Can’t we dress up a bit less and make ’em laugh a bit more?

Making comedy is expensive, and there's no guarantee it'll make us chuckle at the end - but it's still worth it.


As the awards season expands to take up almost half the year, I’ve decided to pay attention only at the beginning (Sunday night’s TV Emmys) and the end (next year’s Oscars). This is partly because I can only stay engaged in a few complex-shoe-meets-baffling-frock fests before my eyes go funny and I start wondering if everyone famous gets dressed in the dark. It’s also the only time I can bear to hear what famous people call their children. (Damian Lewis, this means you. Manon and Gulliver? Really?)

As always, our reading of an American awards ceremony is filtered through the patriotic lens. Downton Abbey was up for 16 Emmys, though, in the end, it came home with just three, for its undeniable high points: one for Maggie Smith, one for the hairdressing, and one for the music.

But we’ve always been good at exporting costume dramas, which probably explains why there are trailers running at the moment for at least eight new shows set firmly in the past – in a shop or hotel or pretty much anywhere people know their place, and convey it through the medium of a hat. Costume dramas cost a fortune to make, but they have virtually guaranteed resale value – overseas, and in DVD form at home.

If I could make a wish for next year’s Emmys, it would be that we compete in some of the comedy categories instead, or (ideally) as well. Armando Iannucci’s Veep was a contender this year, though it lost out to the glorious Modern Family, which deserves every award it wins. Veep has British writers, directors and post-production. But it’s filmed in the US, where the best comedy is trouncing ours at the moment.

Winners on Sunday night included The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, whose acerbic take on the increasingly surreal world of American politics is a treat. We have nothing to rival it here: the creaking Have I Got News For You is hardly comparable.

Comedy, like costume drama, is expensive. It costs a lot to develop and you can’t always tell if it will be funny until you see the finished product. By that time, the money is spent, and all you have to show for it is a limping embarrassment: no DVD sales, no overseas money.

Every successful comedy show we have ever made – from Monty Python to Blackadder – was almost canned before it succeeded. Think of all the potentially brilliant shows which didn’t get lucky, and were never made over the years. So – even though it’s a risk – could TV execs try saying yes to a few more of those for next year? I promise not to complain if some of them turn out to be flops.