The top 20 reasons I hate list shows...

by David Jesudason

Of the many salient points Stewart Lee has already made in his often laugh-out-loud funny Comedy Vehicle was his vitriolic diatribe against the public voting for Del Boy’s fall at the bar as the nation’s funniest comedy TV moment.

Although a memorable (and hilarious) joke the Only Fools and Horses scene shows how crass, interminable and ubiquitous top 100-, 50- or 20-list programmes have become on the box.

The concept is easy for producers – splice together a load of classic clips, add a sardonic-sounding presenter and then garnish with a series of talking heads – and then the resulting programme can fill at least two hours of airtime.

These shows are an industry in themselves, largely inescapable in these days when production companies churn out cheap output and then foist it on an audience with access to hundreds of digital channels.

New comedy writers must fear actually creating something original because if they can get their work on air scheduled around these nostalgic list shows, their output is harshly compared to these brilliant sitcoms of the past which have more than a few episodes to hook a trigger-happy remote jockey with.

Who exactly apart from the uninsightful, uninteresting and unintelligible Stuart Maconie, benefits from seeing a slew of these glorified clip shows?

Worse still, list shows often masquerade themselves as serious documentaries like the numerous attractive-sounding but ultimately unfulfilling hours the annoyingly named channel Watch fills with Blackadder retrospective naval gazing.

It is the comedy equivalent of coffee-table music where the viewer who has run out of alternatives settles for a chance to see (yet again) Rowan Atkinson say ‘Bob’ repeatedly without any of the original context which made the joke so funny first time around.

A producer in 20 years’ time would struggle to compile lists of this decade unless the bright spark decided to do a top 50 list of lists – ‘[coming in at No1 the classic moment Paul Gambaccini compared Beatles bassist McCartney to Beethoven’.

Aside from simple economics these programmes are a way for the TV industry to give itself a pat on the back and shows how inward looking the sector can be.

Yes Only Fools, Dad’s Army and The Young Ones were all excellent comedies but it is in many ways a form of cultural fascism that I’m sure Rodders, Captain Mainwaring and Neil would have abhorred.

In other words, your TV has become one of those boring nerds who can recite whole reams of dialogue from their favourite shows. The kind of loser who will look at you blankly if you can’t recite some classic Alan Partridge ad verbatim.

Lee’s Comedy Vehicle was right to use the image of shit pouring out of your TV and there is no form that is more lavatorial than the list show. However the shit doesn’t always pour from your screen but sometimes it comes straight out of Maconie’s vacuous mouth.

Published: 2 Apr 2009

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