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QI: A Brief Overview
Launched in 2003, QI is an intellectual panel game which was hosted by a national celebrity, Steven Fry, for over ten years. Nowadays, Fry is replaced by Sandi Toksvig – “the first female host of a mainstream comedy panel show on British television” (“Stephen Fry Steps Down as QI host” par. 1) who is accompanied by a “regular team captain,” Alan Davies (Raeside par. 2). The programme can be distinguished from some other panel games by the hardness of questions proposed to game participants – famous comedians who love to laugh and who know how to do it. The major objective of QI guests is not to provide answers accurately but to answer in an effective and funny way and provoke a positive emotional response in the audience. Since the guests are not expected to answer the questions correctly, the points are given to them according to to the hosts’ evaluation.
QI is grounded in the philosophy that “everything in the world is quite interesting, provided that you look at in the right way” (“QI” par. 1). In consistency with this worldview, the programme’s series each time cover new subjects from the animal world to social studies and religion (“QI: Quite Interesting”). Other QI principles state that “we all know less than we think we know,” new connections between phenomena and concepts can be found everywhere, and it is not needed to use specialised language or study manuscripts to discover interesting things (“QI” par. 3). To implement these vision in practice, QI research team strives to find the interesting facts which an average person does not usually know or on which one may have wrong perspectives. It is possible to say that the major QI’s mission is the elimination of misperceptions and filling the gaps in knowledge along with entertaining. In this way, QI panel game settles at the junction of educational television and comedy genres.
Show Production: Evaluation of Industrial Environment
The programme’s creator is John Lloyd who also produces such shows as Spitting Image and The News Quiz (“QI” par. 2). Since 2003, the show is broadcasted at BBC – one of the biggest phenomena in British and international television industry. The television corporation has a strong influence across the globe, and it manages to maintain a leading position among competitors due to its technical advancement, credibility, and popularity. BBC has wide broadcasting scopes, and its large audience share is characterised by stability. And although the company is the global mass media giant, the programmes broadcasted at BBC are not of great interest to advertisers and are not sponsored by state budgets (Barnett and Seaton 327). The scope and success of the British corporation development were defined primarily by the high-quality management, unique content, technology which contributed to the creation of BBC image associated with credibility and advancement and brought public recognition.
Throughout the history of its existence, BBC adhered to the policy of content localisation and adaptation to specific interests and preferences of local audiences. The company invested only those trends of broadcasting activities which are expected to be more perspective than others. When QI was initially pitched for BBC channels, it was turned down for several times, but ultimately the BBC controller, Jane Root, commissioned the series of sixteen episodes (“QI” par. 2). Thus, although the show’s launching did not go smooth at first, later, its progress was substantially supported by BBC’s significance and reliability.
BBC is recognised for its democratic policies and compliance with the values of “balance” and “impartiality” (Barnett and Seaton 328). It means that the company attempts to include the diversity of opinions and voices into its content. BBC programmes are developed through the implementation of critical thinking, consideration of diversity, professionalism, and respect. And it is possible to say that the mentioned standards are as well relevant to QI show as one of BBC’s services. The show addresses a great variety of issues of both topical and general character. QI cast includes hundreds of writers, comedians, actors and anchorpersons who discuss different topics and express opinions while, at the same time, serving as the mediators for conveying the show’s message and encouraging the aspiration for knowledge development in the audience.
Based on this, QI is associated with diversity in content development and consideration of multiple perspectives on facts and ideas. Despite the non-serious character of the show, a lot of serious topics are touched upon by the guests and the hosts, and the show itself serves as the arena for expression of distinct beliefs, perceptions, and values which can be either accepted or rejected by a viewer. For example, a guest’s quote “the only South African past-time I know about is leaving the Country when it becomes a Democracy” (“QI: Quotes” par. 15) refers to a difficult political situation in the South African Republic when apartheid policy was practiced, and the native African population was deprived of many civil and human rights while the European population enjoyed privileges until the democracy was established in the country and segregation was demolished. Many other examples can be drawn. For instance, in one of the episodes, Stephen Fry said:
“There was a travellers’ handbook that advised women should put pins in their mouth when trains went into a tunnel so – [chortling] – men didn’t kiss them. To protect themselves from unwanted kissing! They put a pin in their mouth” (“QI quotes” par. 1).
The quote provokes the reflection over females’ social status, social gender roles, gender perceptions and stereotypes, as well as their evolution over time. In this way, although QI belongs to comedy genre, it is an intellectual and thought-provoking programme which, first of all, does not ignore present social, political, and other problems, and stimulates viewers for the engagement in thinking process and reflection over various issues on their own.
