Mark Watson responds to Political 'Think Tank'
It's author Mark Oliver told the Independent that the whimsical comedy quiz was, alongside shows like Hole in The Wall and Snog, Marry or Avoid, "wasting money on derivative programmes to attract young viewers".
Apparently it's also "something that could be on the Bravo or Living channels."
The show's host Mark Watson was surprised, and wanted to put his twopence-worth in.
According to the official website of digital channel Bravo, it has been 'entertaining men since 1985'. Among its testosterone-packed Friday night line-up are shows called 'Martial Law', 'Big Trouble In Thailand', and '1,000 Ways To Die' - the latter advertised by a shot of a suitably butch, blood-covered man who has seemingly just exercised one of the thousand options. If you fancy relaxing between these bouts of unchecked violence with some more controlled violence, Bravo is also showing 'Rocky' tonight. At other times on the channel, you can enjoy coverage of the 'World's Strongest Man' contest, or see the dependably meatheaded Danny Dyer 'Living Dangerously'. To sum up: this channel is for MEN. Proper men who like injuries and danger.
'We Need Answers', which I host alongside Tim Key and Alex Horne, is a whimsical quiz show on BBC4. Guests this series have included Jennie Bond, Esther Rantzen, Peter Tatchell and Dr Phil Hammond. Contestants are asked to answer questions texted in by members of the public, such as 'if a snail and a pigeon set off around the world in different directions from Nottingham, where will they meet?' In a recent episode, the poet Ian McMillan received a long ovation for a pun about Pam Ayres; there are regular digressions on such topics as the EastEnders pay structure, and the theological puzzle of whether an omnipotent God could save a free-kick struck by himself.
From this description you wouldn't recommend that 'We Need Answers', transferred to Bravo. Yet that's where it ought to be, according to a new report by 'think tank' Policy Exchange . There, or Living TV, alongside 'America's Next Top Model', 'Most Haunted' and '60 Minute Makeover'. The report says that the BBC ought to stop pandering to under-35s - who are well served by commercial television - by making shows like ours, which are a waste of licence-payer's money.
It's good to see the wasting of tax money being tackled by such an instinctively thrifty and public-spirited group as a right-wing think tank, but those of us who make 'We Need Answers' for one of the smallest budgets in the BBC's history are rather baffled by its findings. Firstly, 'making guests do stupid things' is rather a small part of our show; the Physical Challenge round typically occupies about three minutes in the half-hour quiz, so it's a bit like saying that 'News At Ten' is 'dominated by the sport round-up'. Anyone who has seen both our show and 'Hole In The Wall' would be forced to concede that the two are about as similar as 'Mastermind' and 'Embarrassing Illnesses'.
Secondly, to claim that 'We Need Answers' is 'an attempt to get a younger audience' is both misrepresentative of, and grossly patronising to, the people who watch our show. 'We Need Answers' is popular with lots of viewers over 35 (the mythical demographic cut-off point used by 'think tanks') - just like 'The Thick Of It' and 'Flight Of The Conchords', two other shows which have emerged from BBC4 to mainstream success. If we were trying, as Mr Oliver claims, to cosy up to Living TV's teenage-to-25 audience, would we really have Vanessa Feltz or Kelvin McKensie as our guests? I don't remember Bravo or Living running a Feltz Week any time recently. In fact, my co-host Tim Key is 33, Horne is 31 and I am a staggeringly youthful 29. If it's true that our show is aimed at 'the young', then pretty soon we ourselves will have to ignore it. Which will make filming schedules very tricky.
The report might have a point that the BBC ought to be concentrating on 'distinctive programmes'. But unless Mr Oliver can name another show in which a contestant might be asked to provide a recipe for an omelette without using the letter 'e', I would suggest that ours comes into that category. BBC4, like a lot of newer channels, exists to encourage low-budget, low-maintenance and entertaining shows into the market. If shows like 'We Need Answers' start being farmed out to men's channels instead, repackaged as 'We Need Muscular Guys To Shoot At Each Other' and with Ross Kemp drafted in for the three of us, then pretty soon the BBC as a creative force will discover '1000 Ways To Die' of its own: and they'll be a lot less exciting to watch than the ones on Bravo.
Mark Watson also stars in the excellent Web Series No More Women with fellow We Need Answers presenters Tim Key and Alex Horne. Its brilliant.