When did TV get so predictable?

alan davies

13 June 2014

By Iain Coyle, Commissioning Editor, UKTV

Anyone in telly who caught Harry & Paul's excellent The Story of the Twos last week would've found themselves awkwardly recognising the clichés and stereotypes in their panel show sketch. It's weird how a strange kind of uniformity has evolved without us really noticing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to start laying into a genre of programming that has informed and entertained a generation.

As Hat Trick's Jimmy Mulville is very fond of saying, Have I Got News For You has actually now become the number one place where people get their current affairs.

It's served me well as a viewer and certainly serves Dave, as a channel, with a lot of brilliant content.

But what is it that makes the best ones work? Of course, Have I Got News For You has been brilliantly produced and written for its 46 series and QI, a baby in comparison with 11 series, is equally pitched perfectly.

But I'd suggest it's not the format, it's the chemistry between the main protagonists that makes them fly. Ian & Paul, Stephen & Alan and my current favourite Would I Lie to You, the 'Fleabag and Spiffy' combination of Lee Mack and David Mitchell, makes that a 'must watch'. Even Channel 4, who you could argue haven't really cracked the panel show genre, have the threesome of Jimmy Carr, Sean Lock and Jon Richardson, who have further illustrated this point by actually switching formats from 8 Out of 10 Cats to Countdown and their relationship is the thing that shines through.

Furthermore, it's the stuff in-between the game, when folk just start riffing, that usually gets the biggest laughs and the most memorable moments.

I remember I had a conversation with Alan Davies about guesting on a show (which shall remain nameless), where every moment of spontaneity was either cut out in the edit or 'picked up' again at the end of the show, much to the guests and the studio audience's frustration. We wanted Dave's new show, As Yet Untitled, which is hosted by Alan, to be the antithesis of this.

It's kind of a panel show without the game.

Literally, the comics just turn up and talk. No prep, no script, no running order, no scoring devices, no pick-ups no rules.

All Alan has is a fact or two about his guests and between them, after an hour of round-table chat, they have to come up with a name for that episode. I guess that's kind of a format.

And, you know what? It really works and the guests love doing it, they find it incredibly freeing and a creative challenge, which may be an astonishingly pretentious way to describe some people just sitting around and talking but it is a bizarrely brave thing to do.

I'm very grateful to others at UKTV and Dave for taking a gamble and letting us do it, because with television rapidly becoming more risk adverse every quarter, it takes some televisual balls to take a punt on something without a safety net.

But the good people at Phil McIntyre TV and Grand Scheme have delivered a breadth of guest and an on-screen chemistry which feels fresh and oddly subversive - a different kind of funny.

It's the latest in a raft of UKTV commissions on Dave that are 'risky' passion projects, another example being Ross Noble Freewheeling, which has just started shooting it?s second series. Driven completely by Twitter suggestion and the creative genius of Ross Noble, that too is completely improvised and without a safety net. We've literally no idea what is going to come back.

I'm oddly starting to get used to the unpredictability of this kind of commission. And you know what?

Trusting the creativity and passion of comedians rather than stifling them with TV straight-jackets seems to be working.

Judge for yourself, catch the first ep of Alan Davies: As yet Untitled ? ?Cupped by a Shammy Hand? ? June 16th, at 10pm on Dave, after the football.