» TV ¦ What You Can Get Away With

I noted a couple of weeks ago that Have I Got News For You had made a little bit of history a fortnight ago with its first ever episode with more women onscreen than men. I don’t know if we’ll have to wait seventeen more years until all the guests are female again, but this series does appear to be on course to set a new record for women guests.

At the moment, this series has featured 18 guests, of which nine were women. There are four more shows after this, and if each of them has a female guest (in accordance with BBC policy), there’ll be at least 13 out of the 30 in total. That’ll be 43% of the total, the highest HIGNFY has ever managed for a series. (The current record is the first ever series, where 37.5% of the guests were women) If just one of those women guests is the host, there’ll have been an equal number of male and female hosts in this series. This series’ four women hosts already matches the highest number achieved by series 42 in 2011.

With just a couple of other female guests this series, they could finally reach a 50-50 balance of woman and men this series, and maybe that’ll be the shape of things to come. Of course, they could attempt to redress the historic imbalance of male to female guests, and the current rate of 19 shows a year with three guests on each, it’d only take them around 15 years to get there.

(As ever, the spreadsheet is here if you want to see the figures for yourself)

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Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenComing next, I’ll have articles about how water is wet, and an exclusive reveal of just what bears are getting up to in forested areas so I can have equally shocking headlines for you.

As you’ll probably know, I’ve been doing my spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of Have I Got News For You guests which paints a pretty bad picture of how women are under-represented on the show, given that they’re not 23% of the population. Thanks to someone on Twitter bringing us together, I’ve now met Stuart of @astronomyblog who’s been looking at how women are represented on other panel shows.

The figures, as you might expect, don’t make for any prettier reading. In fact, they’re uglier than mine because I was looking solely at guests, excluding the regulars. When you include Paul, Ian and Angus’s appearances as well, only approximately 12.8% of the people on screen have been female. Stuart does use a different methodology to me, going to IMDB’s list of appearances, but it appears to deliver similar results from a different direction) The show that actually does best with this approach is ITV2’s Celebrity Juice, getting up to 44.2% of appearances by women, which is impressive compared to the others, but from what I can tell, it’s a show where at least 50% of the regulars are women, so even with that head start, it still manages to fall short.

Not a very good picture all round, really, but I’ll still be monitoring HIGNFY, which has shown some signs that it might be looking to address this trend – representation on series 48 is hovering around parity, and there have been more women hosting shows in it than men so far, but it’s started well and fallen back before, so judgement can wait until December.

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Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenHave I Got News For You has been on the air for twenty-four years, and last night it managed to do something it’s never done before. For the first time ever last night, the majority of people on screen for an episode of the show were women – Victoria Coren Mitchell as the host, and Katherine Ryan and Janet Street-Porter as the guests, alongside regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. As I’m here to write this today, it appears the sky didn’t crack asunder and the world did not come to an end as a result.

As some of you will know, I’ve got a spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of guests on the show since it started (created mostly with the help of this Wikipedia page) and it’s usually been pretty grim reading.

Across the history of the show, less than a quarter of the guests (24.27%) and hosts (24.65%) have been women. During that time, there have been 8 shows (including last night) where all the guests were women, but the first seven were all from the period when Angus Deayton was the show’s permanent host and thus men were still a majority on screen. The last of those seven was in 1997. For comparison, there have been 181 shows (44% of the total) where all the guests were male, and thus everyone on screen was a male. The BBC has announced that there will be no more all-male panel shows, so this percentage will drop, but the fact it happened at all is ridiculous. Consider that in the time since the last show with all-female guests, there were over 100 all-male episodes of Have I Got News For You, and think what message that sends out to anyone watching.

Hopefully, last night is a sign that attitudes are changing, though I also fear that for years to come they’ll bring up the ‘all-woman’ show as an excuse for not doing it again for several years. This series might be the one that has the highest percentage of female guests on the show, a record which currently stands at 37.5%. The trouble for anyone hoping for progress is that that record was set back in the very first series of the show, and it’s failed to reach that mark in the 46 series since.

The current series is actually at parity for the four episodes broadcast so far – and there have actually been a majority of female hosts in those episodes – so who knows, it might finally be possible for a high-profile BBC series to almost accurately reflect the nation. (If we assume that 40% of the country are Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, of course…)

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Doctor Who returns to BBC One tonight with the first full appearance of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. It’s been noted many times that Liberal Democrats tend to be bigger fans of Doctor Whoand SF in general – than members of other parties, though to the best of my knowledge Nick Clegg hasn’t yet talked in public about his own views on the show. With that in mind, I’ve come up with five things that I think the new Doctor and his career could teach Nick Clegg:

1) What it’s like to be a professional actor

Clegg used to act at school and appears to have enjoyed the experience, but didn’t carry on this interest when he got older. Capaldi has had a thirty year career as an actor, and he could probably explain to Clegg just what it’s like, perhaps sating Clegg’s curiosity if he’s ever wondered what things would be like for him if he’d carried on acting.

