Drop the Dead Donkey was a 1990s British TV comedy set in the newsroom of Globelink news, recently acquired by megalomaniacal billionaire Sir Royston Merchant. Aside from attacking politicians across the political spectrum, the show centred on the war of egos between newsreaders, the inability of editors to avoid the tabloidisation of their programme and the wickedly black banter and office terrorism between the rest of the staff.
Much like South Park, the show was produced close enough to its airtime that constant Take Thats were made to weekly issues. Possibly the most cynical look at a newsroom ever—and that's with some stiff competition.
Because of the show's topicality, new introductions were added for reruns and DVD releases summarising each episode's historical context.
In case you were wondering, the title refers to a filler article that's been lined up to pad out the bulletin falling foul of a real story breaking.
Came twenty-sixth in Britain's Best Sitcom.
Provides examples of:
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- Sally, season 2, "Drunk Minister": "I do seem to be getting all the depressing items to announce again...in the last two weeks I have announced to the nation—three air crashes, two rail crashes, six serious fires, two motorway pile-ups...three famines... and a live interview with John Gummer!"note
- Also Gus, season 6, "The Final Chapter", ranting about his unrequited devotion to Sir Royston, "You leave us with broken minds! Dead souls! ... And scorched eyebrows!!".
- Attention Whore: Henry, Sally, George's daughter, and Damien, according to his mother.
- Bathroom Stall Graffiti: There's a Running Gag about insulting graffiti in the office's toilets, usually about Sally and her sex life, or Damien and his lack thereof.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Joy, when she's not scaring people off, and Gus to Sir Royston. The final episode drives home how Gus has ruined his life in service to a man who doesn't recognize or care about him at all.
- The Bet: A constant plotline, mostly between gambling addict Dave and Jerkasses Henry and Damien as a way of relieving boredom. At one point, Dave runs a pool for several weeks on how many ceasefires there will be in the then-current Balkan conflict each day.
- Beware the Nice Ones: George, usually a complete wimp, has held a thug at fork-point, paid to have Damien's car damaged by his daughter with a hammer, and tied up and tortured Gus during a paintball game. Made even more hilarious by the fact that aforementioned thug was played by an as-yet-unknown Daniel Craig.
- Black Comedy: Covered in it.
- Brain Bleach: When asked if he'd work with Sally on a particular project, Henry replies, "I'd rather have oral sex with a diseased warthog!" This becomes a Running Gag right up to the end of the credits because his colleagues can't get this image out of their heads."Sorry, I was just thinking about Henry and the warthog."
- Break the Haughty: Sally. Often.
- Break the Motivational Speaker: Gus brings in a psychologist for a psychiatric evaluation of the news team. Unfortunately, he's a recovering alcoholic and the various traumas of the team drive him back to the bottle. (DTDD likes its Black Comedy.)
- British Brevity: Averted, as most seasons (1-5) are 12 episodes long, and only Season 6 (filmed after the end of the 1979-97 Conservative government, and thus noticeably light on topical humour) was the standard 6 episodes long.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Gus's "The Reason You Suck" Speech is abruptly ended when Sir Royston activates a remote-controlled steel door to cut him off, mid-rant, only for Sir Royston to then page his assistant and ask "Who was that man?"
- Butt-Monkey: George.
- The Chew Toy: Dave, and especially Jerry.
- Crapsack World
- Creator Cameo: The voice of Jerry the cameraman is writer Andy Hamilton.
- Danger Takes A Back Seat: Globelink News decide to make a crimewatch program, and Gus Hedges assures the police liaison officer that it's not going to increase the public's fear of crime for cheap ratings. Cue the title sequence showing a couple moving fearfully through a darkened street, while an ominous voiceover accompanied by creepy music tells how crime is lurking everywhere, waiting to strike... The music stops as the couple make it to their car, lock the doors and sigh with relief, only for a blood-stained man wielding a huge knife to rise up from the backseat.
- Deadline News: A Running Gag is how Damian's sensationalist field reports always result in his cameraman Jerry getting injured.
- Deadpan Snarker: Dave, Alex, Helen, and Joy. Especially Joy. To the extent that, by the final series, even Dave and Damien aren't entirely sure whether or not she's being sarcastic or serious half the time.
- Description Cut: In "The Path of True Love", when Helen's girlfriend Amanda is confronting her in George's office over not telling her work colleagues about their relationship and suggests she invite some of them round to dinner, Helen tries to tell her that, as they work in television, they have such heavy workloads that they have barely a moment to themselves. They look through George's office window and see Damien hopping on one foot while balancing a broom on his finger as Dave times him with a stopwatch and Henry counts the number of hops.
