What's wrong with British panel shows?

Image credit: BBC Press Office

Five years ago, David Mitchell protested in a quiz show that he was ‘hired to sit here and be sarcastic, not dance around like some c**t’. In September, the very same man (only bearded) was spotted during Would I Lie To You doing nothing other than, you guessed it, dancing around like some c**t. Panel show culture has, undeniably, changed.

These anarchic formats, where competition was by-the-by and before ‘banter’ was a dirty word, used to be the crowning jewel of British comedy. Now they’ve lost all sense of rebellion. Phill Jupitus said in an interview that Never Mind The Buzzcocks works because of the constant rotation of four of its personnel – the key being, however, that the relatively loose framework of games allows the contestants to actually communicate with one another. It’s why the best moments of Mock The Week are the jokes that develop through the episode – as when Gary Delaney fluffed a line by referring to Princess Monaco of Kent, or Ed Byrne and Dara O’Briain imagined the army cadet Private Browsing – because the comedians dare to forget that they’re getting TV exposure and they’re damned if they’ll use it for anything but perfectly honed material. Credit this with the almost accidental success of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown – where content simply cannot be devised beforehand.

Hosting can often prove a poisoned chalice. Rob Brydon, a man with more reverence to his autocue than Ron Burgundy, occasionally ‘helps’ with the interrogation on WILTY, and it feels eerily like a teacher has come to join in with all the cool kids in the playground. It’s impossible to even pretend there’s any spontaneity on the host’s part, and, when the gags are so transparently ghost-written, to have too much of a presence ruins it. This isn’t to say it can’t be done well: Nicholas Parsons, the veteran presenter of Just A Minute, makes a virtue of sitting back and letting chaos unfold, and Angus Deayton and Jimmy Carr are both extremely adept at making any gag sound like it truly belongs to them, whoever might have written it.

I fear the writing is on the wall for the panel show as we know and love it. Without Vic and Bob’s bizarre Shooting Stars showing us how barmy the set-up was in the first place, these civilised yet ultimately pointless outings are at risk of taking themselves far too seriously. Most people are more than happy to sit and listen to a group of comedians just chatting to each other. Producers, take note: you really don’t need to do much more than that.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest