A Tantalising Task

Taskmaster. Image shows from L to R: Greg Davies, Alex Horne. Copyright: Avalon Television

Moving channels is a mighty gamble for successful shows.

It was quite an odd phenomenon recently when the news emerged that the hugely popular panel show Taskmaster might not be appearing on the Dave channel anymore, now that Series 9 has finished. For those of us who hadn't quite gotten round to watching the final yet, before those stories emerged, there was a feeling of curious nostalgia around that last viewing.

Or more nostalgia than usual anyway, as it's a show that you do get rather attached to across the series; that's probably due to it having the same line-up of comics every week, which is rare for a panel show, when you think about it. Most chop and change their guests every show, so you're fighting to rebuild that chemistry each time. With Taskmaster, you're hooked before you've even started the episode.

Anyway, the increased poignancy of the ending was odd, given that the show will clearly continue somewhere. But changing channel would be big roll of the dice by the producers, a bit like playing online games at the latest UK online casinos, even if the show remained exactly the same. And speaking of gambles - spoiler upcoming - would this series' overall winner Ed Gamble still be able to compete for the Champion of Champions title, with the other series winners, if those series were shown on a different channel?

Taskmaster. Image shows from L to R: David Baddiel, Ed Gamble, Jo Brand, Katy Wix, Rose Matafeo. Copyright: Avalon Television

Now this is not such a big punt as when The Great British Bake Off moved from BBC to Channel 4, as that was seriously seismic. It felt like a very BBC show, for a start, and many of the presenters - Mel & Sue, and judge Mary Berry - decided not to change channels with it. Also, the new version would need to factor in advertisements, which it didn't on the Beeb.

That can be tricky. Readers of a certain age and with a passion for The Beautiful Game will remember the disorienting news that the finest sports presenter anyone had ever seen, Des Lynam, was leaving the BBC to join ITV. He was never the same again. So at home on the Beeb, the suave presenter looked all at sea throwing to ad breaks, and trying to squeeze his usually languid style in between them.

Oddly enough, Taskmaster might have the opposite problem if it moves to BBC One, as Greg Davies has turned the awkward pre-advertisements spiel into something of an artform. In fact, was there a little hint about where the show might end up, in the Grand Final? Watch it again and he's hilariously scathing about the whole concept of ads, as he introduces at least one of the breaks; more than usual, anyway.

Or perhaps he was just letting rip while he still could, as Channel 4 might not be quite so keen on that irreverent approach to the channel's advertisers. That's the thing with moving channels: it may not seem to matter which channel anything is on anymore, but subtle variations can make a big difference. Taskmaster markedly improved when it switched studios early on, for example, from a proper old-school theatre to a studio-based version. It's a delicate ecosystem.

Of course, we're all pretty used to seeing shows on Dave that have been on elsewhere, so perhaps it won't be too big a stretch. But would Dave still show repeats of the new episodes anyway, a year after? Now there's a question.

Published: Monday 11th November 2019

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