There aren't many programmes in television history that could get away with killing off most of the cast in the first episode, but The End was only the beginning for Red Dwarf, and since then, the show has established itself as one of Britain's most unique sitcoms over the course of the last three decades.
At its core, it's a workplace comedy about four characters with radically different personalities being thrust into the mix together. So far, so standard, yet thanks to its deep-space setting, Red Dwarf has been differentiating itself from the competition since it first hit the BBC 30 years ago.
The dynamic between Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryton is already a winning formula, and the show's sci-fi roots has allowed this foursome to explore all kinds of smegging insane scenarios, from time-jumping escapades, to alternative universes and virtual worlds - it's anything but your typical sitcom.
Red Dwarf has endured cancellation and a drawn-out saga involving a movie which never happened, but it's still alive and kicking, finding a home at UK comedy channel Dave and breaking viewers records there since 2009.
To mark the show's 30th anniversary, we caught up with co-creator Doug Naylor to discuss three decades of thrill, spills and smeg-ups, as well as what the future holds for the Boys From the Dwarf.
2. Three Decades Of Dwarfing
First of all, happy anniversary! Three decades is a long time to remain on the air. Which of Red Dwarf's many accomplishments are you most proud of?
I guess just that the fans love it and we’re still here. I’m proud of the fact we’re still going and the show hasn’t aged in a certain sense. We don’t really think outside of what it’s like to make it. Me and the guys just love working together because it’s always such a great laugh. People still watching it and enjoying it is almost a bonus for me, but if that wasn’t the case we wouldn’t get to do any more.
I reckon the chemistry between the main cast has helped the show stay popular over the years. What other factors do you think are behind maintain cult status?
You're absolutely right about the chemistry. There’s such an energy between the guys. They’re all quite different and they all bring different things to the party. They’re all fantastically positive as well and they genuinely do love making Red Dwarf. The teamwork between them is amazing - nobody is bothered about who gets the biggest laugh, they’re only concerned about making the best show possible. That’s a huge part of what has helped the show remain popular. There’s also the fact it’s quite unusual. A lot of comedy shows have a single star and that person wants the spotlight, but this is an ensemble show and the characters’ personalities and differing attitudes gives us a variety of ways to tackle subjects, which helps enormously.
When you first started making Red Dwarf for the BBC, did you have any idea it would have such longevity?
Before we made it I genuinely thought it would be a huge hit for around three seasons, and then we’d stop. I was convinced it was going to be a hit, but when I first saw the set I thought ‘okay, this isn’t working in quite the way I was expecting’. Then of course, I think five million people tuned in for the first episode but they mostly turned off and we ended up with around two million viewers. People wanted a science fiction show and I don’t think they quite got what we were doing at first.
When season two came out, that got between two and three million and was repeated. By then we knew we were onto something good. Because Red Dwarf is science fiction, there’s a wealth of stories we can do and there’s lots of original stuff to explore. Storylines clashing with something from a rival show has never been a problem for us.
If you could turn back the clock, is there anything you would do differently regarding Red Dwarf?
Oh god, yes, of course but you do those things with the best intentions at the time. Often these decisions don’t play out the way you expected, but on the whole, I can’t really complain too much because we’re still here. If I had my time again I would definitely do Red Dwarf VII with a live studio audience, but I totally bought the argument at the time that we were going to make a film. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have wasted 10 years of my career writing scripts for the movie because that was a complete waste of time, but back then, I was told the budget for the film was coming in, and I believed that.
Your fellow co-creator Rob Grant left the show after season six. Are you still in touch with him these days? Do the two of you ever discuss Red Dwarf?
Yeah, I saw him yesterday. He’s doing other things right now, but he may well want to return to Red Dwarf in some capacity down the line. He’s never mentioned the latest stuff and I’ve never asked him what he thinks of it, but if offered his opinion I’d happily listen. It would be different if the thing was a massive failure. I would want to know where he think I went wrong, but that isn’t the case since it’s been very successful.
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