Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

The Case of the Missing Press Release

Mysteries! We can’t get enough of them. Mostly because Australian comedy seems to be a whole lot better at them than they are at making, you know, actual comedy. Take for example, this:

Which was announced in this press release:

Nicole Livingstone and Tegan Higginbotham to host new live comedy sport show on ABC

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 — Olympic champion and media all-rounder Nicole Livingstone and comedian Tegan Higginbotham have joined forces on Fever Pitch, a new one-hour live comedy sport panel show which will premiere on Friday, June 30 at 6pm (AEST) on ABC and ABC iview.

Filmed in front of a live studio audience in Melbourne, Nicole and Tegan will be joined by a regular team of athletes and comedians including former ABC ME star Amberley Lobo, comedian Dave Thornton and Paralympic champion Dylan Alcott to look at the world of sport from all angles.

Each show will feature guest interviews, field stories, comedy sketches and studio games.

Fever Pitch will air live on Friday nights at 6pm (AEST) on ABC and iview from Friday, June 30th.

Which all seems fair enough… except that the above wasn’t the first press release for Fever Pitch (originality: who needs it) that the ABC sent out. Their first stab at announcing this series read a little something like this:

ABC accidentally commissions wrong show!

ABC bosses put pen to paper this week commissioning a series entitled Fever Pitch first thought to be a 12-part medical drama about a feisty but flawed contagious diseases expert, Professor Pamela Pitch (played by Claudia Karvan).

The programming decision considered a “no-brainer” soon became a massive “brain-ache” for the ABC executive who inadvertently signed along the wrong dotted line. It seems that the ABC are about to spend an exorbitant amount of taxpayers money on an untried, untested and possibly unwatchable panel-style entertainment/comedy show based loosely around sport.

Only it seems that by the time it reached us someone at the ABC had gone “hmmm, maybe openly mocking our programming and executives isn’t the best way to promote this already uninspiring sports panel show” and made the press release vanish from the ABC site pronto. All that hard work, wasted; guess now they know what it feels like to write jokes for The Weekly.

Seems like it’s okay when The Chaser announce a new show with a zany “whoops, the ABC stuffed up and gave us a new series” press release, but everybody else better play it straight down the line. Which might be a sporting reference but we wouldn’t know anything about that. Hey, where’s our wacky panel show?

*edit* Oh yeah, this show is definitely going to be awesome.

WHAT just happened?

Football fans around the country flocked to their televisions Wednesday night to catch A-League champions Sydney FC play Liverpool only to find some of the most cringe-worthy pre-match presenting seen in sporting history.

The Case of the Missing Tonight Show

We love a good mystery here at Australian Tumbleweeds – after all, what bigger mystery is there than “why isn’t Australian comedy funny?” – so we’ve been following developments (or lack thereof) regarding John Conway Tonight with some interest. Fellow mystery fans may recall that after three weeks on air Sunday nights on ABC2 John Conway Tonight – a ramshackle but often entertaining quasi-parody of tonight show professionalism filmed in a pub back room – vanished from schedules:

Since then word got out that the show – which had been contracted for ten weeks – would be continuing with co-host Aaron Chen taking over the host’s chair. And lo and behold, first a dress rehearsal was announced on May 10th:

By May 14th it had been bumped up in status to an actual episode with Chen in the driver seat:

Those of you with access to either a functioning time machine or working TV listings will know that no episode of Aaron Chen Tonight aired on May 14th. Nor did one air on May 21st. And while an episode is currently listed to screen on May 28th, the listing seems pretty generic (it’s just for John Conway Tonight with no specific details) so we’re not overly confident it’s not just a leftover from the days when John Conway Tonight really was screening every week.

So what happened? Usually we’d simply assume the May 14th episode was a mess and ABC2 have cut their losses, but with the way John Conway Tonight has been going from the start – we’re considering officially adding “ill-fated” to the title – who knows what’s really going on? Do they need time to completely rework the show without John Conway? Are they waiting for Conway to return as host (which would explain the listing for this Sunday)? There’s no mention of further episodes being filmed on the Cafe Lounge Facebook page so it seems safe to assume that whatever the John Conway Tonight team are up to, they’re not filming new episodes there.

As we all too often say when discussing Australian comedy, it’s a real mystery.

Back in Bloom

Press release time!

Rosehaven set to return to ABC this year

SundanceTV to acquire season one and join as co-producer for season two

Thursday, May 18, 2017 — Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor head back to Tasmania this June for a second series of the acclaimed comedy Rosehaven.

