I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy…

First up tonight, Australian media in “what, the rest of the world doesn’t love our shithouse television?” shocker:

How much of a “foul-mouthed mean girl” can a TV audience take?

It’s taken several weeks for the ABC’s broadcast of Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl in Australia to shed half its audience.

US television critics only took several minutes.

The series, which is co-produced by the US premium cable channel HBO and makes its debut here this week, has divided critics, earning either a resounding thumbs down or, in some cases, cautious praise.

To illustrate just how divided opinion on the series is in the US, it has been labelled both Lilley’s “crowning triumph” and “sloppy, transphobic drag”.

The AV Club is one of America’s “most respected” sources of TV coverage? Not after they praised Please Like Me it ain’t.

Obviously the “Australian show meets the overseas critics” story is a time-tested space-filler in local papers, so we’re not exactly freaking out over this one. And with Ja’mie faltering in the ratings any publicity is good publicity, so… sorry about mentioning it here.

But the existence of this story does point out one fairly obvious fact about television critics: they go soft on the local product and sink the boot into imports. Or more accurately, they only say what they really think about shows when the production team are at least one ocean away. Local media has ties to local television on any number of levels, and why risk that over a few harsh words about a show people are going to watch (or not watch) anyway? Basically, in this case the overseas media are the ones you can trust… except when the local media recommends the overseas media to you, obviously. Wait, what?

And after the break, the ABC totally forgets they even have a comedy department:

The ABC is developing a long-term strategy to attract audiences to “big, national conversations” with bigger Dramas and more risks.

Richard Finlayson, Director of Television, told TV Tonight the public broadcaster is looking at ways its Content can resonate in a changing television landscape.

“Linear TV can be around for a long time but it has to change. So the changes we’re seeing are that people want it to feel very current. They want it to reflect what’s happening now. If you want people to sit down as a group and aggregate big audiences, families, lots of people together, then you’ve got to give them a reason to come and watch,” he explains.

Why Richard, please continue outlining a future in which comedy doesn’t even rate a mention:

“The last thing I want to do is knock off our slate because there’s a lot of fantastic productions but it’s a big shift and we have to start moving now. Those changes will be about trying to give our channels a greater sense of currency. More reasons to watch in the moment. More events, more noisy Factual pieces. Possibly fewer, but bigger Dramas. Taking bigger risks and bigger punts,” he says.

“’Fewer, bigger, better’ is an idea across the whole slate, really. We need to push our resources behind some bigger bets.

“It doesn’t mean there won’t be a role for all sorts of one-offs, or big telemovies, Arts, Indigenous, specialist Factual –all those things will continue to exist. But to really stand out we have to take some bigger punts.”

Considering the ABC is basically the only place doing local comedy with any kind of regularity, this kind of big interview – and yes, we do know that it could just be that he wasn’t asked about comedy, but still – is pretty depressing. It gives the impression that the future of the ABC is going to increasingly revolve around trying to make a big splash with big local productions, which clearly should involve comedy – both Kath & Kim and Summer Heights High made bigger splashes than any ABC drama series of the last decade, and Spicks and Specks delivered ratings ABC dramas could only dream of – and yet comedy doesn’t rate a mention.

So what we have here is someone who’s saying one thing (we need to make a big splash) but seems to means another (we need to make a big splash – but only by doing “serious” television). The cart is before the horse: instead of deciding on a result then figuring out the best way to achieve that result, he seems to have decided on both the result and the method. Which to be fair, makes some sense: if the ABC decided to go into mass market reality programming there’d be a justifiable outcry even if it is the best way to make a splash.

But comedy is one of the things the ABC does. So where’s the public support? Where’s the admission that the last really big ABC drama was Seachange, which was a comedy in all but name? Oh well, guess another decade of the ABC pouring money into crappy “prestige” dramas while comedy dwindles down to a handful of thrown-together panel shows and whatever Chris Lilley ideas HBO will fund can’t be all that bad…

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5 Comments

  • Not Me says:

    Am I the only one who sees a vast amount of comedy potential in Finlayson’s relentless use of jargon – being across stuff and understanding the ecology of the industry, and most importantly, getting shit done.

  • urinal cake says:

    More fuel for the fire: http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2013/11/why-dont-we-make-sitcoms-anymore.html
    Where to begin with Zwar? Kalowski is at least saying the right things.

    The problem is pretty simple -good writing.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Man who’s comedy career currently relies on sitcoms not being funded says we shouldn’t bother funding sitcoms.

  • Rutegar says:

    I think the more telling thing about the TV TONIGHT article on the lack of Australian sitcoms was almost immediate instinctive reaction to start talking about actors.

    Sitcoms start (and lets face it, pretty much finish) with the writers, and guess what, its a damn sight harder to write a studio sitcom than people think … let along a top notch one.

    a consistently funny half-hour comedic play times eight, twelve or twenty-two
    with convincing story arcs for the most part contained within one or two internal settings …
    that is a talent and skill that no one seems to appreciate, understand, and thus help nurture in this country.

    and no, penning a thirty second gag for a commercial does not a sitcom writer make (although it is a start)

    I believe there is the talent out there who can do it, but until there’s (finally) an appreciation that assembling and properly remunerating a specialised quality writing crew is the utmost priority, we shall continue to live without the genre for another decade or so.

    PS : here’s a tip … the storyline writers ain’t gonna come from the stand-up circuit !

  • Er says:

    iView adding back catalogue via paid subscription. If they really dig deep this could be quite something –

    http://mumbrella.com.au/abc-commercialise-iview-192304