Does China Exist? (BBC2, 1997)
Around the mid-90s, comedian Paul Merton had become well-known for combining his improvisational skills with his ability to create rather surreal images. And at this point he had a go at making a few shows that were pre-scripted and a little more mainstream. As we now know, his ITV sitcom was something of a flop, and his BBC2 one-off sketch show didn’t seem like the right format either.
But once again, he decided to try something a little different. After being interested in how this one fared, I did track this down on YouTube. In Does China Exist?, Paul played the host of a TV show, which seemed to be a parody of both those shows that aimed to explore things like the unexplained, and the ones where the studio audience are invited to debate and just end up all arguing with each other.
There was also an interactive element, where everyone could vote, and the results that really revealed nothing were supposedly very important. As well as looking at the paranormal and conspiracy theories, the idea was to finally decide what the answers were. Is everything really as it seems? Paul was determined to get to the bottom in the studio and reveal the secrets.
Viewers might’ve found it rather difficult to believe their eyes as preconceptions were shattered or something. One thing that appeared to be wrong with Does China Exist? was that as his recent comedy shows had exposed some of his acting shortcomings, this one revealed that Paul wasn’t that much of a TV host either (which wasn’t a good sign, as he would go on to host about 43 series of Room 101).
I don’t know if this was intended to be a one-off, but there were no further editions. A lot of ideas were tried out, but it seems that the jokes were possibly abducted by aliens themselves. And after this, Paul seemingly decided that it would be a better idea to stay in his more comfortable areas of contributing to Just A Minute and Have I Got News For You.