[Insert Topical Sporting Reference Here]

About five seconds into Behind the Lines – the latest in a never-ending procession of sports-themed quiz shows – it suddenly becomes clear why Peter Helliar’s The Trophy Room – the second-to-latest in a never-ending procession of sports-themed quiz shows – tanked: the set!  With typical ABC logic, The Trophy Room‘s set was designed to look like a cosy sports clubhouse, only out in the real world “sports clubhouse” is the kind of place even sports fans run from: sports fans want bright lights, big spaces, a clear path to the bar and a pokie machine around the corner. And if there’s one thing you can say about Australian television with a straight face, it’s that Channel Nine knows sports fans.

[Not entertainment, mind you, or quiz shows or women or decent drama or niche programming or quality news or… well, you get the picture. But sports fans? Oooh yeah.]

So as much as it’d be nice to be able to lump Nine’s latest half-arsed stab at the cheap panel show format with previous winnaz like The Bounce, The White Room and The Trophy Room – and after an amazingly shoddy opening credit sequence featuring a “go team go!” chant unheard of on any sporting ground in the land, our hands were rubbing together with glee at the prospect of yet another trademark slag-off – we just can’t do it. Slick professionalism is pretty much all Nine has left on its shelf these days and while it’s easy – and important – to sneer at it when it comes to comedy, with this kind of show knowing what you’re doing is a bit of a plus.

Oh, what kind of show is it? Spick & Specks with Sport. Two teams (two comedians and a sportsperson each), a host, quiz questions, mild piss-farting about, dragged out over an hour which is too long but the half-hour commercial alternative would only clock in at around 20 minutes which isn’t enough. And that pretty much sums up the show as a whole: it’s easy to think of ways it could be a whole lot better, but there are a lot of examples of this kind of thing that are a whole lot worse.

To be completely honest, the first episode of Behind the Lines was always going to get the thumbs up from the moment they introduced Peter Berner, cut to a wide shot of the other team (the one with Mick Molloy and Ed Kavalee) clapping him – only while Mick and the female sportsperson were clapping away, Ed was just sitting there with a clear look of “what the fuck is this?” on his face. Having followed Berner’s career since BackBerner, we know how he feels.

The panel format’s many, many limitations are there to create uniformity of product – the show will never stink but it’ll never be great, as seven billion episodes of Spicks & Specks have proven. But as panel shows go, this gets a surprising amount right. Well, it gives everyone enough room to dick about, which is pretty much the only thing this kind of show can get right. There’s the usual dodgy gags when answering questions, but a lot of the time people just chime in with gags – crap dad gags, yes, but at least they’re trying. Which isn’t something anyone’s been able to say about GNW in living memory.

Yes, it’s about sport. Yes, it’s hosted by Eddie McGuire. Yes, it’s a product of that blokey Nine culture that actually said out loud “Hey, why not give Hey Hey It’s Saturday another go?” But if we have to have shoddy sports panel quiz shows – and considering how many of the damn things have been served up in recent memory, it seems that decision’s already been made in the affirmative – than we could do a lot worse than Behind the Lines. And if you wait a few weeks, we probably will.

[though if anyone can explain the somewhat sudden edit at the end of the Jesse Martin segment just after Ed says “there is no way he would have resisted-“, that’d be great. The whole end of the segment – including whether Martin was telling the truth or not – seems to have vanished, presumably because if it was true Martin’s ’round-the-world record would be in doubt. Which seems like the kind of thing that should have had some media coverage really… though that would’ve required people to actually tune in.]

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