Here's why a Count Arthur Strong quiz show was scrapped

Photo credit: BBC/Retort/Des Willie
Photo credit: BBC/Retort/Des Willie

From Digital Spy

The character was already a hit on stage and BBC Radio 4 before he came to television, but translating Count Arthur Strong for the small screen was no easy task.

Count Arthur's alter ego Steve Delaney partnered with BAFTA-winning comedy writer Graham Linehan to reinvent the character for TV, but their first attempt – a spoof game show – never even made it to air.

"I'm very happy people didn't see that," Linehan admitted to Digital Spy. "It wasn't a good idea! We'd looked at Alan Partridge, and how it started as a chat show and then became a sitcom, so we thought maybe we should go that way as well.

"We were going for a 3-2-1-style quiz show that Steve was introducing and... it just didn't work. After we shot the first episode, we realised it was too hard. It was exhausting. We wouldn't have been able to do it every week.

"It's also very difficult to make actors pretend to be normal members of the public – the temptation to 'act' is always too big, so you don't get the kind of naturalistic style that's really important to make things like that work.

"So we did that and then we thought, why are we messing around? Let's try and write a sitcom!"

Photo credit: BBC/Retort/Des Willie
Photo credit: BBC/Retort/Des Willie

The sitcom was the thing – Count Arthur Strong returns to BBC One tonight for a third series, starring Delaney as the eccentric former variety star and Rory Kinnear as the mild-mannered son of Strong's old comedy partner.

"Sometimes pilots are a good idea, because you want to make changes," Linehan said of Count Arthur's evolution on television.

"Like, we did a pilot for The Cloud, which is this science fiction idea I had with Adam Buxton, and it kind of worked, but there was really a lot of work that needed to be done. So it was great for us to be able to take it away and really try to make it work properly before we show it to anyone."

Having nailed the format, Linehan's also finally been granted his dream time-slot for Count Arthur Strong – the new series will go out at 8.30pm, two hours earlier than the slot which series two was given in 2015.

Photo credit: Edge Magazine / Getty Images
Photo credit: Edge Magazine / Getty Images

[Above: Graham Linehan]

"I wanted to do a show that families can watch together. This one executive said to me, 'Oh, families don't watch TV together anymore!' and I thought, 'Well, that's our job – to get them back.' It might be a lost cause, but I'm still gonna try!

"I want to get them around something good, too – a show broadcast around 8.30pm doesn't have to be stupid, or vulgar, or appeal to the lowest common denominator to work."

Linehan's mission statement is simple: to get as many people as possible to watch the series, and to deliver big laughs.

Photo credit: BBC/Retort/Des Willie
Photo credit: BBC/Retort/Des Willie

"I'm quite frustrated as a comedy fan, actually, how few shows seem to devote themselves to that," he said on the second point. "I like comedies that are just trying to be funny from beginning to end, and don't try and impart a lesson or anything like that.

"I do think that because studio sitcoms shot in front of an audience are unfashionable, the tendency seems to be do stuff that has a more dramatic angle.

"But one thing about audiences is... the fear of going in front of an audience and not having a joke – of them just meeting stuff with silence – is so big that that we work very hard to try and make sure that each beat lands, and lands hard.

"So audiences, I think, keep you on your toes, comically. So it's not a bad thing. I do think we could do with little bit more 'balls-to-the-wall' comedy."

Count Arthur Strong returns tonight at 8.30pm on BBC One.

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