Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show started life as a clip-based offering inspired by animated series Beavis and Butthead, say its creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong.
"The original idea was to do a live-action Beavis and Butthead show with two guys, Mitchell and Webb, talking over TV clips,” revealed Bain. “That was the whole show.
“It was very heavily clip-based in a way that the show ended up not being, but that's kind of how it started out.”
Long-running MTV animation Beavis and Butthead sees two sniggering adolescent heavy metal fans sitting on their sofa passing judgement on music videos.
Having watched a clip of what Armstrong calls the “unbroadcast, and possibly unbroadcastable, pilot” for he and Bain's original concept for their Channel 4 series, it’s easy to spot the influence of Beavis and Butthead, but also to see how the Peep Show that fans know and love developed rapidly from it. Most of the key ingredients are already there.
Mark and Jeremy – played by David Mitchell and Robert Webb – may not move from their armchairs but are as recognisable as ever as they flick between TV channels commenting on the shows. Mark’s fascination with the Nazis is there, as is Jeremy’s chronic unwillingness to find a job. There’s even mention of Mark’s love interest Sophie. And while we’re not yet treated to the unedited contents of Mark and Jeremy’s heads, the trademark point-of-view camerawork is already in place.
The following dialogue from the clip Armstrong and Bain shared at a Radio Times-sponsored event at The Cheltenham Literature Festival will be completely recognisable to any Peep Show fan as a conversation between the Mark and Jeremy they know so well…
[Mark and Jeremy are watching television]
Jeremy: "Oh not the Nazis Mark, I can't have Nazis with my breakfast."
Mark: "Would you prefer Job Shop? You will need a job eventually."
[The channel switches to David Hasslehoff, in a wetsuit, in the Baywatch office]
Jeremy: "That would do me – a desk job, where you occasionally get to wear a wet-suit."
Mark: "Yeah, but Hasslehoff's top of the lifeguarding tree – couldn't expect to get in at the top."
Armstrong and Bain said Channel 4 had decided early on to pair them with Mitchell and Webb but that commissioners felt the concept needed to be "bigger".
"Channel 4 had seen David Mitchell and Robert Webb's work and were keen on them so they kind of got us together as a gamble – we'd write something for them," said Armstrong.
“[But they] said ‘Well, we need it to be bigger than that'" added Bain, "so we came up with the idea of seeing these characters not just watching TV, but their whole lives and hearing their thoughts in voice-over.”
And so a classic sitcom was born.
The good news is, Armstrong and Bain are currently working on a ninth series of Peep Show. The bad news? It could well be the last...
"The head of Channel 4 comedy has said it's probably going to end, and he has quite a strong say in matters," said Armstrong, admitting "it's been going a long time and it would be exciting for us to imagine writing the last series.
"We talked about it with him and he felt like maybe it was time to do the last one."