In August of this year the BBC’s Entertainment Commissioning Editor Pinki Chambers said that the BBC were ‘not looking for… any more panel shows’. Is it simply that this genre of television has run its course? It is clear to any viewer that panel shows come in many different varieties: from quality television, to low-brow garbage and yet as a style of television it is intrinsically British. But are its days truly over?
Panel Shows have continuously come under fire for a number of years over a wide variety of issues. This month alone saw the Dutch release a new panel TV shows named ‘Raped or Not’ based around re-enacting actual cases for a panel to judge, whether indeed someone was raped or not, a clear example of panel TV overstepping its bounds. This month also saw Jo Brand setting Ian Hislop straight on Have I Got News For You (HIGNFY) about the real and damaging effects of long term sexual harassment following his comment that some of the sexual harassment claims in the media at the moment were ‘not high level crime’: a concernedly blasé attitude in light of the media lately. Though this is hardly the first time Panel Shows have come under fire for sexism and lad culture. Jo Brand wrote an article in 2009 called ‘Women beware panel shows’ while Sandi Toksvig, the current host of QI, commented while hosting The News Quiz on Radio Four that female panellists are often edited out of the final cuts; Victoria Wood also made a comment in 2009 about the ‘male-dominated’, laddish environment in these shows.
In response to these complaints and The BBC Trust’s comments on gender inequality, past BBC director of TV Danny Cohen declared a quota of one woman to each panel show, a decision that brought up the usual issues that occur with quotas. As Milton Jones pointed out, the decision would end up being counterproductive due to many women being afraid to be branded the ‘token woman’. In October of this year John Lloyd (the man behind Blackadder) noted that many women, specifically Dawn French and Jessica Saunders, turned down the opportunity to be a guest on these shows for fear of ‘looking silly’.
It is clear this laddish brand of television scares away female involvement and with the addition of a quota, things hardly seem to have improved. Yet, women need increased representation as seen with the positive outflow of comments following Jo Brand on HIGNFY this month. The solution, as far as I can see, rather than to do away with panel shows, is to reduce and improve them. Less Loose Women and more Female, BAME and other minority representation.
In spite of all I have said, it is easy to see that panel shows are a great and accessible comedic alternative to the standard news layout, but it is time to prioritise quality over quantity.