The Fifth Best Television Programme of the 00s

Baffy-waffy-bim-bam! We’re back!

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Much like competitive diving, some television programmes really deserve to be scored by the difficulty level the programme makers have set for themselves. In the case of TV Burp, there are numerous obstacles between ‘it’ and ‘being really good’ – it’s on ITV, for starters. It’s (after a fashion) broadcast in a primetime slot on Saturday nights. It stars a comedian who, before TV Burp, was critically acclaimed but had only previously been popular with a relatively small, cultish audience. As it covers television programmes broadcast in the week running up to each recording, it has to be written, rehearsed and recorded on a quick turnaround basis, meaning each fresh week begins with a completely blank script. As chronic sufferers of writer’s block ourselves (Reader’s Voice: “No, really?”), we’ve huge admiration for that.

Indeed, we’re fans of making life difficult for ourselves here at BrokenTV. In order to finally write this update to the rundown we’ve just gone and posted ourselves the key to the padlock that we’ve just this second [CLICK] used to chain ourselves to the computer desk. That means we can’t move from here until the postman delivers the key in the morning, so we’ll have to get this entry written. So, there you… hang on, how are we going to get to the letterbox if we’re chained to the… OH CRAP. Anyway, Harry Hill.

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Normally, when anyone good moves to ITV, things go wrong. The Goodies, Jack Dee, Phil Cool, the FA Cup, everything always seems a little bit… well, watered down. (Oh, we could have made a joke about The Boat Race there, never mind.) And, when Mr Harry made the move in 2001, as far as we can remember, it looked like his new material might well go the same way.

A pilot of TV Burp arrived in December 2001, and was pretty good fun, with it poking fun at telly in the way we’ve since come to love, and including the only TV Burp interview section, where Harry quizzed Wellard from EastEnders (i.e. someone dressed as a six-foot-tall German shepherd dog). And then, for a long time… nothing. It seemed Harry had been left in a lay-by somewhere by ITV and forgotten about, as it took a whole year for there to be a full, six episode series of TV Burp. Even then, it was shoved quietly out of the way where nobody would see it, in a midweek post-late-night-news slot. Quite why it needed to be there, when the show never contained any adult content whatsoever* is a question for the ages.

(*Save, of course, for the episode which ended with Al Murray as the voice of God, bellowing “DON’T FUCK WITH ME” and killing someone, which was disappointingly out of character for the show. Series three it was, in case you want to check.)

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And, it seemed for a while, that might be it for TV Burp. Now, both IMDB and Wikipedia are a bit sketchy on this (“Wikipedia entry in ‘might not be accurate’ shocker”), but as far as we remember, the first series of TV Burp was followed by “The All-New Harry Hill Show”, just a few months later. “All-New…” was similar to his excellent Channel Four series, only with a bigger budget, and less of the charm. Having one scary ventriloquist’s dummy in your show as Controller Of Channel Four is tremendously funny (all together now, “WHY DO THEY STARE?”), but a recurring sketch with a bunch of them just didn’t really work. The show wasn’t a notable success, and certainly wasn’t helped by being scheduled against the second series of 24, then still hugely popular and running on BBC Two in the same Sunday night slot.

Happily, ITV dismissed the failure of The All-New Harry Hill Show (so widely known, IMDB doesn’t even list Harry Hill as being in it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0352036/) and allowed Harry and his team to continue with TV Burp, which was performing very impressively for the timeslot. Indeed, soon the show was moved to Saturday evenings, albeit in a pre-6pm slot normally reserved for US imports. This proved to be the making of the show. March 2006 saw the programme sneak into ITV’s weekly top thirty ratings for the first time (23rd on the list, with 4.7million viewers, statophiles), and it was to be a more than regular habit for BARB diarists since then. Before long, the programme was comfortably the UK’s most-watched comedy programme (though not, as The Guardian once misquoted us as saying, ‘Britain’s most watched non-soap’. We forgive you, The Guardian, please mention us again, we could do with the visitors). Yes, that’s right, a primetime ITV comedy show becoming the most popular comedy programme in the UK. Starring the bloke from those old First Direct adverts, too.

