the time.”

It also made sense, she says, since the wedding was a small intimate affair, attended by only 11 people including the bride and the groom and the priest.

“It was just our parents and grandparents. The wedding took place in Dhruv’s backyard. Everyone was very casually dressed, it would have been really awkward if I was dressed up in an elaborate wedding costume. I would have looked so overdressed.”

Mr Mahajan says he hadn’t anticipated his fiancée turning up in a pantsuit.

“Until I saw her, I had no idea what she’d be wearing, but it really didn’t matter because I knew that whatever Sanj wore, she’d rock it.”

In fact, he says when he first saw her, “I didn’t even notice at first that she was wearing trousers, all I noticed was how stunning she looked. She looked angelic, absolutely gorgeous”.

“I can go on with more adjectives,” he laughs.

Ms Rishi’s wedding outfit has created a stir on social media.

After she posted some images on Instagram, friends and followers complimented her on her looks – they called her stunning, beautiful, awesome and “the coolest bride”.

Fashion designers and fashionistas, too, approved of her choice.

“OMG, how great do you look!!!” wrote designer Masaba Gupta; and Rhea Kapoor, Bollywood producer and actress Sonam Kapoor’s sister, described her look as “awesome”.

Anand Bhushan, one of India’s best-known contemporary womenswear designers, told the BBC he loved Ms Rishi’s outfit and that “it is a lovely way for a bride to look”.

“When I saw her photograph, the first thing that went through my mind was, “if Carrie Bradshaw [one of the protagonists in Sex and the City] was Indian, she would dress exactly like this for her wedding.”

But then some bridal accounts shared her pictures and the trolls began trashing her.

In the comments, they said she had brought a bad name to Indian culture, and warned her husband that he was stuck with an attention-seeker who would do anything in the name of feminism. Some said she would never understand Indian traditions because her mind had been influenced by the Western culture. Some “even told me to go kill myself”.

Ms Rishi says she doesn’t understand the criticism since “Indian men wear pantsuits at weddings all the time and nobody questions them – but when a woman wears it then it gets everyone’s goat”.

“But I guess it’s because women are always held to stricter standards,” she says.

And it’s not just in India. Women’s fight to wear trousers has been long and bitter and it goes on globally, with many cultures, even modern ones, frowning upon women who dare to ditch dresses.

Until 2013, it was illegal for women to wear trousers in France.

In South Korea, female students were only recently told that they could buy a set of trousers to replace the skirts that came as standard with their uniforms.

Female students in North Carolina in the US had to go to court to be allowed to wear trousers in school, even in the harsh winter cold. In Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old took on her school for her right to wear trousers last year and won.

A similar resistance to women wearing trousers continues in India.

“Though women in India have worn some sort of stitched trousers or pyjamas for centuries, outside of big metropolitan cities, many conservative families do not allow women to wear trousers or jeans,” Mr Bhushan says.

“In a society dominated by patriarchy, men have become very insecure about women, so they want to dictate women’s behaviour, their reproductive rights, how they talk and laugh and what they wear,” he adds.

Although Ms Rishi says by wearing a pantsuit, she wasn’t trying to make a political statement, she acknowledges that she may have ended up doing it unwittingly.

“I realise that not all women, at least in India, are free to wear what they please. Once I put out my photographs on Instagram, a lot of women wrote back saying that, looking at my pictures, they had also got the courage to stand up to their parents or in-laws about what to wear at their wedding.

“At one level I was very pleased to hear this, but at another level I was also a little concerned. I was thinking, ‘oh no, I’m causing problems in other people’s lives or in other people’s homes.'”

So could a bride wearing a powder-blue pantsuit inspire others to do the same?

Her unusual choice could become “a spark point – it may go into a flame, or it may die out,” Mr Bhushan says.

“I hope it will be the former”,

Major Lindsays widow upset after The Crown includes ski tragedy

The widow of a major killed by an avalanche while skiing with Prince Charles says she was “very upset” over the tragedy’s inclusion in The Crown.

Sarah Horsley told The Sunday Telegraph she asked Netflix not to dramatise the 1988 disaster at Klosters, Switzerland.

Major Hugh Lindsay was a friend of the Prince’s and a former Queen’s equerry.

