This show on my TV is self-evidently terrible and I hate it. I can hear people laughing like idiots. They are either certifiable idiots to laugh at the trash. Or the laughter is added afterwards because no-one laughed on the night. So why did they broadcast this? There are only two possible explanations. 1) Every single person in this process is talentless, from writer to commissioner. 2) Someone slept with a commissioner and that's how it got on.Thinking along these lines is a lot of fun, of course. And if you're a journalist with no interest in accuracy about how the industry works, by all means perpetuate all of the above. The readers can't get enough of that stuff.
But if you're an aspiring writer, my advice is this: cut it out. This way of thinking gets you nowhere. It gets you about as far as assuming that because you didn't go to Cambridge, you don't stand a chance of making it in the world of comedy (which I wrote about here). Assuming a conspiracy or a closed shop is an emotional defence against failure. And nothing more. Choosing to believe these things will only harm you and prevent you from getting better.
Let's turn back to the shows in question. How on earth did the co-writer of The Young Ones, Blackadder and the perfectly successful Thin Blue Line get a sitcom onto BBC1? Oooh, tricky one. And let's not forget, the writer is a legendary stand-up, host of Saturday Live and The Man from Auntie. Now imagine you're running BBC1. You have limited money and slots for sitcoms. Now would you like a new sitcom by someone fairly new who's got an edgy idea that may or may not work, or one by Ben Elton starring David Haig that's set in a Health and Safety department of a Local Council. It's BBC1 remember? It's really not that hard to see why someone would give Ben Elton the benefit of the doubt. The same applies to Vicious, co-created by the executive producer of Will and Grace.
So why is the Show so Bad?
Maybe it isn't so bad. It's possible that it's a perfectly good show that you don't like. Maybe every single person is quite good at their job and they've produced a decent show that is not to your taste. It happens a lot. There is tons of award-winning well-made stuff that I don't want to watch because it's not to my taste (eg Mad Men, The Sopranos). There's also plenty of stuff that's not great but is perfectly watchable and the programme is not a crime against television.
But the reason it irks is because there's the sound of human laughter - which can be alienating and frustrating. Again, critics seem to fall into this trap with alarming regularity. The laughter recorded is real. Not canned. Some children's sitcoms have sprayed-on laughter because the process of making shows with child actors who can only work a certain number of hours means you can't film it in front of a studio audience. And playing it into an audience is also prohibitively expensive (because CBBC budgets are tiny. The magic those guys make with the money they get is truly astonishing).
The point is that the studio audience sitcom records the audience audible reaction and that makes viewing it at home slightly odd if you're not getting on with the show very well. Emotional thrillers do not have the sound of audience wailing and crying. Horror films don't have their audience screaming. But the effect would be the same. If you didn't find the scene moving or scary, the sound of sobs or screams might make you cross. (ok, that's an odd fictitious analogy)
Here's the Other Possibility
Maybe the show is not very good. The jokes aren't landing. The casting is wrong. The set looks weird. The theme tune is annoying. It feels like we've seen this kind of show before. Perfectly competent people - writers, directors, set designers and commissioners - have made some creative and artistic decisions that haven't really worked. Or conspired to produce something that clonks or honks.
It happens. Most novels are a bit rubbish. Most pop songs are trash. I'm sure Chopin wrote some pretty ordinary or forgettable mazurkas. But the nation's media didn't demand for the Chopin's paymaster to be sacked or question whether there were sexual favours involved in the commissioning of that truly pedestrian polonaise. You get the idea.
The fact is that making sitcom is hard, even when everyone knows what they're doing, or at least knows that nobody truly knows anything. And it's quite hard to tell when you actually have a show on your hands until it's all cut together, polished and broadcast and you sit at home and watch the show on your own TV. And even then it's too early to tell.
"How Did This Rubbish Get On My TV?" Not because they have contempt for their audience or commissioners are being blackmailed. This show is on TV because they thought it would be funny. And some people agree with them. And some people don't. There really is nothing more to it.
So what's the lesson here?
If you're trying to write a sitcom, observe that the process is incredibly difficult and involves skills, experience and luck, even for people who are extremely funny and know what they're doing. And all you can do is make your script as good as it can be. So do that. And then do it again. And again. Until it's your turn for your show to be scrutinised by Twitter and AA Gill.