Media: Bring Me Laughter ; That's What the Bosses at ITV1 and the BBC Want from Their Newly Appointed Comedy Tsars, with the Hope of Raising Viewing-Figures to 1980s Levels. They've Got Their Work Cut out, Says LUCY ROUSE
Rouse, Lucy, The Independent (London, England)
Britain's two biggest broadcasters have suddenly got very serious about comedy. In the last two weeks, both the BBC and the ITV1 company Granada have appointed "comedy tsars" to find the next generation of talent. The situation at ITV1 has become so bad that one of Granada's most senior executives has broken ranks to criticise the network.
"The ITV1 position is madness," says Paul Jackson, Granada director of international production and entertainment, who in his younger days produced The Young Ones and Red Dwarf for the BBC. "You can't maintain a primetime broad appeal schedule without comedy. It's important for audience delivery, but also in building affection for the channel. Comedy is very hard to get right, but you've got to do it."
Tastes in TV comedy appear to have changed. It is becoming increasingly difficult to make a show that attracts whole families in the way that Dad's Army, Fawlty Towers and Only Fools and Horses did. The proliferation of extra channels, and the fact that station schedulers now receive audience figures within 24 hours of a show's broadcast, has left broadcasters nervous. It takes guts to stick with a show if it does not work immediately; in the past, more faith was shown in programmes - a slow start did not necessarily mean that a show would not later grab big audiences.
So what do the tsars - Jon Mountague and Dave Morley - propose to do? Their first step was a vaguely traditional one: a trip to Edinburgh to seek out the newest faces on the stand-up comedy circuit. The need to bring the best of the year's comedy crop to TV is now more acute than ever. Producers from rival broadcasters can end up in bidding wars over the latest "instant sensation" at the Fringe.
Things have changed since the relaxed days when Jackson used to saunter around the courtyard of the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh's comedy centre.
"We walked around and literally signed up acts there and then," he says. "You could find an internship for them, or, say, get them to come and do a couple of sketches on Three of a Kind."
Edinburgh has always been an important proving ground for new comic talent. Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson and many others landed at the BBC via a fast train from the east coast of Scotland.
But broadcasters can run into problems when attempting to transfer even a Perrier Award-winning show from stage to screen. Al Murray, whose turn as the Pub Landlord won the Perrier in 1999, was lured to Sky TV, but his series flopped badly.
"There were issues with the show and with the platform," says Jackson. "Al can make a bigger success by touring than he can on Sky." Jackson has since tried to woo Murray to ITV1, but has so far failed to find a vehicle for him that is mainstream enough for the network's …
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Publication information: Article title: Media: Bring Me Laughter ; That's What the Bosses at ITV1 and the BBC Want from Their Newly Appointed Comedy Tsars, with the Hope of Raising Viewing-Figures to 1980s Levels. They've Got Their Work Cut out, Says LUCY ROUSE. Contributors: Rouse, Lucy - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: August 26, 2003. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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