« Previous | Main | Next »

Mark Watson responds to Political 'Think Tank'

Post categories:

Lucy McDermott | 17:00 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010


On Thursday this week our very own We Need Answers found itself in the firing line of a report on public broadcasting from political think tank Policy Exchange.

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.

He writes:

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.


  • Comment number 1.


  • Comment number 2.

    Well said that man! I flippin' love WNA and foresee the day it makes its move to BBC2, despite all these ridiculous (read: unrepresentative and misguided) Beeb-bashing shenanigans...

  • Comment number 3.

    What I want to know is what commercial TV has this Think Tank been watching?

    I'd wager that Mark Oliver is over 35 and has a slightly idiotic sense of what 'young people' actually want, seemingly believing that what they want is 'rubbish'. Because I'm 33 and I can't recall the last time I've watched the commercial channels.

    What's wrong with someone under 35 actually wanting a quality well made product that's witty, intelligent and articulate? Just because we're young don't assume all we want is X-Factor or Big Brother. Young people who want to have mature and intelligent programming need the BBC to provide that.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great response Mark.
    I hope the 'think tank' read this. (Ironic being called a 'think tank' really, when it seems that not much thinking goes on between them).
    One day we will be rid of fools who believe they are the voice of public opinion and slate anything slightly subversive and original.
    We Need Answers is great, keep it up.

  • Comment number 5.

    I apparently only have 2 more years left before I have to stop watching Weeny Dancers, if I conformed to Mark Oliver's way of "thinking."

    Needless to say I will continue to watch. I fully expect to see it move to BBC 2 and by series 4 or 5 appear on BBC 1, with Mark Oliver taking back every word.

  • Comment number 6.

    Excellent response Mark! We Need Answers is one of the few TV shows I make sure I never miss, it's funny and strange and totally unique - in other words, just the sort of thing a public service broadcaster should be making. :)

    I enjoy the fact that the guests are not just the usual banal celebrity fodder, but often very interesting people like poets, authors and broadsheet journalists - exactly the sort of people you aren't going to see on All-Star Family Fortunes or whatever it's called these days. The sort of guests you won't get on commercial TV.

    And given how small the budget seems to be, it can't cost much more than some Radio 4 shows do! ;)


    P.S. I am 31 and have no intention of switching We Need Answers off in 4 years...


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.