Long-running BBC Radio 4 comedy quiz Just a Minute is to be turned into a ten-part BBC2 TV series to celebrate its 45th anniversary next year.
Nicholas Parsons, who has chaired the show since its inception in 1967, says he’s “very excited” to be involved. But is a TV series really the birthday present he or the show deserves?
In case you’re not familiar with it, Just a Minute invites guest panellists to speak on a given subject for 60 seconds, “without hesitation, repetition or deviation”. Opponents are invited to buzz in and challenge them on the basis of any of these three core tenets. If deemed successful, they take over and attempt to make it to the end of the minute without succumbing themselves.
It’s an elegantly simple formula, made infinitely entertaining by the variety of contestants it features. The list of former panellists reads like a who’s who of British comedians and raconteurs, ranging from Derek Nimmo to Paul Merton, Kenneth Williams to Graham Norton, Sue Perkins to Julian Clary.
On one hand, bringing Just a Minute to daytime TV seems to make sense – it would appear to sit well alongside former afternoon favourites such as Call My Bluff. But attempts by both ITV and the BBC to do just that during the 1990s ended in failure. Transplanting the format from the radio destroys much of its unique charm.
For one thing, TV can’t capture that special resonant quality a radio broadcast brings to the spoken word. The gorgeous bass tones of Just a Minute regular the late Clement Freud, for instance, would be lost on television.
And listening to Just a Minute free of distracting visuals concentrates the mind on every nuance of a contestant’s monologue. In a game in which any little slip is there to be pounced upon, that’s key.
Bring it to TV and, rather than adding anything, you risk removing that focus and turning it into just another panel show, which potentially becomes a background to whatever else you happen to be doing – rather than the thing you are doing…
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