BBC drive for more panel show women ‘tokenistic’
Female stars invited to appear on QI but routinely say no, according to producer John Lloyd
FOR years, television executives have faced accusations of sexism over their failure to put more women on television panel shows.
However, there is a reason for the problem, claims a leading producer: women keep saying “no”.
John Lloyd, the man behind shows including Blackadder, Not the Nine O’clock News and Spitting Image, said programme-makers tried endlessly to convince women to join panel shows, but were still left struggling.
Speaking of QI, which is hosted by Sandi Toksvig and strives to have at least one woman on each episode, he said: “We asked women to come on the show but they say no.”
Arguing a BBC quota for women panellists risked being mere “tokenism”, Lloyd said it was better to reach a point where women knew they were invited because they were “brilliant” than due to their gender.
“If you look at our record compared to other panel shows, we have more women,” he told the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
“We’re being encouraged to do diversity, but there’s lot of different types of diversity – sex, race – we can’t do it all. I think it’s a bit tokenistic, personally.”
Lloyd’s wife Sarah, who is director of QI Limited, added: “We ask women to come on, but they won’t. You tell me who you’d like to see on the show and I can tell you we’ve asked them. It’s my main aim.”
Lloyd said he was also aware of a lack of black and minority ethnic comedians on shows, but that he had encountered similar rejections, including one from campaigner and actor Sir Lenny Henry.
In 2014, Danny Cohen, then BBC head of television, announced all comedy panel shows should have at least one woman appearing in each episode.
At the time, he said: “We’re not going to have any more panel shows with no women on them. It’s not acceptable.”
Among those criticising the rule were Dara O Briain, chairman of Mock the Week, who warned “legislating for a token woman isn’t much help” and left regular female panellists “suddenly looking like token women”.
Jason Manford criticised the BBC’S announcement.
“By saying it, you’re undermining the female on the panel show because now she’s thinking, ‘Am I here because I’m funny or because they needed one?’” he said.
Explaining the reluctance of some women to appear on certain shows, which did not include QI, Jo Brand said they feared they would not get a word in edgeways, that they would be edited to “look stupid”, that they would be ridiculed by regulars, did not like competing for air time and may be “patronised, marginalised or dismissed”.
Lloyd said that in his experience, women turned down invitations to come on QI more often than men, saying he agreed that being on a maledominated panel could feel “laddish”.
Having two or three women on a panel, he said, had worked well on QI and “completely changed the shape of the conversation”.
“The best position is when you get to a place where you can forget the gender and colour of panellists and just think, ‘These people are amazing’,” he said.
“As the lady in the audience said, it’s not good enough now and I’m really sorry about that but we are really making an effort – not out of a sense of obligation but because we want the most brilliant people.”
QI returns to BBC Two at 10pm on Oct 20.