Could there be anything more American than that?
Attempts have been made to bring panel shows to our airwaves, but the results have been mixed, and that’s being generous. The only one with any real staying power has been the short-form improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? that found an audience in the ’90s with the early days of Comedy Central and two reboots on ABC hosted by Drew Carey and The CW hosted by Aisha Tyler.
Most recently, The CW has made another attempt to bring a British panel show staple to our shores with the bluffing panel game show Would I Lie to You? hosted by actor, comedian and Daily Show alum Aasif Mandvi. On it, celebrity comedians tell true and fake stories to score points from their opposing teams. If this one becomes a success, it could start a trend that American TV has been trying to tap for years. Here are some suggestions for shows to ship to our shores.
Mock the Week
This one’s an obvious choice if you know anything about its popularity and history. Mock the Week has been doing just that on British screens since 1990. It’s a topical panel show that’s a mix between NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me and Whose Line Is It Anyway? as two teams of comedians answer questions and throw quips about the week’s news in various formats. The show, hosted by comedian Dara Ó Briain, starts as a simple, news panel game in which they tackle questions about the week’s top and lesser known stories. Then the teams take to a stage with a single mic as they are challenged to improvise stand up sets and jokes about various topics. It’s a perfect time for a show like this in American, especially since Donald Trump is no longer president and there’s less chance of an emotional burnout.
As Yet Untitled
This panel show concept for the BBC’s Dave channel is one of the most meta in the genre. It’s not about winning points, winning the audience or even winning a game. It’s just a roundtable, storytelling session in which five comedians, writers or celebrities lead by host Alan Davies tell their funniest, true stories to entertain and bewilder each other and the crowd surrounding them. It’s one of the most off-the-cuff concepts because the formula is so basic and unconstructed so that a new and different show is built around it with every episode. The only staple is the final moment when a title for the episode is chosen at the end of the show, pulled from one of the panelists’ stories or discussions.
If you’ve even been a bar with friends and had more than enough alcohol to meet the definition of public intoxication, then chances are you’ve had the kind of conversation regularly included on the Dave comedy panel show Hypothetical. Hosts James Acaster and Josh Widdicombe pose purely hypothetical situations and challenges, like how to start the most successful cult and how to take a selfie with Nicolas Cage in two days or you die. The hosts pick and score the more logical or more amusing answer depending on the rules and parameters of the question and throw in the occasional trivia nugget to drive inspired answers and responses.
If there’s one thing us Yanks love doing, it’s complaining. We’ve constructed an entire industry around this pastime with things like Yelp, Reddit and (God help us) Facebook. This panel show is made for us. It’s another pure discussion, stream-of-consciousness challenge in which the game formula is secondary. It’s not even about winning the favor of the host Frank Skinner. It’s a public space for airing humorous grievances about things that annoy and bug the panelists. Each round, the player is given a chance to rant about anything they want that bugs them in the hopes that the host will banish it to the confines of Room 101, named for the infamous dreaded room of personalized torture in George Orwell’s 1984. The choices can range from the mundane like packaging or ventriloquists to the all encompassing like the French, football (the British kind, of course) and in the case of Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker,”anything I don’t want to do.”
8 Out of 10 Cats
Another staple of British panel shows is this long running weekly quiz show about topical and general polls and statistics. It’s like if Family Feud had boundaries and a modicum of wit. Host Jimmy Carr takes two teams of celebrity panelists lead by comedians like Rob Beckett, Katherine Ryan and the late Sean Locke through a series of rounds in which they try to guess the most talked about events of the week and the most common responses to general polls about politics, sports, lifestyles and increasingly less mundane topics. The amusing part is how the more mundane and less topical topics tend to generate the most lively and engaging discussions.
Have I Got New For You
This topical quiz show is one of the longest running comedy panel shows and practically invented the genre in the way Johnny Carson refined the late-night talk show. It’s a 30-plus year quiz show structured around the events of the week in which a straightforward question format provides the setups for the punchlines of two teams helmed by longtime captains Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. There’s been at least one attempt to bring this show concept to American audiences in the form of an unpicked pilot at the height of the popularity of satirical shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. It’s due for another one now that there’s space on the dial for more satire in primetime.
The quiz show concept itself seems to have dried out in America outside of TV institutions like Jeopardy! Maybe that’s because of shows in which teams do nothing but try to be the first to give the right answer. This long-running, quizzical panel show, created by British TV comedy icon John Lloyd and hosted by great comic minds like Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig, isn’t about finding the right answer. It’s about finding the most interesting answer. QI looks at trivia and knowledge from the perspective of some all-knowing being who laughs at people’s perceptions without being snooty or holier than thou. It’s an exploration of the things we don’t know and the things we thought we did. It awards points for being interesting while exploring for right answers and takes away points and embarrasses panelists for being obvious. BBC America once brought episodes of the show’s early years hosted by Fry to American TV. Surely one of the few remaining “educational” channels that still has some interest in being mildly educational could adapt it.
There have been two attempts to bring this beloved British comedy game show to American TV in the form of a one-season remake on Comedy Central and the actual British show on The CW. Neither succeeded, but something this brilliant deserves at least one more try. Taskmaster has one of the simplest and most ingenious concepts of any competitive show in and outside of comedy. Six comedians commit to a full season in which they compete in a series of inane challenges, puzzles and tasks, such as eat the most watermelon in one minute, camouflage yourself or paint a picture of a horse while riding a horse. The tasks are put to them by the host Greg Davies and recorded and measured by his assistant and the show’s “Little” Alex Horne, who have a hilarious style of banter in which Davies is the show’s infallible judge and overlord and Horne is his curious and meticulous lackey who works for Davies the way Smithers works for and worships Mr. Burns on The Simpsons. The show’s most golden moments come from the ways the contestants get so wrapped up in the competition and the game designers sometimes leave the solutions to physical and mental challenges wide out in the open in very creative but clear ways.
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