Stephen Fry passes the ‘QI’ mantle at the alphabet’s halfway point


As they hit the halfway point of the alphabet, QI, (which stands for Quite Interesting), is losing its long-time host, the brilliant Stephen Fry (insert sad-face here). While Fry’s final series begins tonight at 10p on BBC2, when series 14 begins filming in the Spring/Summer of 2016, Sandi Toksvig will be charged with the herculean task of reigning in the greatness of the series’ resident panelist, Alan Davies, for the remainder of the alphabet. Toksvig,  the Danish-born writer, presenter, actor and comic, recently stepped down earlier this year after a 10-year run as chair of The News Quiz, the topical panel quiz show airing on Radio 4 which takes its questions from the week’s news stories.

Stephen Fry stepping down as host of QI

For thirteen years I had one of the best jobs on television. Behind the camera squadrons of quite extraordinarily brilliant researchers (tagged as the QI Elves by Fry), program makers and uniquely curious people making that job so much easier”, said Fry. “In front of the camera generations of lively minds and above all of course the wonder of nature that is Alan Davies. After passing the alphabetical halfway mark I thought it time to move on, but I will never cease to be grateful to John Lloyd for devising QI and for everyone else for making it such fun.

Unfortunately, as brilliant witty as the series is, it has always had its challenges crossing the Atlantic, largely due to rights issues with the images that appear on-screen associated with the myriad of topics and questions posed to the panelists. The series was created by the great John Lloyd who has also had a producing hand in several other notable British comedy series such as Not the Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image, Blackadder and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

One of the things I have always loved about the series is that on any given show or series, you are virtually guaranteed seeing some of the sharpest, quick-witted, most intelligent minds of the British comedy world such as Rob Brydon, Bill Bailey (who, btw, holds the record for most appearances on QI with 38), Sue Perkins, David Mitchell and Jo Brand, who is second in appearances to Bailey with 36. I have a hard time believing that you would get the same participation from equivalent comic minds in the U.S. to appear on weekly programs of this nature. If you need a quick look at QI, here’s a clip that will be perfect for you next time you’re at a party and need to know the difference between a cake and a biscuit.

QI takes a bit of a cue from Sesame Street in that each series corresponds to a letter of the alphabet. Season one, which premiered in 2003 was themed around the letter “A”. Headed into tonight’s 13th season and focusing on the letter “M”, QI will continue its’ practice of Davies’ as the resident panelist with three revolving guest panelists from the world of stand-up comedy or having a comedy background.

While much of the program may be very British-centric, it is brilliant and should translate well in the States. What I’ve always found amazing  (or puzzling) is the fact that panel shows that are such a big part of the BBC schedule do not travel well across the Atlantic. Nor are they duplicated. Save for Who’s Line is it Anyway?, no American broadcaster tries to re-make a British panel show. Programs such as QI, Have I Got News for You, Mock the Week, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Would I Lie to You? have rarely, if ever, seen the light of day in the U.S., in their original form or as re-makes.

In case you need a more comprehensive printed download before the first broadcast on February 19 on BBC America, the British Comedy Guide has put together perhaps the most detailed guide to all 186 (plus the pilot) episodes of QI with their brilliant episode-by-episode details on all the facts revealed by the show since 2003. That should keep you busy until series 14 premiere with new host, Sandi Toksvig.