Taskmaster (TV series)
|Created by||Alex Horne|
|Theme music composer||The Horne Section|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||6 (+ 2 specials)|
|No. of episodes||44 (inc. 2 specials) (list of episodes)|
|Running time||60 minutes (inc. adverts)|
|Production company(s)||Avalon Television|
|Picture format||16:9 (1080i HDTV)|
|Original release||28 July 2015– present|
|Related shows||Taskmaster (US TV series)|
Taskmaster is a British comedy panel game show originally created by British comedian Alex Horne during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010, and transferred to television on Dave in 2015. The TV series stars comedian and actor Greg Davies now in the titular role of the Taskmaster, issuing simple comedic and bizarre tasks to five regular contestants – usually comedians – with Horne acting as Davies's assistant and umpire during the challenges.
The show is also broadcast in Belgium, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Australia and New Zealand. International versions of the programme have been made in Belgium (as Het Grootste Licht), Sweden (as Bäst i test), and a US version with Reggie Watts and Horne began in April 2018.
The game consists of simple and bizarre challenges, ostensibly set to the contestants by Davies in his role as the Taskmaster, with assistance provided by Horne. The tasks – usually performed in isolation, but occasionally in teams – are designed to encourage the players to think laterally and creatively to complete the task.
Each episode starts with the Prize Task, where each contestant donates a prize to offer up following a given theme – e.g. the contestant's most unusual item; their most treasured item; their trendiest item of clothing etc – and are all awarded to the winner of the show.
Three or four pre-filmed tasks follow, usually taking place in and around the Taskmaster house. Tasks are delivered to the players in an envelope with a wax seal, which the player reads aloud: e.g. "Completely empty this bathtub – fastest wins" or "Impress this Mayor - you have 20 minutes". After the tasks are shown to the audience, the players justify their creative methods and argue to Davies – and among themselves – as to why they did best. After all the attempts at the task have been seen, judgement is passed by Davies and points are awarded (or players disqualified) accordingly.
The final challenge is performed live in the studio. In the event of a tie, the winner is decided by a special tie-breaker task, which may either be pre-filmed or performed live.
In addition to the prizes for each episode, at the end of each series a trophy is presented to the contestant who has scored the most points over the course of the entire series. From the second series onwards, the trophy took the form of a golden bust of Greg.
Conception and beginning
Horne first tested the idea in 2009, where he set 20 comedians – including Stuart Goldsmith, Josie Long, Mark Watson, Tim Key, Joe Wilkinson and eventual winner Mike Wozniak – monthly tasks by email over the course of a year. The first task was "Put as much money into my bank account – most money wins." At the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, he hosted "The Taskmaster", a "two-hour drunken show" where he revealed the players' attempts at each task and announced the winner. Horne hosted "Taskmaster II" the following year with ten contestants; it was won by Josie Long.
With Avalon as the production company, Horne pitched the programme to several different broadcasters, including Channel 4, before it was picked up by Dave. Hilary Rosen was Deputy Director of Commissioning for the channel at the time; she was concerned with the structure of the show, as the same contestants feature in every episode of a series. This differs from other panel shows, though Horne describes Taskmaster as "more like a sitcom". Another issue with this format point is that it made shooting a traditional pilot implausible. However, the aspects of the show filmed before a studio audience were tested in a pilot. In the first series, the show was shot with the intention that the episodes could be shown in any order, though Rosen later realised that "this was a show you record and transmit in the same order", comparing the show to a soap opera. Horne says that the comedians began to sign up for the show after Frank Skinner agreed to take part.
The first series was announced on 19 September 2014. Lasting six episodes, it aired in 2015 from 28 July to 1 September, featuring contestants Frank Skinner, Josh Widdicombe, Roisin Conaty, Romesh Ranganathan and Tim Key. The winner of the series was Josh Widdicombe.
On 24 September 2015, it was announced that the show had been recommissioned for a second and third series, and the second series premiered on 21 June 2016. Lasting five episodes and concluding on 19 July, the series featured Doc Brown, Joe Wilkinson, Jon Richardson, Katherine Ryan and Richard Osman, with Katherine Ryan becoming the eventual winner.
A one-off special edition featuring five television executives was presented as a stage show during the 2016 Edinburgh International Television Festival. This version included pre-recorded tasks filmed at the house location and a final stage task.
The third series, also consisting of five episodes, was initially planned for 2017 but aired earlier due to positive reception of the previous series; it was broadcast from 4 October 2016 to 1 November. The contestants for series three were Al Murray, Dave Gorman, Paul Chowdhry, Rob Beckett and Sara Pascoe; the winner was Rob Beckett.
On 3 October 2016, the show was renewed for a fourth and fifth series, each of which were to last eight episodes. Series four featured Hugh Dennis, Joe Lycett, Lolly Adefope, Mel Giedroyc and Noel Fielding, and culminated in a win for Noel Fielding. It was broadcast in 2017 from 25 April to 13 June. The fifth series aired in the same year from 6 September to 1 November, with a line-up of Aisling Bea, Bob Mortimer, Mark Watson, Nish Kumar and Sally Phillips. The winner was Bob Mortimer.