Mrs Horsley said: “I was horrified when I was told [the episode] was happening and was very concerned about the impact on my daughter.”

She continued: “I’m very upset by it and I’m dreading people seeing it.

“I wrote to them asking them not to do it, not to use the accident.

“I suppose members of the Royal family have to grin and bear it, but for me it’s a very private tragedy.”

Netflix said it would not be commenting on the story.

Mrs Horsley said the producers replied with “a very kind letter”, saying “that they understood my concerns but they hope I will feel that they deal with difficult subject matters with integrity and great sensitivity”.

But she told the newspaper: “I think it’s very unkind to many members of the family.”

The accident features in episode nine – titled Avalanche – of the fourth series of The Crown, which is currently streaming on Netflix.

It features long-distance footage of an avalanche – no close-ups of any of the characters involved are depicted and Major Lindsay does not appear at all.

But there is a voiceover featuring real audio reporting the accident at the time.

The focus is largely on the aftermath – the coffin is seen returning from Switzerland and the funeral is also shown.

The Major’s widow is played by Alanna Ramsey.

Prince Charles is also seen having flashbacks of the accident and later tells Camilla Parker Bowles, who is now the Duchess of Cornwall: “I was sure I was going to die.”

Other real-life tragedies featured in The Crown include the Aberfan disaster and the death of Lord Mountbatten, whose boat was bombed by the IRA.

Why was The Weeknd covered in bandages at the AMAs?

R&B star The Weeknd won three prizes at Sunday’s American Music Awards – with his face covered in bandages.

The Canadian star, who was named best soul artist, made no reference to his unusual appearance, which prompted concern from some viewers.

It came after he took to the stage with a bloodied face at the MTV VMAs earlier this year.

However, the make-up and bandages are part of an anti drink-driving message he has been promoting in his new music.

Speaking to Esquire earlier this year, the singer explained that his hit single Blinding Lights is about “how you want to see someone at night, and you’re intoxicated, and you’re driving to this person and you’re just blinded by streetlights.

“I don’t want to ever promote drunk driving, but that’s what the dark undertone is.”

The star, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, thanked Prince as he picked up the prize for best R&B album at Sunday night’s ceremony.

“Last time I received this award, it was given to me by the late great Prince,” he said.

“And you know, he’s the reason I get to constantly challenge the genre of R&B, and I’d like to dedicate this award to him. Thank you.”

Elsewhere at the ceremony, Taylor Swift was named artist of the year for a record-extending sixth time.

Accepting the prize via satellite, the star confirmed she was re-recording her old music, in the midst of a very public feud over the ownership of her master tapes.

“This is a fan voted award, which means so much to me,” said Swift. “You guys have been beyond wonderful. All the years of my career, but especially this one, when we’ve been so far apart, we haven’t been able to see each other in concert, but I still feel connected to you.

“I’m actually re-recording all of my old music in the studio where we originally recorded it,” she added. “I can’t wait for you to hear it.”

Swift won two further prizes: best music video for Cardigan and favourite female pop/rock artist – taking her all-time tally to 32, more than any other artist in the ceremony’s history.

The awards show took place in front of a limited audience “in small groups, from the same families”.

Host Taraji P Henson said the guests “had been tested for Covid-19”. The small crowd, all wearing masks, were seen applauding and cheering from the balcony of the Microsoft Theatre throughout the show.

They were treated to performances by Megan Thee Stallion, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes and Nelly, who performed a medley of hits from his debut album Country Grammar, marking its 20th anniversary.

Billie Eilish was bathed in red for the live debut of her new single, Therefore I Am, while Katy Perry and Darius Rucker delivered a heartfelt rendition of the ballad Only Love.

And Jennifer Lopez and Maluma gave a preview of the chemistry they’re bringing to the big screen in the 2021 rom-com Marry Me, with a smouldering performance of their collaborative singles Pa’ Ti and Lonely – which ended with Lopez performing a Flashdance-esque chair routine.

Not all the performances took place in LA: Dua Lipa danced her way through the hit single Levitating from London’s Royal Albert Hall, flying into the air amidst a glitter snowstorm as the song reached its climax.

And BTS beamed in from an empty stadium in Seoul, singing Life Goes On and Dynamite while fireworks exploded around them.

