Less is more...

Andrew Moir on the extended panel shows

Sometimes the director's cut of a movie restores a masterpiece to it's rightful form. In other cases it becomes a bloated mess when the original cut was too long anyway.

In their wisdom BBC producers have decided to similarly extend some of their comedy output, with longer versions of QI and Have I Got News for You.

The logic behind this is sound. These shows are recorded in front of a live audience over a period of several hours providing directors and editors with hours of footage from which to select a consistently amusing 30 minutes of comedy.

As viewers have the chance to watch the original version of the show at any time in the week on BBC iPlayer, the repeat can be justified with the extras when, in the case of the panel shows, they air on their spiritual home of BBC 2. It's an extra treat for all those viewers with the patience to wait.

Is it really though? These shows were never designed to be extended. You could of course argue that the 30 minute timeslot is arbitrary but the recordings of these shows were always designed to fill that slot. Have I Got News For You has been on the air for 20 years, and the producers will know exactly what they need from a recording.

This means that rounds usually considered too weak for broadcast now get an airing. Do we really want to see four panellists struggling to identify the odd one out? Of course there is great pleasure in seeing how smoothly each host handles the situation and these extended editions provide plenty of opportunity to show them screwing up reading from an autocue. The pre-credits sequences often show panellists amusing the audience before recording begins. These additions might be accused of destroying the magic of television but since this is a panel show and not high art they can be forgiven.

QI XL flows much more naturally. It is often difficult to determine what is the additional material, although if Stephen Fry is playing professor while the panel are making few contributions but sitting quietly interested it probably didn't make it to the main show. Still at least the extended versions mean the scores make more sense.

The extended versions are, of course, just another way of repacking unused footage. It is perhaps better to have an extended version of a show like Russell Howard's Good News rather than the clips plus extras editions that happen after every five original episodes of Howard's other show, Mock the Week . Even footage not used in that is those shows gets a ‘Too Hot For TV’ DVD release and perhaps that really means ‘not funny enough for TV’.

In tight times for the BBC it is only right that they get value for their money but with more compilations due over the Christmas period, the BBC shouldn't forget those who matter: the audience. There is a risk with repeats and highlights of oversaturating the market and alienating the viewers. Fans of any show want new content but would always take quality over quantity. If that means fewer, and perhaps even shorter, episodes then so be it.

Published: 7 Dec 2010

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