A two part "Champion of Champions" special was announced in September 2017; the first part aired on 13 December 2017 with the second part on 20 December. The contestants are the winners of the first five series – that is, Josh Widdicombe, Katherine Ryan, Rob Beckett, Noel Fielding and Bob Mortimer. The winner was Josh Widdicombe, who received a life-size trophy of Davies's headless body.
On 22 February 2018, it was announced that Taskmaster had been renewed for four more series lasting 10 episodes each. The sixth series, which aired from 2 May to 4 July 2018, featured Tim Vine, Russell Howard, Asim Chaudhry, Liza Tarbuck and Alice Levine. Liza Tarbuck was the winner.
Tasks are filmed with each contestant separately in a house in Chiswick, London. However, Alex Horne's initial plan was to carry out the tasks in the comedians' houses, saying in an interview: "I didn't realise how impractical that would be both in terms of cost – and their lives." Filming tasks takes roughly one day per contestant per episode, filming around eight tasks a day, with each day of filming spread out across several months. Prior to the studio filming, contestants are forbidden to discuss their tasks and are not shown any footage from the tasks, so that studio reactions are genuine.
Horne designs the tasks to avoid the need for any specialist equipment, so that "people at home [are] able to do the same things". Initially, they planned to have Horne show the right way to complete the task after showing the contestants' attempts, but this was abandoned as "it supposed there was a right way." He also notes that some tasks in the first series involved the general public, but later series avoided this in order to prevent coming across as a "prank show". Some tasks are vetoed by producers for pragmatic reasons, such as "paint the biggest thing red". Others do not turn out as expected, such as "burst all these bubbles [on a massive roll of bubble wrap] – fastest wins", which had been attempted in three different series but not shown in any of them, as "it always ends with people jumping on it for hours".
When asked why he did not present the show, Horne has said that "that was never the plan [...] My role as sidekick is to be sneaky and you can run it from the sides in a really funny way." Horne and Greg Davies had never worked together prior to Taskmaster; Davies was chosen "because of his authority," Horne says in an interview. He adds that in the pilot, Davies acted as a "dictator figure cross with everyone," but his tone in the show is more relaxed, as "if someone doesn't do something well we really enjoy it so he can be himself."
The directors for Taskmaster are Andy Devonshire and Peter Orton, the former of whom has worked previously on The Apprentice and Top Gear. Production designer James Dillion is responsible for the studio and filming locations as well as the caravan featured from series four onwards, having been past known for designing the original set for The Crystal Maze. The show's theme music was written and performed by The Horne Section, a jazz band led by Horne.
Each series features five new contestants; the Champion of Champions specials featured the return of the first five series winners. The guests always sit in alphabetical order by first name. Contestants are ordered by total points, with winners highlighted in bold.
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes||Average viewers|
|1||28 July 2015||1 September 2015||6||0.43|
|2||21 June 2016||19 July 2016||5||0.714|
|3||4 October 2016||1 November 2016||5||0.932|
|4||25 April 2017||13 June 2017||8||0.800|
|5||6 September 2017||1 November 2017||8||0.701|
|6||2 May 2018||4 July 2018||10||N/A|
|7||5 September 2018||7 November 2018||10||N/A|
|13 December 2017||Champion of Champions (Part 1)|
|20 December 2017||Champion of Champions (Part 2)|
The show is also broadcast in Belgium, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Australia and New Zealand. International versions of the programme have been made in Belgium (as Het Grootste Licht) [The Greatest Light] and Sweden (as Bäst i Test) [Best in Test]. In April 2017, a forthcoming US version with Reggie Watts as the Taskmaster and Horne as the assistant was announced, to be made by Avalon, the same production company for the UK version and originally aired on Comedy Central on 27 April 2018.
Andrew Billen of The Times gave a five star review of the show's first episode, "Melon Buffet", calling it "funny, revealing, and glorious" and comparing it to The Generation Game. In another review of the first episode, Filipa Jodelka of The Guardian describes Taskmaster as a panel show with an "edgy parlour-game twist". Jodelka praises the "molten-hot banter" between contestants and Davies, and compares the arbitrary awarding of points to QI and Numberwang. Also reviewing "Melon Buffet", Ellen Jones of The Independent praised the show as entertaining despite its "informal and cheap-looking" style.
Wesley Mead of Den of Geek wrote a positive review in 2016, praising the show as the "crowning jewel" of original programming on Dave, and approving of the design of the tasks and the range of approaches that contestants demonstrate. Mead believes that the second series was an improvement on the first, but criticises that the first three series have only one female contestant apiece.
Awards and nominations
|2016||Comedy.co.uk Awards 2016||Best TV Entertainment Show||N/A||Won|
|2017||British Academy Television Awards||Best Comedy and Comedy Entertainment Programme||Alex Horne, Andy Cartwright, Andy Devonshire||Nominated|
|International Emmy Award||Non-Scripted Entertainment||Avalon Television, Dave||Nominated|
|RTS Programme Awards||Best Entertainment Programme||Avalon Television||Nominated|
|Comedy.co.uk Awards 2017||Best TV Entertainment Show||N/A||Won|
|2018||British Academy Television Awards||Best Comedy and Comedy Entertainment Programme||Alex Horne, Andy Cartwright, Andy Devonshire||Nominated|
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