If you’ve happened to watch BBC America lately on Saturday nights, you might be witnessing the birth of a new must-see TV night on Saturdays once again. Decades ago, Saturday used to be one of the supreme nights of television with more classic sitcoms and variety shows than we see in one week today on commercial TV. But this lineup on BBC America is far different and consists of dramatically brilliant “Orphan Black” being bookended by zombie drama “In the Flesh” afterward, and comedic “The Graham Norton Show” beforehand.
The latter show above has become somewhat of a cult favorite here in America, even if most people still don’t know who Graham Norton is. Already a talk show superstar over in Britain, his talk show isn’t really a traditional type of talk show at all. It’s really an anti-establishment talk (or chat) show in the mold that David Letterman attempted 32 years ago. Norton’s ideas, though, are different and equally hilarious. With plenty of satire and game show elements, it’s highly entertaining British comedy with frequently very American guests sitting on the couch for the chat.
One comedic element Graham Norton brought to his show is one that we amazingly haven’t pillaged yet in the late-night arena. Called the Red Chair, Norton brings audience members up to tell an interesting story about themselves. If they end up boring him or the guests while telling their story, Norton presses a lever that knocks the chair over and the occupant presumably landing onto a soft mat or mattress. What makes it uproarious is that we don’t really see where those audience members end up, and it could be a pit of piranhas as far as we know.
As simple of a gag as this is, it’s one that crashes all conventions of talk shows where guests sometimes bore the audience to tears with banal stories we don’t really care about. In this case, it’s sending the satirical message that audience members aren’t always suited to telling a funny story, proving comedy is much harder than being serious.
It’s a device that any talk show host in America would probably love to have. Perhaps they’ve tried, though producers nixed the idea due to fears of audience members getting hurt. That hasn’t necessarily stopped hosts such as Jimmy Fallon from having audience members do specific stunts deemed perhaps slightly risky. Don’t be surprised, though, if you see someone like Fallon pillage from “The Graham Norton Show”, unless we reach across the pond again to fill a late-night slot in America.
How Would Graham Norton Fare in America?
With Americans able to see Norton’s show now every Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. on BBC America, how long will it be before he gets a TV offer in America? If he does, his Red Chair has to come with him, perhaps with use on a real celebrity guest. Would the Red Chair become so popular here that celebrities will want to sit in it and hope that Norton presses the lever to dump them into an unseen pit of crocodiles? While some celebrities might resist, many wouldn’t while making sure the show stays entertaining rather than diverging into telling boring stories about their personal lives.
At the same time, insurance companies may balk at him dumping celebrities out of the Red Chair here in America. You notice no celebrity sits in the Red Chair in Britain, or at least not yet. You have to see it coming, as long as there’s a soft place to land and not a long slide into hell.
In the meantime, it’s going to be interesting to watch “The Graham Norton Show’ on Saturdays and see how much the American late-night shows steal from his show. With our long track record of stealing from the British, the U.K. may be in the process of bringing the next wave of anti-establishment talk show bits we haven’t seen in a long time.