Like all of us, TV is freaking out a little bit. Ratings are up, but everyone’s watching the news. Drama series have stopped filming, entertainment shows are being broadcast from presenters’ living rooms and the telly that’s got everyone talking is about a man in Oklahoma who got in trouble for running a terrible zoo. It’s all a bit confusing.
But one of the few programmes that will actually thrive on such madness is back tonight and not a moment too soon: Have I Got News For You will return to its usual end of the week slot for another series, tonight guest presented by Steph McGovern (who did indeed broadcast her new Channel 4 show from home this week, so she’s well rehearsed).
While nobody has quite worked out the best way to stay afloat during these times, most wise people seem to suggest a Holy Trinity of staying informed, trying to have a laugh and keeping good company (albeit via video calls). TV News has provided almost blanket coverage to keep us up to date and it has been brilliantly diligent in doing so. But there’s only so many Coronavirus expert Q&As, press briefings and updates you can stomach in a day. And sitcoms and pre-recorded parlour show panel games are excellent escapism, but sometimes feel a bit tone deaf at this time.
Whereas HIGNFY ticks all the boxes with gusto. Paul is there to keep us laughing while Private Eye editor Ian unleashes as much satire as he’s allowed to get away with. They’ve been there through every political and social crisis Britain has faced for the past 25 years, much like a modern day Statler and Waldorf, taking aim at the establishment from their balcony.
It’s funny how things turn out, isn’t it? This is the panel show that basically created Boris Johnson, giving him the platform to charm the nation. Now, Ian and Paul will rip into his greatest Prime Ministerial challenge yet. And while the BBC has to be forensically careful about any perceived bias, don’t expect them to go easy on Mr Johnson – Ian has never hidden his disdain for the PM, last year reiterating in an interview with Sky News: “I have no time for Boris and I never have.”
The logistics of this upcoming series were still being worked out at the eleventh hour. The show’s production company, Hat Trick, told us, “the regulars will be sitting in their usual seats, come what may (although we can’t quite be sure where those seats will be). Paul will be using the wonders of modern technology and Ian Hislop will be using semaphore. A burst appendix couldn’t stop Ian in 1992 and coronavirus won’t stop him now.”
When it came to it, the show was filmed on Wednesday evening, a day earlier than usual, and the production called in the services of an outside broadcast company, used to battling technical issues. “It went very well and while we did deal with the coronavirus story we talked about a lot of other things too,” producer Richard Wilson told the PA news agency.
#HIGNFY returns tonight for the first show of series 59, but there’ll be no studio audience and no studio.
Here’s guest host @stephbreakfast rehearsing with the technical wizards from Electric Robin who hooked everything up in Paul, Ian, @helenlewis and Miles Jupp’s houses. pic.twitter.com/FQ4n0mYPsV
— Have I Got News For You (@haveigotnews) April 3, 2020
‘”t will be different from a Zoom meeting. We will try and make it look like they have appeared on the set – a bit like Princess Leia does when R2D2 plays that message – we are aiming for that effect. It’s bound to be different but Paul and Ian spent quite a lot of time joshing with each other and they were able to do that really well.”
Of course if there’s one thing we’ve learned during the outbreak, it’s that jokes are more difficult to land over Skype/Zoom/FaceTime/HouseParty with the inevitable awkward delay, but we trust Paul and Ian to figure that out. This is a show that was forced to make Brexit entertaining for a good few years, so we know they’re up to the challenge.
It can be difficult to find anything funny about the situation we find ourselves in right now. But instead of burying your head in the sand (read: Netflix), maybe see if there’s some therapy to be had in looking at the news with a sideways glance tonight. Of course other excellent shows like The Last Leg and The Mash Report do the same thing, but HIGNFY is an institution. One that holds dear the most British of values: laughing at ourselves even at times of crisis.
Have I Got News For You returns tonight (Friday, 3rd April) at 9pm on BBC One. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV guide.