Panel beaten...

Michael Bailey awaits the panel game backlash

There are three things I dislike about British TV: motor sport, reality shows and soap opera. However, a new subject is now ready to join my exclusive club – the television panel show. Controversial? Maybe. Unfair? No. I think it deserves a good punch in the nether regions.

The panel show has become, with a few exceptions, tired, insignificant and forgettable. Also, they are getting commissioned at a terrifying rate: a new one seems to jump off the conveyor belt every two weeks. Another gripe is their incestuous nature, as it’s invariably the same guests on every show. I know it’s a normal procedure in the showbiz world, but it’s now reached the stage where you think, ‘Oh no, it’s him again.’ The circuit is overflowing with brilliant stand-ups – you’d think the producers would be a tad more adventurous.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who is bored at the moment. Even well-known comediennes like Victoria Wood and Jo Brand have been making disparaging noises about the panel show. They recently complained the genre had become ‘too blokeish’ and was not giving enough opportunities to female comics.

It’s a fair comment but hy is the creator of Acorn Antiques concerned about this form of entertainment? Does she want to start appearing on them? It’s unlikely. That would be a backward step on the comedy ladder. This type of gig is usually reserved for the up-and-coming talent. You don’t see big hitters like Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan and John Cleese giving them time of day.

Anyway, I don’t particularly care about the reason. It’s all academic. The panel show bubble is going to burst. I can feel ‘backlash’ in the air. Currently, it’s a bit like the ubiquitous quiz shows from the 1980s: they were dominating the schedules and then – as if by magic – most of them disappeared. Fingers crossed, we get a Paul Daniels intervention very soon.

Naturally, some panel shows won’t be affected by my prediction. Have I Got News For You is fireproof and will be kicking arses for at least another decade. Mock The Week and QI are also nailed down for longevity. But that’s about it. Those three heavyweights cover all the bases. We don’t need any more. The other lightweight contenders are clogging up the airways. A cull is long overdue. What golden nuggets would I like to see in their place? I’m not too fussy – I just don’t want petrol heads, desperate wannabees and nauseating drama.

Of course I haven’t always been a panel show killjoy. I don’t think I missed an episode of HIGNFY when Angus Deayton occupied the hot seat. The highlight was always the verbal sparring between Paul Merton and the sardonic host. The genuine conflict was a delicious recipe. Sadly, I lost my appetite when Angus had to, er, step down, although I did make a comeback when they booked Boris Johnson.

Whose Line Is It Anyway? was another personal favourite. The improv team were sublime, especially Ryan Stiles and Tony Slattery. The programme was feelgood TV at its best. I wonder if I’m going to have the same opinion about As Seen On TV, the latest primetime panel show starring Fern Britton. Unfortunately, I can’t make a judgement because I have no intention of watching it. Life’s far too short.

Somehow, I don’t feel like I’m missing out. But I could be wrong. Who knows, it might become a classic and still broadcasting in 20 years. All I can say is: don’t let me down, Mr Daniels…

Published: 7 Sep 2009

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