The Korean band also picked up best group and favourite social artist at the ceremony.

Other notable winners included former One Direction star Harry Styles, who won his first solo AMA award – best pop/rock album for last year’s Fine Line.

Rapper Juice Wrld was posthumously named best male hip-hop artist, while Dua Lipa won best pop song for Don’t Start Now.

Country duo Dan & Shay and pop star Justin Bieber both won three prizes each – sharing two for their duet 10,000 Hours.

After winning favourite Latin female artist, Becky G gave one of the night’s most emotional speeches, telling a story about her Mexican immigrant grandfather, and dedicating her win to immigrant workers and immigrant families.

“I proudly wave both flags – Mexican and American,” she said. “Like many, many children and grandchildren of immigrants, no matter where they’re from, we have learned from the ones before us what sacrifice and hard work looks like.

“I dedicate this award to all of our immigrant workers in this pandemic and the students and immigrant families. It’s because of my family that I stand here today.”

Artist Of The Year

New Artist Of The Year

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Favourite Social Artist

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Viewers dont believe my Big Show features are real

Michael McIntyre came up with the idea for his new TV show while sitting in the bath.

Surrounded by bubbles, soothing music and pina colada-scented candles (if his baths are anything like ours), the comedian developed the basic format for his new BBC One game show The Wheel.

“I was thinking about the evolution of entertainment television, and how there have been so many talent shows,” he explains. “And I just thought, there haven’t been many brand new formats for game shows, and they’re so well loved. So I thought, I’m going to try and think of one.

“So I thought of two in the bath,” he says. “Literally within moments.” One of them was The Wheel, which begins on Saturday. “I also had another idea, not so good, that one didn’t go anywhere. But that’s on the back burner!” he laughs.

Usually at this time of year, McIntyre would be gearing up for a new series of his Big Show; the phenomenally successful variety programme which has been a staple of BBC One’s winter schedule since 2016.

It’s a huge hit with viewers, and you can understand why. McIntyre’s endearing, family-friendly personality, fused with some ingenious features like the Midnight Gameshow, Send To All and Unexpected Star of the Show, make for a hugely enjoyable format.

But, the 44-year-old explains, the impressive viewing figures the show gets mask scepticism from some members of the public.

“I’m used to cynical viewers with the Big Show,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve met a single person who believes any of those things are real. They’re always like: ‘Come on, those Unexpected Stars know [what’s happening], you tell them don’t you? You tell them on Send To All, they know.’

“And I’m like, they don’t know! We’re not allowed to do that, and it would be too difficult to set up anyway. There’s always a slightly natural cynicism.”

Send To All sees a celebrity send an embarrassing message, written by McIntyre live on stage, to every contact in their phone book. Unexpected Star, meanwhile, involves a member of the public being lured to a particular location under false pretences, only to find out they’ll be performing live to the nation at the end of the programme.

The Big Show sadly cannot return this winter because having a full live audience currently isn’t possible. Other TV shows have tried to persevere without one, with mixed results. But the Big Show’s format depends so heavily on surprising or playing tricks on audience members that it can’t operate in the social distancing era.

And so McIntyre’s new series is effectively taking its place. The comedian recalls: “It came to me as a sort of human roulette wheel. A wheel is something that’s been used very many times in game shows anyway, the randomness and excitement of where it could possibly land. So I just thought of putting people on the end of it.”

Celebrities sit on the outer ring of the giant wheel and try to help members of the public, who sit in the middle, to win money by answering general knowledge questions.

The great and the good of the celebrity landscape make up the guest helpers. Gemma Collins, Roman Kemp, Professor Green, Stacey Dooley, Chris Kamara, Pat Sharp, Maura Higgins and Richard Madeley all appear as the celebrity experts.

It looks like an enjoyable show to have filmed, which was confirmed by one of McIntyre’s sons who rode the wheel during a set visit and declared it “the most fun he’d had in ages”.

McIntyre jokes: “Having cancelled two Orlando trips this year, it’s turned into one spin of the wheel on a television set at Bovingdon Airfield.”

Saturday night television is, of course, notoriously difficult to get right, as the BBC’s former director general Greg Dyke pointed out in 2018.

