Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People: We did it!

Friday 18 March 2011, 14:30

Andy Brereton Andy Brereton

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One of the joys of developing television shows is the freedom to write a stupidly ambitious idea on two sides of A4, safe in the knowledge that it probably won't happen.

However, in this instance, BBC Three and Comic Relief had other ideas and on 2 January 2011 we decided, with less than two months to go, to create the BBC's first ever 24-hour online panel show marathon - and 24 Hour Panel People was born.

David Walliams on Celebrity Juice with Jedward and Keith Lemon.

The next step was relatively straightforward. All we needed to do was bring the biggest comedy talent in the UK to BBC Television Centre on the same day and convince them to perform live to the world, without the protection of being edited.

We'd then build a set that could transform into 20 different sets, show the inner workings of making a TV show, broadcast it on the web, and do all this while still protecting the BBC's reputation - easy.

With Comic Relief at our side, our production team began contacting every production company that owned the most iconic panel and comedy entertainment shows across radio and TV.

From Angst (who make Mock The Week) to Zeppotron (8 Out 10 Cats), they all agreed to help and without their blessing this show would not have got off the ground.

For us, it was important to be as faithful as we could to these iconic shows.

The final piece of the puzzle was to find a comedian who was willing to front the entire 24-hour broadcast and put their comedy name on the line - step forward Mr David Walliams.

It's hard enough preparing for one panel show recording. David had to prepare for 20 or more.

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It's no mean feat having to be as quick-witted as Paul O'Grady in Blankety Blank, as intelligent as Stephen Fry in QI, and then make up hilarious improvised comedy with the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? team, all in quick succession.


But he did it, and remained charming and, more importantly, funny throughout. Well done David.

While the production team were in full flow, the BBC's online team and editorial policy were busy re-writing the rulebook left right and centre. This kind of online event had never been done before by the BBC.

They had their work cut out deciphering how to make the live stream available to as many people across the globe as possible whilst managing the large amounts of viewer interaction through tweets and emails.

And, crucially, what measures could we put in place to have adult content available at two o'clock in the afternoon?

As with everyone on this production, they rose to the challenge and, whatever we asked for, they figured out a way to do it.

And finally, logistics (hurray). There's really not enough time or need to explain the ridiculous logistics of putting on a 24-hour event.

For me, a symbol of just how organic and changeable this event was is best summed up by the board in our production office.

The board in 24 Hour Panel People's production office

The production team would refer to "the board" with the same hushed reverence the Toy Story aliens referred to "the claw". That board would change every minute of every day.

In our office you would constantly hear phrases like, "If Sir David Frost says yes, but Keith Lemon says no, then let's move Jedward to Blankety Blank and then get David Tennant to play Give Us A Clue and see if Stephen Fry will hang around for Just A Minute. Has anyone spoken to Clive Anderson, Christopher Biggins or Jimmy Carr?"

I'll never be really clear whether we controlled the board or the board controlled us - it was one of the most organic shows I've ever been involved in.

Five weeks later, and through everyone's hard work, on 5 March at midday, we began our live 24-hour broadcast on the web.

Throughout the day we broke online records across the board for views and tweets.

We also discovered that the online audience loved seeing the behind the scenes of the production so we tried to adapt accordingly.

I only really got a sense of how the whole machine was working together at around 3am while eating a beef lasagne (I know).

I wandered into the stream team's online area and saw the world reacting to what we were putting out. Who'd have thought Nicholas Parsons would be a global sensation?

Here's David Tennant in one of our backstage pictures - you can see the whole set on BBC Comedy's Flickr account. I hope they convey a little of the sense of the day.

David Tennant backstage at Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People

Twenty four hours later, it was over, and this incredible team from the runners, the art department, to the studio crew and our own production team had done it. They were, as my series producer would say, "amaze-bags".

Then, after little sleep, it was straight off to the edit with the unenviable task of trying to make the whole 24-hour experience fit into five half hour shows for BBC Three and a little over a week to do it.

It's almost impossible to sum up an event like this in five half hours of TV because it was so much more.

It was an incredible one-off broadcast that featured so many talented people behind and in front of the camera with several factions of the BBC working together in coffee-fuelled harmony.

If you watch the cut-down shows on BBC One on Friday, in iPlayer then I hope they raise a smile and make you donate.

If you watched all 24 hours, then thank you, you were part of a ridiculous and magnificent thing.

But please remember there was only one real reason we all did this - to raise as much money as possible for Comic Relief.

Update: I have just discovered a note in my back pocket that was handed to me at 3am during the broadcast. It reads, "The marching band cannot return tomorrow but we still have the motorised bed on standby." Brilliant.

Andy Brereton is the executive producer of Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People.

Half hour episodes, first shown on BBC Three, are currently available in iPlayer.

Find out how David Walliams got on in part three of Comic Relief on BBC One at 11.05pm on Friday, 18 March.

A compilation of episodes of 24 Hour Panel People is on BBC One on Friday, 25 March.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

For more information on Comic Relief please visit the BBC's Red Nose Day site.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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