Opinion: Sketch v Panel – The Higson v Mitchell Slamdown

Was It Something

I think it would be pushing it to say that there is a raging feud between Charlie Higson and David Mitchell about sketch shows being elbowed out by panel shows. In fact if they have not already met I'm sure that they would get on like a very polite house on fire. But recently in separate interviews, linked together in a piece in the Independent, they appear to have taken slightly different stances on the state of TV comedy. The debate feels somewhat trumped up by a journalist looking for a spat where there isn't one. I suspect Higson and Mitchell broadly agree with each other that there should be more comedy of all types, but that wouldn't make much of a headline would it?*

In a Radio Times interview Higson bemoaned the decline of sketch shows in general and catchphrases in particular. Nothing, he suggested, since Little Britain, had captured the imagination of the nation's playgrounds in the way that the Fast Show had. Instead TV is busy turning out endless panel shows, possibly because they were cheaper to produce..

Mitchell, on the other hand, has championed the panel show, saying in an interview that "I think it is a great form of entertainment and we shouldn't lose sight of that." Mitchell was referring to his new quote-based show Was It Something I Said? which starts on C4 on October 6, so it is no surprise that he was positive about the genre. But he also happens to be right. Panel shows are indeed jolly, irreverent fun. When they work, that is. Would I Lie To You? – co-starring Mitchell – is one of the most underrated weekly 30 minutes on the box. It may feel throwaway, but Lee Mack's smartarse wisecracks are consistently brilliant and the memory of Rob Brydon and Miranda Hart squeezing into the same pullover will probably flash through my head on my deathbed. 

TV Sketch shows seem to have had a harder time of it recently. Anna & Katy has not been recommissioned, Watson and Oliver had mixed reviews. Mitchell & Webb, for reasons which I can't quite fathom – is it cheaper? easier to fit into their hectic schedules? didn't they want to be on BBC2 any more? – have decided to make their next sketch show for Radio 4. If I was going to bet on the next big TV sketch show I'd go for Cardinal Burns, which is being promoted from E4 to C4 next time round. But the sketch game is so unpredictable nobody really knows anything. In a world where the latest craze is six second D-I-Y sketches on Vine maybe the TV sketch show is approaching its sell-by date. 

What is interesting, but the subject for another blog, is the way that TV currently seems to be fixated on making a hit sitcom. In over a decade of writing about TV comedy I can't remember so many sitcoms being launched. In recent months we've had, among others, Vicious, The Job Lot and Patch And Cabbage (all from ITV who a few years ago said they were quitting the sitcom game) as well as Father Figure, The Wright Way and Big School, while C4 is about to enter into the fray with the eagerly anticipated Greg Davies comedy Man Down. Even Comedy Central has had a bash with Big Bad World.

As fun as it would be to see Higson and Mitchell slug it out in a boxing ring they both have a point. Sketch shows do seem to have slipped into the shadows recently while panel shows are more than happy to fill the gap and often do it very well. Crisis? What crisis? As long as the viewers are laughing that's what really matters.

*Charlie Higson has, in fact, been in touch to say that he is a guest on the first edition of David Mitchell's new panel show, which confirms that the comedians in questions are hardly at loggerheads over the issue...

Hello! Thanks for reading all the way down. I wish I could give you a prize. But BTJ needs your support to continue - if you would like to help to keep the site going, please consider donating.

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.