“The problem for both BBC One and ITV is that getting a new show to work in such a competitive slot is incredibly difficult,” he wrote in The Radio Times. “Which means Saturday nights are mainly filled by old favourites like Casualty, Strictly and The X Factor, and new shows are usually doomed to failure.”

He continued: “If you look back to Saturday nights over the decades, only a few entertainment shows have taken off and then stayed… It’s hard to come up with a [successful] programme that was created in the last decade, with the possible exception of The Voice UK, which has been a moderate hit on both BBC One and ITV.”

It’s certainly true to say that the TV schedules are still littered with old favourites like Family Fortunes, The Cube and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? However, newer game show formats have launched recently and enjoyed moderate success.

The Hit List, presented by Rochelle and Marvin Humes, went down well with viewers when it debuted in 2019 and is now in its third series, while the Stephen Mulhern-fronted Rolling In It was recently commissioned by ITV for a second series. Whether any of these newer formats will stand the test of time, of course, remains to be seen.

McIntyre says he was hugely relieved that The Wheel’s format worked when it made it to the studio. Before that, during the planning stages, he says: “I was worried about everything, these spinning celebrities, how fast it would go, are there motion sickness issues and how does this thing even get built?”

He’s equally as concerned about viewer cynicism as he was on his Big Show. “I’m so worried that people will think in any way that The Wheel is fixed, because it’s completely random… The game only works when it’s completely random,” he says.

“And that’s why it frightens me, I said to the producers, ‘So we’re doing 10 shows, what if nine of them have no winners and it’s a disaster?’ But it’s the same thing on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, what if everybody only gets a grand? What if everyone is in the 1p club on Deal or No Deal? It is what it is, you’ve just got to see what happens.”

Kate Philips, the acting controller of BBC One, says the series came along at precisely the right time, as network execs attempted to find formats which comply with current guidelines.

“A few months ago, when Michael McIntyre and Dan Baldwin (of production company Hungry Bear) brought us this show, we loved it straightaway,” she says. “But little did we know then it would be the perfect series to make in socially distanced times. Because that’s what it is, the set really allows that.”

The biggest drawback for McIntyre has been not shooting in front of a live crowd. “There is a studio audience but they’re not with us, they’re all in masks behind a wall,” he explains. “It’s a very bleak situation, I’m so grateful to them for coming.

“I love audiences, I did the Big Show in a theatre for that reason. I don’t want to be in a studio, the more people laughing, the more relaxed I’m going to be.”

Like every other celebrity currently promoting a TV show or film, McIntyre highlights that entertainment can be the perfect “escapism” from the ongoing pandemic.

“You look at how amazing Strictly is, it’s like a national service that TV show coming back on air and giving people something to smile about, nice warm colours, smiling faces, competition, and all the things that make that show so wonderful,” he says.

“This is my very small role to play in this really tough time that everyone’s going through, just to distract you for a little bit of time.”

Michael McIntyre’s The Wheel begins on BBC One at 20:30 GMT on Saturday.

Michael McIntyre: Im used to viewers being cynical

Michael McIntyre came up with the idea for his new TV show while sitting in the bath.

Surrounded by bubbles, soothing music and pina colada-scented candles (if his baths are anything like ours), the comedian developed the basic format for his new BBC One game show The Wheel.

“I was thinking about the evolution of entertainment television, and how there have been so many talent shows,” he explains. “And I just thought, there haven’t been many brand new formats for game shows, and they’re so well loved. So I thought, I’m going to try and think of one.

“So I thought of two in the bath,” he says. “Literally within moments.” One of them was The Wheel, which begins on Saturday. “I also had another idea, not so good, that one didn’t go anywhere. But that’s on the back burner!” he laughs.

Usually at this time of year, McIntyre would be gearing up for a new series of his Big Show; the phenomenally successful variety programme which has been a staple of BBC One’s winter schedule since 2016.

It’s a huge hit with viewers, and you can understand why. McIntyre’s endearing, family-friendly personality, fused with some ingenious features like the Midnight Gameshow, Send To All and Unexpected Star of the Show, make for a hugely enjoyable format.

But, the 44-year-old explains, the impressive viewing figures the show gets mask scepticism from some members of the public.

