News Television

Venus vs. Mars: West London writer talks about show

By Emily Chudy


Hit TV show Venus vs. Mars is now showing on Sky Living. Getwestlondon chats to contributing writer Delia-Rene Donaldson about the show


Hit TV show Venus vs. Mars is now showing on Sky Living at 11pm every Thursday.

Getwestlondon catches up with a contributing writer of the show, Delia-Rene Donaldson, about Venus vs. Mars and her blog, Vex in the City.

The local writer grew up in Ladbroke Grove, and continues to work within education inHammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea.

The show follows a young, single woman living in London and looking for love.

First released on Youtube in 2012, the show amassed 1m views for the first series, and caught the attention of Sky.

Series one and two have now amalgamated into one series, which will be shown every Thursday at 11pm.

Donaldson said: “Through watching the season you see that she has her flaws and her fair share of bad dates – which have come from my own personal experiences I will admit – I also drew on the fact that a lot of my followers like me speaking about relationships so that they can relate to it as well as learn.

“Venus vs. Mars is the kind of show that everyone within the family can watch together and enjoy, that is something that I thrive upon doing.”

Donaldson first began writing, via her blog Vex in the City, in 2008. The blog is a comical account of the author’s love life, sex and relationships.

“I have always had a passion for writing, and we chose to write a romantic comedy because there is an affluence of negative stereotypes portrayed of people from an ethnic minority,” Donaldson said. “Sky supported our diverse cast and saw the talent and potential within our show.”

The show has received great commercial success, trending on Twitter and hearing much positive feedback from fans and industry professionals.

Donaldson said: “I still continue to write even though I have a full time job within education, as I love working and inspiring young teenagers and helping them pursue a career or passion of the arts.

“I have a Youth summer programme that I run around London during summer, teaching arts and media to students, where they get to create their own videos and films.

“In the future I look to write more shows and content, work with other writers, release a book, continue to work with children and expand my brand, the possibilities are truly endless!”

So tune in and see this local writer’s talent in action!

Venus vs. Mars is on Sky Living and Sky Living HD at 11pm every Thursday.


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Who needs the BBC? Black comedy stars take the YouTube route to fame

By Ian Burrell

Nearly four decades after The Fosters made television industry history by becoming the first black British sitcom on the small screen, the industry is under fire for having turned its back on African-Caribbean comedy.

Actors and comedians have complained that a dearth of television opportunities has forced the most recent wave of black comedy stars to ply their trade on YouTube to find recognition. The criticisms come as broadcasters are under pressure to improve levels of diversity following a campaign by Lenny Henry, whose own career as a comedian and actor began in 1975 as an impressionist on New Faces.

After quitting the BBC last November, Pat Younge, formerly the corporation’s most senior black executive, claimed British television was run by a “pretty white commissioning and channel elite”.

He said that some black comedy could be “lost in translation” to white commissioning editors but that the internet was a valuable showcase. “I think the internet is a great opportunity for black comedy, Asian comedy and frankly anybody who wants to get their work on TV but cannot get through the gatekeepers,” he said. “It shows the commissioners there is an audience.”

Younge praised Samuell Benta for creating the online hit All About the McKenzies, a family sitcom which has been turned into a television show for London Live, a new channel which launches tomorrow, and which is a sister company to this newspaper and the London Evening Standard. “He would never have got through the BBC’s door with a British version of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but he was able to execute it online and show where the humour lies.”

The House of Black website has been set up as a “home of black British entertainment” and host to 30 different web series, predominantly comedies.

Jane Mote, programme director of London Live, said she was “shocked” by the barriers that young black comedy talent has faced in breaking into modern television. “They have made a lot of effort to get into the mainstream broadcasters, and had lots of meetings but every time they get knocked back. Television has become more and more risk averse,” she said. “But the talent is bursting out of YouTube.” 

Simone Pennant, a producer at the TV Collective, said: “Their audiences see their work as great shows which happen to have a black cast rather than black shows. The irony is that it’s actually the mainstream broadcasters that are missing and losing audiences in droves. If it wasn’t so depressing it would be funny.”

After six years of fighting to establish himself online, and building a global audience that has contributed 30 million views to his comedy clips, Tolu Ogunmefun, 25, from Essex, finally arrives on British television this week.