The eight episode season, created by, written by, and starring Pacquola and McGregor, will premiere later this year both in the U.S. on SundanceTV and in Australia on ABC. The series will also be streamed on SundanceNow in the U.S. and Canada and ABC iview in Australia after its linear run.

When Rosehaven premiered on ABC in 2016, not only did it captivate audiences and critics alike with its fresh take on the small town comedy, but it fast became ABC’s top rated comedy series for the year.

“’When making our show in a small town in Tasmania, it’s hard to imagine, next stop Hollywood! But here we are. We are so excited about Rosehaven making it all the way to the U.S.,” said co-creator and co-star Celia Pacquola.

“The first season is quirky, charming, relatable, sweet, and hilarious – all the ingredients of great comedy,” said Jan Diedrichsen, General Manager SundanceTV and SundanceNow.  “We’re thrilled to partner with the ABC to bring this amazing show not only back for a second season but also to U.S. audiences.”

Rosehaven is a show very close to my heart – among my favourite comedies we’ve ever done at ABC. To bring it back for more and to an even bigger audience thanks to our U.S. partners at SundanceTV is a wonderful honour”, said Rick Kalowski, Head of Comedy, ABC.

With the continued support of the Tasmanian Government through Screen Tasmania and the Victorian Government through Film Victoria, Rosehaven will shoot in and around Hobart and the Huon Valley. Post production will again take place in Victoria.

“The best thing about filming in Tasmania (apart from how nice it looks) is that I get to walk past my old high school where I got bullied, and yell at it every night: ‘I HAVE A TV SHOW NOW!!’ A lot of people have told me it’s not healthy but it’s a really long walk to get there so I disagree.” said co-creator and co-star Luke McGregor.

Rosehaven is a crisply written comedy set at the bottom of the world on the picturesque island of Tasmania, hovering in the Southern Ocean below Australia’s mainland. In season two Daniel (McGregor) has to prove that he has what it takes to earn his place in the family business and Emma (Pacquola) needs to decide whether small town life, and its dangerously disinhibited locksmith (Damien, played by David Quirk) are enough for her.

Also returning for season two will be Kris McQuade as Daniel’s fearsome mother Barbara; Katie Roberston as Daniel’s girlfriend Grace; Sam Cotton as Daniel’s bully Bruce; and Noela Foxtrot as the octogenarian receptionist Mrs. Marsh. Season Two will also see Jonathan Brough and Tasmania’s own, Shaun Wilson, rejoin the team directing four episodes each.

Seasons One and Two will launch on SundanceTV in the final quarter of 2017. Season Two will also premiere in Australia on ABC TV and iview in the final quarter of 2017.

Geez, even we thought we were exaggerating when we kept going on about how the only way scripted comedy gets made on the ABC is with overseas cash. Good news for the shows that can get it, obviously – just don’t be pitching Auntie anything that’s too uniquely Aussie.

Concerns about the dilution of Australian culture aside – seriously, is nobody else worried that the National Broadcaster seems to only make shows now when overseas interests pay for them? – this is… good news-ish? Considering we called the first season “not a complete disaster” and said that “hopefully it’ll improve as the two leads get a better handle on what kind of show they’re making,” lets say we’re keeping our expectations manageable.

And with Utopia also coming back, that means in 2017 we’ll get two separate series where Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor get to do their thing. Steady work on Australian television; who’d have thunk it?

It Pays to Pay Attention

It’s taken us an extra week to get around to the return of Have You Been Paying Attention, because quite frankly we were shocked. Shocked! Ok, maybe just shocked. Who would have thought that Australia’s most steadfast and reliable laugh-delivery-machine – well, once they fine-tuned the shift from half-hour to hour episodes at least – would return in 2017 with… slightly different graphics?

Unfortunately that’s pretty much all we have to say here, because as previously mentioned, HYBPA? is Australia’s best current example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t reboot it with a whole new cast”. Same host, same regulars, same rapid-fire probably-scripted-answers, same guest quizmasters there to promote various (usually but not always Ten-related) projects, same high level of laughs. It’s a winner, and it’s always good news to see it back.

Also good news: it’s doing well in the ratings:

Have You Been Paying Attention? pulled out its best ever figures last night on 876,000 viewers, and topped all three demos.

The show even eclipsed MasterChef for TEN, which was third in its slot behind The Voice and House Rules. But all three enjoyed decent crowds.