Social and Cultural Significance
At the current stage of development, television attempts to fulfil a polyfunctional set of tasks. As a cultural factor, it comprises all properties of economic, political, social, and ethical information. Moreover, while being an aesthetic value, television can be regarded as a new form of art. However, contrary to other forms of art, television fails to nurture and protect spiritual domain of human performance, but it rather adjusts viewers to particular modes of life by broadcasting multiple programmes, reality shows, and family dramas which serve as instructions for behaviour development (Burger 2). Experience obtained through the consumption of such shows is related to the evaluation of and mastering new concepts, but it still can contradict with actual life experiences. Through entertainment programmes, television builds artificial worldview frameworks which viewers may perceive as real (McConnell 197).
Entertainment television, e.g. reality shows, quiz shows, and games, is always associated with leisure, relaxation, and, as a rule, is considered to be a non-serious and interesting pastime. Sometimes, the evaluation of such programmes has negative connotations, and the shows are often accused of purposelessness and the lack of pithiness. Thus, entertainment shows are frequently perceived as a pleasant but empty makeweight to other forms of television content. For example, one of the multiple reviews of QI states that the show makes “zero sense due to the topics they discuss” (Philpott par. 1). However, such opinion contradicts the perspectives of the majority of QI fans who appreciate the show because of its fine humour and the peculiar facts one can enjoy learning from the guests’ discussions (“What is your review of QI (TV Series)?” par. 1).
The mentioned negative evaluation of the programme is made by a journalist from New Zealand who, like many other foreigners, perceives QI as “a British show for a British audience” (Philpott par. 1) and find it difficult to comprehend the whole idea behind the show content selection, as well as the character of discussions, due to peculiarity of language use, articulation, and the British humour which is regarded as a national treasure. QI is a purely British product, and it is another merit of the show because it is impossible to find similar programmes from other English speaking countries that could substitute the programme. It is also worth mentioning, that the show’s ex-host, Stephen Fry, was considered “everyone’s favourite headmaster,” (Raeside par. 2) and it is possible to assume that the participation of a highly popular British celebrity contributed to the attraction of potential show viewers and significantly enhanced QI capacity of creating audience values.
Despite the major negative or superficial views of entertainment programmes, QI has many meaningful implications. For instance, as a reality and improvisation show it conveys information about acceptable norms and models of social behaviour. Like all quiz shows, it helps to train leadership qualities and pragmatism that can be useful in competition. Based on this, QI has a potential to educate viewers not merely by transmitting factual information but by providing them with an implicit opportunity to evaluate the manners of social interactions and overall social and cultural environment represented in the programme.
Analysis of Genre Contexts
Like it was mentioned above, QI contains the qualities of entertainment and education programmes which significantly contribute to the generation of social and cultural values and determine individual social orientation. The major purposes of education programmes are stimulation of individuals’ engagement in the process of self-education and knowledge development while entertaining comedy shows are mainly associated with relaxation and opportunity to halt an intense thinking process and decrease stress. Education primarily focuses on the informative aspect of content, but the concern of entertainment programmes is humour, fun, and generation of positive emotions. These two genres are often perceived as opposing to each other and mutually exclusive. However, the researchers suggest that the ability to balance between information and entertainment defines a channel’s ability to attract mass audiences (Norris and Holtz-Bacha 127).
QI is an example of interaction between media use and cognitive knowledge building. Although the main show’s mission is education and a great portion of efforts in programme development is given to research and finding unusual and interesting facts, entertainment is paid great attention as well. As a result, QI is a unique mix of high-quality intellectual humour, satire, and education through discussion. Although the audience is not directly involved in the process of communication, viewers are provided with the opportunity to be engaged in self-reflection and independent exploration activities.
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The genre of comedy makes QI highly attractive to a vast public and increases its success in communicating important social messages. Comedy is regarded as “the creative reflection of life upon itself” (Ford 93). In contrast to serious educational formats, it provokes strong impacts on psychological and emotional states of the audience. And comedy-orientation of QI is an essential element of its success and popularity, but its intellectual constructs clearly delineate the frames of the targeted audience – QI may not be appealing to those who have a limited scope of interests and who are not inclined to inquire. At the same time, the programme contributes to the integration of value of impartiality into the society and promotes a love of learning, and it makes QI an outstanding and irreplaceable project on the British television.
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