- The Dog Bites Back:
- George takes a high class callgirl to his manipulative ex wife's wedding to make her jealous and pays her to seduce the groom, which results in the groom being punched in the face.
- In payback for Gus Hedges repeatedly undercutting her wages, Gus's cleaning lady urinates in his executive coffee machine once a week.
- Double Standard: In "Lady Merchant", Gus is blackmailed into nearly sleeping with his employer's wife as she threatens to have him dismissed if he doesn't. The entire scenario is played for laughs, centering around Gus's inexperience with women, but Gus himself seems terrified of so much as touching Lady Merchant and even thanks her when she decides to not have sex with him after all. If the genders were reversed, the episode would certainly not be played as a comedy - especially as Lady Merchant is attracted to Gus because of his perceived virginity.
- Downer Ending: George gives up the chance for a life of happiness with his new love in Australia to nurse his manipulative ex-wife after she has a heart attack. Sir Royston burns down the building in an insurance fraud, but even then Gus is in denial that Globelink is closing and is left sitting in the condemned office, a broken man, having been utterly abandoned by an uncaring megalomaniac he's dedicated his life to. Damien finally finds the Amazonian tribe he was seeking, producing what could be a career-defining report in the process, only to be captured and kept as a captive "god", with his camera sacrificed to him by the tribe.
- Duct Tape for Everything: Even for faking executions. Or, rather, retaking executions.
- Empathy Doll Shot: Damien carries a teddybear named Dimbles around with him for disaster stories. And a blood-stained plimsoll.
- Everybody Knew Already: Helen agonises for years over telling her parents that she's a lesbian. After her father's funeral, she finally tells her mother, who instantly responds "Of course you are." They figured it out years ago and were waiting for her to tell them in her own time. And later, she admits she had "a bit of a phase" in her time.
- Mr. Fanservice: The Chippendales episode had this.
- Fluffy the Terrible: Joy Merryweather. And her pet scorpions.
- Freudian Excuse: Sally was raised by her grandmother, who psychologically abused her. Joy's father was an alcoholic who abandoned his kids. Damien's mother never paid attention to him, even when he fell out of a tree headfirst.
- Friendly Enemy: Henry to Sally in the last episode: "You know, I'm going to rather miss this." And in an earlier episode, when Sally recovers from her period of Evangelism, during which she was polite to people and didn't react to Henry's insults, Henry is absolutely delighted to have her back to normal.
- The Gambling Addict: Dave.
- The Ghost: Sir Royston Merchant, the owner of Globelink News (until the end of the last episode, when he finally makes an appearance), and Gerry, Damien's unlucky cameraman.
- Going for the Big Scoop: Damien, even if he has to create one himself.
- Gold Digger: In the ending, Helen tries to talk Sally out of marrying a very rich Obviously Evil businessman, until Sally reveals that she's seen his medical records and agreed to the harsh pre-nuptial contract because it guarantees her his fortune when he dies in a year or two. The last time we see them, she's leading him up a long staircase with a rickety bannister...
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Eventually averted, as both Sir Royston and Margaret are shown in the final episode. Played straight with Gerry the cameraman who only appears on-screen once, covered from head to toe in bandages.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: Very possibly also Joy, considering the episode with her brother, and when she stands up for Helen by beating Damien up after he ruins Helen's dinner party and causes her to break up with her girlfriend, but — really hidden.
- Hypocritical Humour: A constant feature.
- Intoxication Ensues: Damien, after getting high off the fumes from piles of burning marijuana at a drugs raid.
- Intrepid Reporter: Damien sells himself as this, but most of his stories are doctored for added drama, faked, or engineered by him including actually starting a war!
- In Vino Veritas: Henry gets drunk at his award ceremony."I remember the days when the television industry was run by giants. Whereas now it is run...BY PYGMIES! LIKE HIM! AND HIM!"
- Jerkass: Pretty much every character, but particularly Damien.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dave borders on being one of these during his Pet the Dog moments.
- Kavorka Man: Henry. He might've been very good looking in his youth, but that toupee isn't doing anything for him now and he still gets his leg over every other episode.
- Kent Brockman News: The show that makes NewsRadio look like Happy Days.
- Large Ham: Henry loves to rant and bellow.
