Channel Four’s recent “Funny Fortnight” was pretty hit and miss to say the least. For people who may have missed it or may not be familiar with Channel Four, it is a UK channel which celebrated 25 years by revisiting their “greatest hits of comedy.” As well as showing the best of their past series, they also aired pilots for new comedy series, in an attempt to gain interest or an audience, hopeful for a new series.
I really enjoyed the fortnight for this reason. I liked the idea of getting a small taste of a show and then voting with my views or even my viewing figures. There were some shows with potential, Just Around the Corner was a sitcom set in a bleak, dangerous future. Them From That Thing was a sketch show that played their sketches serious, like drama scenes, even including people more famous for dramatic acting. This was hit and miss, like any sketch show, but did enough to warrant a series.
There were other more “standard” comedies that I would still give a go. The most notable of these was probably The Function Room, which was a sitcom set in a pub, with the various residents complaining and sharing their gripes to the local police force. It was very traditional, with a live audience even, but still did enough to produce a series.
I watched a few of the other shows, like Bad Sugar and Verry Terry, but with any collection of new shows, these just didn’t impress me enough. It didn’t matter though, because I liked the idea of a whole “season” of pilots for shows. Its something we don’t really do on British television. We do have pilot episodes, usually produced as a one-off television film and then developed into a full series later, but we don’t really advertise it as such or make people aware of what they are witnessing.
It is something that I believe they do quite well in America. Each network producing the pilot episode of their shows as a taster for the audience, who then get a say in what is created afterwards. I think British television is in desperate need of this kind of season, because we are being inundated with the same type of shows.
It seems to be the same type of detective shows or medical shows that are being made. They have a tenuous difference, sometimes just a change in location, but are essentially the same show. Sometimes, something genuinely unique within the genres will appear, like Luther or Green Wing, but a lot of drama is police shows or a show about a renegade doctor who doesn’t play by the rules.
The other new drama that seems to be sweeping British TV is the “broken family with a dark, divisive secret.” Each week, a new cast of relatively well-known British actors will make up the usual family dynamic and slowly uncover a secret over six weeks or five nights!
I like to think that if there was some sort of British pilots season, for BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Sky, at least, the channels would be able to spend a little bit of money, try to be creative and take a chance on some programming that may not have a ready-made audience. British television hasn’t ever reached the innovative and brilliant drama that America seem to produce, with shows like Lost, Prison Break, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire or West Wing. I could keep going and I think some of that is down to the fact that British TV, for the most part, plays it too safe!
Overall, I think Channel Four’s Funny Fortnight was a good idea and would love to see this idea repeated on a larger scale. Pilots for comedy, drama and even reality TV. A whole season of one-off shows, given the chance to impress enough to earn a full series. Maybe that’s what British TV needs to move away from the more mainstream, “samey” shows.