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

Mock the Week

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? 

  • SK

    I don’t watch TV panel shows, but I do listen to The News Quiz (chaired by Sandi Toksvig), sometimes Just A Minute (which seems to have one female guest on at least half of the weeks; I haven’t done the count, I’ll admit, but the of the two currently on Listen Again one has Pam Ayres and one Josie Lawrence, and I’m sure the last one had Jenny Eclair) and a smattering of other Radio 4 panel shows in weeks when there isn’t much else on, and I’m sure I hear a fair number of female voices.
    So what’s different about the pool from which TV panel shows draw their talent?

  • Marie
  • Marie

    “I don’t watch TV panel shows, but I do listen to The News Quiz (chaired by Sandi Toksvig), sometimes Just A Minute (which seems to have one female guest on at least half of the weeks; I haven’t done the count, I’ll admit, but the of the two currently on Listen Again one has Pam Ayres and one Josie Lawrence, and I’m sure the last one had Jenny Eclair) and a smattering of other Radio 4 panel shows in weeks when there isn’t much else on, and I’m sure I hear a fair number of female voices. So what’s different about the pool from which TV panel shows draw their talent?”
    That’s v interesting. I wonder if it has anything to do with all of the names you mention not being young.

  • Thank you for the kind words about my blog! glad you find it interesting (and glad i found this blog!)

  • Robin Parker

    This is one reason why I’ve warmed to Would I Lie to You?, where the pre-requisite appears simply to have a way with words. Usually at least 2 women each week and not just comediennes and they’re not just required to talk about ‘women’s subjects’. Much of the banter is good-natured and inclusive too.

  • Respect and credit where it’s due – and glad you could drop by!

  • I’ve only been watching WILTY this series and it’s only seemed to have been one woman per show on the episodes I’ve been watching (Miranda Hart, Katherine Parkinson and someone who was on Torchwood once). But it’s a lot nicer than most other panel shows.

  • Ask Rhod Gilbert had TWO women on last night, and I thought it was all rather jolly and convivial. There was even a hilarious moment when Shappi Korsandi made a blonde joke, and then was mortified because Deborah Meaden was the other woman. If that had been between two men it would have been much nastier. Or if a man to a woman the blonde jokes would have gone on and on.
    I found Frankie Boyle utterly offensive when he was on MTW,but I like Hugh Dennis and Dara OBriain and while it can be aggressive, I’m not easily offended. But the background bullying stuff sounds deeply unpleasant and is rather sad.

  • MediumRob

    A full-on statistical breakdown of female representation on UK panel shows is here for anyone who wants it:
    http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2011/09/mock_the_tweet
    Mock The Week comes bottom and is actually unrepresentative, even by its own standards of what representative means.

  • bob

    The News Quiz improved in quality tremendously when Sandi Toksvig took over. Some weeks, women can outnumber the men. Proof, to me anyway, that the problem isn’t with either a low number of female comics of the idea that female comics just aren’t funny.