The comedy panel show is in rude health, there's no doubt about it. Friday night's are when BBC1's genre stalwart Have I Got News For You airs, and now it's joined by three rivals—two of which are new to the airwaves. First there's old-hand 8 OUT OF 10 CATS, which is fuelled by statistics and opinion polls compiled about the week's news and gossip. There's been no significant changes to the show's format since it began, although team captain Jason Manford's now been replaced by comedian Jon Richardson.
The show itself can be one of the funniest panel shows around, on a good day. While many contemporaries have to balance jokes with a serious satirical agenda, Cats is as trivial as the lists it uses as its source of information. Headed by three comedians who are presently active on the circuit, it's more obviously an excuse to deliver jokes and amusing observations about topics the nation's chattering about. There isn't much in the way of thought-provoking insights and incisive satire, just pub-level joshing and quips with a topical theme. Team captain Sean Lock's found himself the ideal format for his brand of comedy, too—as I don't care for his stand-up but he seems to thrive in this panel show environment. Having some enforced structure and banter with guests appears to give him a boost.
In many ways Cats reminds me of Mock The Week in its approach to skewering the week's news, but there's a much more pleasant atmosphere to it. Mock often feels like six comedians scrambling to outdo each other in a competitive environment, but those involved with Cats are more gracious to their fellow panelists. Plus, in allowing non-comedian guests (here, cage-fighting fame-whore Alex Reid and Countdown's mouthwatering Rachel Riley), it's more fun seeing them poke fun at people who are in the room—as Mock often feels quite cowardly.
Following Cats was brand new panel show KING OF... hosted by the enormously pregnant Claudia Winkleman, who looked ready to pop if she so much as sneezed. Winkleman's become something of a cult in recent years, primarily thanks to her hosting of Strictly Come Dancing's irreverent sister show It Takes Two, where her brand of scatterbrained madness has endeared her to many. She's still very much a love/hate personality, similar to nutty face-puller Davina McCall, but King proves she's incapable of hosting what amounts to an optimistic version of Room 101.
The premise is very simple and, unfortunately, incredibly pointless and uninteresting. Winkleman's joined by two celebrity guests over the course of the show, who debate what the "king" (read "best") of any given topic is. King of snacks? King of holidays? King of music? King of pets? King of cities? You name. It's so trifling and inane that it would barely cover a column in Heat, and Winkleman's unable to spin any gold from the discussion.
The opener's guests were Geordie comedian Sarah Millican and presenter/DJ Chris Evans: the former a likable enough person who's extremely overexposed right now; the latter nowhere near funny enough to turn a tedious "what's the king of cheese?" question into comedy dynamite. Maybe it's my cynical British attitude, but there's nothing especially funny or interesting about listening to celebs state a case for something they adore, and essentially list favourites. It's radio's Desert Island Discs with wider topics of discussion, but without an soul. I'd much rather they bitch and moan about something they hate.
Winkleman's on record saying the show's "shit", thanks to a moment of candor a few weeks ago, and it's hard to disagree with her. What's the king of panel shows? Anything but this. I can only assume Winkleman needed the money to decorate her nursery.
Finally, Sky1's success with sporting panel show A League Of Their Own (heir to the BBC's '90s hit They Think It's All Over), has boosted their confidence in this cheap and cheerful genre. So now they've followed it up with a celebrity/gossip-based panel show hosted by Little Britain's David Walliams called WALL OF FAME. It doesn't really have much of a format, but realizes half the success of these shows are assembling eclectic guests, but relying on comedians. That said, considering they managed to book N Dubz singer Tulisa (a new judge on X Factor many viewers will be curious about), Wall Of Fame didn't capitalize on that signing. And to be honest, Tulisa looked half-bored throughout—even more so than teammate Jack Dee, who at least had the excuse that's his TV persona!
In Wall Of Fame, two teams answer questions based on a grid of famous faces on the titular wall. It's that simple. The outcome was like watching a hybrid of Celebrity Juice (minus the Shooting Stars-esque lunacy and some actual structure. It was diverting enough because most of the panelists (including comedians Andrew Maxwell and Mickey Flanagan) were giving it their best, and we'll overlook the weird decision to make Daybreak's Kate Garroway a team captain.
The biggest problem is that I'm not convinced Walliams works as a host, mainly because he can't resist putting on a very odd "serious face" whenever he's in charge. Walliams works much better as a rascally panelist, free to be cheeky and drop sexual innuendo, but as emcee he's restricted by the role's autocue-reading demands. I'm amazed Sky didn't realize this after seeing Walliams on the recent Comic Relief special 24 Hour Panel People, frankly. He was just as stiff on that whenever he hosted a segment, even before the excuse of sleep deprivation.
8 Out Of 10 Cats: Friday, Channel 4, 9PM / Wall Of Fame: Friday, Sky1, 9PM / King Of...: Friday, Channel 4, 9.30PM