Hmmm…this sure sounds worrying for the ABC…
An output deal between the BBC and ABC will end after nearly 50 years following the announcement of a new BBC Drama and Comedy channel on Foxtel.
Almost all the BBC Dramas and Comedies will shift to the new channel as Australian premieres, many which will be fast-tracked, and will only become available for Free to Air after 12 months.
But the ABC is unhappy it was not consulted on the new deal.
“In the past, the ABC has been able to point to our audience share, distinctive reach and the unique relationship between the two organisations, which has lasted 50 years,” an ABC spokesman said.
“The ABC is disappointed that this decision was taken without any consultation.
“The decision has no impact on the ABC’s ability to acquire content from other British production houses and television networks like ITV and Channel 4.”
On the other hand, when only 30% of the country can be bothered to get Foxtel this may be less of a problem than we think: the 70% without Foxtel will patiently wait a year to watch it on the ABC, right? The ones who haven’t learnt to torrent, that is.
Even so, you’ve got to wonder how the ABC are going retain their reputation for quality programming when less and less first-run quality broadcasting will be available on their channels. Want first run HBO? Sign up to Quickflix, or get it from iTunes or Foxtel. Want first run BBC, get Foxtel and watch it on their channel.
You have to feel sorry for the ABC, unlike the BBC or HBO, or the other big UK and US networks, they’ve never made almost all of the programmes they air. In a multi-channel environment it’s easy for an organisation like the BBC set up on their own; according to Wikipedia their flagship channel BBC One presented 100% original programming in peak time in 2010/11, and they’ve been on air since 1932 so they’ve also got quite a large archive.
Any broadcaster who either can’t get access to first run overseas shows or who isn’t making compelling, distinctive and good quality new programming for itself is going to become less and less relevant, and less and less watched. The ABC needs to make more Australian shows – including comedy. They’ll also need to be braver about the subject matter and formats if they want to stand out.
The most recent episode of Boxcutters concludes with a discussion of Greg Fleet’s Die On Your Feet, a dramedy featuring an all-star cast and directed by industry veteran Ted Robinson, which was filmed a couple of years ago but is most famous for not having made it to air. It was screened at MICF recently and Boxcutters presenter Josh Kinal went along to see it. “It wasn’t great”, he concluded, but the theories for it not airing are far more interesting. Cast member Adam Hills apparently reckons the ABC doesn’t want him, their flagship nice guy, playing a character who’s a “largely swearing arsehole”. There also seemed to be some hints that the show’s failure to make it to air was as much to do with politics as quality. For us, there are questions about whether a show with Alan Brough, Greg Fleet, Adam Hills, Steven Gates and Corinne Grant, and made by Ted Robinson, is likely to be worse than Please Like Me or Laid. If you’ve seen Die On Your Feet and have some thoughts on it please post a comment.
Also on the most recent Boxcutters was a discussion of The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting and Australia’s recent lack of success in the area of sketch comedy. Josh Kinal said of …Knife Fighting “It’s really good, really good…the sketches are funny”, and praised the show for being about things that happen in the real world as opposed to being parodies of television.
There was also much praise the British system of developing comedy talent by giving newcomers opportunities in radio, to get experience and grow, as opposed to the Australian system of throwing a bunch of people into a room and hoping for the best. “It misses out on all the great chemistry that’s developed from performers and the writing that can come from that” said comedian and Boxcutters presenter Courtney Hocking.
We probably don’t need to point this out, but it’s notable that The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting is more an example of the “throwing a bunch of people into a room” system while the consistently excellent Mad As Hell comes from a team who’ve (mostly) been working together for a couple of decades. We know which we think is the better show.
The recent announcement that Quail Television will soon start production on a weekly topical sketch show called Wednesday Night Fever will also test this theory. The Creator/Executive Producer is Rick Kalowski (The Honourable Wally Norman, Big Bite, Comedy Inc – The Late Shift, Double Take, At Home with Julia) and the show will feature a mix of old and new talent:
There’s a new wave of young comedic talent in Australia and this series is the perfect vehicle to showcase them, while playing alongside some of Australia’s more established comedians.
Given that the show will be topical in nature it seems likely that Kalowski’s old cohorts Amanda Bishop and Paul McCarthy will be reprising their Gillard, Rudd and Abbott impressions. Hopefully amusingly.
This could go one of two ways. It could be a “bunch of people in a room” show as Kalowski gets in a load of new faces in the hope that they’ll come up with the goods. Or Kalowski could bring in a bunch of tried and tested names from his days on a string of somewhat similar sketch comedy shows and hope that reliability will win out over inspiration.
Ideally a show like this would start out on radio or ABC2 out of the spotlight, take the time to develop new talent and give them the skills required to write successful topical sketches, and then when a group develops that works lift them up into the big time. Instead we’re getting a show that may come together and work – or it may stumble early on, lose the faith of viewers, get bumped back to a later timeslot and then vanish, remembered only when someone wants to make the dubious point that Australian audiences seemingly aren’t interested in comedy any more.
Still, look on the bright side: with Mad as Hell and The Roast and The Chaser’s upcoming election work, it’s not like the ABC is going to run short of topical news satire any time soon.