The Adventures of T-Boy, Ogunmefun’s series for London Live, is based on a character he has developed in a web series called Don’t Jealous Me, hosted on the YouTube platform where he has uploaded more than 100 films. The new television series features a wealthy young Nigerian man who is sent to live in Britain with an aunt and finds himself living on a London council estate, pursuing an ambition to emulate the Hollywood fame of Will Smith.

The international popularity of Ogunmefun’s comedy has helped him to build followings in the United States, Africa and India. American fans invited him to perform his stand-up routine at Harvard University.

“I’ve had meetings with people telling me they can get me on to mainstream television but it never happened,” he says. “It has been a very long journey and I’m happy that I’ve finally been picked up.”

He said he had been inspired by the lasting impact of a wave of black comedians who emerged on British television 20 years ago. The BBC series The Real McCoy, which made stars of Felix Dexter, Robbie Gee and the comedy duo Curtis & Ishmael, was on television between 1991 and 1994. Desmond’s, which starred Norman Beaton and is Britain’s most successful black sitcom, made its debut on Channel 4 in 1989, and ran for 71 episodes. “There was much opportunity then,” said Ogunmefun. “Now it has become really hard.”

He dismissed the idea that young performers preferred to work online. “The only reason why people go online is because there’s nothing on TV,” he said. “I believe television is still very important, not just for me but for youth in general.”

The BBC has made an error in dropping its youth-orientated TV channel BBC3 and making it online only, said Jay Marsh, an actor in the sitcom Brothers with No Game, another new London Live show which emerged from a successful YouTube web series. “I think the BBC is making a big mistake because everyone wants to get on TV. That’s still where people watch entertainment,” he said.

Marsh, 27, a trained actor who appeared alongside Lenny Henry in the West End production of Fences, said he had turned to YouTube because of the shortage of opportunities for black actors on British television.

Brothers with No Game, which began as a blog, follows the hapless escapades of four office-based twentysomething black men. It is an older version of The Inbetweeners, with an urban twist.

The Brothers with No Game team approached the BBC but was told the series was “too mature” for the audience the broadcaster wished to reach. But Marsh said the roles in the show were “non-stereotypical” and different from the gangster parts that young black actors were offered on most channels. “I don’t want to be force fed what’s happening in the ’hood all the time,” he said. “I’m not denying that happens but I would like to see people living the life I want to live – not the life I don’t want to live.”

London Live is available on Freeview 8, You View 8, Sky 117 and Virgin 159 within the M25 and on tablets, mobile and within the UK


Online Shows

The Rise of the British Africa Caribbean Web Series by Albert Yanney


From Samuell Benta’s award winning All About the Mckenzies to digital TV’s Venus vs Mars, the last two to three years has beensomewhat of a creative explosion on the web for Afri-Carib British talent.

The web series, at present, embodies the new frontier and weapon of choice for Afri-Carib British artists  committed to quality drama, comedy and prospective television content.

It is a space where often marginalised representations, ideas and stories are now frequently being brought to life, bringing joy to hundreds of thousands if not millions of viewers; and in some cases ‘crowdfunders’.

The power of internet broadcasting aside from reaching a vast international audience, enables a form of self-empowerment for amateurs, semi-professionals or otherwise frozen out professional actors, writers and directors.

We all love Kerry Washington in Scandal, but when was the last time you saw a Afri-Carib British female in a lead role for a UK serial drama?

Idris Elba continues to be brilliant as flawed police detective Luther – but why is it seemingly offensive or ‘risky’ to feature an entire black British cast on a UK television screen?

The long-standing indifference toward black programming by the UK’s mainstream giants has undoubtedly contributed heavily to this surge in internet broadcast and self-financed production.

Regrettably, you need to cast your mind back to 2003’s The Crouches for the last black British sitcom. Scripted by Ian Pattison and aired on BBC One, the show was unceremoniously panned and derided for its weak gags, hackneyed stereotypes and unimaginative storylines.

The web series is a phenomenon that speaks volumes about the attitude of a new generation of talent, irrespective of race, who refuse to sit and wait for a door to be opened.