Since then, TV Burp has grown and grown in popularity. It has become so popular that, for the most recent series, ITV have been putting out a next-day repeat of the show, on ITV1, in primetime. Astonishingly, the repeat is almost as widely watched as the first broadcast – at the time of writing this, the most recent BARB viewing figures are for the week ending the 7th of March 2010. The Saturday night broadcast of TV Burp received 5.26 million viewers. The Sunday night repeat of TV Burp received 4.5 million viewers. That’s a total figure of a quite staggering 9.76 million viewers. That number again in bold: 9.76 million viewers. That’s not a one-off, either – the episode at the start of February 2010 was watched by an aggregate of 10.99 million people (7.35m on Saturday, 3.64m on Sunday).. To put that into perspective, the most-watched broadcast of EastEnders that week attracted 10.77 million viewers. Indeed, the only programme more popular than TV Burp that week was perpetual ratings behemoth Coronation Street.

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So, it’s official. TV Burp actually is the UK’s most watched non-soap. The Guardian weren’t wrong when they quoted us after all, they were just three years early. In an age where people perpetually bang on about how “telly isn’t as good as it used to be”, and “why don’t we have any old-school entertainers on telly any more?”, it can be, and we do. Nudging ELEVEN MILLION VIEWERS in this post-digital age of having lots to do with our leisure time instead of watching television, especially for a family-friendly comedy show, is a monumentally huge figure. Even Doctor Who only gets that many viewers at Christmas. And, it’s on ITV – their next biggest entertainment ‘star’ is Piers fucking Morgan! Bloody heck!

Oh, and it does help that TV Burp is relentlessly piss funny. But that goes without saying, everyone knows that already.

7 comments:

Derek Williams said...

I don't really like TV burp, I find its humour stupid and infantile for the most part. As such this entirely negates any point in your top 100 so I insist you immediately do it all from scratch!

Word verification: droarel (WHAT?)

Steve Williams said...

Well, I love TV Burp and have watched every single episode, to the extent that I sometimes snootily sniff that it isn't as good as it used to be. But that's me being a snob.

Anyway, you're right, The All New Harry Hill Show ran in February 2003, so just after the first series of TV Burp, although it had been on the shelf for ages because one of the episodes featured a guest appearance by Gail and Dan Hipgrave, who had since split up.

Of course, the third series of TV Burp - the one with "fuck" in it - was shown at 11pm, which was ridiculous, although it did get a Sunday teatime repeat. They, er, edited the "fuck" out, though.

And there was Harry Hill's Shark Infested Custard, which was a bit like his Channel Four show only for kids, although I think the concept - Harry does a kids show! - was a bit better than the execution.

Ben Baker said...

Cracking stuff as ever, sir - although The TV Burp pilot was aired Saturday 23rd December (9:45pm I think). And Wellard was Simon Day who also recorded an un-transmitted Billy Bleach interview too. Andrew Collins confirmed it a while back as Day and Collins were just starting to work on Grass when the latter was asked to work on the TV Burp pilot.

I liked The All New Harry Hill Show although it was clearly designed as a Saturday night family friendly show but was shoved out at 10:35pm on a Sunday (Thanks, War!)

Mark X said...

Cheers, Steve and Ben. A couple of corrections now made to the article. Oddly enough, I had thought the TV Burp pilot went out around Christmas time, as I have memories if it being one of the few interesting shows on ITV from the double-issue of Radio Times, but as Wikipedia claimed otherwise, assumed I was mistaken.

Interesting to hear about the Billy Bleach character being involved in the pilot, too. I really would have thought that, if a fictional comedy character was going to pop up in the pilot, it'd be The Pub Landlord (who of course, did pop up in character later in the run, in the EastEnders 'Baldies Unite!' bit).

Aw bum. I'd meant to mention that 'Insect EastEnders' from the TV Burp Review Of The Year 2009 was one of the funniest things ever broadcast on television. Even if it was an unabashed tribute to Lee & Herring's "The Lettuce Family".

Mark X said...

Oh, and DW: start again? It's taken me, without checking, about ten months to get this far.

bouncy castle hire said...

I find the series infantile and borring, I dont think Harry Hill is funny nor entertaining. Perhaps its each to their own, but who cares about a few mistakes made on a 30+ year old soap such as Coronation Street, or some plastic cockneys who never seem to work a day in their lives, Eastenders...sorry but just my 10p worth :D

Anonymous said...

It went off the boil just as it reached mainstream acceptance. When I tune in today it seems to be a parade of dull callbacks and the audience going "rayyyyy!!!" Does anyone like K Factor?