2) What it’s like to win an Oscar

As someone not involved in film-making, Clegg hasn’t even been to the Academy Awards, let alone won one. Capaldi has won one for his short film Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and if Clegg hasn’t already seen or read one of the interviews with Capaldi where he talks about the experience, Capaldi could tell him what it was like.

3) How to operate the TARDIS

There are no TARDIS console props in Whitehall or Liberal Democrat HQ in Great George Street. I’m also reliably informed that Clegg doesn’t have one in his home or his constituency office in Sheffield. Capaldi, of course, has been a long time fan of the show and now he’s playing the Doctor, he’s likely to be much more knowledgeable about its operation than Clegg.

4) The qualities needed for a successful event and travel organiser

Capaldi’s just come back from promoting his new series on the Doctor Who World Tour. Clegg’s currently recruiting for a Visits and Events Officer. Capaldi could no doubt inform him of some of the things he thinks are the qualities of a person organising a successful event and travel plans.

5) How an actor might approach playing the role of Clegg in a film

Channel 4 have announced that they’re making a film about Clegg and the formation of the coalition. In his career, Capaldi has played several real people on screen including Cardinal Richelieu, King Charles I and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. He could no doubt tell Clegg what it’s like to play a real person and how he prepares for the role, but with the caveat that the actor cast as Clegg may have an entirely different process.

That’s five things Clegg could learn from Capaldi, probably over a pleasant lunch somewhere.

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I wrote a few years ago about the BBC’s plans to adapt Philip K Dick’s classic novel The Man in the High Castle
for TV. As with so many TV projects, it seems that fell through but news has now come out that while we’re not in the universe where it got made by the BBC, we may be in the one where it gets made for Amazon TV.

Sadly, it appears that while Ridley Scott’s production company is still involved, the script is no longer being written by Howard Brenton. As I wrote four years ago, one worry I have about any adaptation of The Man In The High Castle is that it’s very easy to see it as just a relatively simple what-if story about the Axis winning the Second World War and how the US would be if it was divided between a victorious Germany and Japan. While Dick does create an interesting story about that, as with many of his books, the more interesting part of The Man In The High Castle is its exploration of the nature of reality. It’s a tale of three different worlds: the world where (most of) the book is set, the world Abendsen writes about in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and our world, with the question as to which one is really real and how the I Ching links them all. Stepping back, there’s also Dick’s belief that we are living in a flase reality and ‘the Empire never ended’ – our reality is possibly a hallucination of a Roman-dominated world.

There’s been plenty of interesting new TV that’s willing to take risks in the last few years, and the online services are definitely willing to try something new, so perhaps Amazon will be willing to contemplate getting their viewers to question the nature of reality. One lesson from most previous Dick adaptations is that the complex philosophical discussions of the nature of reality are the first thing to be jettisoned in favour of the high concept, but maybe we’re in a reality where that sort of TV is possible now.

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I uploaded my spreadsheet of Have I Got News For You guests broken down by gender after the last series, then today realised I’d forgotten to upload the new version. So, that’s now uploaded – and here it is.

I guess if you’re looking for a key statistic from it, it’s the number 33.3 – one third of the guests and one third of the hosts were women in the last series, which was the first since the BBC introduced their ‘no all male panel shows’ policy. HIGNFY has stuck with that policy, but has done the bare minimum to meet it – every show had a woman on it, either hosting or presenting, but none of them had two or three. We still have to go back to the last century for a time when all the guests on a show were women, and last year for one when they were all men.

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Quick trivia question: What connects Richard Osman, Dan Snow and Mark Steel?

They’re the last all-male line-up of guests on Have I Got News For You, if Danny Cohen delivers on his promise:

“We’re not going to have panel shows on any more with no women on them. You can’t do that. It’s not acceptable.”

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been collecting data on the gender bias on Have I Got News For You for a while and so this is welcome news. As I’ve got almost bored of pointing out, there have been only seven episodes of HIGNFY where all the guests have been female, with the last one of those being back in 1997 (Sue Perkins and Eve Pollard) and 181 where all the guests were male, with over a hundred of those happening since 1997 (Osman, Snow and Steel were in October last year).

So, if that number now freezes at 181 for good then there’s a cheer or two for Cohen, as it guarantees that female representation on HIGNFY will rise above the 23.72% of guests they currently make up, and a minimum of 33% female guests will make the next series one of the highest ever. It might even reach or surpass the record giddy heights of 37.5% female guests, which was achieved back in the very first series in 1990.

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for an episode where there’ll be all-female guests again (and hence more women than men on screen for the first time ever in the series history), but I will wager that when it does the time between it being announced and some moron complaining how awful it is that they can’t have all-male guests will be measured in nanoseconds.

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