Paul Merton and Ian Hislop

BBC satirical TV show returns as ‘a more elaborate video conference’

Image credit: Ray Burmiston

The BBC's long-running panel show ‘Have I Got News For You’ has completed its first episode during the Covid-19 crisis, with all five participants filming themselves from their homes, the show’s producer has said, describing the remote show as 'a more elaborate video conference'.

The satirical show is set to return for its 59th series tonight (April 3), with team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, host Steph McGovern and guests Miles Jupp and Helen Lewis all taking part remotely.

“It will be different from a Zoom meeting,” said Richard Wilson, the show’s producer. “We will try and make it look like they have appeared on the set – a bit like Princess Leia does when R2-D2 plays that message. We are aiming for that effect. The Whitney Houston tour, except it’s about the news and there is no singing.”

Wilson added that they are being supported by a broadcasting company called Electric Robin throughout the filming process who are “used to doing this kind of thing”. Here, the participants follow the conversation with each other on a platform similar to Zoom, “but we are filming it as well, to broadcast quality”.

“They have all got a camera each and a microphone and that is patched together by Electric Robin and then we edit it together, which is happening now,” Wilson explained.

The BBC show was recorded a day early on Wednesday (April 1) to allow extra time to stitch together the footage from all five cameras. “It went very well,” Wilson said.

“There were obviously teething troubles when you’ve got five people trying to interact spontaneously and obviously that is all new to everybody and on top of all that, and on top of all the technical difficulties of getting it on air, you’ve got the whole difficulty of doing it without an audience.

“But they got going, they got warmed up and we talked about a lot of other things apart from the coronavirus story. We did deal with that, but we don’t want to make the whole show about that because people want to be entertained and amused and there is only so much amusement in that story.”

Elaborating on the teething problems, he said: “People have to converse, they have to cope with interruptions that might be a fraction of a second later than they might have been otherwise, because of the time it takes for the sound to travel.

“That was just the beginning. We had a throat-clearing exercise at the beginning before we got into the show proper, so they overcame it fairly quickly.”

Wilson added that being apart did change the dynamic between the five stars, saying, “It’s bound to be different, but Paul and Ian [the show’s writers] spent quite a lot of time joshing with each other and they were able to do that really well.

“It is different because you’re not sat physically next to the person and you don’t have a bank of an audience on either side of you because they are really close and they get a lot of feedback from the audience, so they have got to perform without that.

“They play it in a slightly different way, they play to each other, really. There are five people there and they perform to each other, that is how they cope.”

Wilson said it is “the most technologically advanced thing the show has done” since former MI5 officer and whistleblower David Shayler appeared on the show via satellite 20 years ago.

“The show has never really had much trouble with new technology because the set is basically cardboard with bits that turn around and a bit of carpet in the middle, so we never really embraced modern technology,” he remarked.

“A long time ago, David Shayler, who was an MI5 defector, was holed up in Paris and we had him on a TV link. We had a TV on the set and he appeared on the television and Paul got a bit bored with that so he just turned the television off, but then we couldn’t get it back on.

“That is probably the most advanced thing we have done apart from this. 20 years apart and we have moved on ever-so slightly.”

He said they are now prepared to film the whole series using this method. “It will only get easier for everybody involved, for everyone performing it and doing the production,” he said.

“The longer we do it, the easier it will get; we just hope we keep entertaining people,” he added. “Once we get going it’s the same as any other run of the series, we have to keep going and doing the same thing every week.”

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