Commonly asked questions about the panel show stats

By @astronomyblog

What is a comedy panel show?

It is a specific type of TV or radio show popular in the UK. It usually consists of a host and two teams - led by 'team captains' - who try to answer a series of questions/tasks over several rounds. A common feature of British comedy panel shows is that nobody is really bothered about the points awarded. The points are largely incidental and the main purpose is to give funny answers. The format is not well known in the United States with the NPR show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! being a rare example.

What is the difference between a comedy panel show and an 'other' panel show?

That can be difficult to call. I've tried to base it on if the show is primarily about having a laugh as opposed to primarily being about the competition/discussion and laughs also happen. Have I Got News For You and The News Quiz are mostly about being funny rather than the answer. A Question of Sport is more about the sport's knowledge/competition even if it can also be funny. Call My Bluff, whilst containing humour, could also have non-comedic definitions for words. As humour is very subjective, and everything doesn't fit into neat binaries, you may disagree on some classifications.

Isn't it unfair to show a single number for a show that has been running X-years?

Yes. Which is why I don't. I show four separate statistics for each show:

  1. The split for all appearances. This is what the viewer experiences.
  2. The split for guest appearances (once we've taken away hosts/captains/'regulars'/named roles). This looks at who is actually booked week-to-week.
  3. The split for all people. We count multiple appearances only once so we can get an idea of the people who've actually been on. This will differ from the total appearances if regulars are of a particular gender
  4. The split of guests. Again, we just count multiple appearances once to get an idea of the pool of guests this show has drawn from.

As well as the four different figures, I also show an episode-by-episode breakdown on each show's individual page. This should allow you to quickly see any long-term trends e.g. The News Quiz got considerably more balanced when Sandi Toksvig took over as host in 2006.

Are things improving?

Yes. Thankfully. Things seemed to be pretty good in the 60s but declined over the 70s and 80s before improving slowly in the 2000s. We are still not quite back to the heady days of equality of 1967/8 but things are improving year-by-year.

Did the BBC TV "one woman per show" rule make a difference?

Yes, but only just. Mock The Week was forced to have as much gender equality as it did for its first two series. Mock The Week took until series 16 (2017) to have more than one woman on a standard (non-compilation) show. Perhaps they have finally realised it was a minimum rather than a limit. They also passed up the opportunity to replace regular Andy Parsons with a woman when he left.

Isn't the problem the comedy circuit?

In some cases yes. For other things, no. Many people have cited the comedy circuit as being under 10% women. This figure appears to be based on what people feel so isn't very reliable. I analysed Chortle's database of UK comedians and found everyone listed with a gender. That broke down into 18% women. This list could be incomplete. If anything, given that women have traditionally been under-represented and the fact that there are more women starting on the circuit, they are probably more likely to be incomplete for women more than for men. Until someone provides a more thorough data set, I'm happy to take the 18% figure as representative. So, if you are showing under 18% women, you aren't doing as well as the circuit. Again, if you disagree with these figures, send me some data that quantifies the circuit better.

Why pick on Mock The Week?

Over the years, several articles in the media have taken issue with Mock The Week for having under 10% of appearances being by women. This provokes very defensive reactions from fans of Mock The Week who have taken issue with me on Twitter.

First, I'll look at some positive points. One is that this headline figure is improving (albeit at a glacial rate) thanks to the "one woman per show" rule. Secondly, the guest appearances are actually around 22.5% women which means Mock The Week actually does marginally better with its guests than the circuit. They fall down on their overall figure because they give all the 'regular' slots to men. That'd be really easy to improve pretty quickly, if they wanted to, by adding one woman as a regular and keeping their guest split as it is. Obviously, it'd be great if they aimed for better than that but doing this bare minimum would then give them a reasonable excuse that it was the comedy circuit to blame.

A final point to note about Mock The Week is the strange distribution of women across episodes. Until series 16 (2017) there had never been more than one woman on a regular episode. Even taking into account that their regulars are all men and their guest pool split, it is highly unlikely that no episodes out of over 140 would have had two or more women. Several episodes over their 15 series should have had two or more women if gender was not taken into account when constructing their shows. It seems that they were spreading the women between shows for some reason. That was weird. Thankfully, they have stopped doing it.

Why are the genders not shown as pink and blue?

In short, because that is a constructed convention from some time around the 1930s. It is unhelpful. I wanted two other colours and my friend suggested green and purple. It happens that they are also the colours of the Women's Social and Political Union so that is a bonus!

Why have you got 'other/diverse' as a gender in the key?

Because gender isn't binary. So I built in the option for people who don't identify as either male or female. The gender information is stored on an episode-by-episode basis to cover people expressing a different gender at different times in their life. If you have been on one of the panel shows and I've mis-gendered you at all, please let me know and I'll update it.

Having an other/diverse category also allows for appearances by groups where the people who make it up are not individually known from the listings. There are also two instances on Have I Got News For You where non-gendered, non-human contestants were included.

Doesn't having more women on mean fewer jobs for men?

No. Between 2007 and 2016, the percentage of women on comedy panel shows went from 15% to 31%. Over the same period, the number of appearances by men increased from 748 to 1392. This isn't a zero sum game. Nobody needs to lose.

What about Loose Women?

Loose Women is often suggested as a justification for the lack of women on comedy panel shows despite the fact it isn't a comedy panel show and it is one single show. It is often characterised as being "all female". So, I crunched the data for 2485 episodes (15,786 apperances) between 1999 and 2016. It turns out that 19.4% of Loose Women's appearances are men. That gives it better overall balance than I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, Argumental, They Think It's All Over, The Blame Game, Mock The Week, Alexander Armstrong's Big Ask, Have I Got News For You, Taskmaster, Just A Minute, QI, A League Of Their Own, Play To The Whistle, The Unbelievable Truth, Virtually Famous, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and Would I Lie To You? Also, if we dig down into the guest appearances (discount the host/regular panel) we find that the guests are 51.2% male. Given the huge number of episodes, the guest-split is one of the most balanced of all the panel shows in the database. So, Loose Women is nowhere near as bad as many high-profile comedy panel shows.