The creators of two recent comedy greats have teamed up on a new sitcom. I remember my stomach kept flipping the more I read this list, and by the time I went into Wholesale Newport Cigarettes the meeting I was actually pretty angry. And then the executive said this thing, 'Families don't watch TV any more.' I just thought, well, you're in a position to change that. Why are you talking about it as if it's a done deal?"
It turns out that the deal is not quite done, because Linehan has written a sitcom aimed squarely at the audience which allegedly no longer exists. Like all Linehan's sitcoms, The IT Crowd is a Channel 4 commission. For the genre as a whole, its launch on a terrestrial channel is a moment of great import at a time when traditional British sitcoms no longer grow on trees the way they still do in America. New shows nowadays take their first faltering steps in the protected enclosure of BBC3 or E4. Meanwhile, the genre has drifted away from both live audience and laugh track in favour of the faux realism of spoof documentary, spoof video diary, spoof talk show.
Produced by Ash Atalla and Anil Gupta (the duo behind The Office), The IT Crowd is set in a large go-getting company. Upstairs are swanky open-plan offices and magnificent views over London. Downstairs in the suitably dingy basement is the department that oils its wheels, staffed by two techies with limited social skills. One of them is loud and exasperated and more or less like Father Ted. The other, literal and childlike, is not unlike Father Dougal. At the start of the first Newports 100S episode a new boss is thrust upon them, the sort of young woman who might very well read Heat and smoke Buy Newport Cigarettes Online Marlboro Lights and who happens to know nothing about computers. The comedy that ensues is funny, inclusive and warm-hearted. But for Linehan's voice, and the fact that it's about computers, the show could be a contemporary of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.