I have my issues with BSkyB and how they function as a company (forever trying to monopolise the marketplace with unassailable sports and movie rights), but appointing Lucy Lumsden as their Head of Comedy was something of a masterstroke that's benefiting British comedy fans. The ex-BBC employee has been in charge for a few years now, and in that time Sky's comical output has quadrupled. We're living in an era where The Simpsons isn't what people immediately think of when you mention Sky in the same breath as comedy. (Admittedly, Homer and family played their part by being so unfunny since 1997.) And it's definitely a good thing that more homegrown hilarity is being made, even if much of it remains stuck behind a pay-wall the majority of people are unwilling to climb over.
|Sky Atlantic's THIS IS JINSY|
Lumsden's an astute woman to have in Sky's corner; blessed with hands-on experience stretching back to the early-'90s. Chortle published an excellent interview with Lumsden this week, where she outlines her strategy for Sky and her perceived failings of the BBC's comedy commissioning model. She's clearly decided to take inspiration from US TV when it comes to Sky's new strategy, too; most notably in her aspiration to build a studio sitcom around a British stand-up comedian. This happens frequently in the US (from crappy Kevin James shows, to crappier Charlie Sheen shows), but in the UK executives tend to care more about the writers. Maybe it's because we're a nation that gave the world Shakespeare, forever ensuring our culture puts onus on the written word.
And it's not that anyone's right or wrong. Good shows need performers and writers working in harmony to succeed, but it's interesting that Lumsden's aiming to find big personalities and make a show for them—rather than vice versa. The BBC have already proven it can work in this country, because Miranda and Not Going Out are sitcoms where comedians Miranda Hart and Lee Mack essentially play themselves—or, to be fair, a version of themselves presented as very close to the truth. Interestingly, Sky kind of got there first in more recent times, when they put Al Muray's award-winning Pub Landlord character into early-'00s sitcom Time Gentlemen Please. Ditto David Baddiel in Sky's awful Seinfeld knockoff Baddiel's Syndrome.
|Sky1's BAFTA-winning SPY|
But one of the best thing Lumsden mentions in the Chortle interview is how the majority of British comedy comes from university graduates, and how many shows come through via BBC Radio 4 and BBC2. Over the decades, this has led to a dominance of a certain breed of TV star; John Cleese and Michael Palin, Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry, right up to contemporary funny-men like David Mitchell and Robert Webb. I'm not saying those people aren't funny because they're university-educated, but I agree most British TV comedy is oddly reliant on middle-class white men who went to uni. There are many exceptions, naturally, but I'm all for Lumsden trying to find comic voices from different ethnic and social backgrounds.
|Lucy Lumsden: Sky's Head of Comedy|
Lumsden offers Spy's creator Simeon Goulden as an example of an unknown person Sky gave a big break to, because until then he was only writing the occasional Armstrong & Miller sketch, but that lone example doesn't cut it with me. I can't think of a single British entertainer who's considered to be a "face of Sky", or one who owes their career to Sky taking a chance with them.
So, whatever Lumsden says, I think it's true Sky's recent success are partly down to having the money and creative freedom to give well-known talent an alluring new sandpit to play in. As a comedy connoisseur, I still look to the BBC and Channel 4 when it comes to breaking new talent and ideas (Fonejacker, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ricky Gervais, The Inbetweeners, etc).
|Sky1's THE CAFE|
However, thanks to Lucy Lumsden's sterling efforts, Sky's quickly become genuine competition you can't look down your nose at. She has interesting ideas about how to invigorate the UK TV comedy landscape, and as a lifelong fan of British comedy it's hard to find too much of a negative when all this means fresh and expensive projects for the likes of Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge), Julia Davis (Hunderby), Chris O'Dowd (Moone Boy), Joanna Page (Gates), Sally Phillips (Parents), John Bishop (Only Joking), and Charlie Brooker (A Touch of Cloth)—people who might otherwise spend much of their TV careers waiting for the occasional scrap to be thrown their way from the increasingly thrifty BBC.
Just, you know, try and find some brand new talent of your own every once in a while—okay, Sky?