8 Out of 10 Cats
Zeppotron for Channel 4, 3 June 2005 to present
bbc.co.uk webcast, 5 to 6 March 2011 (24 Hour Panel People)
It's not often you'll see the phrases "involves Jimmy Carr" and "actually quite entertaining" used about the same show, so the following sentence may shock and amaze you. Even though "8 Out of 10 Cats" involves Jimmy Carr, it's actually quite entertaining.
Comparisons to Have I Got News for You are somewhat inevitable given that it's a comedy panel game and the first round is simply an excuse for jokes about the biggest news stories of the week. So yes, it's a bit like Have I Got News For You. The show does have some good ideas of its own, though. The whole thing is based on opinion polls and there are various different games played with them. The first round is normally "What Are You Talking About", based on a poll of what British people have been talking about over the last week. There's a distinctly HIGNFY-esque "fill-in-the-blanks" round, an entertaining game in which six disparate personalities are ranked in order on various questions (who would you rather have perform heart surgery on you - Chewbacca or the Pope?), guess-the-poll-from-the-top-answers, and inevitably guess-the-top-answers-from-the-poll.
Making a virtue of necessity, the first show after the London bombings dispensed with the "What Are You Talking About?" round, and actually worked all the better for it. The show's most obvious similarity to HIGNFY returned after a couple of weeks, though we still think that dropping the round altogether from any future series might not be a bad idea.
Jimmy Carr is remarkably bearable as a host. Until now, his main TV exposure has been on nostalgic clip shows where he has tended to be snide and hugely unfunny. (Oh yes, and Distraction, which is better not dwelt upon.) Fortunately he's much better here, where he can bounce off other people. There were hints of this in some of Carr's other appearances, on QI and in Dictionary Corner, when for a few seconds at a time he let his aloof comedy persona slip, revealing a knowledgeable, intelligent and even likeable human being underneath. 8 Out Of 10 Cats allows his natural personality to come out a bit more, and it's a welcome development. Just the fact that he laughs at the other comedians on the show helps.
Much of this laughter is prompted by Sean Lock who rapidly emerged as the real star of the show. His name has been bandied about by the cognoscenti for some years, and his disgracefully-scheduled sitcom 15 Storeys High is a classic-in-waiting. None of which guarantees a good performance on an unscripted panel game, but luckily he shines in this environment too. Dave Spikey was less to our taste, wheeling out Victoria Wood-school product naming comedy ("What is Cillit Bang?"), but he did have his moments as well. Spikey's replacement as team captain Jason Manford meanwhile, has more than filled the shoes of his predecessor.
One grating aspect is the woeful set, which doesn't really serve any purpose whatsoever other than make it extremely difficult to read the names of the round titles, being projected on huge screens along the length of the studio. The grunge guitar theme music is needlessly depressing and anonymous, and the whole thing's been edited together with a welding torch instead of an Avid.
Arguably it's more comedy than quiz (though not to the extent of, say, Bognor or Bust) but it's a pleasant enough diversion despite its faults. It's hard for any comedy panel game to avoid living in the shadow of the mighty HIGNFY, and 8 Out Of 10 Cats is probably doomed to death by a thousand comparisons. But until then, it's a welcome addition to the genre.
Somewhat inevitably, the first advert during the break in the first show was for Whiskas (even though they don't use the famous tagline anymore).
Comedian Frankie Boyle has been a guest on the show, even though he's one of the "Programme Consultants" (read: gag merchants). Surely he knew all the answers anyway!
The script editor is Charlie Skelton, actor "Charlie" from the other infamous Zeppetron show, Space Cadets.
On 2 January 2012, as part of celebrations to mark Channel 4's thirtieth year of broadcasting, there was an evening of special programmes. In The Channel 4 Mash-Up, the presenters of different Channel 4 series took over each other's shows. 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown saw the 8 Out of 10 Cats regulars pop up in the Countdown studio. Presenter Jimmy Carr took over hosting duties, and captains Sean Lock and Jon Richardson played against each other. This special proved popular, and the programme has since become a series in its own right.