TV panel shows - I'm sorry they haven't a clue

The same few hackneyed comedians keep cropping up on TV panel shows. Fiona Sturges doesn't see the funny side

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:08

Last week, I found myself watching the BBC1 panel game Would I Lie To You? for the first time.

If you're not familiar with it – and if that's the case I implore you not to waste your time – it is essentially a modern-day Call My Bluff hosted by Rob Brydon and captained by Lee Mack and David Mitchell. It has a series of comics of varying levels of fame considering the veracity of such stories as Miranda Hart's claim that her best friend at school was a little man made from a piece of toast.

It wasn't just the banality of the show that annoyed me, though admittedly my search for the remote control got increasing frantic as Clive Anderson embarked on an unfunny tale about how his wallet was once stolen by a walrus, to the forced hilarity of all around him. No, my main gripe was that the same old gaggle of comics had made their way on to my screen uninvited. Again.

Now I've got nothing against comedians. On rare occasions they even make my face twitch into something approximating a smile. But right now there seems to be a particular cast of comedians and comic actors who, not content with appearing in their own programmes, have become a fixture on a raft of increasingly indistinguishable panel shows, many of which have inexplicably inched their way into the prime-time slots.

Take David Mitchell. Cult kudos was never going to be enough for this self-consciously preppy actor and comedian best known for Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look. Now he is such a regular fixture on QI, Mock the Week, Have I Got News For You, Best of Worst and Would I Lie To You?, as well as hosting The Bubble and Radio 4's The Unbelievable Truth, that you assume he must be giving the cash-strapped BBC some sort of two-for-the-price-of-one discount. Either that or it's his life's ambition to be the new Robert Robinson.

Then there's Rob Brydon, a man who showed considerable talent as the tragically cuckolded mini-cab driver in Marion & Geoff and later shone as Gavin and Stacey's Uncle Bryn. Now he's everywhere, presenting Would I Lie to You?, doing his straight-faced, quasi-naive shtick on QI and Have I Got News For You, and even masterminding the BBC3 show Annually Retentive, a painfully knowing drama about – get this! – an insecure, washed-up comic who gets a job as a quiz-show host.

Similarly persistent panel-show contestants include Clive Anderson, Sean Lock, Dara O'Briain, Jimmy Carr, Ronni Ancona and Lee Mack, all of whom will never knowingly turn down a television appearance even if it means recycling the same gags across multiple programmes. The ubiquity of panel games, and their guests, means that for the viewer every day is like Groundhog Day with the same tired old faces appearing on the same tired old formats.

And if their existence on terrestrial channels isn't bad enough, did you know that on a Tuesday night you can switch over to Dave, the so-called "home of witty banter", and watch back-to-back episodes of QI, Mock the Week, Would I Lie To You? and Have I Got News for You. This means that, should you get lucky, you could be in the company of David Mitchell's nasal-voiced sarcasm for a full two-and-a-half hours.

Of course, some of these BBC shows – and they are, by and large, made by the BBC – are better than others and I would fight to the death to keep Have I Got News For You and QI on our screens until the end of time. The rest, however, are cheaply made, badly written and horribly dated programmes that should never have got past the first round of commissioning meetings. And as for their guest stars, in the name of all that is holy, isn't it time to take a holiday?

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