Baby Isako, the creator and writer of hit web series Venus vs. Mars told the Guardian last year; “Let’s do the series, make TV come to us and not the other way around”.

The pro-active spirit of emerging talent creating raw independent content on the web means we have entered an exciting period of UK media production.

Contrariwise, not everything on the web is great; much of the content is poorly scripted, edited and acted. There are countless examples of rushed web shows with intolerable sound quality and horrible camera shots. The ‘underdog spirit’ and novelty of some of the shows that appear on the web means it is sometimes difficult to be too critical, especially if it features friends or family. However, from a business and professional point of view, many web series projects are customarily low on budget and sadly, low on quality too.

The relatively high fail rate of many web series projects indicates it is very important to highlight and celebrate the emerging success stories so far…

All About the McKenzies

The conception of rising media star Samuell Benta, this series is about three generations of a family, the McKenzies – featuring a witty grandad, an anxious father and a teenage son aspiring to any and everything ‘cool’.

It also stars Benta as a single father who wants to spend more time with his daughter. In April 2012, Benta attended a web festival in America where the show landed an award for best ensemble cast in a comedy – the sole British winner.

Benta soon received interest from some important entertainment companies concerning moving the project forward. “There’s interest now – people want meetings – so clearly I’ve got something. But I’m a first-time producer, and it’s got to the stage where I need to educate myself on the business side of things.”

Last week at the Cineworld Cinema in Ilford, the 26 year old actor hosted a spectacular seminar entitled ‘Introduction to the UK Urban Webfest’.

The event was targeted at young media practitioners, university graduates and potential film school entrants and largely in response to the sudden rise of black British web content.

Benta vocalised sound professional advice about how to construct and launch small budget entertainment projects and provided answers to the many questions relating to production, copyright law and finance. He also emphasised the challenges, harsh realities and pitfalls of online content projects.

So what does the future hold for his series? “The original idea was not for the web. My intention is still for it to be a TV series.”


Brothers with No Game

It began as the brilliantly written and hilariously accurate no-nonsense dating blog by men for men. So when the anonymously written male diary entries evolved into a hit web series, Peckham rejoiced again!

Brothers with no Game, the web series, launched last June addressing themes of love, dating, relationships and sex from a distinctly young black urban male perspective. Despite the temptation to create mythical urban superheroes; Theo, Dorian, Junior & Marcus are frequently drawn to reflect the unglamorous and awkward reality of the average guy seeking an above average romance.

The quality of the show’s production improves with every episode and every extra penny spent is moving the project along nicely. Perhaps the biggest compliment one could pay to the show creators is that the series already feels like it was made to blossom as a television show.

The series spectacularly picked up 6 Awards at the Los Angeles Web Festival in March; winning Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Editing, Outstanding Ensemble cast, Dani Moseley and Zalika Miller as Outstanding Guest Actresses and Outstanding Producing.

Indeed, the casting so far has been spot on – Mark Avery, Zephryn Taitte and Isaac Sosanya work very well in their respective roles; appearing to have known each other for years.

The female cast members are equally outstanding and multi-faceted. Dani Moseley as the intense yet sympathetic Simone has a powerful screen presence and ‘Lisa’ played by Natalie Duvall, always keeps you guessing, is she a calculating femme fatale? The entire gang return in less than a month for Season 2!


Venus vs. Mars

Created and written by Baby Isako and starring Letitia Hector as Venus, this romantic comedy-drama series follows one young woman’s quest to find true love.

Venus is adept at solving problems at work with very little fuss. However, her love life is shown to be a comically complex battlefield. Family and friends rally around, though their own relationships are far from perfect – leaving viewers guessing how many episodes it will take for our female protagonist to understand Mars and bag her prince charming.

Venus vs. Mars encapsulates a timely slice of black British female programming that is extremely rare in the mainstream and on UK television in general. The black female lead character has historically been a problem for UK television screenwriters, who often resort to negative or boring stereotypes such as the drug dealer’s girlfriend or aspiring singer.

Letitia Hector is the beautiful and vivacious lead actress tasked with carrying the acting weight of the project. The success of this web series can be measured via screenings on The Community Channel (Sky channel 539), Virgin Media (channel 233) and Freeview (channel 87).

Filming for season 2 is currently ongoing.

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