Séamus Murphy-Mitchell has always loved television. As a child, he would constantly flick through the only two channels his family received, tuning into his favorite shows. Now, he makes his favorite shows. As an executive producer, Murphy-Mitchell is involved in the entire creation process, from beginning to end, and has a say in every aspect of a production; that is what he likes about being a showrunner. He gets to be creative whilst still being collaborative, and work alongside him have the same passion for television that he does.
“When I was a kid, I was once sent to a child psychologist to evaluate my lack of attention in class. Her final analysis was that I shouldn’t continue to watch Aaron Spelling serial dramas late into the night before school the next morning,” he joked.
This Irish-native has made a name for himself internationally, leading not only his country’s industry, but abroad as well. Having led shows such as hit BBC America series Almost Royal and the multi-award-winning BBC talk show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross to great success, Murphy-Mitchell has shown the world what he is capable of. His work on The Adam Buxton Podcast and 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy show audiences just how versatile this executive producer is, and he is always looking for new challenges. This is exactly what he got when he decided to run the very ambitious, live broadcast of 24 Hour Panel People.
“Working on 24 Hour Panel People was very challenging, but in many ways illustrated all the best bits about working in television. We were working as part of a large team to deadline on a ground-breaking project. I’ve probably never been so sleep deprived as I was when we finally came off air, but we still went out and had fun afterwards to celebrate,” said Murphy-Mitchell.
24 Hour Panel People was a 24-hour, live broadcast to raise money for Comic Relief and run up to the United Kingdom’s famous “Red Nose Day”. Since its launch in 1988, Red Nose Day has become something of a British institution. It’s the day, every two years, when people across the land can get together and do something funny for money at home, school and work. There’s a fantastic night of TV on the BBC, with comedy and entertainment to inspire the nation to give generously. Comic Relief spends the money raised by Red Nose Day to help people living tough lives across the United Kingdom and Africa, tackling issues like poverty, hunger, and mental health.
“Comic Relief is a huge charity that raises an enormous amount of money and does a huge amount of good around the world. 24 Hour Panel People was a great example of how this charity always embraces new ways of engaging with an audience, and for that reason it was a great success,” said Murphy-Mitchell.
Taking on the network’s first 24-hour broadcast was a challenge Murphy-Mitchell was more than up for. Live from BBC Television Centre, from midday March 5th to midday March 6th, 2011, the epic event featured comedian David Walliams front and center alongside a revolving door of eminent comedians, sports stars and actors as he took on the challenge of hosting a mammoth and constant succession of the UK’s greatest panel shows past and present.
Including such beloved panel show institutions as Blankety Blank, QI, The Generation Game, Call My Bluff, Have I Got News For You and Whose Line Is It Anyway, Murphy-Mitchell produced the live show nonstop and seamlessly throughout the night, single handedly running autocue and the floor and ensuring Walliams was mentally alert, focused, funny and robust as he persevered throughout the night. He also brought a considerably younger audience to Comic Relief, ensuring the broadcast would succeed for years to come.
“Once the live broadcast came to its finale, Séamus then edited the entire 24 hours into 5 half hour compilation specials which were broadcast nightly on the BBC over the week of the Red Nose campaign. 24 Hour Panel People went down in charity history as a seminal, ground-breaking occasion which not only raised millions of pounds for Comic Relief but set the bar for future fundraising events across the globe, all with the help of Séamus,” said Suzi Aplin, executive producer of Comic Relief and 24 Hour Panel People.
When Aplin was looking for a showrunner to produce the show, which in the end amounted to 22 different comedy entertainment formats in 24 hours, she knew she needed an experienced executive producer to lead the broadcast to a success. Having worked with Murphy-Mitchell in the past, she knew he not only had the talent, but would be up for the challenge. Once he was approached, Murphy-Mitchell knew he wanted to produce the show. The BBC had never attempted a 24-hour broadcast before, and he knew he could help lead the inaugural broadcast.
“It was a really exciting project from the very beginning. I had worked for Comic Relief in the past and I was very keen to work for the charity again, particularly on a project so unique and unprecedented,” he described.
From the moment pre-production began, Murphy-Mitchell and his team were frantically busy. They had to secure the format rights for the 22 different shows they were going to have on the show, and once they achieved such a feat, they had to then break them down and figure out how to adapt them into a 24-hour time period.
“Securing rights was a big part of the project’s success. I spent a long time convincing Sir David Frost that we wouldn’t destroy his Through the Keyhole format. In the end, he was delighted with its contribution to the success of the night,” he said.
After achieving this, they had to book tickets and fill the chairs for each of the shows. Murphy-Mitchell had three teams assigned to this Herculean task, as hundreds of people were needed to fill all the chairs. Each team looking after an average of five formats, along with three directors to work eight hours each throughout the night.
“Most of us didn’t sleep at all for 40 hours or so as we were all up at the crack of dawn on the morning of the broadcast. David Walliams was completely heroic. The point of the show was that David would appear in all 22 of the formats over 24 hours. At some points he was so tired that he was incoherent, but he still managed to be funny in every single show,” Murphy-Mitchell described.
In 2011, Comic Relief managed to raise a whopping £108,436,277 (over $150 million USD) for Red Nose Day, and Murphy-Mitchell’s 24 Hour Panel People was a large part of that. Not only does this showrunner entertain his audiences, but he also gives back, and that is what makes his work so enjoyable.