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Charlotte Lytton Headshot

Why Have TV Panel Shows Become Boys-Only Clubs?

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Of all the things I can't get my head round in life, there is one thing that stands out above all else. It's not that vending machines kill more people annually than sharks, or even that they used to use dead beetles for Smarties colouring.

It's that people genuinely feel like it's okay to bandy about the idea that women aren't funny. Women. Not some women, or one woman. ALL women. Because apparently 51% of the population are dull as sin, and the other 49% are totally f*cking hilarious.

The worst thing is, the entertainment industry is doing absolutely nothing to correct this misconception. After flicking through numerous channels the other night and being greeted only by male faces, I genuinely found myself asking: where are the women?

How can it be right that just over half of the population is made up of us ladies, and yet we make such a small contribution to Britain's best-loved shows?

I know that women are usually too busy brushing their hair and reading Heat magazine to turn their hand to real work, but I decided that some good old fashioned number crunching was the only way to get real answers.

I took eight of the UK's most popular entertainment shows; Have I Got News for You, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, The Graham Norton Show, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Celebrity Juice, QI and The Jonathan Ross Show, added up how many men and women had appeared in the last complete series of each. The results were not pretty.

The worst offender by a country mile was Mock the Week, a show which has four male regulars and three extra guests every week. Of the 77 seats across its last series, a grand total of six were occupied by women. That's not even enough to fill the panel for one show.

Compare that to the fact that almost half of the shows featured men only, and that when a woman did appear, it would be alongside six other men every single time. Percentage wise, that means that 8% of the people on Mock the Week last year were women. Seriously. 8%.

QI had almost three times the amount of women - which amounted to a grand total of 21% of the screen being occupied by ladies at any one time. This was closely followed by Never Mind the Buzzcocks at 22% overall, although the percentage of female hosts was far lower, with women being called in to preside over the panels just twice in 12 shows.

In fact, of all of the eight different shows I looked at, only Celebrity Juice had regular female panellists (who are the objects of much perving, but we'll save that for another time), while every single one featured between one and four of the same men each week.

How on earth are broadcasting networks allowed to get away with this? Given that we fund the BBC with our hard-earned pennies, I find it a little bit galling that they think it's okay to produce programmes that all but sideline an entire gender.

I love the beeb as much as the next person, but these figures are too damning to ignore. Not only does this total lack of equality have ramifications for female comedians currently trying to make it in the entertainment industry, but it can only be damaging to those aspiring to become a part of it.

There's no denying that we're influenced by what we see around us in magazines and on TV, and I'm getting pretty tired of certain shows pretending that women don't exist.

Of all the shows mentioned above, the highest average percentage of women making up a panel was 41%, with the six others falling between the 20-29% bracket.

But why is this? Are people so obsessed with the notion that women aren't funny that producers just aren't even bothering to try anymore?

Something that stands out to me in all of this is not that women aren't funny, but that we don't know about enough funny women. There are comparatively so few female comedians - I challenge anyone to reel off 10 right now - that it's little wonder we hardly ever see them on TV.

I genuinely never thought I'd say this, but I think we owe a lot to Miranda for proving that female comics can be commercially successful on the small screen.

There's no denying that the show has its critics, and I can't say that people falling down flights of stairs repeatedly appeals to my sense of humour, but the viewing figures speak for themselves.

To have over 10 million people tune in to watch a comedy show in which the three principal characters are female is a pretty big achievement in my books.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of female comedians are total sh*t, and I'm certainly not trying to pretend otherwise, but so are a lot of male ones. A whole lot. Far too many for the amount of screen space they occupy.

But there's this weird mentality that makes people brand the entire female race as unfunny if they see a comedian of that sex who isn't to their taste - and yet people never do so with men.

Take Whites, for example, a BBC show featuring three main male characters that was canned after one series. Did anyone watch that and start complaining about how downright unfunny men are? Of course not. Because that would be stupid. And yet people don't feel the need to apply that same logic to women.

I'm not saying that positive discrimination is the answer, because shoving unfunny women into the spotlight for the sake of gender balance won't solve the problem.

And it is a problem - this obsession with squishing as much testosterone in front of the camera at any given time means that good female comics are being stepped over and ignored on the way up in favour of their male counterparts - whether they're funnier or not.

Around the Web

Powerful Women in Television - Successful Women in TV - ELLE

Where are the women in late-night TV? - CNN.com

Women in TV, then and now - The Washington Post

What Mad Men says about women

Only one in ten TV drama series directors are women, finds study