Cheap to produce and easy to promote – it’s easy to see why TV executives have been loyal to the panel program format for decades.
From Blankety Blanks to Spicks and Specks, Australian TV has a proud history of producing panels with longevity and star power – and we’ve fallen for a few international formats, too.
But what are the panel shows that have really stood the test of time. TV aficionado Kathryn Kernohan has picked her top eight. Has she got it right?
Spicks and Specks (Australia)
During its original run (2005-2011), Spicks and Specks was the backbone of ABC’s Wednesday night comedy programming. Spawning sell-out tours, board games and DVDs, the good-natured music quiz also boosted the profile of host Adam Hills – now a success abroad. The new-look cast – Josh Earl, Adam Richard and Ella Hooper – seems modelled on its predecessor (the affable host, the gag-cracking male, the bubbly female), which is no slight. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Never Mind the Buzzcocks (UK)
Edgy, contemporary and frequently un-PC – the show Spicks and Specks was loosely based on may not have the same family-friendly appeal, but made for equally as compelling viewing. Running since 1996, the music trivia quiz made a star of former host Simon Amstell, who would get away with insulting his guests with a flip of his curly hair and a sly smile. Amstell quit in 2009, leaving recent seasons hosted by a string of celebrity guests including Russell Howard, Warwick Davis and – yes – Peter Andre.
Good News Week (Australia)
Paul McDermott’s first move after the break up of comedy trio Doug Anthony All Stars was a good one – accepting the hosting gig of ABC’s weekly topical panel quiz Good News Week. Starting slowly in 1996, by 1999 the show was poached by Ten, where it ran for two years before being revived in 2008. Rove McManus and Wil Anderson were among the pre-fame regulars, while McDermott’s acid tongue perfectly complemented team captains Mikey Robins and Julie McCrossin.
Whose Line is it Anyway? (US)
A precursor to Working Dog’s top-rating Thank God You’re Here, Whose Line is it Anyway? began life as a UK radio program before being adapted for UK and US TV. The American version, hosted by Drew Carey, showcased the mind-bogglingly quick minds of Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady as they acted their way out of hypothetical situations and attracted high-profile guests like Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. Along the way, it inspired a generation of talented improvisational comedians.
Hosted by the cerebral Stephen Fry, QI’s 2003 premiere broke the panel show mould. Never before had audiences seen a show where the questions were so obscure (“what is the main ingredient in air?”) and points were scored by off-topic riffing and anecdotes. Now in its 13th season – and a mainstay on ABC1 – QI continues to provide weekly doses of bizarre trivia. The show scores bonus points for promoting local talent – the likes of Julia Zemiro, Colin Lane and Cal Wilson have appeared as panellists.
Would I Lie to You? (UK)
The format is simple: two teams of celebrity guests tell anecdotes and stories, and the opposing team tries to decipher what’s true and what’s not. Where Would I Lie to You? shines is in the chemistry behind its three mainstays; host Rob Brydon and team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack. Quick witted (and adept at telling fibs), the trio constantly thrive where some of the show’s celebrity guests feel overwhelmed.
Dirty Laundry Live (Australia)
Premiering to little fanfare on ABC2 last year, comedian Lawrence Mooney’s Dirty Laundry Live was one of the finds of 2013. Broadcast live, the show was as unpretentious as they come, from its casually dressed host to questions about Bieber, Gaga and Kardashian. Mooney made headlines when he dropped the c-word on air, but the real story was the find of comic Luke McGregor, soon to be seen in Working Dog’s new political satire Utopia.
The Glass House (Australia)
It’s not every day that the Prime Minister is forced to deny they were behind the axing of a TV show. But John Howard was asked to answer questions after The Glass House’s shock exclusion from the ABC’s 2007 schedule. Hosted by a pre-Gruen Wil Anderson and featuring Dave Hughes and Corinne Grant alongside a host of familiar faces, The Glass House’s political lampooning and off-topic ramblings were often undergraduate, but frequently hilarious.
Kathryn Kernohan is a cultural writer who has a passion for panels.