The host of a new comedy panel show has called for “tangible progression” on diversity to become the norm in the television industry, after being told that the show, which focuses on black history, would not appeal to audiences.
Jimmy Akingbola, the host of Sorry, I Didn’t Know, which will play throughout Black History Month on ITV, wrote in the Radio Times about his struggle to get it commissioned and his desire for it to not be pigeonholed as a “black” show.
Akingbola said the idea had originally been rejected by all the major UK channels when a pilot was made in 2016, with executives saying it did not appeal to audiences. However, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, ITV’s director of television, Kevin Lygo, picked it up.
“I don’t feel that audiences have changed that much,” Akingbola wrote. “But the need to serve them properly has increased exponentially in no small part due to the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent outcry from communities bringing a spotlight to the lack of inclusion, access and, quite frankly, the rise of racism.”
He added: “We don’t call QI a show about ‘white’ history. Although very few people of colour appear on its panels or within its questions, it’s just a history show. A damn good one. On the other side of the spectrum, shows such as Desmond’s or In the Long Run, of which I’m proud to be a part, are labelled as ‘black’ comedies, even though Only Fools and Horses or The Office are never referred to as ‘white’ ones
A pilot of Sorry I Didn’t Know aired on ITV2 in 2016, with guests Jo Martin, Chizzy Akudolu, Jimmy James Jones, Toby Williams, Paul Chowdhry and Judi Love. The series is billed by ITV as “bold, tongue-in-cheek and unapologetic, with something for everyone – no matter what their colour or demographic”.
UK panel shows are notorious for their lack of diversity. In 2016, analysis of more than 4,700 UK radio and TV panel show episodes since 1967 found that 1,488 had been made with an all-male cast.
Akingbola said he was hopeful that Sorry, I Didn’t Know could be at the forefront of more diverse commissioning in British TV. “With the show we want to challenge this perception that black content does not appeal to mainstream audiences,” he said.
“We hope that it can be the beginning of more of this type of content. I hope to see non-tokenised shows throughout the year, not just during October’s Black History Month,” he added.
This week Netflix announced a package of 20 titles that it says will celebrate different aspects of the black British experience during Black History Month in October.
Selected by Adeyemi Michael, an award-winning film-maker from Peckham, the collection includes the drama Rocks and Desmond’s, the classic 90s comedy set in a West Indian barbers.
Watch: Black designers celebrated at Milan fashion week