Orbell Communications

Communicating Your Message

TV Comedy and the Digital World

Posted by jorbell on December 11, 2009

Not so much a marketing and communications blog post but a comment on British situation comedy, broadcasting and how we as individuals have changed over the last generation. This was inspired by a blog post on BBC Writersroom by Michael Jacob, a leading comedy bod at the Beeb. In it he refers to a new sitcom called Big Top and says:

As is traditional with virtually every new BBC1 sitcom, Big Top has received a massive critical kicking, both in newspapers and on writers’ forums. I can never quite understand the snobbishness of aspiring comedy writers, who tend to unite in loathing any show which is popular with audiences. Two Pints and My Family spring immediately to mind.

Personally I cannot comment on this particular show as I haven’t seen it but I found what he said and the way he said it particulalrly interesting. I understand what Michael Jacob is getting at and I agree with him to a point but I think there is far more to this story than there is at first glance.

People’s attitudes have changed to all manner of things, not just television, since the advent of video, multiple channel TV, mobile phones, the Internet and the plethora of on-demand services. At one time we just accepted what was available but now everyone seems to be fickle, impatient and argumentative bunch as regard to pretty much anything.

Keeping largely about TV comedy I’d say this: A prime time BBC comedy is always going to get decent ratings but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. The problem is that we are so desperate for that killer show that will live in the memory like the classics of the past that we perhaps don’t give them the chance to bed-in like we used to.

New TV comedy has largely eaten itself by its easy access and never-ending digital repeats – Little Britain and Two Pints for example are dead shows in my book and I wouldn’t care if I never saw them again. At one time I could happily watch both and I did…frequently! The issue is is that the old shows didn’t have that exposure which is why they have lasted longer. A repeat of the series was a big thing back then.

The danger we face is that ALL shows will be killed by the saturation way they are broadcast these days. I rarely watch Only Fools and Horses now for instance because it has had the UK Gold treatment. I also get demoralised by new material in a very short space of time if I haven’t laughed heartily from the very start.

There is an element of snobbiness I think from some aspiring writers but certainly not from everyone. Some series will get recommissions to the point of madness like My Family and Two Pints because they had the ratings to see it through it’s initial development phase. If we personally decided we didn’t like it at the start we are unlikely to go back and we resent that a particular show keeps returning when we are not seeing something else that appeals to us. The fact that my own sitcom pilot was rejected is of no importance and is a complete coincidence!

On the flip side the BBC should perhaps have called time on the Royle Family but they have nothing else to get excited about for Christmas Day. Once Nana died in The Queen of Sheba episode in 2006 it was time to stop just as it was after Time on our Hands for Only Fools and Horses a decade earlier. I bet those involved were paid a fortune to ressurect those shows again and ultimately I think it taints the memory.

The digital world has changed us all. Before we had to take what were given but now we want instant gratification and we no longer have the patience for anything. Before we dismiss a show we should give it one series at least before passing judgement and the production companies and broadcasters should always plan for two series to give it a chance to find its way. Trouble is, I can’t see either of these happening.


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