Child Support is a one-hour studio-based game show featuring adult contestants and some hilarious, unscripted interaction between Ricky Gervais and a group of five children, aged six-to-nine-year-old children.
Launched early this year on US network ABC, it’s produced by Banjjay Studios North America with Gervais as executive producer.
Hosted by actor Fred Savage (The Wonder Years), the game’s adult contestants must answer 10 questions correctly to earn the top prize. If they answer incorrectly, they have a chance to be saved by the five children who have been asked the same question by Gervais. If the children get the answer wrong, the contestant leaves the game empty-handed. But if only one of the five children gets the answer right, the contestants are saved, and continue playing.
The gem of the idea came from Banijay, who approached Gervais after seeing footage of him interacting with children. “They put together a little showreel of things, like when I was on Sesame Street, and a commercial I did for Audi with a little girl who was reading out mean tweets to me,” Gervais said. “They wanted to see me being me, but with kids – and that’s all they had. So we worked on the idea, and then I pitched it to ABC.”
Gervais was insistent that they used “real kids” on the show. “I didn’t want them to be stage-school kids or kids who wanted to be famous, or kids whose parents just wanted them to be on the telly,” he said. “I didn’t want them to be sort of media-savvy or aware – just normal kids.”
So the production team cast its net wide across the US and ended up with around 20 children who take part across the series, five per show. “Some of them are really funny – because they’re honest, they just say what they’re thinking which is just perfect,” Gervais said. “And it’s good for me because I think a lot of people lose their creativity when they become adults, it’s sort of beaten out of you because I think creativity is playing, I think that’s what it is – saying things without doubting them. And it’s totally unscripted of course. I don’t know what the kids are going to say.”
Known for his sometimes risqué comedy, was there ever a concern that Gervais might not be the right person to be ad-libbing with a group of young children?
“No, in fact if anything I was more cautious [than the producers]. I was cutting out questions that I didn’t like or thought weren’t appropriate. There was one question – something to do with People Magazine’s sexiest man of the year – and I thought, I’m not asking kids about that! So, if anything, I wanted to be much more careful and ethical than the rules in a way.”
While Ricky Gervais is well-known around the world, he doesn’t believe that he should be on screen wherever the Child Support format might travel. “I think this can work all over the world but it would have to be local. I couldn’t show up speaking English to local kids in lots of different countries.”
And while this show has gone to a major US network, he doesn’t feel that this is his pathway to the mainstream. “I probably wouldn’t do a sitcom on network TV, you know? Because I’d want to be less reserved, it’s not my sort of thing. I’ve always got final edit whatever else happens. There’s still been a compromise but that compromise was me going to networks that probably weren’t as big, but who left me alone. So I didn’t go to ABC, I went to HBO. I didn’t go to ITV and BBC1, I went to BBC2.”
But now Netflix is streaming Gervais’ stand-up comedy special Humanity, does this mean he’s finally gone mainstream? “No, because Netflix leaves me alone. And they’ve got 170 million subscribers so they’re the biggest broadcaster in the world and they don’t give me notes, they just let me do what I want! It’s incredible for me. Because while I’m left alone to do what I want, it doesn’t feel like work.”
This article was written by Julian Newby for the MIPTV News magazine, and edited by Kristine Clifford.