- Locked in a Room: Damien and Dave get trapped underground while potholing.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: Elderly hedonist anchorman Henry confesses to Dave (in confidence) that this happened the night before. Naturally this spreads over the office like wildfire, and when his despised co-anchor Sally quips in response to Henry's computer going down, "Maybe it's your floppy." Henry bursts out with "YES, ALL RIGHT, I'M IMPOTENT!" right in front of a television crew who've come to do a This Is Your Life-style interview with him.
- Manipulative Bastard: Everyone in the series, at one point or another, with even George having his moments.
- Meaningful Name: Inverted with the dark, rude, sarcastic, downbeat PA Joy Merryweather.
- Sir Royston Merchant, whose initials are RM. As are those of two Real Life media barons, newspaper proprietors seeking at the time to break into television. Rupert Murdoch and the deceased Robert Maxwell.
- Medley Exit: In the final episode, to Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?".
- Ms. Fanservice: Gus occasionally forces Joy to act as this for the station, even though she terrifies everyone.
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Done twice. Once with Russian (Henry introduces himself as a pregnant cabbage to a Soviet official on a factfinding exchange) and once with Japanese (Damien tells a group of Japanese businessmen to go and have sex with a porcupine).
- Never My Fault: Gus. Also Alex and especially Damien.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Averted when Helen's mother admits her past.
- Noodle Incident: While discussing a lack of newsworthy items...Helen: It's not like you can start a war or anything!Damien: Yeah, that would never work again...
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Gus, although it's more to serve Sir Royston than any actual bureaucracy.
- Only Sane Woman: Alex and later Helen.
- Paintball Episode: Exploited as Damien, Gus, Joy, and George ignore all the rules so they can work out their grudges against their colleagues.
- Papa Wolf: George when Deborah joins a gang of shop-lifters. He holds a toasting fork to the leader's neck and makes him sing "the birdie song".
- Paparazzi: Damien doesn't stalk celebrities, but still has every other characteristic of an evil reporter.
- Pet the Dog: Sally's frequent staged attempts generally end in disaster.
- Poke the Poodle: In one episode, George tries to emulate Gordon Gekko from Wall Street and fails miserably.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: The vacuous, hero-worshipping Gus, who talks almost exclusively in management speak. He would appear to be a living, breathing example of the Adams principle.
- Precision F-Strike: A once-a-season use of "fuck", which is usually directed at George.
- Red Shirt Reporter: Damien Day likes to exploit this - the problem is, he usually creates the dangerous situations he's in himself, to improve viewing figures.
- Rich Bitch: Sally. Vacuous, elitist, uptight, homophobic, condescending Sally.
- Ring Ring Crunch: Damien to a car alarm that interrupts a taping.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Each episode included up-to-the-minute topical gags that meant a opening narration was included in repeats to give them context.
- Set Behind the Scenes: Set in the offices of "GlobeLink News", a fictional TV news company. This includes the TV studio, with many episodes featuring the hijinks of the anchors Henry and Sally as they prepare to go to air.
- Severed Head Sports: After Damien finally convinces Helen that there is a lighter side to his nature, it emerges that he has done so while editing footage of some soldiers playing football with a man's head.
- Smug Snake: Gus, early on.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Henry."Gus, the man has the charisma of a tapeworm's douchebag."
- Springtime for Hitler: When Globelink is about to be shut down Joy believes that her contract means she'll be better remunerated if she gets fired first, but her attempts to do it fail: she tries to be aggressive, rude and disrespectful to her employers, but they don't notice the difference, and does things like making Gus's lunch with "used Odour Eaters and soap shavings" and openly admits to them, but everyone thinks she's just being sarcastic.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Helen replacing Alex at the start of season 3 as the Only Sane Woman.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial/False Reassurance: After Joy slipped some dope into Gus's sandwiches:Gus: Did we have a... conversation yesterday?
Dave: No, Gus. And we certainly didn't have one where you revealed your paranoid fantasies in embarrassing detail.
- Used as a running joke with much of what Gus says about mental illness and loneliness.
- The Swear Jar: The office had a "Nessun Dorma" box for anyone humming the catchy opera tune that became the unofficial theme of the Italia '90 World Cup Tournament. Followed by a "Bad Maxwell joke Box" after Robert Maxwell died.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Sally, Gus, and Damien - usually complete bastards - each get an episode which shows how sad and lonely they are. And in the final series, Gus and Damien get downer endings that can't help but make the viewer feel at least a little bit sorry for them, despite their general douche-baggery.
- Stylistic Suck: When Gus directs a crime scene re-enactment — adding murders which didn't occur and blood splattering on a bystander's cleavage.
- Take That!: Every episode, every five minutes, to every notable politician during the show's run. Especially Peter Lilley MP, who spends several series as the "Slimey Git of the Week" on the office noticeboard.
