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Editor's note: You can hear The Now Show from 6.30pm on Friday.  It is also available as a podcast.

Colin Anderson goes through the process of producing the Now Show.

The BBC College of Production recently made a film about the role of producer on The Now Show. Unfortunately the least telegenic bit of the job – where I sit with an engineer in an edit studio all day – was also the part Hugh Dennis thought most important. So here’s a bit more about editing The Now Show.
 
The show records in the BBC’s Radio Theatre on Thursday nights between 8pm and whenever it’s done - you can apply to be in the audience through the BBC Tickets site. I usually come away with about an hour of show and the team retire to a nearby pub at the end of a long week’s satire.
 
Cut to 9am Friday morning. Today’s job is to digitally assemble the programme, edit in retakes, add extra music and sound effects and cut last night’s recording down to 28 minutes for broadcast at 18.30. Between the Friday night, the Saturday repeat, iPlayer and podcast, nearly 3 million people will listen to this week’s show, so no pressure.
 
Audience comedies like The Now Show have the advantage of being punctuated by laughter and generally you can edit “to the laughs”. I mark laughter and applause on my script while we’re recording, so can look down a page and see how it flew with the audience. If it got a laugh it stays, if it didn’t it goes - I understand this approach is common amongst comedy producers, with only a few real mavericks daring to do the opposite.
 
A listen through the edit involves cutting wherever possible, lulls, lines where the audience already got the joke, small tightens of pauses and often removing applause breaks. Why waste valuable seconds of the show on too much clapping?
 
There’s no such thing as “canned laughter”. It’s possible to take better laughs from elsewhere in the same recording to make a joke sound like it got a warmer reception, but if the three hundred Now Show fans in our studio audience didn’t find the joke funny then I’d be inclined to cut it.
 
If I really believe in a particular joke and think the studio audience are just plain wrong then I prefer not to add fake laughs on the rationale that I quite enjoy being the only person in a comedy club who gets a joke. But if everyone’s laughing uproariously and I don’t get it I’ll feel alienated and if it’s on the radio I’ll probably switch over.
 
Gags which may be considered in poor taste have to pass a higher comedic threshold to justify the potential offence to listeners. If you’re funny enough the Radio 4 audience seem happy to go along with you. If you’re not as clever as you think you are, you’re about to make a dirty joke at a stranger’s dinner table, quite probably in front of their kids.

The edit’s our last chance to get editorial issues right before broadcast and yet another opportunity to get them wrong. A carefully worded monologue may not feel as balanced when the caveats are cut for not being funny enough. It’s a final chance to fact-check and run additional legal and editorial referrals - all things more usefully done before the recording, but often a news story changes or a gag’s added to the script at the last minute.
 
By mid-afternoon we’ve usually managed to pare the show down to about the right time. Our edit system means we then have to record it into a single audio file by doing a real-time playback, on which the show’s executive producer sits in, so they can give any final notes and sign the programme off as fit for broadcast.
 
I sit making my own final notes of any expletives, brand names or other issues that will need detailing on the compliance form. Listening on headphones because the show’s success as a podcast means that over 400,000 people will be potentially doing the same, so a duff edit’s going to get noticed.
 
The day ends with me uploading the finished show to Radio 4’s computer system, checking it’s been received and scheduled, and heading for the train home, where I can watch Twitter’s live review of my week’s work: #BBCNowShow

Radio 4 - The Now Show

College of Production feature on making The Now Show

College of Production feature on Colin Anderson, The Now Show's producer

Radio 4 - Comedy

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by Tony Hagon

    on 18 Jun 2013 21:32

    'fraid you missed an opportunity on last week's show.... the bit about the Bilderberg group meeting at the Grove Hotel Watford.... The Grove was used from the Second World War as the LMS and from 1948 British Railway's Management Training Centre. I spent my Management Training there in the early 1970s and we were told the secrets of how to ensure that trains which were running normally were made to arrive late and how to curl and decay perfectly edible sandwiches but we weren't allowed anywhere near the buildings that contained the teams that made all the fare structures completely unintelligible... the Bilderberg are relative amateurs!

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by rah

    on 11 Jun 2013 15:28

    David
    I think you have not listened long enough to the show.
    The labour party really got it when they were in power, I know because I used to listen to the podcast in the Far East.
    Anybody in the public eye is fair game and what you think is a left wing bias is merely the reality that the current govt. is Conservative/Lib dem. The BBC is alway accused of a left wing/ right wing bias depending on the current party in power.
    Lets face it all the politicians are fair game and including the various people in the public eye including royalty.
    The Show has gone down a little but then all shows go through cycles of being great and not so great. British satire is a very tempermental meduim, which probably explain why many people outside the UK don't always get it.

