Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For years now, one of the proliferations seen on UK TV is the panel game show. Where once it was only quality, kickstarted by the long running and still highly entertaining Have I Got News For You, it seems that they are now everywhere and of very varying quality and subject matter.

It's cheap television, it's easy television and it does serve the purpose of getting some good comedians out to the wider viewing public. Hell, it can even help make a seemingly gibbering buffoon a mayor! It also makes for some very bad shows in the process as each station looks for it's panel show fillers for their schedules.

What TV is crying out for though is a topical sports based panel show or failing that some decent clips ones with a new take on things and not just a re-hash of old ideas or a platform for some cheap jibes. It's safe to say "What Happened Next?" has been done to death.

The grandaddy of sports panel shows, A Question Of Sport, is a little dated now but, depending on who the guests are, can still be pretty entertaining. It's amazing to think that it's still on and going strong after 40 years and around 900 episodes.

It's not exactly cutting edge though. Neither was the sports show to come out of the original HIGNFY/Buzzcocks era, They Think It's All Over, although that did have the good sense to feature AFTN on it in 1996!

They Think It's All Over finished in June 2006, having probably run it's course by over a couple of seasons. The "Feel The Sportsman" round still being the classic thing to come out of it. Since it's demise there hasn't really been a sports panel show of note.

This year though saw the rise of two contenders, a high profile one and one that most people didn't even know about, which was a shame as it was probably the better format of the two.

The latter one I'm talking about is The Umpire Strikes Back on ESPN Classic.

Hosted by Mark Chapman, of BBC radio fame and not the killer of John Lennon, there were twelve half hour shows aired from March this year. The two regulars were sport loving comedians Kevin Day and Des Clarke and each week they captained two teams of two with an array of sporting names.

I liked it, the critics not so much. It was labelled a bit dull, mainly due to there being no bells and whistles and the questions and clips were more important to it than the guests it appeared. That's no bad thing you know for a panel show!

It was never going to be topical or ground-breaking, primarily drawing as it did footage from the ESPN classic archive, but it did have a very funny modern day round called "Twitter Ye Not", where guests had to work out things from sports peoples tweets. So the set was a bit dull and the humour a little dry at times, but I've spent worse 23 minutes every week.

Where USB failed was that it was launched the same week as Sky's new all singing, all dancing sports panel show A League Of Their Own, with the ubiquitous James Cordon, and was completely overshadowed as a result.

Sky's show got the bigger names and better exposure and had an ace in the hole with the fantastic comedian John Bishop as a regular panelist.

I haven't joined the James Cordon backlash. I still find him very funny and this was a good vehicle for him and whereas at times it looked like it may become "The James Cordon Show", he reigned himself in when he needed to.

It was an entertaining ten episodes (and two specials) and it was no surprise that Sky renewed it for a second season earlier this month. There were some fun rounds, but again, nothing startling.

If only one of these channels, or any of them really, would go down the topical route, then I think they'd have a real winner on their hands.

When Mock The Week has rounds featuring topical sporting news stories as a subject, they've been hilarious and I'm sure we all remember the infamous Frankie Boyle/Rebecca Adlington gag and subsequent furore!

Same with 8 Out Of Ten Cats and Kevin Bridges stints on sport on Channel Five's recent Stand Up For The Week.

Until we see this become a reality then we're just going to be stuck with more clips shows and the same guests doing the rounds on all the different shows. That's why radio shows like Off The Ball and The Danny Baker Show are so successful, as we mentioned yesterday.

Satire and sports are bedfellows made in heaven. Let's see more or failing that, at least repeat the 1996 They Think It's All Over Christmas Special.


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