George: Now... the Rushdie film story!note
- It should be said that "Royston Merchant"'s initials, RM, were shared by two highly unpleasant newspaper moguls who at the time were branching out into owning TV stations. While Britain's TV is regulated and all news and current affairs footage is legally required to be impartial and even-handed, Globelink TV was meant to be an awful warning about the unhealthy power an owner can exert over the media he owns. There is no such regulation over British newspapers, which explains why Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch were - and arenote - allowed to get away with murder. And in America, Rupert Murdoch owns FOX News. Where there is no regulation designed to enforce even-handedness in news broadcasting...
- The pilot opens with a swipe at a critically-panned film:
Damien: Yeah, well, I don't think they should ban it. I mean, I don't believe that a film can incite people to want to commit murder!
Dave: Did you SEE Absolute Beginners?
- This Is My Side: Henry and Sally have to share a desk and get into an argument about each keeping to his or her own side. As the episode goes on, the argument takes an increasingly militaristic tone with disputes about how one of them has made excursions into the agreed-upon neutral zone in the middle of the desk. In the end, Helen removes their desk entirely and puts two kiddie tables in its place.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: George's daughter Deborah has done everything from arson to bullying to dissecting a rabbit while it was still alive while IN CLASS.
- True Art Is Angsty: Joy's doodles of hideous fates for her superiors are lauded as high art.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Absurdly pretentious modern art abounds as Joy mixes with artists who love her sketches. The regular characters (Joy included) think it's all a ridiculous con, and a critic at a showing of her work suggests she's too naive to understand. When she knocks him out, someone else assumes he's an installation, and this happens again later when Joy discovers that the artist promoting her is just out to screw her, in both senses, and ends up hog-tied and naked as part of an exhibition - bottom line, do not mess with Joy.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The novel Drop The Dead Donkey 2000, published in 1994. It predicted that proportonal representation would lead to a rainbow coalition of scary right-wing parties led by Conservative Seb Coe, a Civil War in Switzerland, pirates in the English Channel, and House of Cards (UK) making every UK politician incapable of saying "No comment". Non-canonical, since apart from anything else Globelink didn't survive to the turn of the millennium.
- Ultimate Job Security: Damien because he gets the highest ratings and Joy because she's "the best PA we've ever had" and she scares Gus too much for him to discipline her.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Damien really only wants his mother to be proud of him. Shame his grammar isn't up to the task while he's being shot at.
- We Want Our Jerk Back: When Sally converts to evangelical Christianity, though it's mostly motivated by an office pool on when she'll finally snap.
- What Did I Do Last Night?: George after the Christmas party; Henry after an ex-wife remarries.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: Sally decides to make a bit of extra money by agreeing to do a radio ad voiceover, but because of broadcasting regulations against newsreaders doing adverts, she affects a fake accent to hide her involvement, trying first Scottish, then Welsh. When the ad hits the airwaves, Henry recognises her voice immediately and plays it for the whole office to hear. As for her fake accent, Dave's reaction sums it up well:Dave: What the hell kind of accent was that supposed to be?!
Sally: (feigning ignorance) Well, it sounded like rather good Welsh to me.
Dave: What!? Welsh crossed with Swedish! And a hint of Pakistani!
- Word Salad Title: Word of God has it the title is only meant to sound like something that would be said in a high-pressure newsroom and, despite journalists' claims to the contrary, was completely made up by the writers. (Originally it was "Dead Belgians Don't Count" - the Swedish version was Dead Danes Don't Count.) A popular theory had it that it refered to ITN's flagship News At Ten, where editorial policy was to end every night with some sort of lightweight, preferably animal related, story. The "Dead Donkey" related to some sort of fiesta tradition in Spain involving dropping a donkey off the church tower - British animal rights charities exposed this sort of thing regularly, much to the irritation of the Spanish, who thought it was none of their business. The other sense of "drop the dead donkey" was when serious news broke - therefore the lightweight animal story about , for instance, plucky Brits rescuing persecuted Spanish donkeys, had to be "dropped" from the run to allow more room for the big news item.
- Yes-Man: Gus to Sir Royston.
- Yet Another Baby Panda: An alternative name for the TV news practice of "dropping the dead donkey". Often forced into the show by Gus so the program doesn't have any room for stories that criticize the Conservative party or Globelink's owner, Sir Royston.
- You, Get Me Coffee: Never try to pull this on Joy. Not because you won't get it; but she has added things to coffee in-story that would get you an attempted murder charge in reality.