I regularly visit the BBC Radio 4’s comedy section to listen to a stream-feed of shows available, and have come to rely on it as much as my beloved Car Talk, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, The Splendid Table, and A Prairie Home Companion each week.. except that these fine American shows make all their past shows available online (either free or by fee) whereas the BBC shows are only up for a couple days and then slip into near-oblivion.
BBC seasons work on some erratic, bizarre scheduling block of perhaps 4-6 episodes weekly and then stop for an excruciating amount of time in between just when you’d gotten a nice pattern established. One such show I have come to love is The News Quiz, hosted by Sandi Toksvig — whose voice I would find pleasing even if she were announcing that I’d been lotto-drawn for the Hunger Games — has inspired an American version, The News Quiz USA.
I was hoping this particular broadcast just a one-off version of the show where producers decide to detour for a moment with something wacky (as they’d once done recently with a Panto version of the British show), but it turns out that it was actually an attempt to jump-start a real series of which this was the pilot, I’m afraid. I had never even heard an ounce of promotion for it, except from seeing it listed on the BBC site just today.
Lewis Black, who I’ve laughed at/with on occasion when he does a segment with the Daily Show, is moreso known by me for red-faced-and-spitting, smoker’s-voice-and-lung-capacity bouts of get-off-my-lawn rants that appeal to the two-finger-whistling, Kelly Bundy-cheering kind of audience of Comedy Central.. but not so much the talk-radio-listening base of NPR.
Lewis Black’s performance here wasn’t so much the problem with the pilot (aside from the suggestion that he’s a suitable American version of Sandi, or the curiously-abrupt ending) but the choice of panelists and quality of those panelists’ material. I thought I recognized two of the panelists by voice alone (thinking I was listening to Andy Dick and Stewart Francis), until I saw some pictures of the recording and saw their faces, and realized that I recognized neither their faces nor names.. If News Quiz USA wants to stir things up, they need to enlist the aid of, at minimum, readily-recognizable and well-established talent as the British forefather does for their audience.
The pilot for this show just fell flat for me. The only thing “exceptional” as Black described them, about the comic minds on the panel is that they have all performed on a pilot episode of a radio program inspired by a successful British panel game. Who was that lady? Who cares?
I’m not sure if the American accent(s) just makes everything funnier to the British, as the British accent(s) do for me when I listen to the regular BBC News Quiz, but it just seemed really bland and ordinary. Don’t get me wrong — NPR, and otherwise American radio, is in desperate need of panel games. Britain, by far, leads the world in high quality panel games both on radio and television, and I think America needs to take a cue from them in that regard, certainly. NPR has Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me that, aside from the loathsome limerick segment (not that I mind the rhyme puns before it) that I always try to skip if listening online.. but that’s about it, unless you count Weekend Edition’s Sunday Puzzle.
This is a pretty large market, by my estimation, that is woefully unsatisfied. There are several panel-interview type shows like the always-impressive Diane Rehm Show and the often-thoughtful Focus On The Family on Christian stations, but America is sorely lacking in panel comedy whereas Britain really delivers.
The effort was appreciated, but the fruit of those labors.. let’s just not speak of this again. I’ll give it another chance, certainly, but it hasn’t started out with much promise.