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by DavidHillside

    on 9 Jun 2013 13:41

    I agree that every political party is fair game for satire but my point is that this brand of 'comedy' is almost entierly orientated at demonising any politician who is not a hard line socialist, I have listned to every episode and can not recall a single gag that belittles anyone in the Labour party - every 'joke' and diatribe is all about knocking Tory and Liberal people and policies There is no balance or fairness in the 'comedy'. Infact it does not stop at just unfunny 'jokes' but seeks to preach a subtle brand of propaganda that is always anti anything or anyone to the right of centre politics. It is socialist 'comedy' pure and simple which would be fine in a Labour Party conferance fringe meeting but not appropriate for the BBC.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by ivor jones

    on 8 Jun 2013 23:11

    I think everyone and every political party is fair game for the satirical show. I just believe that the show is plain unfunny, don't know why! Certainly group of talented individuals but just doesn't work for me. I find it embarrassingly poor in comparison with other radio 4 comedy output. Seems biggest laugh is from Hugh saying the show title in a funny voice - surely a poor sign!

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Steve Craddock

    on 8 Jun 2013 16:30

    Interesting article, Colin - thanks for expanding on this "dry" but essential aspect of putting the show together and the decision-making process of marshalling it into shape. I wonder if you are using commercial or proprietary editing software.

    I too have been listening to BBC comedy for more years than I care to count, and still enjoy The Now Show, as well as The News Quiz and Just A Minute, enormously. Comedians (and, indeed, media in general) always take digs at the party in power - that is how things work - but will happily take a swipe at anyone else who puts themselves into the firing line. As I recall, Labour got its fair share of criticism when it was in power and has certainly been on the receiving end in previous episodes of this show.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by DavidHillside

    on 8 Jun 2013 15:13

    I did mean 'The The News Quiz'
    You say 'lighten up a bit' but biased propaganda and spin from our national broadcaster is a very serious matter. To put out a so called 'comedy show' that seeks to put across a party political broadcast as a series of harmless jokes is not only dishonest but I believe is a breach of the BBC Charter which obliges it to be neutral. Left wing views and propaganda are fine for publib broadcasting so long as the opposing view has equal air time or a right of reply. Since the programme is presented as 'comedy' no such balance is required. The programme makers and BBC management know this well and with their institutionalised left wing bias, actively encourage this type of insidious propaganda which presented as 'comedy' requires no such balance under their protocols.
    I have been listening to BBC comedy for over 40 years and recall well the days of excellent programmes such as The News Hudlines and The Frost Report. Those programmes and others like them were not only amusing but lampooned all political parties in equal measure - quite unlike the latest incarnations which are simply rants against all things valued by middle England and the Conservative Party in particular.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Bluey

    on 8 Jun 2013 12:00

    Me thinks you should both lighten up a bit.

    The programme for years has cocked a snook at anybody and everybody in the firing line. Be they left right or indifferent.

    A whole load of lefty subversives obviously listen to radio 4...let me repeat.... it is their station of choice. Fiendish planning before the Archers and somewhere near Frontline.

    Did you mean "The News Quiz"? or have you not read "Eats Shoots and Leaves"

    PS Writing jokes about the previous "leftwing" government is like shooting fish in a barrel.............and stating the blooming obvious...

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by DavidHillside

    on 8 Jun 2013 11:22

    You call it a topical comedy show but it is nothing but a left wing rant that is so full of socialist bias and anti Tory/Liberal/Coalition propaganda. There is not even a pretence of any balance or fairness – just a constant tirade of abuse against anything and everyone to the right of the BBC socialist mantra. The so called ‘jokes’ are a thinly disguised attempt to broadcast what is in effect a party political slot for the Labour party. It seeks to rubbish and humiliate everything that any Tory or Liberal says or does and conveniently ignores every disaster caused by the last Government . We have no ‘jokes’ about the embarrassments of the Labour leadership or the complete delusions of Ed Balls and other Labour shadow ministers – just a demonisation of any Tory or Liberal Minister who has been in the news during the week.
    In common with ‘The New Quiz’ your programme is deeply and unashamedly a tool for far left ‘comedians’ and their BBC masters to promote their left leaning, pro EU agenda.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by ivor jones

    on 7 Jun 2013 22:42

    Is it me? I find the Now show to be devoid of any amusement, apart from what appears to be canned laughter, reminiscent of the 'Not Nine O'Clock News Game for a laugh skit, or it must be the family and friends of the writers and performers providing encouragement. I am astonished that such a line up of talent could produce such rubbish to a consistent standard! Time to abandon ship and develop better vehicles for your talents.

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