Is American TV Leaving Dollars On The Table? The Panel Show

Of late, American TV has found much inspiration in the British TV market. Not so much for shows that succeed like The Office, or fail like Skins, Inbetweeners, etc, but the TV talent, quiz and reality shows. Often pionoeered in other markets, it was the UK versions in English that took the fancy of US execs and saw the success of the likes of Deal Of No Deal, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The Weakest Link, Pop Idol (becoming American Idol), Big Brother, Britain's Got Talent, The X-Factor, The Voice and more. Much cheaper than scripted TV, with a far larger audience, though needing constant refreshing.

But there's one format that US TV has really taken to picking up of late. Yet it has the potential to create even cheaper, more entertaining and just as successful TV shows across the network.

The panel show.

Originating on US radio, and an extension of the traditional parlour game, guests were encouraged to play some kind of game, with a studio audience, demonstrating skill, with and entertainment. This was not a game show however, there was no real prize, just applause. But it took the UK to perfect it as a long running entertainment format, as they faded away in the USA, due to falling viewing figures and a lack of connecting with younger audiences, despite a daytime revival in the seventies and eighties.

But in the UK, Just A Minute is the longest lasting version, still running on BBC Radio 4 with the original presenter, the aim is to talk in an improvised manner for a minute on a given subject, without hesitation, repetition or deviation. BBC Radio 4 has many such shows running, The News Quiz, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, The Unbelievable Truth and more. Using experts as guests on such shows has given way to using comedians.

And the TV took that and ran with it –  so that was the youth audience sorted. Currently we have the likes of Have I Got News For You, now running for over twenty years, as well as 8 Out of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You, Mock The Week, QI and more. Not only popular, they can make people's careers. Comedians including Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican, and many more have turned a regular slot on Mock The Week into national stadium stand up comedy tours. Politician Boris Johnson used his appearances on Have I Got News For You to propel him into the race for mayor of London, in which he beat the incumbent twice. They are huge ratings getters, for a relatively low cost.

One successful US import of the TV panel show in the last few decades was Whose Line Is It Anyway, fondly remembered. But improvised comedy can be hard, many guests on current panel shows have writers, or have an idea of the questions going to be asked and so can create material in advance, even if it looks improvised. And all such shows are heavily edited, often filming for two hours to get 25 minutes worth of material.

It's still cheap though. Guests don't even command large sums, they are often there to plug their work or their act and will make money due to the publicity the shows afford them. Like I said, it's relatively cheap.

It has been tried. Have I Got News For You has had three US pilots, and Whose Line Is It Anyway? was recently revived. But the scope is huge, untapped, and the first network to go for broke and invest in the format seriously for prime time TV could see real rewards. And then everyone copying them.

There is no reason this should just be a UK success story, it was an American invention after all. Just watch a few of these, replace them in your mind with the Daily Show correspondents and see the money come in…







There's dollars to be made in them thar hills…

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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