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Have I Got News for You lives a dreary panel show Groundhog Day

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Back In 1996, Paul Merton resigned from his role as panelist Do I have news for you?. The show was in a rut. It was understandable, of course: how many TV shows manage to keep firing at full blast after 10 full series on the air? Damn few. But Merton returned just months later, and he and Ian Hislop have remained married to the series ever since. Now that the stalwart BBC comedy is entering its 63rd season, the notion of a rut seems almost irrelevant. No, that’s grown Groundhog Dayand Merton and Hislop are both Bill Murray, three acts deep and well past the point of resistance robotically resigned to living that one February day over and over into eternity.

Do I have news for you? established the formula for the modern British table series; it has endured so long that most of its countless imitators (from Mock the week to QI) have faded into cultural insignificance. What exactly is behind this godless longevity? Well, for one, it still attracts an audience. (While viewership has declined since its heyday, the decline over the last decade has been small.) It’s a well-oiled machine at the mercy of it — perhaps a bit over-smeared for those who prefer their satire hard-edged and unruly. His roster of regular guest presenters and panelists rarely raises any incidents. Some of the show’s other most prominent supporting cast – Jo Brand, David Mitchell, Andy Hamilton (making his 26th panelist appearance tonight) – are reliably whimsical too. But there’s a stagnation in guest selection, which is too often male and far too often straight and white skewed. Alexander Armstrong has hosted 37 times. Next Week host Victoria Coren Mitchell has appeared on the series 24 times; Jack Dee, who hosts in two weeks, will have performed 16 times. The series has just become the same old faces cracking the same old sour jokes.

The social media era wasn’t kind too Do I have news for you?. Increasingly, the “ready-made” gags — jokes or amusing news delivered by the moderator, as opposed to the back-and-forth between panellists that we’re supposed to believe is unforeseen — simply plunder all the videos posted earlier this week Twitter went viral. The series was born into a radically different world than the one we find ourselves in now. Now on social media, every message is widely discussed, riffed, faked and otherwise dissected within hours of its publication. For every viewer with a Twitter account, the punchlines from Merton and Co. land not just seconds, but days too late.

For many, however, the show’s biggest failure isn’t comic, it’s political. Although somewhat ridiculously attacked by some right-wing commentators as an example of radical left-wing programming, this is a fact Do I have news for you? aimed squarely at the “centrist father” market. I suppose it fits Hislop – a man who says he’s voted all three major parties and the Greens in the past – and Merton, a comedian by nature, who said in 2007 he’s only ever voted Labor , but not always voting. This is, I suppose, one of the tenets of comedy: no one should be above ridicule. Laughter doesn’t wear a party rosette. Yes, the series has mocked the incumbent Conservative government for many of its lies, hypocrisies and snafus (although the most damaging punches are drawn) – but it was also ruthless in ripping Jeremy Corbyn when he was opposition leader, beating him with the same tired jokes you would find anywhere else. To belittle one’s allocation is one thing; belittling the entire socialist movement that propelled him is another. What exactly does the series stand for?

Do I have news for you? has also faced some abuse over the years for placing right-wing politicians such as Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson on platforms. Johnson, in particular, has always been an unsightly footnote to the program’s reputation, appearing as a panelist seven times between 1998 and 2006. While Johnson and Farage suffered their fair share of ridicule and ridicule on the show, it still helped give them credibility – and their ossified images as politicians who could take jokes and deserved the BBC primetime spotlight.

Hislop voiced this criticism to Sky News’ Adam Boulton in 2019: “You have to deal with Boris. You can’t just say, ‘Well, anyone who’s charming and can make a room laugh shouldn’t be there because people are too stupid to see through them’.” He pointed to other guests – Germaine Greer, Ken Livingstone, Heidi Allen – who had appeared on the series and not continue to be the leader of this country. Far be it from me to guess any subtle tonal difference in the way Johnson and these others were viewed by the series, but only one of them had an entire bonus disc dedicated to their mop-haired self on one Do I have news for you? DVD release. Hislop can downplay the series’ influence or play up audience judgment, but any show that draws 4 million viewers each week (and considerably more in Johnson’s era) is going to have some level of impact, whether or not it does so or not.

I don’t know what it will take Do I have news for you? finally closing up shop. Once you’ve made it to 63 seasons, all reasonable bets are off. But the mere fact that it’s able to just keep producing episodes and pushing the same product year after year speaks to a fatal lack of purpose. For a current show, it sure feels like yesterday’s news.

Have I Got News For You airs Friday at 9pm on BBC One

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/have-i-got-news-for-you-bbc-b2048242.html Have I Got News for You lives a dreary panel show Groundhog Day

JOE HERNANDEZ

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