Some of us with an interest in seeing media and political figures brutally and ceaselessly mocked on television have long wondered when Britain, supposedly the world's #1 exporter of cutting-edge humorous programming, was going to find its match for our own Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Britain, after all, is responsible for such Daily Show forerunners as Not the Nine O'Clock News and The Day Today, yet through the madness of the past decade no British counterpart to the Stewart/Colbert throne of political mockery has emerged, and in a reversal of the usual trend, the two American shows are beamed overseas.
Now, however, Channel 4 has decided to rectify this grievous oversight, with its new 10 O'Clock Live, due to air early next year. A trailer can be found here. Few substantive details about the program are currently available, but it is likely to somewhat resemble the channel's one-off four-hour comedy/discussion program covering the election, the Alternative Election Night Special. That program was reasonably good (although finding four hours of material four a single night inevitably involves a bit of stretching), and was certainly more compelling than Stewart and Colbert's own fairly insipid election-night extravaganza.
So this is good news! There is, of course, always a risk that new Daily Show-type programming will become a nakedly-imitative, cringe-inducing embarrassment, as FOX News's abysmal and thankfully long-deceased Half-Hour News Hour was. But from what we know now, 10 O'Clock Live appears to have everything the FOX show lacked, starting with funny and intelligent participants. Channel 4 has made the excellent decision to hire the two smartest comedians in Britain as its stars, Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell. Brooker is a television critic and misanthrope known for his acerbic Guardian column and his media-mockery clip-shows, Screenwipe and Newswipe. He also hosts the finest and funniest show about television ever aired, You Have Been Watching, a program in which Brooker and three friends gather weekly to make mean jokes about recently aired programs.
Mitchell has a slightly different background, attracting fame mainly for his acting role in the dismal yet hilarious Peep Show and his co-creation of the spotty Mitchell and Webb radio and television sketch shows. He, too, writes for the Guardian, and has recently become a ubiquitous presence in British comedy, in appearances ranging from the distinctly terrible The Bubble and The Unbelievable Truth to the often incredibly good Would I Lie To You? and David Mitchell's Soapbox.
It's hard to imagine a better pair to lead a new satirical program. Unfortunately, the 10 O'Clock Show also features Jimmy Carr, whose "posh Cambridge type saying filthy or outrageous things" shtick should have grown stale ages ago. But Carr has given enjoyable turns as a presenter on 8 Out of 10 Cats and The Big Fat Quiz of The Year, so there's no reason to write him off prematurely. Rounding out the cast is Lauren Laverne, an apparently-popular presenter and singer I know nothing about.
The persons and premise suggest incredible potential, and I truly believe the program, if properly executed, has the potential to be even sharper and more amusing than Mr. Stewart's. But why is this only happening now? Part of the reason may be the British fondness for a peculiar television format: the panel show. For those unacquainted with the medium, contemporary panel shows consist of small sets of notable persons (sometimes in teams, sometimes not) playing meaningless mock-games whose true purpose is to give hilarious people a chance to be hilarious. We recognize this as the provenance of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, but not much else. For some reason, the idea has never really caught fire here, and the closest American televisual equivalent may be the godawful current-affairs show Colin Quinn hosted for a while (or the adapted version of the British Whose Line is It Anyway, though most panel shows center around discussion rather than performance). In Britain, however, panel shows have remained a prime vessel for good comedy, and such programs as Shooting Stars, QI, and Nevermind the Buzzcocks showcase some of the cleverest comedy ever broadcast.
So British satire did not die, as may have been thought, but has been hiding out in panel games, especially the long-running Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week, from which John Oliver was spirited away to become a Daily Show correspondent. Still, in spite of the existence of these worthy banter-shows, it's nice to know that Stewart is finally going to have an English equivalent. As quick and witty as he is, the show sometimes lapses into laziness and schoolboy humor, and it will be refreshing to see how the nation responsible for the devastating and erudite satire of Beyond the Fringe and That Was the Week That Was handles the Daily Show format.