“I’m used to cynical viewers with the Big Show,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve met a single person who believes any of those things are real. They’re always like: ‘Come on, those Unexpected Stars know [what’s happening], you tell them don’t you? You tell them on Send To All, they know.’

“And I’m like, they don’t know! We’re not allowed to do that, and it would be too difficult to set up anyway. There’s always a slightly natural cynicism.”

Send To All sees a celebrity send an embarrassing message, written by McIntyre live on stage, to every contact in their phone book. Unexpected Star, meanwhile, involves a member of the public being lured to a particular location under false pretences, only to find out they’ll be performing live to the nation at the end of the programme.

The Big Show sadly cannot return this winter because having a full live audience currently isn’t possible. Other TV shows have tried to persevere without one, with mixed results. But the Big Show’s format depends so heavily on surprising or playing tricks on audience members that it can’t operate in the social distancing era.

And so McIntyre’s new series is effectively taking its place. The comedian recalls: “It came to me as a sort of human roulette wheel. A wheel is something that’s been used very many times in game shows anyway, the randomness and excitement of where it could possibly land. So I just thought of putting people on the end of it.”

Celebrities sit on the outer ring of the giant wheel and try to help members of the public, who sit in the middle, to win money by answering general knowledge questions.

The great and the good of the celebrity landscape make up the guest helpers. Gemma Collins, Roman Kemp, Professor Green, Stacey Dooley, Chris Kamara, Pat Sharp, Maura Higgins and Richard Madeley all appear as the celebrity experts.

It looks like an enjoyable show to have filmed, which was confirmed by one of McIntyre’s sons who rode the wheel during a set visit and declared it “the most fun he’d had in ages”.

McIntyre jokes: “Having cancelled two Orlando trips this year, it’s turned into one spin of the wheel on a television set at Bovingdon Airfield.”

Saturday night television is, of course, notoriously difficult to get right, as the BBC’s former director general Greg Dyke pointed out in 2018.

“The problem for both BBC One and ITV is that getting a new show to work in such a competitive slot is incredibly difficult,” he wrote in The Radio Times. “Which means Saturday nights are mainly filled by old favourites like Casualty, Strictly and The X Factor, and new shows are usually doomed to failure.”

He continued: “If you look back to Saturday nights over the decades, only a few entertainment shows have taken off and then stayed… It’s hard to come up with a [successful] programme that was created in the last decade, with the possible exception of The Voice UK, which has been a moderate hit on both BBC One and ITV.”

It’s certainly true to say that the TV schedules are still littered with old favourites like Family Fortunes, The Cube and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? However, newer game show formats have launched recently and enjoyed moderate success.

The Hit List, presented by Rochelle and Marvin Humes, went down well with viewers when it debuted in 2019 and is now in its third series, while the Stephen Mulhern-fronted Rolling In It was recently commissioned by ITV for a second series. Whether any of these newer formats will stand the test of time, of course, remains to be seen.

McIntyre says he was hugely relieved that The Wheel’s format worked when it made it to the studio. Before that, during the planning stages, he says: “I was worried about everything, these spinning celebrities, how fast it would go, are there motion sickness issues and how does this thing even get built?”

He’s equally as concerned about viewer cynicism as he was on his Big Show. “I’m so worried that people will think in any way that The Wheel is fixed, because it’s completely random… The game only works when it’s completely random,” he says.

“And that’s why it frightens me, I said to the producers, ‘So we’re doing 10 shows, what if nine of them have no winners and it’s a disaster?’ But it’s the same thing on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, what if everybody only gets a grand? What if everyone is in the 1p club on Deal or No Deal? It is what it is, you’ve just got to see what happens.”

Kate Philips, the acting controller of BBC One, says the series came along at precisely the right time, as network execs attempted to find formats which comply with current guidelines.

“A few months ago, when Michael McIntyre and Dan Baldwin (of production company Hungry Bear) brought us this show, we loved it straightaway,” she says. “But little did we know then it would be the perfect series to make in socially distanced times. Because that’s what it is, the set really allows that.”

The biggest drawback for McIntyre has been not shooting in front of a live crowd. “There is a studio audience but they’re not with us, they’re all in masks behind a wall,” he explains. “It’s a very bleak situation, I’m so grateful to them for coming.

