Question of the week: is it important for panel shows to be representative?

Yesterday, there was a little bit of fun on Twitter, as BBC1 satirical comedy programme Mock the Week was faced with the prospect of defending itself from charges of sexism. Lots of people queued up to point out that not only does it do a sterling trade in slightly misogynistic jokes and attitudes, it also has a slight problem in getting women to even appear on the show.

The basic issue is this: every week, it has a male chair, male regulars and usually male guests as well. In fact, women have made up just 18.6% (or even 8% by some measures – I don’t know which is right, since I haven’t done the calculations) of all guest appearances in the show’s 10 year run and that’s an average – the current numbers are even smaller. 

Of course, Mock the Week is not alone. Leaving to one side Loose Women (for really obvious reasons), you’d be hard pressed to find any panel show on TV, from Question Time to University Challenge, from QI to Have I Got News For You?, that is anything but almost exclusively male or that has more than one female guest.

The defence to that is that women don’t put themselves forward and that shows such as Mock the Week are merely reflecting the industry – is it their fault that there aren’t many women for them to ask to be on the shows?

Now, Sian and Crooked Rib does a much better job of analysing both sides of the story than I ever could, so rather than rehash that, I’ll merely ask today’s question:

Is it important for panel shows to have representative numbers of women and minorities? Are Mock The Week and co doing the best that they can reasonably do given the state of the industry? Or is the problem that women just don’t want to go on programmes like Mock The Week?

All I’ll say for now is that I don’t watch Mock The Week any more because, despite Dara O’Briain obviously being awesome, Andy Parsons obviously isn’t, neither was Frankie Boyle and I might find Russell Howard awesome if I were a teenage girl but I’m not.

And frankly, it’s a show that leaves male comedians crying (I won’t say who – I have inside info) about the vicious backstabbing that goes on on it – that’s way too much of a boys’ club for my taste. Is it really so hard to get even one female captain on one of these panel shows? Or to design a panel show that isn’t about vicious backstabbing or quick-buzzer one-liners? 


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.