Respected entertainment reporter – yes, there really are such things – David Knox wonders why we don’t make sitcoms in Australia. He wonders this a lot. He wondered it in November 2013:
Will anybody ever take the kind of risk necessary to achieve one, or are our writers simply not interested?
Then it turned out he’d already wondered it elsewhere a day earlier:
If it wasn’t for our public broadcasters we really wouldn’t see much in the way of local comedy on Free to Air. Commercial networks have given comedy a wide berth of late, preferring to shuffle the laughs into panel shows rather than scripted content. Comedy isn’t even a Logie category anymore.
He wondered it in March 2014:
Aside from the ABC, when was the last time you saw a locally-produced scripted comedy on Australian television?
I’m not talking panel shows or travel specials with comedians, but honest-to-goodness scripted jokes with actors?
He was even talking about it back in 2008:
if Tim Worner thinks comedy is on the rise then he must have heard a different joke.
2008 was the unfunniest year for comedy in ages. There was no Kath & Kim, The Chaser, Summer Heights High or Thank God You’re Here. While it’s true Seven has since snaffled the latter from TEN, what has it decided on the unfunny Out of the Question? And is This is Your Laugh due to resume production? What precisely is the immediate future for new Kath & Kim?
(if he thought 2008 was the unfunniest year for comedy in ages, he must have just loved 2009-2014)
Do we support his push? Of course – we love comedy around these parts. Do we also think it’s a case of wasting effort that could be better spent elsewhere? Well, uh… not that we’d say it to his face or anything, but… you know, his heart’s in the right place, but…
All, the hell with it: the sitcom is dead dead dead on commercial television and has been so in living memory. The last successful sitcom on commercial television was Kath & Kim, which Seven bought from the ABC when it was well past its use-by date. And before that? Do we really have to go back as far as Hey, Dad..!? Because let’s not forget, back in the day sitcoms like Hey, Dad..!, and Newlyweds, and Brass Monkeys, and All Together Now, were considered to be, how you say, “fucking shithouse”.
That’s the thing that really puzzles us here. The only good sitcom of the so-called “golden age” of Australian sitcoms was Mother & Son, and where was that aired? The ABC. Which still airs sitcoms to this day. Problem solved! Man, that was a short article. Where’d we park the car?
Oh right, Knox is talking about multicamera sitcoms – Friends, Seinfeld, that kind of thing. You know, the kind of sitcom the ABC doesn’t make. Even the US doesn’t make all that many of them any more, and they make dozens of sitcoms a year. The UK has moved away from that format too, though not entirely. Mrs Brown’s Boys, anyone? Is that the kind of show our commercial networks should be making?
Knox has forgotten more about television than we’ll ever know, so we’re only putting this stuff in to remind ourselves: Australian commercial networks don’t make sitcoms because it’s cheaper to make hour-long dramas with a bit of comedy stirred in (well, not cheaper but it doesn’t cost twice as much so they get more programming for less money). Dramas are also easier to sell overseas – most Australian comedy sales have been of formats, not finished shows. Good luck competing with American sitcoms anyway because while drama is universal, comedy is often extremely specific. Though wasn’t Hey, Dad..! a big hit in Germany? Must have been the dubbing.
Comedy has always been a cheap product on commercial television. That’s why it clings on there today in the form of panel shows and travelogues. But you simply can’t film a sitcom on the cheap here today – well, you could, but that would mean you’d be relying on the writing rather than the “all-star” cast and production design to get people watching. And as anyone who’s watched even a second of Australian drama over the last decade knows, commercial television does not make quality scripting a high priority.
It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be making a stink about something that’s been the case for the last twenty years like it’s suddenly become A Big Deal. After all, sitcoms on commercial television here have always been a): rare, and b): shit. Seriously, look at the list of classic scripted comedies he cites:
Mother and Son, Fast Forward, Kath and Kim, Frontline, The D Generation, The Paul Hogan Show, Summer Heights High, The Comedy Company, The Naked Vicar Show, The Mavis Bramston Show.
Aside from Summer Heights High – which was made by Chris Lilley, who’s still making shows for the ABC so listing him in an article about how networks aren’t supporting comedy is a little iffy (same goes for Frontline and The D Generation) – we’re pretty much all talking shows at least 20 years old that aren’t even sitcoms. The Mavis Bramston Show? Next he’ll be complaining that Australia doesn’t make enough shows in black & white. Which is frighteningly easy to imagine:
Aside from the ABC, when was the last time you saw a locally-produced black & white programme on Australian television?
I’m not talking late night old movies or repeats of US sitcoms that are forty years old, but honest-to-goodness Australian television shows filmed in the format Australians loved for thirty years – black & white?
Oh well, at least he’s out there trying. Sure, instead of trying to drum up more work for the usual unfunny suspects by pretending there’s a massive unmet demand for the kind of show you know Dave O’Neil would find a way to get hired on Knox could always agitate for better comedy, but… naaaah.
Long story short: sitcoms still get made in this country. In fact, we actually make a fair amount of them these days compared to the drought of a decade or so ago. So when Knox says:
Collectively, it’s an industry disgrace and it’s letting us all down.
We have to wonder what the holy heck he’s on about.
Now, making Hey, Dad..! in the first place – there’s your industry disgrace…