ADbc is back on SBS, and can’t you just feel the excitement in the air? Ok, maybe not: as merely the latest in a long, long, long line of failed comedy panel shows, the return of ADbc means only one thing: SBS ordered an entire series before the show started airing, so after it was pulled the first time due to crap ratings they still had a bunch of episodes left over.
Let’s just contemplate that for a moment: ADbc rated so badly that SBS took it off air. This isn’t The White Room going down the gurgler on the top-rating network during prime time. On the lowest-rating network, in a relatively non-competitive timeslot, ADbc did so badly it was pulled with episodes still in the tank. There’s a message there somewhere, but as it’s the same message the networks have been ignoring for the last decade let’s spell it out one more time.
[At this point it’s only fair to point out that the show itself features a lot of solid work from very talented people. Comedy-wise it’s always seemed especially promising, with host Sam Pang quickly warming to the host’s job while Tony Martin semi-regular and always-funny appearances should have made it a must-see. So why wasn’t it?]
Comedy quiz shows are as boring as watching a turd dry. That’s their default setting. Without the best possible talent available, you will get a shithouse show. This isn’t wild conjecture, it’s a proven fact. Look at actual popular quiz shows – you know, the games shows on before the 6pm news. What do they feature? Massive prizes, loads of tension, fairly easy questions – when they’re not just guessing games – and guests kept as bland as possible so the home viewers can imagine themselves as the person they’re watching winning big.
Comedy quiz shows are the exact opposite: no prizes, no tension, usually obscure or esoteric questions, and guests doing their level best to impress us with their quirky personalities. They’re one step below panel shows, because on panel shows the guests often have to bring along funny stories of their own: on quiz shows all they have to do is answer questions and the hilarity will naturally flow. Or not. Mostly not. Mostly because, despite what TV executive seem to think, answering a question isn’t a natural form for any kind of hilarity more advanced than Mad Magazine’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”.
It might be an odd idea to put forward in connection with free-to-air television, but comedy quiz shows – unless they feature the aforementioned best possible talent, talent you would pay real money to see live – represent just about the worse possible value for your entertainment dollar. They’re almost always amazingly cheap television – ADbc is seemingly filmed on a giant sheet of A4 paper – and unless the guests or the host supply really first-rate laughs there’s nothing at all else on offer.
Crap dramas or scripted comedies might feature cute cast members or interesting locations or dialogue that roughly approximates human conversation or a vague level of polish that indicates some kind of care. Comedy quiz shows do not. Without – yes, let’s say it again – the best possible talent involved (and in this country that means Shaun Micallef, with the Spicks & Specks team a distant second) you have nothing else at all to fall back on in a comedy quiz show. As ADbc proves yet again, a boring show no-one wants to watch is a boring show no-one wants to watch even if you got it at a bargain price.
And yet, how much more expensive would it be to film a sitcom or sketch show? People on C31 seem to manage it all the time and sure, most of their efforts are pretty rough. But it wouldn’t take much to polish the visuals – Frontline was mostly shot on home video and that was over a decade ago – and even a shoddy script wouldn’t be worse than the flailing and dead air you get when no-one can answer a quiz question. The networks have been trying to cut costs in local television product for the last decade by cutting out the writers and look how well that’s worked out. Maybe it’s time to try cutting some other part of the budget for once.