This post was written by guest blogger and reality TV showbiz observer Daniel Cohen. Catch up with him on Twitter here!
I love Big School. It’s fun, refreshing and sweet. On Twitter I find that I am certainly not alone in this.
This week I saw many Tweets praising the series and its creator David Walliams. Once in a while, I even saw people say it was “the best sitcom in years”…
Even the Daily Mail loved it (and they usually don’t like comedy!!) calling it a “comedy masterclass”.
It has every element in place to be the new cosy, light-hearted, will they, won’t they story. David Walliams plays a chemistry teacher in his 40’s whom still a virgin. He has, in fact, never been in love. This all changes when a new female teacher comes to his school, played by Catherine Tate.
He does his best to woo her, but having never done it before, he is very awkward at this. He also faces the problem of the school’s biggest womanizer played by Phillip Glenister who wants Catherine’s character for himself.
It is a brilliant show that many have already taken to their hearts, are quoting on Twitter, and is a big hit on BBC iPlayer. So why isn’t it working on Friday nights on BBC1? Because it is on Friday nights BBC1.
This sitcom, like Miranda, should be a family event going out midweek round 20:00/20:30 in the autumn/winter/early spring. David’s audience isn’t the late night comedy crowd whom are going for more rough, rude and edgy stuff on Friday night. His style is warm-hearted, slightly old fashioned awkward and – of course- always a bit camp. This obviously clashes – it’s as if someone accidentally played an episode The Good Life in front of a crowd expecting The Young Ones in the 1980’s.
If the BBC were that desperate to premiere this show during holiday season, why didn’t they premiere it on tomorrow’s bank holiday? Or why not on BBC2 after Great British Bake Off? That would target the right audience. Starting on BBC2 would have been a better move in general, there would have been less pressure for the show to find its feet.
I am saying this, because there is a worrying trend going on in comedy that few seem to acknowledge: Comedies that start on the big channels are not allowed to grow. They are judged on an opening episode, only there to introduce who is who. These episodes are usually slower, as they need to explain the premises as well as the characters. They are usually not an indication of the actual series. Sadly, when a show starts out on BBC1 or ITV1, the media –both social and the press, jump on it (the opening episode) like hungry piranha’s ready to tear it limb from limb. A show needs a start, an introduction, you cannot start a show midway.
Because of this, comedies are judged to quickly: on a first episode only. Often comedy needs A LOT longer than this. Remember that first series off Black Adder that is never repeated? If Twitter had existed back then would a second series have existed?
Only Fools and Horses took 2 series to become the classic success that it is now, as did Red Dwarf and even Fawlty Towers got off on a bad start.
A more recent example: the now very popular series Mrs Brown’s Boys got off on a very slow start and struggled because of a critical mauling. It couldn’t find its audience and never rose to three million. Repeat viewings on different days and a Christmas special saved it, and now it is one of the BBC’s most successful recent shows.
A big start has become a big risk. Comedy is becoming less fun for comics as launching a new sitcom has become akin to performing self-castigation, knowing the hatred you are likely to receive for it.
A lot of comedians have said their job has become more difficult since the rise of social media, as it has become like a constant invite to heckle.
It is sad that Big School seems to be a victim of this new attitude towards comedy and wrong scheduling. Especially since the series is so good. Last Friday’s episode was an early classic with its well crafted take of of Got Talent and X Factor type shows (David Walliams arriving dramatically to duet with Catherine Tate and a parody of the obligatory You Raise Me Up were both comedy platinum), while David was also unafraid to parody his own charity work. It was truly great. In a time where comedy is rude for the sake of rude, I applaud people like David Walliams and Miranda Hart who dare to write an old fashioned funny show with an actual storyline. I’ve personally had it with “weird” and “real life” sort of shows with long pauses.
I applaud Peter Fincham who this week said he would allow Vicious and The Job Lot to return, despite a critical mauling and declining ratings. The ITV director of television said that he refused to “commit the first sin of broadcasting” and bail out on the show because of low ratings for its first series. I don’t think the issue is what went wrong with it; the issue is a show like that finding its feet,” Fincham said, speaking at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival on Friday. “If we are committed to comedy, I don’t want to commit the first and most obvious sin of broadcasting … To say we are going to bail out at the first sign of ratings falling off. We are committed.”
And this is what every TV director would do if a comedy doesn’t find its audience first time round: give it time to improve and grow and schedule it so it’s intended audience can find it and is there to see it.
If you missed it, catch up with Big School here, but for now, here’s the show’s trailer…