Back in the 90s, Brits loved Americans and Americans loved Brits. To some extent, this started with the love-in between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 80s, when American movies and TV shows also began to reign truly supreme in UK cinemas and on our TV screens, but a period under George HW Bush dimmed the fires of passion somewhat.
Then along came Bill Clinton and suddenly we couldn’t get enough of the US, particularly on BBC2, which worked at particular length to get more US shows on our screens. TV Nation was a co-production between NBC and BBC2 that explored British and American cultures using journalists and comedians from both sides of the Atlantic. BBC2 also bought in for a six-week experiment famous US movie review show Siskel and Ebert, even getting them to film a special segment for UK viewers at the end of the run (this isn’t it – no one could be bothered to record it).
Probably the least successful, least remembered example of this Americophilia is Where’s Elvis This Week?, a five-episode, Saturday night BBC2 show hosted by Jon Stewart. Yes, him off The Daily Show. That Jon Stewart.
Trying his best to be hip and cool in a leather jacket, despite
- The Jon Stewart Show having recently been cancelled
- Craig Kilborn being set to continue hosting The Daily Show for a further two years
- Being Jon Stewart
Stewart presided over a panel of two Brits and two Americans who tried to explain each other’s news to each other and give their opinions of the other country’s news. And what panels they were. The likes of Christopher Hitchens, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Izzard, former mayor of New York Ed Koch, Nora Ephron, Armando Iannucci, Joe Queenan, David Baddiel and others all showed up and did their best to be both interesting and funny, despite the format and the occasional additional lame duck panellist such as Tony Hawks (no, not that one). Stewart, in turn and despite being obviously uncomfortable with just about every aspect of the show, did his best to play the laid-back, regular Joe foil, but every so often, exposed his intellect with a particularly smart comment.
Just like America's love for Bill Clinton, neither the show nor the Americophilia lasted very long, and it was promptly cancelled, thankfully putting everyone out of their misery. But you can still watch this experiment in transatlantic comedy below. For those that care, here were the line-ups for the five episodes, so you can decide which one to give a whirl. It’s worth noting that Christopher Hitchens comes up with something profound at the end of his episode, prefixing it with “I’ve just thought of something profound”:
- Eddie Izzard, Phil Jupitus, Laurie Pike, Scott Capurro
- Dave Chappelle, Helen Gurley Brown, Christopher Hitchens, Tony Hawks
- Felix Dexter, Norm MacDonald, Joe Queenan, Lowri Turner
- Martin Clunes, David Baddiel, Ed Koch, Wendy Wasserstein
- Armando Iannucci, Craig Kilborn, Arthur Smith, Nora Ephron
So yes, if you watch the fifth one, you’ll get to see the first two hosts of The Daily Show at the same time for perhaps the only time in TV history. Historic, hey?