It’s taken us a day or so to process the news that Spicks & Specks – a show we honestly figured that at this stage would keep on keeping on until at least the next Ice Age – will in fact be gone before the next Ice Age movie comes out. Not because we’re going to miss the actual show or anything, of course: S&S was in many ways the apex predator of panel shows, a format ruthlessly constructed to ensure that the really funny guests aren’t too funny while the totally shithouse ones are moderately tolerable. And there’s only so many times (we’ll say… three) you can watch someone whose work you really admire forced to play a bunch of lame party games before you put a foot through the television set.
Let’s not forget that, for a show that’s become that most dreaded of things, an “Australian Institution”, S&S was not only a thinly disguised knock-off of UK show Never Mind the Buzzcocks but was also commissioned minutes after the ABC passed on the lets-be-honest-they’re-almost-identical RocKwiz. Much as the three leads did a solid job of personalising the format, S&S was always generic committee-driven television at its finest, a show made by executives to be “good enough” without a trace of creative passion behind it.
Tho be fair (why start now – ed), S&S did do a good job of recreating the fun of a dodgy quiz night while providing a showcase for various musos and international acts to show off their ability to laugh at Hamish Blake. It also managed to do what most panel shows seem utterly incapable of doing: providing team captains who aren’t completely identical.
[we interrupt this drivel for a Public Service Announcement: hey, TV execs: if The Movie Show / At The Movies can survive for roughly a trillion years based solely on movie trailers – which the commercial networks throw away as ads because they ARE ads – and having two moderately different people who like different things occasionally argue, then maybe it’s time to consider the idea that the folks at home like to watch shows where THEY CAN TAKE SIDES. No-one wants to see open loathing, but good-natured conflict is clearly a big, big plus when it comes to making watchable television and the fact you avoid it like crazy every chance you get is yet another reason why viewers avoid your shows like crazy every chance they get.]
Still, it’s not the loss of S&S itself that we’re sad about. It’s the loss of the locked-in, million plus ratings lead-in that we’re going to mourn. It’s hard to over-estimate how important all those loyal S&S viewers have been for Australian comedy over the last 5 or so years: thanks to S&S drawing huge crowds and then leaving them at 9pm with nothing else to watch but whatever half-hour comedy the ABC had lined up next (every other network having started hour-long shows at 8.30pm), a whole range of comedies that would have almost certainly struggled to draw a crowd had instead a ready-made army of followers.
Sure, this did mean that shows that deserved to have struggled in their early episodes instead looked like winners. We won’t name names (*cough* The Gruen Transfer *cough*), but you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. In the wider scheme of things having S&S anchour the ABC’s Wednesday night comedy line-up was a massive, massive boost for television comedy – as anyone who remembers the days when the ABC would dump their local comedies anywhere and then wonder why they didn’t rate (and then, for a period in the early 00s, stop making them entirely) knows all too well.
So when Spicks & Specks finally leaves our screens due to (we assume) Adam Hills pulling out in the wake of In Gordon Street Tonight proving that people will watch him even when he’s not spitting out music-themed questions and kaking himself, we’ll miss it. Not because we could stand to watch more than the occasional five-minute snippet over the last four years, but because it did the heavy lifting that allowed a lot of other, better shows to dodge the ratings bullet. Which is a hell of a lot more than Good News Week has ever done for anybody.