Here’s the thing: on the day after the final episode of Randling aired we went through all the major metropolitan newspapers looking to see on which page they announced the winner. A 27 week prime-time competition featuring many of Australia’s premiere comedians and social commentators had all been building up to one big result: of course this was going to be seriously front-of-the-paper newsworthy.
And so we looked and looked and looked. And found nothing. Not one single word about who’d won the Randling trophy the night before. How could this be? The winner of Masterchef is basically front page news. Prime time talent shows get almost daily updates. Even goings on in the Big Brother house receive serious news coverage and they’re a pack of nobodies; Randling was hosted by Andrew “much-loved” Denton. What was going on? Why wasn’t this being treated as news? And then it finally dawned on us.
No-one gave a shit about Randling. Not one single. Solitary. Squishy. Shit.
It wasn’t just the mainstream media either: a quick check of the twitter hashtag #randling reveals a heavy dose of jokes about the show’s endless run on the ABC and its predictably shitty ratings. A google search for “Randling winner” reveals the grand total of one story on the result. It fizzled out and pretty much everyone on the planet was more than happy to sweep it under the carpet for good.
Let’s just lay it out there: Randling was a disaster for the ABC. A ratings flop on a massive scale, it has become synonymous with failure, a catchphrase for television so dull and drawn-out its continued presence on our screens was less about simple incompetence and more about giving the finger to the very idea of airing television that people might want to watch.
It should have been pulled by week eight and every single executive responsible fired, while host Andrew Denton should be so ashamed of his failure to create something fitting even the broadest dictionary definition of “entertaining” the next time he’s seen in public should be sixty years from now when a televisual salute to Elle McFeast accidentally features a snippet of footage showing the back of his head in the distant background. And even then there should be such an outcry that this utter failure of a compare had somehow snuck back onto our screens that the very medium of television itself should be shut down completely and every remaining TV set kicked in by donkeys. Though to be fair, this would be the distant future and no-one would be watching television as we know it anyway. Mostly because people still remembered how Randling was so determinedly crap.
Randling wasn’t just bad television. It was bad television anyone could see coming from a mile away. Let’s say it one last time: “Word-based game show”. How was this a television show? How was this prime-time viewing? How was this such a sure-fire hit that all 27 episodes were filmed before a single one went to air? How hasn’t someone been sacked for this massive cock-up? Let’s run through the obvious issues:
*The Concept: the days of bunging on cheap and cheerful space-filling programming in prime time and expecting people to tune in are over. It just doesn’t work any more. What was the last panel show that worked on any network? Gruen? Which basically just added panel chat to the always successful World’s Wackiest Commercials format anyway. There’s just too much competition out there – the internet, TV-on-DVD, better shows on other networks whether live or recorded earlier – for a show that just looks thrown together on the cheap to attract viewers, unless there’s something really special going on. Basing it on sports, music, unusual information: sure, that might work. Words? How’s get fucked sound?
*The Format: Who in their right mind thought even for a second that the one thing comedy game shows needed was a serious level of competition? Randling had quarter-finals when it should have had “let’s keep the funny guests coming back”. The rigid structure meant that changes couldn’t be made to make the show more entertaining once it started, because with a locked-in scoring system any changes would have disadvantaged those who played under the old rules. Pretty much the only advantage that comes with a 27 episode run is the ability to fine-tune the show once you start to see what works and what doesn’t: Randling couldn’t even manage that.
*The Host: Andrew Denton, while no doubt a charming and wonderful person in private, comes across as a smug git on television. He’s not likable, he’s not funny, he’s not good at treating people as equals. Here’s a concept: warmth. Denton doesn’t have it – well, he has human levels of it, just not game show host levels. He was clearly drafted in to host when it became clear that without a “name” host this show didn’t stand a chance; just another bonehead move leading to the long slide to the failure dump.
* The Cast: It’s a long time ago now, but when Spicks & Specks first aired it featured a cast of nobodies. Myf Warhurst was a Triple J presenter; Alan Brough was a New Zealand comedian and actor only known in Australia to the handful of people who’d seen Tony Martin’s film Bad Eggs. They were the opposite of wheeling out a bunch of ready-made celebrities and viewers warmed to them because they discovered them and felt ownership towards them. Randling featured teams we were supposed to support and cheer on but the team members didn’t need us: they were television personalities before Randling and they’d remain so afterwards. Put in a sporting context, a team’s supporters always feel more strongly towards players who’ve come up through the ranks than they do towards blow-ins who made their names elsewhere. Look, it’s a member of The Chaser and the host of First Tuesday Book Club! Let’s watch those shows instead.
*Everything else: it’d be easier to list what did work on Randling only then you’d be looking at a blank screen. The questions were boring and idiotic: seriously, “Shakespeare Character or Car”? The pace was plodding at best: the necessity to ask both teams the same question for scoring purposes meant that ideas best suited to a 90 second bit ran four or five times as long. The teams were basically identical: news flash – there are people in the world outside of comedians and hipsters between the ages of 30 and 55. The show lacked vitality: the host of a game show is meant to be the most high-energy member of the on-air cast, not the least. The editing was painful: reportedly episodes would take more than twice their on-air time to be recorded then be chopped down into “highlights packages” that felt erratic and disjointed. And above all else, the very concept itself was astoundingly, jaw-droppingly boring.
And yet this ran for 27 weeks in prime time on what was once the ABC’s highest-rating night of television. Randling sure did fuck that into a cocked hat. It’s difficult to conceive of a show so disdainful of entertainment, so actively contemptuous of its audience, so committed to reminding you that “television” does not care whether you live or die. Fortunately now, we don’t have to: Randling is gone and it’s not coming back. If it had a grave we’d piss on it.