The secret for panel show success isn’t exactly a secret, despite what you might have thought after years of the ABC screwing up every chance they get. Find a bunch of funny people, put together a format that makes them be funny, and then give it a long run in a regular timeslot so audiences know where to find it. Short runs? Dredging up the same old hacks whose main skill is knowing which camera to look into? Formats that require guests to tell long anecdotes to fill air time? Get back to us when they’re pulling in close to a million viewers.

Yes, Working Dog are good at this kind of thing, but HYBPA? isn’t the ultimate panel show. That’s what’s frustrating about the ABC’s repeated incompetence in this area: it’s not like having one decent panel show on television means we can’t have any more. It’s just that Working Dog bothered to put funny people who are actually funny on their panel show, whereas time and time and time again the ABC seem to have thought that if you’ve ever appeared on television as “yourself” then you’re good enough for light entertainment.

And again, this isn’t some hypothetical distinction we’re making or some impossibly high standard we’ve pulled out our arse. HYBPA? features a couple of Working Dog regulars – Sam Pang and Ed Kavalee – with some of their other cohorts (Mick Molloy, Glenn Robbins, Jane Kennedy) making regular appearances. But otherwise, they’ve largely just looked at Australian commercial radio and gone “hey, these guys are pretty good with quick-fire banter, let’s try them out on television”. The results aren’t sure-fire, but on the whole it’s worked out reasonably well.

And even if you think HYBPA? works by bringing on board a bunch of radio types whose only skill is talking fast and then feeding them a bunch of scripted jokes, so what? It currently seems to be doing a good job of providing a certain kind of crowd-pleasing laughs. We can’t say this often enough: there is a simple, obvious path to creating at least semi-decent conversation-based comedy between a group of people, and the ABC can’t find that path with both hands and a high-powered torch.

(will Seven find it with their upcoming panel show Behave Yourself? They’ve ditched Hughsie so that’s not the worst possible start, though the title suggests the usual “hilarious” anecdote-telling that has flopped every time it’s been tried over the last decade)

So now, instead of having one or two halfway decent panel shows they can let run throughout the year to keep their Wednesday night comedy night an actual “comedy night” and not a clearing house for documentaries on suicide and dead kids, they have nothing. And we get long, long stretches of the year where the ABC has no Australian comedy at all to show.

Who would have thought even five years ago that a commercial network would be the one to keep the flame of chat-based comedy alive?


Tonight…Aaron Chen

It’s now been two weeks since there’s been an episode of John Conway Tonight, but according to TV Tonight the show may be back soon…

Rising comedian Aaron Chen may be getting his big chance at his own show on ABC2.

Chen, who has appeared as the sidekick on just 3 episodes of John Conway Tonight, could wind up as his replacement, after Conway’s sudden illness.

With 9 episodes still to be delivered for the production, Chen’s opportunity is not unlike the backstage tale of the understudy stepping in for the leading man at the last minute.

Producers GNW TV filmed a rehearsal with Chen on Thursday at Cafe Lounge and filming takes place tomorrow, requiring him to cancel a Sydney Comedy Festival show.

Fingers crossed the filming went well and the show’s back soon. It’s been a ramshackle but fun program so far, with Aaron Chen the stand-out performer and obvious choice to take over as host.

His awkward and earnest comedy persona should work as well in his new role as it did when he was Conway’s sidekick. It will also add an extra dimension to this already very meta show.

There’s a long history of comedy characters hosting parodic tonight shows – Dame Edna, Alan Partridge, Norman Gunston – with Gunston’s nerdy style possibly being the nearest indication of what a Chen-hosted program could look like. The Norman Gunston Show had a long run on the ABC in the 70s and 80s (plus a revival on Channel 7 in the 90s), which hopefully bodes well for Aaron Chen. We think this re-boot of John Conway Tonight could really work.

Radio with Pictures

Press release time!

Santo, Sam and Ed’s Total Football Podcast is now on ABC iview to watch

Thursday, May 11, 2017 — In an ABC Podcast first, the popular Santo, Sam and Ed’s Total Football Podcast is now also available to watch on ABC iview.

Following the huge success of the podcast, the trio are tackling iview to further enhance the experience as they deliver their take on all the big football news from around the globe.

The boys started together in 2010 for the FIFA World Cup on Cup Fever (SBS) and have been tackling the world game’s big issues ever since.

