When BBC One launched Ask Rhod Gilbert last week, it seemed to offer a new take on the panel-show format. But viewers have been quick to point out that the show bears a remarkable similarity to another programme… BBC Northern Ireland’s Great Unanswered Questions.
Both shows are hosted by a comedian, and feature a panel discussing questions raised by members of the public while a sidekick investigates the subject on the internet, contributing relevant facts and entertaining clips to the discussion.
The first episode of Ask Rhod Gilbert, which debuted to 2.2 million viewers on BBC One last Monday, even included a question that had previously been asked on Great Unanswered Questions, which is hosted by Belfast comic Colin Murphy: ‘In a cinema, which armrest is mine.’
To add to the coincidences, Ask Rhod Gilbert is also produced in Northern Ireland, while the original radio version of Great Unanswered Questions is currently being broadcast on Radio 4… in the same Monday-night timeslot as Ask Rhod Gilbert.
The comparison did not go unnoticed. On the BBC’s website. Moya Leonard wrote: ‘I think that it is good… but its a complete rip[-off] of Colin Murphy's Great Unanswered Questions.
While another user, ‘powwowell’, wrote: ‘This is such a blatant steal from BBC Northern Ireland TV show Great Unanswered Questions. The radio version is going out on BBC Radio 4 on Monday nights at the same time as Ask Rhod Gilbert is on the telly!’
And another viewer has already compiled a YouTube video pointing out the perceived similarities between the two shows:
But what the viewers didn’t realise is that although Gilbert’s show made it to screens only after Murphy’s, it had been in development for much longer.
Independent production company Green Inc, which makes Ask Gilbert from its base just outside Belfast, said: ‘Ask Rhod Gilbert is based on an original format piloted and recorded by Green Inc in 2006. It was discussed and submitted to BBC Northern Ireland in 2006 and again in 2007 but was rejected both times.’
But it was finally commissioned by London-based executives in August 2009 for a network transmission, after Gilbert came on board.
Even Rhod himself wasn’t aware of Great Unanswered Questions at the time. He said: ‘ Green Inc approached me to host Ask Rhod Gilbert in August 2009. I accepted, we recorded a pilot episode, and pre-production of the series was already well under way when in August 2010, I learned of the BBC NI show Great Unanswered Questions.
‘I sought reassurance from the BBC and Green Inc and was fully satisfied that our show pre-existed the BBC NI format and had in fact been pitched to BBC NI in 2006 and 2007.’
Great Unanswered Questions began as a Radio 4 and Radio Ulster programme last year, and then transferred to TV in Northern Ireland in January, with guests including Adam Hills, Neil Delamere, Dara O Briain, Dominic Holland, Jo Caulfield and Alun Cochrane. A second series will be recorded later this month.
According to publicity blurb, the show came about ‘during a random conversation over a few pints between funnyman Colin Murphy and the BBC Northern Ireland’s Executive Producer of comedy, Jackie Hamilton’.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘Ask Rhod Gilbert was commissioned following a long development history. It features questions and answers, as indeed have many shows in the past, but is a distinctive, unique, high quality programme which does not bear direct comparison to any other.
‘BBC NI do make a show called Great Unanswered Questions. This show was pitched to network in the past and rejected. Our focus is on bringing the very best shows to our audience. We have no doubt that in Ask Rhod Gilbert we have the very best show.’