BBC Northern Ireland has served us well over the years I think. While other regions and networks can often appear amateur and provincial, the quality of its television programmes is usually of an impressively high standard on par with its national equivalents.
But in my opinion there was one home-produced show which not only compared to, but actually far exceeded its nearest rivals — our very own topical comedy panel show, The Blame Game.
At the end of the latest series I wrote:
“It’s fresher, cleverer and far, far funnier than Have I Got News for You...Tim McGarry and his merry men (and occasional token woman) aren’t just hilarious, but they clearly enjoy every single minute of the show’s paltry half hour”
For anyone who never saw it let me explain why I love it.
Because it’s beezer. That’s why.
Its format couldn’t be simpler. Like a cross between Mock the Week and Question Time, this show combined a regular panel of our funniest and most popular local comedians — the stand-up specialist Jake O Kane, the Harp advert guy Colin Murphy and a token Southerner Neil Delamere; one well-known comedian from the big wide world outside our wee country; and a live audience armed with one question: “Who do you blame for....” to which they then added any recent news story which was answered by the panel on the strict understanding that no holds were barred and nothing was sacred.
The whole thing was hosted by Tim McGarry from The Hole in the Wall Gang, whose fire-cracking one-liners would make Jimmy Carr seem like a very damp squib. Hilarity, and lots of it, thereby ensued.
To quote the big man himself: “Welcome to The Blame Game: the show with more cheap shots than a student union bar”
Here was a simple, seamless formula that worked perfectly. No gadgets, no gimmics, no cheesy catch-phrases or copy-cat sofa chat with dull Z list celebrities; just half an hour of intelligent craic by local people, about local people, for local people.
So you could say that I was looking forward to the new series (and subsequently writing about it) with sharply bated breath. And yes, I know I really ought to get out more ...
And then I read last Friday’s Belfast Telegraph and an inconvenient truth began to dawn on me. Listed in between Jonathan Ross and Jools Holland was a new programme called the Friday Show. This could only mean one thing — my beloved Blame Game had been shelved.
And yes, I suppose you could say I’d grown accustomed to Tim McGarry’s face ... So, what do we now have in its place on a Friday night? Yet more gadgets, gimmics, cheesy catch-phrases and copy-cat sofa chat with a host of dull celebrities who probably didn’t make it past the casting couch at Jonathan Ross...
As much as I wish the new show well in its attempt to keep us riveted to our comfy chairs and our remote controls untouched on the coffee table, what a bitter disappointment this surely is for those of us who prefer something intelligent, informative and genuinely entertaining for a change.
Who do I blame for such a gigantic error of judgement? BBC Northern Ireland.
So, dearest Auntie, get us something we really want for Christmas this year — a new series of the Blame Game !