Non-brevity is the arsehole of wit

Australian TV’s not exactly crying out for more panel shows, but the recently launched Santo, Sam and Ed’s Cup Fever is a welcome addition to the schedules. It’s a fun mix of chat, sketches and enjoyably bad jokes (only Santo Cilauro could sell a gag as bad as “Diego Maradonut”), which even a non soccer fan like myself can enjoy. And at less than half an hour per episode, it’s the exact right length.

Length is something Australian broadcasters always seem to misjudge when it comes to panel shows. Probably because they’re so focused on how cheap panel show are to make – and how much more money could be saved if they made ones with really long episodes. Perhaps this is why you get a show like Good News Week, which is based on a 30 minute show (the British satirical news quiz Have I Got News For You), and started out on the ABC in 1996 as a 30 minute show, gradually evolving into the bloated mess that it is today. For when it comes to Good News Week, quantity, not quality, has always been the focus of the people behind it.

Good News Week started to get popular in 1997. This led to a rash of spin-offs, starting with the hour-long Good News Weekend (1998), which was the same show, but with pop culture-focused questions. When the Good News Week moved to Channel 10 in 1999, the show’s length was increased by a third to fill a 1 hour timeslot. The following year it was extended again, to fill a 90 minute timeslot. At the same time, the team were making the 90 minute long GNW Nite Lite (similar in format to Good News Weekend), which would air on Thursdays, while Good News Week aired on Sundays. There’d also be occasional the debate involving the Good News Week cast, which would air as a special. To say that there was too much Good News Week on, and that everyone was suffering, was an understatement, and Channel 10 mercifully axed the series at the end of 2000.

In the current incarnation of Good News Week, those involved seemed to have learnt their lesson as far as over-stretching themselves with spin-offs goes, but the 90 minute timeslot remains. This is a huge mistake for a show that wasn’t really never that funny when it ran for just 30 minutes. Good News Week has never had the wit and bite of the British original, and derives most of its humour from sub-par panellists making crap jokes about news stories rather than actually satirising them. Thus, it’s worthless as both a topical satire and a comedy quiz, and this is compounded by the over-long timeslot, where the show is padded out with gags which shouldn’t make the edit, rounds which last about 5 minutes longer than necessary, and barely-relevant musical interludes.

Increasingly, Good News Week seems to be evolving again, from over-extended topical news quiz into a mash-up of the original concept and it’s variety-style 90’s spin-offs. The show has lost its original focus (which was a good concept, at least) and become yet another show which can take people who have something to plug. If it goes on for much longer it’ll evolve into the try-hard hipster cousin of Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Claire Hooper’s certainly got the air-head co-host role covered.

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