“I love audiences, I did the Big Show in a theatre for that reason. I don’t want to be in a studio, the more people laughing, the more relaxed I’m going to be.”

Like every other celebrity currently promoting a TV show or film, McIntyre highlights that entertainment can be the perfect “escapism” from the ongoing pandemic.

“You look at how amazing Strictly is, it’s like a national service that TV show coming back on air and giving people something to smile about, nice warm colours, smiling faces, competition, and all the things that make that show so wonderful,” he says.

“This is my very small role to play in this really tough time that everyone’s going through, just to distract you for a little bit of time.”

Michael McIntyre’s The Wheel begins on BBC One at 20:30 GMT on Saturday.

China gives musical talent show a virtual makeover

At first glance, there’s nothing very remarkable about yet another singing competition in talent show-obsessed China, but Dimension Nova is different – this time, all the contestants are virtual.

This “virtual idol variety show”, from Chinese streaming platform iQIYI, features three celebrity judges hoping to find the next big star.

Yet while the concept is familiar, the execution is like nothing we’ve seen before.

Contestants walk out into a capacious hall, complete with a looming T-Rex skeleton hanging from the high ceiling, and perform to the judging panel in real-time.

But these hopefuls are not your familiar pub-gigging wannabes, instead they are digital creations, drawn and styled like Japanese anime figures.

iQIYI, best known for popular talent shows such as The Rap of China, are exploring futuristic territory with their latest TV foray.

Among the 31 virtual contenders, there’s an anthropomorphic five-tailed fox dressed in a suit and a cutesy monosyllabic seal, both auditioning for a spot on the judges’ teams.

“It seems like I stepped into a video game,” says Angelababy, one of the show’s judges, in the first episode. The model-turned-actress is ubiquitous in China, her image dominating screens and billboards.

Virtual celebrities, however, are not entirely new.

In Japan, Hatsune Miku has won a large fanbase since her 2007 debut, despite being virtual. First appearing as a voice-synthesising program, she has featured on TV, in concert and even appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman.

On Instagram, the virtual influencer and music artist Lil Miquela has some 2.8m followers; closer to home, UK indie band Gorillaz consists solely of cartoon members.

Talent shows have become big business in China, with Western-influenced singing competitions such as The Voice of China a huge hit with homegrown audiences.

In 2018, Britain’s Jessie J enrolled as a contestant – and won – the Chinese talent show Singer, significantly boosting her international fanbase.

But in recent years, these talent shows have become increasingly like their Japanese and South Korean counterparts and, arguably, formulaic.

Shows like Produce 101 and Youth With You, which are popular among China’s youth demographic, “follow the trainee system used for Korean idols” explains Ina Yang, a Chinese pop-culture podcast host, and have adopted the glamorous – and gruelling – group idol culture popularised by K-pop.

But this latest talent show is breaking new ground.

“We started from zero with Dimension Nova, as variety shows featuring virtual idols had never been done before,” executive producer Liu Jiachao told the BBC.

He says the virtual reality (VR) technology involved has proved very demanding, adding, “that’s why we only chose 31 contestants out of the 150 or more candidates that we screened”.

The makers of Dimension Nova are keen to show viewers the technology behind the scenes and frequently intercut the virtual performances with shots of a dark studio humming with computers.

In fact, it was a computer game spin-off that sparked the idea that would evolve into Dimension Nova.

“The original idea came to us in September 2019, when we saw League of Legend’s game character Akali perform ‘offline’ as a virtual idol,” says Liu.

Watching Akali on screen convinced Liu that technology had progressed to a level where it could produce sophisticated VR performances.

What followed was about a year’s research and development to get the show off the ground. And there were many challenges along the way.

“The production procedure of traditional reality shows does not apply in the case of Dimension Nova – so there was no standard practice to refer to,” says Liu.

The show auditioned more than 150 virtual idols from studios who produce such creations and chose candidates that met the technological requirements of their production.

“We then worked together with the companies that designed these idols to create the performances that ended up on the show.”

Subsequently, the producers worked with Norwegian visual production company Vizrt, and videogame software Unreal Engine 4, as well as nine augmented reality cameras to bring the virtual characters ‘to life’.

