'Catastrophe' Star Sharon Horgan on Show's Critical Success, U.K. Ratings

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Sharon Horgan

The comedian at the Edinburgh Television Festival also talks about upcoming HBO show 'Divorce,' starring Sarah Jessica Parker, and why there is "a lot of very bad" TV.

The Edinburgh Television Festival was winding down midday Friday as industry folks started returning to London and the like, but red-hot comedy star Sharon Horgan drew a big crowd to one of the event's final sessions.

The Divorce writer and Catastrophe writer and actress spoke in what was called the "alternative MacTaggart" after Vice Media CEO Shane Smith on Wednesday evening had delivered the MacTaggart lecture, the flagship keynote of the annual festival. But instead of discussing media M&A and traditional media's failures like Smith, comedian Frankie Boyle interviewed Horgan with a focus on her successes, pushing the comedic boundaries and differences between working in the U.K. and Hollywood.

"It's the same. It's just as hard," Horgan said when asked if having a critical hit like Catastrophe, which airs on Channel 4 in Britain to solid but not huge ratings, while Amazon has it for the U.S., was making it easier to sell show ideas. "People are nicer to me. I get more meetings." And she acknowledged it doesn't make her more relaxed either as she now feels the pressure to make successful shows.

Asked about the show's critical success, but lack of huge U.K. ratings (the season 2 opener drew 780,000 overnight viewers), she said: "I don't know why more people don't watch it. I would like to strap a load of people down and say 'Have you tried this? It's got a big smiley American in it, you know, and lots of sex." She concluded though: "I guess it's not family viewing. I guess the thing that really gets [big audiences] is something that the family can watch together."

In the fall, HBO in the U.S. and pay TV giant Sky's Sky Atlantic in the U.K. will air HBO series Divorce, created for Sarah Jessica Parker in her first major TV role since Sex and the City.

"It was good. It was hard work," Horgan said about the show. "It was only 10 episodes ... It's kind of similar to making a show here. If you make a show over at Channel 4 or HBO, it's the same kind of sensibility. They kind of just want it to be good and they give you the creative freedom to do your own and they kind of trust you." She added: "But is a big team of people around you who kind of help, so I kind of feel it's always cheating."

How do Americans view British creatives in her experience? "They think we are the shit. They love our stuff." She added: "The people who love comedy they love what we make. And I'm not saying all of it is [great], and not all of their stuff isn't ... either. There is a lot of very bad, very bad TV made out there. It's just, I guess, there is more of it, so there is more good stuff [too]."

Horgan said she worked on a few pilots in the U.S. and felt often there was "quite a distance" between what she wrote and what would be made out of it to increase a show's appeal. Quite often what you end up with is no one being happy instead of everyone being happy, she said.

Discussing the "holy grail" of getting full-season orders of 20-plus episodes, Horgan said: "I don't think anyone needs 26 episodes of anything. I think it's stupid and greedy. But if you can do that and you make it good," that's great. "But it's hard."

"It was lovely," she said about her time in the U.S., and she said people explained to her that even getting pilots ordered was a success. "I learned a lot from it, but it wasn't necessarily the most creative time," she said.

Boyle asked Horgan how fresh comedy outside the mainstream can succeed in Britain? "Interesting stuff does get made and finds its way, but once they have that interesting thing, everyone else has to kind of stick more to a brief," she said. "I get it why we want to create a sitcom that has 7 million viewers."

Asked why comedies often seem mainstream and bland to him, she said: "Just blame it on the British public." Horgan added: "You have to blame the people. That's what they want to watch."

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