| 11.7°C Dublin


WHAT do you imagine television could do with more of at the moment? Comedy? Definitely. You can never get enough good comedy.

You can never get enough new drama, either -- unless it's the abysmal Reunited, a Cold Feet clone that piloted on ITV on Wednesday and, if God turns out to be the truly malign being many of us believe him to be (which would explain the existence of Piers Morgan), will in all probability be developed into a full series.

Soaps? No thank you. Several dollops per week of miserable EastEnders, daft Coronation Street, dreary Emmerdale and the hysterically awful Fair City, which could be a comedy if the writers added a little more conscious humour, is more than enough suds in anyone's eyes.

The same goes for talent shows and dance competitions, which between them virtually colonise weekends for half the year. No, what television clearly needs, is crying out for in fact, are more comedy panel games.

Or at least that's what the highly paid commissioning editors and programme schedulers who get to decide what the rest of us see in the cracks between the soaps, talent shows and dance competitions seem to think.

Back in 1988, when Have I Got News For You started its run on BBC2 (it transferred to BBC1 in 2000), it was the only topical comedy panel game show on the box; a rare and delicious treat to be savoured once a week.

But then somebody in the BBC thought, "Hang on. This is really good. Let's do it again, only slightly differently. And if that works, we'll do it again and again and again."

Thus They Think It's All Over, a kind of rude and raucous reinvention of old BBC warhorse A Question of Sport, was born in 1995 and lasted 11 years (the real thing began in 1968 and continues to limp along).

Never Mind the Buzzcocks -- basically the same format as They Think It's All Over, but with pop music instead of sport as the peg for the comedy -- arrived in 1996. It's still going strong and is as funny as ever.

You can't say the same of the Jonathan Ross-helmed It's Only TV But I Like It (which nobody liked enough to keep on air), or the bizarre Never Mind the Full Stops, a comedy panel game based around grammar, of all things, that met its own full stop after two miserable series.

There's been a tsunami of panel shows in recent years, with the result that television is now stuck with a fatal over-supply of them: Mock the Week (which returned to BBC2 on Wednesday), A League of Their Own, 8 Out of 10 Cats, QI, Newswipe, Stand Up for the Week and, of course, The Panel, RTE2's uniquely appalling contribution to the genre.

All are to some degree indebted to HIGNFY, and most have fallen victim to the law of diminishing returns. During the first couple of seasons of Mock the Week it seemed like it might be a credible rival to HIGNFY. Recently, however, it's moved away from being a satirical comment on the week's events and become just another platform for the same few tired, shouty comics (Ed Byrne, Hugh Dennis, Jason Byrne, Russell Howard, James Corden, Rich Hall, Patrick Kielty et al) to try to out-gag one another and recycle material from their stand-up tours.

It's all becoming tedious. Of the current batch of panel shows, the only ones that stand out are Stephen Fry's QI and Charlie Brooker's Newswipe; not because they're doing anything startlingly original, but because they're doing it with wit and intelligence.

It's startling to think that Have I Got News For You is heading for its 40th series. You could say its longevity is a testament to its quality -- or to the other panels shows' mediocrity.

> For a man who was recently described by Piers Morgan as "stupendously mediocre" (Ha! Kettle, pot, black, anyone?), Alan Carr sure does manage to round up some sparkling celebrity guests for his show Chatty Man (Channel 4, Sunday). This week the loveable, gap-toothed comedian invites onto the sofa the cast of The Twilight Saga, including Kristen Stewart (right), plus American singer Kelis, Latino bombshell Shakira, and, er, Louis Spence from Pineapple Dance Studios.

Okay, so Spence ain't no sparkler, but still, it's definitely better than Morgan interviewing Cilla Bloody Black. Carr responded by describing Morgan as having "a face like a butternut squash". Nice one!