What they lack in stats and facts they make up for in half-baked ideas and dodgy puns. They’re not afraid to combine in depth analysis with bad Harry Redknapp impersonations and the occasional reference to Michael Mifsud.

So head to iview and watch Santo (former translator for Juventus), Ed (the tall one with the big nose) and Sam Pang (diversity choice) cover football. Totally.

This is Santo, Sam & Ed‘s what – twelfth incarnation? When you think of the number of decent shows that get the chop once and are never heard of again, it’s pretty damn impressive the way this one just keeps on popping up on different networks (remember when they were on SBS? On Seven?) and in different forms.

Sure, it’s about sport so we’re never going to really get into the subject matter. But the guys have great chemistry, a good eye for a gag, and a way of making soccer accessible to even the most disinterested of listeners… and again, that would be us.


A Little Ray of Radio Sunshine from The Chaser

You’d think a comedy team as well-known as The Chaser wouldn’t have a problem finding a sponsor for their new radio show on Sydney’s Triple M, but a segment in the first week of their new show Radio Chaser asked listeners to call in and apply to be their sponsor. A guy with a truck parts business who offered 4 barrels of motor oil won. It was a funny segment; bitterly so given the state of the traditional media at the moment.

Radio Chaser, which airs 11am-1pm on weekdays, is hosted by Chaser members Chris Taylor, Charles Firth, Dom Knight and Andrew Hanson. It features the sort of segments you’d expect on any Triple M show – phone-in topics, commentary on what’s in the news, competitions – but also sketches. As Firth explained to Mumbrella last week:

When we first started going to air there was a very big culture of pre-written sketches and more produced radio and we’ve recorded three sketches this morning that we want to stay true to that form of radio and that tradition of radio, so we are definitely going back to our roots

Even if the sketches which aired throughout the week weren’t always brilliant, it was good to see this type of radio back on commercial radio. Those who fondly remember Austereo shows like The D-Generation, Martin/Molloy, Get This and The Sweetest Plum often wonder if they’ll ever hear this type of radio again.

It’s also nice to hear a different type of conversation on Triple M, one which isn’t largely about sport. Friday’s discussion about comedy and outrage with Tom Ballard was one such example. It may seem ridiculous, but discussing that sort of topic is considered to be quite edgy in commercial radio. And one that an on-air team can only get away with if their show becomes popular.

Here’s hoping the people who are less interested in serious discussions about the art of comedy will keep tuning in for segments such as Little Ray of Sunshine, in which team challenged their listeners to ring up Ray Hadley (who they’re head-to-head with for their first hour) and insert the phrase “bum rainbows” into their call. This is hardly an original idea – bored teens and pranksters have been doing this for decades – but it’s almost always a funny one. And there’s something rather wonderful about the way Andrew Hanson says “bum rainbows”. He makes it sound like a charming concept, which in a way it is.

If you’re not in Sydney or can’t listen live, there’s a podcast of the show’s best bits. Based on week one, it’s a program which could run for ages.

The Perils of Live Television

Well, this doesn’t sound good:

John Conway is unwell and is taking a break from John Conway Tonight. In the meantime GNW Productions is working with…

Posted by John Conway Tonight on Sunday, 7 May 2017

(thanks to Daniel G for the tip-off)

There’s clearly not much to go on there, but John Conway Tonight is definitely not on this week (it’s been replaced by an Adam Hills’ stand-up special). Hopefully it’s nothing too serious and Conway is back on the air soon – the show itself might have been a bit hit-and-miss, but when it was good it was definitely worth checking out.

And it’s not like we need any less Australian comedy on television.

Australian Comedy: International Appeal

Press release time!

Ronny Chieng: International Student airs on ABC this June

Friday, May 5, 2017 — The ABC’s highly anticipated new comedy series Ronny Chieng: International Student will premiere on Wednesday, 7 June at 9pm on the ABC and iview. The show, produced by Sticky Pictures, is the ABC’s first co-production with Comedy Central, where Ronny Chieng is a series regular on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and will air on its flagship channel later this year in the USA.

Originally one of six comedy pilots that aired on ABC in 2016 as part of the AACTA award-winning Comedy Showroom (a joint initiative between the ABC and Screen Australia), Ronny Chieng: International Student is the first show to be green lit to full series, based on overwhelmingly positive audience response.