“The cameras and monitors on set had to be re-positioned and re-adjusted repeatedly to capture the natural interaction between the show’s judges and virtual idol contestants,” says Liu.

The creation of virtual idols and influencers is a burgeoning market.

Tanya Van Gastel, a Chinese technology analyst who follows the industry, believes virtual influencers (VI) are the ultimate marketing tool.

Unlike their flesh-and-bone counterparts, VIs can work all hours and can be created with different niches in mind. Moreover, they appeal to the younger, online-savvy generation, Gastel explains.

Virtual influencers offer tantalising commercial opportunities too, and brands such as KFC, Prada, Calvin Klein, and Vogue China are among those using them in their marketing.

China’s Gen Z – often defined as those born after 1995 – are a lucrative demographic and more open to these non-physical influencers. They number almost 170 million and are even more lavish spenders than their predecessors, Chinese millennials.

Many among China’s Gen Z are fans of ACG (anime, comics, games), observes Ina Yang, and there is considerable overlap between these three genres. Dimension Nova, which combines anime-styled contestants with the narrative elements inherent to all talent shows, has targeted this audience.

“Virtual idol is not a foreign concept to Gen-Zers,” says executive producer Liu.

“In China and overseas, there are successful cases of virtual idols building and maintaining large fanbases, such as Hatsune Miku and Luo Tianyi, for example.”

Establishing a virtual idol is a committed process, notes Van Gastel, but can be very creative. Storylines are written and social media accounts created for each idol.

Talent shows in China have high levels of audience participation, with social media leveraged to a greater degree than their Western counterparts. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, Dimension Nova has already generated 690 million reads and 6.9 million comments and posts.

The show is at once a talent contest, a technological showcase, and a commercial vehicle – with the stated aim of introducing the concept and culture of virtual idols to a wider audience.

“So far, the Chinese market of virtual idol remains untapped,” says Liu.

“The goal of Dimension Nova is to expand the market influence of this industry and drive the growth of companies from all parts of the industrial chain.

“This growth will eventually unleash the potential of the whole industry and allow the market to thrive.”

Bharti Singh: Indian comedian arrested after cannabis found in raid

Indian comedian Bharti Singh has been arrested after cannabis was found during a raid on her home.

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) said 86.5g (3oz) of the drug was found in the house she shares with husband, screenwriter Haarsh Limbachiyaa.

The pair, who co-host the reality show India’s Best Dancer, were taken in for questioning.

The raid was part of an investigation into allegations of illegal drug use in the entertainment industry.

The investigation emerged from a high-profile inquiry into the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June and has led to multiple raids on figures from the TV and film world.

Rajput, 34, was found dead in his flat in Mumbai on 14 June. Police at the time said he had killed himself.

“[Ms Singh] and her husband have been detained for questioning about possession of narcotics substances,” Sameer Wankhede, one of the investigating officials, told the ANI news agency.

The PTI news agency quoted an official stating that Ms Singh’s name came up during an interview with a drug pusher.

Upon leaving her home in Mumbai, Ms Singh told reporters: “They have called us for some questioning, that’s all.”

Top Bollywood actors including Deepika Padukone, Rakulpreet Singh and Shraddha Kapoor have been questioned as part of the recent investigation.

Wagatha Christie: A uniquely British feud

Forget The Crown. The only British drama you need right now is the real-life feud between two Wags – wives and girlfriends of football stars – currently playing out in the UK High Court.

Last year, Coleen Rooney, the wife of former England striker Wayne Rooney, sensationally accused fellow soccer spouse Rebekah Vardy of leaking her personal information to the British tabloids. Rooney said she knew this because she had carried out a sophisticated sting operation on Instagram.

Vardy has vehemently denied the allegations and has taken Rooney to court for defamation. A judge has made an initial ruling in favour of Vardy, but the legal battle is far from over. If Vardy and Rooney do not resolve things privately, we may see a full trial in the new year.

We know, it’s a lot. So here’s what you need to know about the high-profile spat that has sparked a court battle, inspired hundreds of memes and riveted a nation.

First, the basics.

Even outside the Royal Family, the British like their titles. And on the sidelines of a professional football pitch, these women may as well be royalty. The term first entered the popular vernacular alongside Victoria Beckham – also known as Posh Spice – international pop star and wife to football phenomenon David Beckham.

