A Beast of a programme

This week’s most overlooked debut was Hungry Beast, which inevitably stood no chance against the Hey Hey reunion and the premiere of Celebrity Masterchef. That’s probably just as well for those “19 newcomers to television” who are involved as “tell us something we don’t know” – the show’s motto – it didn’t.

The show’s first story concerned a spoof survey on gullibility put together by the some of the team and distributed by them posing as a fictional organisation called The Levitt Institute. They aimed to prove that today’s media are so time-poor and under-resourced that they’ll accept anything in a legitimate-looking press release as true, and succeeded in doing so, with the gullibility survey’s results being reported on websites, in newspapers, on radio and even The 7PM Project.

Sadly, the thunder for this admittedly rather good prank was stolen by Media Watch, who’d received a tip-off that the survey was fake, done some digging, established a connection with the about-to-start Hungry Beast and aired a story which pipped Hungry Beast to the post by two days. Media Watch‘s story included the comments of Mike Osborne, Editor of AAP – “No-matter what the rationale behind this hoax, it is cheap and mischievous” – and ended with Jonathan Holmes’ warning “No doubt many of you would reckon it’s pretty funny too but there’s another lesson for the folk at The Hungry Beast in all this: it’s a cut-throat world out there. If you think you can put a hoax on the web two weeks before you go to air, without anyone else spotting it you’re living in fairyland. The Beast is much too Hungry for that.”

Hungry Beast‘s response? They included part of the Media Watch story in their story, and cheeky little beasts that they are, ended by accusing Media Watch of cross-promoting their show. Zing? Probably not. Witness how often ABC TV stars appear on ABC radio to promote their shows. Media Watch probably hasn’t breached any rules, it just beat Hungry Beast to the punch on a topic they’ve been covering for years. The real problem here is that for any regular viewer of Media Watch (or anyone who’s read the book Flat Earth News, or thought about the media for more than a second) this isn’t “something we don’t know”.

An even bigger problem was that that was Hungry Beast’s best story. Thereafter we were treated to a spoof of commercial current affairs shows beating things up (a mix of the kind of stuff already well covered by Frontline and Media Watch, as seen through the eyes of someone trying to ape British comedian Chris Morris), a tit-for-tat debate about whether pandas are worth saving (among other things, panda’s inadequate sexual organs make it hard for them to reproduce – as discussed in numerous nature programmes and in the 90’s stand-up of Sue-Anne Post), a short segment where it was pointed out that by signing up to a cause on a social networking site you’re not actually achieving much apart from making yourself look like you care (even John Safran at his most glib on Sunday Night Safran probably wouldn’t bother with something that obvious) and an interview with Susan Staden and Bree Till, the mother and wife (respectively) of Brett Till, an Australian soldier who was killed in Afghanistan in March.

The Staden/Till interview was meant to be a different look at the long-running story of Bree Till’s plight as the pregnant wife of a dead solider, and was intended to show the family’s dignity in the face of the media hype surrounding Bree’s battle with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for some compensation for her unborn child, and the children from Brett Till’s previous marriage, for whom she cares. The resulting piece showed Staden and Till sitting at a table talking about Brett. For about 5 minutes. As therapeutic as it may have been for the pair to share a few memories, it wasn’t very interesting television and basically told us exactly what we’d expect a dead solider’s mother and wife to say: Brett Till was a decent bloke and a good father who they miss very much.

There are plenty of interesting things to say about the Afghan war and the lives of military families, but this wasn’t the way to cover it. Similarly, there are plenty of interesting things out there that “we don’t know” and expecting a bunch of newbies to find them is probably expecting a bit much.

As with so many new programmes, much of the problem comes from over-hyping a damp squib. Even if the marketing team had inserted “probably” into the show’s motto, it might stand a better chance….although it’d stand an even better one if it was funny, incisive and entertaining. And judging by the promo for next week’s show, which promise an hilarious spoof of the rugby “group sex” scandal with the oh-so-wry twist that Liz Ellis and the Diamonds had group sex with a bloke, it won’t be. Still, judging by the comments on Hungry Beast website the show’s graphics were a hit. And that graphics are really important for television was something I didn’t know.

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