In the show (as in real life), Ronny is a Malaysian student who’s come to Australia to study law. Though smart, driven and competitive, he’s also blunt and barbed, so it’s not long before Ronny is at odds with most people on campus. Adding to Ronny’s rollercoaster is his relationship with his Malaysia-based mum, which veers between affection and agitation, often in the space of a single conversation, and a friendship with all-Australian classmate Asher (Molly Daniels) that could mean something more – if Ronny can ever work up the courage.

Rick Kalowski, ABC Head of Comedy and series Executive Producer, says: “I couldn’t be more excited to launch Ronny Chieng: International Student. Joyously funny and perfectly on point for these tricky times in Australian cultural identity, the show is a sheer delight from start to finish”.

Donna Andrews, Sticky Pictures’ CEO and Producer of the series says,” Ronny Chieng: International Student is a riotous exploration of the life of a university student, not only through the eyes of an international student, but from Ronny’s unique comedic perspective.  This series is full of surprises!”

As long as one of those surprises* is “it’s funny”, we’re in!


*don’t worry, the press release does reveal the real news, though they bury it right down the bottom: “Production Credits: A Sticky Pictures production, with funding from ABC TV, Screen Australia, Film Victoria and Comedy Central.” Gotta have that US funding – uh, we mean “overwhelmingly positive audience response” – to make it in Australia these days…

The Internet Giveth, and the Internet Taketh Away

First the good news – for a fairly low value of good:

Junkee Media launches first Junkee Original Series ‘Life Lessons’

Please, do go on.

Publisher Junkee Media has launched its first Junkee original webisode series Life Lessons, based on the modern millennial and everything they should not do.

Okay, you can stop now.

Though to be fair, the real laughs from this otherwise somewhat uninspiring-sounding series are contained in the original press release:

Junkee Media CEO Neil Ackland commented “It covers every youth topic possible, from how to become a social media influencer to what not to do on your next tinder date.” adding “Life Lessons marks our foray into commissioning original scripted content under the banner ‘Junkee Original Series’. We are putting our money where our mouth is and investing in young content creators.”

“We know that the question that is being asked at dinner tables and pubs across Australia right now is ‘So what are you watching?’ There’s an explosion of amazing video content to watch and Video Junkee is all about capturing that conversation and providing an important filter to help video lovers discover and find new content,” he said.

You know who else is good at “capturing conversation”? That boring idiot at parties everyone tries to avoid. Not a great role model there.

Meanwhile, remember Seeso? Maybe not, as it’s US network NBC’s comedy streaming service, home of a wide range of series and specials that have been well-reviewed but have largely failed to gain much buzz.

Slightly more interestingly, they’re also the guys who’ve been propping up much of the ABC’s new programming, putting money into Soul Mates II, Fancy Boy, and Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am. And it’s starting to look like they’re being wound up:

Does NBC see a future for Seeso? It doesn’t necessarily seem so. Vulture has learned that Evan Shapiro, head of NBCUniversal’s all-comedy streaming service, is leaving the company this week. Seeso, for the foreseeable future, will be run by Maggie Suniewick, president of NBCU digital enterprises, instead of operating semi-independently. (Shapiro had been reporting to Suniewick since October.) A source with knowledge of the situation says it is business as usual over at Seeso and that the moves won’t effect 2017: New programming will still premiere through the end of this year, productions aren’t shutting down, and the company is still signing up new subscribers. Moreover, Seeso recently unveiled summer premiere dates for a number of shows and premiered the pilot for new a series, There’s … Johnny, at the Tribeca Film Festival.

But beyond the near term, the future of Seeso is decidedly unclear. Multiple sources indicate the service is, for all intents and purposes, on its way out. Already, agents and managers Vulture spoke with say they’re now having a hard time getting people at Seeso to return calls. For now, NBCU is only confirming Shapiro’s departure.

Uh-oh. While no doubt the ABC has other sources of overseas funding to wave in the direction of those hot young online comedians that are all the rage these days, the ability to a): bring in cash that didn’t come from the federal government and b): give local acts some exposure on a US platform was pretty darn handy.

If Seeso does close its virtual doors, you kind of have to feel bad for the entrants in this year’s Fresh Blood… competition? Talent quest? Whatever: the only finalists from the last one who went on to series at the ABC were Fancy Boy and Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am, and it’s safe to say Seeso money was probably the deciding factor there.

With that gone, what will the winners get this year? A photocopied certificate and an ABC Shop gift voucher?

Oh wait, they don’t have ABC Shops any more. Damn.