With Posh at the helm, the mid to late-2000s became the golden age of Wag-dom, with attention turned increasingly away from the field and into the stands. So much so, that some blamed England’s poor performance at the 2006 World Cup on the Wags, who were dubbed a distraction.

As mentioned above, Instagram sleuth Coleen Rooney is married to Wayne Rooney, England star and also a former player for Manchester United, DC United and others. The supposed leaker, Rebekah Vardy, is the wife of Jamie Vardy, who plays for Premier League club Leicester City.

Both Wayne and Jamie had also played together for the England football team.

According to British journalist Elizabeth Paton – who has tried to explain all this to Americans in the pages of the New York Times – Rooney used her time as Wag to grow her celebrity status – reaching “peak Wag royalty” while Vardy is “a more recent addition to the fold”. The two were not “known enemies”, Ms Paton said, but this quickly changed last year.

Last October, Rooney made the claim that someone had leaked information from her Instagram account to a tabloid newspaper. In a stunning display of sleuthing skills, Rooney blocked all of her followers – except for one – from seeing her Instagram stories. To smoke out the culprit, Rooney then posted a series of fake stories which later appeared in The Sun.

And who was the one account left?

“It’s………….. Rebekah Vardy’s account,” Rooney wrote in the post heard round the world, complete with the cliffhanger ellipses. Rooney’s apparent detective skills earned her the nickname Wagatha Christie – a play on Wag and Agatha Christie, the English writer famed for her detective novels.

But Rooney’s bombshell claim was quickly rejected by Vardy, who posted a screenshotted note of her own, saying she had “never” spoken to journalists about her fellow Wag. “I’m not being funny but I don’t need the money, what would I gain from selling stories on you,” she wrote, and directed her lawyers to conduct a “forensic investigation” into her Instagram account to see who had access, and when.

Since then, Vardy has moved the drama from Instagram to the court room, where she has sued Rooney for libel. In court, Vardy’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson called Rooney’s posts an “untrue and unjustified defamatory attack… published and republishes to millions of people”. While the “wag wars” have been trivialised, Mr Tomlinson said, the impact on his client has been serious.

Still, Rooney’s legal team has maintained that Vardy was the leaker, “consistently passing on information about the defendant’s private Instagram”.

In the first ruling of the trial so far, Judge Mark Warby ruled that the now-infamous Wagatha post looked like it was putting the blame directly on Vardy, not simply on Vardy’s social media account – as argued by Rooney’s team.

Though the decision was in favour of Vardy, this is far from over. Friday’s ruling just clarifies the rules of the road going forward at trial.

Both Vardy and Rooney have agreed to a “stay” of proceedings until February, giving the two a chance to resolve things outside of court.

Walking Dead artist draws Covid-19 health messages for Shropshire

The comic book artist behind The Walking Dead series has drawn new Zombie-themed illustrations to help combat Covid-19.

Charlie Adlard, from Shrewsbury, worked with Shropshire Council to create the public health messages.

The images urge residents to wash their hands and get tested and show a Zombie pursuing a man reminding people to socially distance.

He said he hoped it would encourage “everyone to do their bit”.

The images are being used on social media posts by Shropshire Council to encourage good practice during lockdown.

Mr Adlard has drawn for comics Judge Dredd, X-Files and Savage, butr is best known as the illustrator of The Walking Dead.

He has illustrated almost 200 issues of the series about a group of zombie apocalypse survivors over 15 years and saw it turned into a hit TV show in 2010.

In 2019 he said he was finished with zombies after the series came to a sudden end.

But during the first lockdown he returned to his creations one more time for a one-off Negan Lives comic, which was only available in comic shops, with 100% of the profits going to help keep them going.

He said the local arts scene – theatres, music venues, festivals and museums – had all been badly affected by the pandemic.

“Our sector makes a huge contribution to Shropshire’s economy, quality of life and communities.

“We need to come back strongly in the future. Lots of local venues have received financial support, but in order to survive we need to see people back enjoying everything Shropshire has to offer.

“To do that, we need everyone to do their bit and follow the measures designed to keep everyone safe.”