How TV producers book their own comics

Was Stewart Lee right?

Comedy TV producers linked to agencies greatly favour booking their own acts, a Chortle survey has found.

Shows made by Avalon or Open Mike – the production arm of management company Off The Kerb – are up to 20 times more likely to book their own clients than that of their rivals.

Our figures come after Stewart Lee spoke out against TV companies that are also agents, saying that by booking their own acts they stifle diversity and line their own pockets.

He said: ‘All of those shows are peppered to a disproportionate extent with clients of the management company owned by the production company... Basically, advertising money and licence-payer money is being spent to increase the marketplace value of a tiny coterie of people.’

Both companies, as expected, make shows that star their own talent: Avalon with Russell Howard’s Good News or Open Mike with the Michael McIntyre Comedy Roadshow or Alan Carr: Chatty Man.

But even when it comes to guests, in-house acts feature much more prominently, especially when compared to guests represented by the other comedy giant.

As a control, we took 8 Out Of 10 Cats, which is made by Zeppotron, independent of any agent. Both team captains there – Sean Lock and Jon Richardson – are Off The Kerb acts, while host Jimmy Carr is represented by Hannah Chambers. Yet when it comes to guests, the two big agencies are equally represented, while two-thirds of the comics who appear have other agents.

Open Mike books the same proportion of comedians from other stables on its shows – but it features three times as many as their own acts than acts from Avalon. It’s unclear whether this is a booking decision – or whether Avalon is reluctant to have its stars on a rival company’s shows.

The figures only look at guests who are primarily considered comedians who have appeared on the shows between the start of 2010 and today.

On Open Mike’s Channel 4 series Stand-Up For The Week, just six per cent of guests came from Avalon, with about seven times as many acts from Off The Kerb.

But if regular hosts had been taken into account, Off The Kerb dominate. In the first series two of the five (40%) of the regulars were in-house acts – Rich Hall and Kevin Bridges. But by series three, five out of the six regulars (83%) were from Off The Kerb. And they appear in every episode.

Similarly, Avalon’s BBC Three Live At The Electric showcases its own acts, plus independents... although it has put out an open call for acts to take part from series three.

Avalon makes more sitcoms than Open Mike, and fewer entertainment formats with guest acts. However, on Russell Howard’s Good News Extra – which features a guest comedian each week – the figures are striking. It has only ever featured one Off The Kerb act, Seann Walsh in series two, while 40 per cent of guests are represented by its agency arm.

These companies might argue that they are booking acts for the same reason they sign them – that they think they are great talents. But our figures also show that for comedians, being represented by the same outfit that makes a TV show is a definite advantage.

Published: 3 Feb 2013

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