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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: UK TV

Creators – John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, Stephen Fry
Dan Bond

As the end of 2009 draws ever closer, I keep finding myself reflecting on this first decade of the 21st Century and wonder where it has actually gone? Sure there are moments dotted over the past ten years that will go down in History as pivotal moments, and don't for a moment see this as a dismissal of those events, but in those troubled times it could be argued that British Culture, television being the subject most closely in question here, it would seem that we took the middle road and decided that, as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.

And to define this ignorance, we have X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother. The concept of reality television was born and evolved to the point where one of the aforementioned shows may just be the highlight of someone's week.

So how refreshing it was that long established comedy producer John Lloyd and publishing impresario John Mitchinson realised back in 2004 that there wasn't enough being done to promote the fact that we as people, along with pretty much every other thing in the universe, are actually quite Interesting. Qi was born of this notion, surviving and now ultimately thriving to the point where people have actually began seriously arguing over how good it actually is.

Now perhaps I am being far too blunt in my judgement, but I put myself forward as one of those people who do think Qi really is that good. So original in it's format, despite elements influenced by Lloyd's past works (Not The 9 o'clock News and The News Quiz), Qi doesn't fall in to the category of a social or political satire, or even a topical quiz show, instead it relies solely on the intelligence and rapport of three guests, Alan Davies and national treasure that is the encyclopaedic Stephen Fry, to create thirty minutes of enjoyment drawing upon a diverse range of topics and our our so-called 'general ignorance' regarding them.

The resulting comedy could be seen as a subtle attempt of a subversion of the reality TV format, in that the topics of conversation are 'real' topics, therefore allowing for those of whom intelligence is a gift, not a curse, to find undiscovered connections and hidden patterns that are often overlooked in everyday life, much in the same manner as great comedians and social commentators have always done. Fry and Alan Davies, although a mismatch on paper, compliment each other superbly, avoiding a patronising 'I'm smarter than you' routine and replacing it with something of a father/son type relationship. Coupled with the wit and character of the other panel members, who often come from a comedic background, an element of comfort is created and the show takes the guise of something similar to those alcohol fuelled, yet highly interesting and topical conversations you might overhear in your local pub. These people aren't showing off or trying to undermine or insult one another's intelligence, therefore making them far more likeable and easy to relate to than the Leona Lewis's of this world.

Regular panel member and popular comedian Bill Bailey once noted that the we as British crave disappointment, whether we mean to or not. By celebrating and disregarding those of reality TV fame in equal measure, we merely endorse this argument, accepting it as a twisted sense of normality, revelling in our 'ignorance as bliss'. Qi however challenges this notion, making it acceptable to talk about finger lengths, foreskin and French kissing without causing us to cringe like an embarrassed child. No tears, no tantrums, just quality television that, as far as I'm concerned, would do a far better job of representing British society to our continental cousins than any reality TV show ever would. If from a television show the only 'criticism' is that it makes you feel eager to learn more, then lets have more of those please.

© Dan Bond Oct 23rd 2009>

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